As we eagerly anticipate IGN’s Best Game of 2023 announcement, we as the Podcast Unlocked panel thought we’d tell you what we think is the best Xbox game of this year. After all, we talk about Xbox every single week, we use our Xbox’s constantly, and we’re fully immersed in the Xbox ecosystem. And so our group gathered, discussed, and debated. We’ll get to the winner in a bit, but first, here are the five games we settled on as nominees, listed in alphabetical order.
Alan Wake 2
The Finnish wizards at Remedy Entertainment have been making outstanding video games for over 20 years now, but somehow they’ve just made their best one ever. Alan Wake 2 is a triumph of unique and compelling narrative storytelling, survival horror gameplay, and a beautiful visual aesthetic – all delivered by a cast of talented live-action and motion-captured performers. It’s delightfully weird, and it’s built so smartly that playing Alan Wake 1 was not required homework. In fact, Remedy knew that the overwhelming majority of players will have not played the original, and so FBI agent Saga Anderson effectively becomes the player’s avatar as the strangeness of Bright Falls envelops everyone in the town. Alan Wake 2 looks gorgeous, it sounds amazing, its story is full of surprises, and mechanically it’s a damn good survival horror game – itself an unexpected change of genre pace from the original action-adventure romp. It is truly special.
Baldur’s Gate 3
Look, we know that Baldur’s Gate 3 just dropped on Xbox last week after developer Larian Studios did its best to wrestle split-screen multiplayer onto the Xbox Series S before Phil Spencer and the Xbox leadership team wisely bent their parity policy and allowed the Series S version to ship without said same-screen co-op while the Series X version included it. But from our experience playing it on other platforms, it’s patently obvious that it should be included on this short list of the best Xbox games of the year. Baldur’s Gate 3 levels up the traditional CRPG in the same way that Xbox legends Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect did in their day. It is truly the roleplaying game where solutions are limited only by your own imagination, and for that it deserves every accolade it gets.
It was a long wait between last-gen’s Forza Motorsport 7 and the new-gen Forza Motorsport, but oh was the wait worth it. The new Motorsport promises to be a platform that will evolve and grow over time, and it’s already off to a tremendous start. A focus on tuning – with an in-game economy built to reflect that – encourages you to tweak builds of existing cars, really getting under the hood with them, rather than simply lusting for the next shiny new car. Though there’s still plenty of that, too. To top it off, Forza Motorsport delivers the bleeding-edge graphical realism we’ve come to expect from this franchise, with multiple graphical and performance settings allowing you to favor framerate or fully maxed-out raytraced visuals. The updates are already flowing out of developer Turn 10, and both the present and future of Forza Motorsport are bright.
It wasn’t just that Xbox and Bethesda shadow-dropped a first-party game to kick off 2023 during January’s Xbox Developer Direct. It’s that they shadow-dropped one of the best games of the year. No warning, no hype train, no preorders. Just straight onto Xbox Game Pass. Not only was the game itself a surprise, but the kind of game Hi-Fi Rush is was a total 180 from what the horror masters at Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within, Ghostwire Tokyo) had done before. Hi-Fi Rush is colorful, bubbly, upbeat, and simply radiated joy. Its fast-action combat synced up perfectly to the beat of the music – not simply by coincidence, but as a gameplay mechanic! – and its characters were both lovable and memorable. Hi-Fi Rush set the tone for a great Xbox year – a much better trip around the sun than 2022 was, and right up there with Xbox’s stellar 2021.
Starfield might not have been quite the 10-out-of-10 space adventure we’d hoped for, but it’s still a heck of a good time, and one that many Xbox fans have happily poured dozens if not hundreds of hours into. Whether you’re following the main story quest with Constellation and trying to figure out the mystery of the alien artifact that you as the player come into contact with, deciding whether to side with the Crimson Fleet or UC SysDef on one of Starfield’s lengthy and awesome sidequest subplots, surviving the seedy backstreets of Neon, or simply exploring the galaxy to see what you discover, the fact is that Starfield is a massive roleplaying game that takes the framework of the Elder Scrolls and Fallouts that came before it and expands the heck out of them. Proper expansions and all sorts of other DLC are on the way, meaning we’re not likely to see everything Starfield has to offer anytime soon.
And the Winner Is…
Alan Wake 2!
And my goodness was it close! It came down to a tiebreaker from Unlocked host emeritus Miranda Sanchez after myself, Stella Chung, Destin Legarie, and Kahlief Adams were deadlocked 2-2 between Alan Wake 2 and Baldur’s Gate 3. The truth is, you can pick either game and be 100% “right,” but Alan Wake 2 wowed us with everything mentioned above. It is truly an incredible game, and the Unlocked crew is proud to name it our Best Xbox Game of 2023. Congratulations to Remedy! If you haven’t played Alan Wake 2 yet, you absolutely should. In fact, the same goes for all five of these games, three of which are available on Xbox Game Pass. Happy gaming!