The bright lights are up, and the red carpet has been rolled out. We’ve all put on our best jeans, logo t-shirt, and blazer combo (our mums say we look lovely) – it’s time for The Game Awards. Not those ones, though. We mean the VG247 Alternate Game Awards.
Sure, we vote on the real thing that’s lighting up the city of angels later today. But unlike the rest of the voting panel, we can guarantee our picks are the correct ones - so we’re here to set the record straight.
We described last year as a strange year for games, but this year has arguably been even more bizzare. It’s been a gross, dispiriting paradox: an incredible year for video games in terms of being the most stacked year for great games in at least a decade - but the year was also beset with lay-offs galore, and other such disasters that have made the industry a worse place to be.
Stepping back to take a look at the year, here’s our 2023 Game Awards. When you’re finished here, why not take a trip in the TARDIS or another time machine of your choice to check out 2022’s winners?
The “I think you’ll find I was right, actually” Award - Cyberpunk 2077
Make no mistake: Cyberpunk 2077 was always rather good. If you played it on PC. And only a PC that lights up and costs as much as a compact car, mind - not any old clunker.
That was the trap we fell into at release; we were only given the PC version, so we played it, loved it, and reviewed it. Requests to CD Projekt to see the console version weren’t accommodated. On release, we learned why: the console version was screwed, and the rest is history as one of gaming’s most promising growing studios was forced to eat a concrete mixer full of humble pie.
However, after years of updates, culminating in one of the greatest expansions of all time, Phantom Liberty, the re-evaluation of Cyberpunk 2077 is finally complete. It’s gone from totally unplayable to totally unmissable. We’re willing to forgive and forget, safe in the vindication that deep down we were right, actually (and we were always definitely 100% completely sure that we hadn’t ruinously, royally messed up).
Best-Worst Business Strategy - Embracer Group
It’s been a great year for video games, the software you load up on your tech gadget of choice to distract yourself from the inevitability of death - but a terrible year for the video games industry and the hard-working people who make those wonderful distractions happen. In a year of companies regularly treating their employees and brands terribly, it’s hard to pick out the real winner of the coveted TOTY (turd of the year), but this year, it probably is Embracer Group.
The business strategy of the Swedish brand seemed to be pretty simple - gather a ton of investment, splash the cash on, well, everything, and then… er… well, then have to take a machete to many of the precious studios and brands you purchased, because you bit off more than you could chew. In the wake of a financing deal collapsing, Embracer has gone on to shutter several studios including Saints Row creator Volition, and laid off the better part of a thousand people.
In hindsight, it doesn’t seem like the best strategy, does it? So, it qualifies for the worst. Mind you, rest assured, somewhere in all this, somebody is getting paid. And for those people, it’s probably the best. Congratulations to those folks - we hope you can sleep at night.
Best big budget AAA release - Dave the Diver
Independent games are great, and we love seeing people's passion projects come to life and be enjoyed by many. The time, effort, and dedication put into these titles without necessarily having the manpower or financial support that big-name developers do is simply astounding at the best of times.
Dave the Diver is also great, letting you run the sushi restaurant of your dreams with an abundance of fish you'll personally get to go diving for. It's stylish, has a delightful soundtrack, and its gameplay loop is enjoyable and addictive.
But you know what isn't an independent game, despite what The Game Awards nominees for 'Best Independent Game' may lead you to believe? Dave the Diver.
Dave the Diver was developed by a studio called MintRocket, who appear to be a small team. But this supposedly small team also happens to be fully owned by NEXON, a South Korean game publisher that has no shortage of revenue or income. With that type of support under MintRocket's belt, it's easy to see why Dave the Diver's nomination for 'Best Independent Game' isn't wholly appropriate... but it's still a fantastic game, nonetheless. One of our favourite games of the year, even.
That's why Dave the Diver is our best big budget AAA release of 2023. Congrats, guys!
Best Stomach-Testing Rollercoaster Ride - Final Fantasy 16
Final Fantasy 16 is a rollercoaster. For better and for worse. It wows you with its incredible spectacle, and when you’re in one of those big cinematic battles with the summon monsters - called Eikons this time around - it’s almost as if you’re rocked by the g-force of the momentous battles. But when we call FF16 a rollercoaster, we’re not really talking about that.
FF16 is a game of tremendous highs - and crushing lows. Your heart bursts for the most charismatic voice cast in FF history - but then the storyline trips and fumbles in its latter phases. Your eyes practically pop at the spectacle of those Eikon battles; but then it’s followed by three hours of the worst sort of MMO-style fetch quest design, often dealing with plot cul-de-sacs that lead nowhere (I’m looking at you, Mid’s airship). Even the combat, which impresses as the most action-packed FF to date, slowly disappoints as it dawns that the RPG bit of this Action RPG is extremely malnourished at best.
Whereas FF13 and FF15 were generally more middling experiences, balanced around that ‘good not great’ area, FF16 soars to be best-in-class - and then plunges the depths with some truly rubbish stuff. These tremendous ups and downs give the feeling of riding a rollercoaster. You’d be forgiven for thinking, “stop the ride, I want to get off, I feel sick.” And yet, like all the best rollercoasters - the game is good. It just might turn your stomach a bit along the way.
Best Sponsorship - Chipotle at Evo 2023
Sponsoring video game stuff is obviously a big business, but who got the best bang for their buck this year? Step forward ringpiece-ruining fast food brand Chipotle, which in a perfect act of brand synergy sponsored fighting game tournament Evo 2023.
Viewers both at home and in person saw the ads for Chipotle's wares - but what really made it all worthwhile was the crowd, who for a solid ten hours on grand finals day roared with an excitement bordering on the primal every single time the Chipotle commercial aired. So loud was the crowd that you’d always hear it echo on stream - even when the crowd reaction microphones were turned down. Now that’s brand evangelism!
The Tom Orry Award for Most Boring News Story That Dragged On Forever - Xbox & Activision Blizzard
If you’ve listened to VG247’s fabulous Best Games Ever podcast, you’ll be well aware that some of us bloody well like to go on. Alex loves a game history tangent, and Tom just loves to tell completely unrelated stories about how he knew a man with a dog that used to only eat spam, or something like that. It’s riveting stuff; please give us 5 stars on your podcast service of choice.
Similarly droning and endless was Microsoft’s record-shattering acquisition of Activision Blizzard. What was undoubtedly one of the most exciting and interesting gaming stories of the year quickly began to lose its sheen, however, as it went on and on. Genuinely thrilling discussions about consolidation, monopolization, and fairness fraternized with console war nonsense until the whole thing was just, well, exhausting.
It got a bit juicy as major names were called up to give depositions about why the deal was brilliant, or a disaster, and juicier still when some idiot uploaded the wrong file and made years of top secret corporate planning public, but let’s be honest: by the time it was over, we were all bloody sick of hearing about it and ready to move on to something, anything else. Which really is reminiscent of when Tom gets going. Again - five stars, please.
The Jim Trinca award for turning up finally, just very late - What finally came out, Dead Island 2?
Jim is never on time: fact. "5 seconds" is essentially code for "I'll be ready in about 10 minutes, but maybe add another 10 on top just to be safe." You know what else turned up late in 2023? Dead Island 2. This is a game delayed so many times there was a period when everyone assumed it had ceased living, perhaps rising from the dead as a hacked together mess unexpectedly in the future. It didn't reach Duke Nukem Forever levels of absurdity, but when a release date of April 2023 was announced, almost nine years after the game was initially announced, we all recoiled in shock - like we would if Jim sent over a chat room link dead on the time he said he was going to.
It wasn't really the release date that made our heads spin. Dead Island 2, unlike Duke Nukem Forever, is actually good. Like, proper good. It looks amazing, makes the most of its setting and zombie storyline, and is a fun action adventure. So there you have it, proof that delaying things is good. Wait, did Jim write this?
Kendall Roy Award for Gaming's Unlikeliest Babygirl - Astarion
For a full definition of what "babygirl" means in current social media parlance, you could read this very thoughtful and informative Polygon article by Gita Jackson outlining the phenomenon and its rise to prominence over the past couple of years. Or you just just take a look at this oft-reblogged Tumblr meme that does the job in a single sentence: "lgbtq people are like “look at my babygirl!!!” and the babygirl is a middle-aged man who has gone through the horrors of life." [sic]
While 2023's archetypal babygirl is Kendall Roy, co-protagonist of the TV show Succession which aired its fourth and final season this year, it's actually been a huge year for babygirl culture in general across all forms of media. Gaming has seen an embarrassment of candidates for the year's best unlikely babygirl, and I do mean that literally. Final Fantasy 16 protagonist Clive Rosfield gets classified as "babygirl" so often you'd think it was his formal honorific, as do Baldur's Gate 3's extremely romanceable vampiric companion Astarion and sweet-faced Leon S. Kennedy of Resident Evil 4 remake fame. To round out the nominations, we'd be remiss not to mention Okita Soji from Like a Dragon: Ishin!, purely on the grounds that he's the deincarnation of Goro Majima, possibly the original grizzled video game babygirl man.
Amazing jobs all round, lads, for convincing us on a deep emotional level that you're hardened killing machines who nevertheless deserve a great big cuddle and complete immunity from prosecution. It was tough to pick a winner from this outstanding short-list but in true VG247 style it's a "whoever writes it, picks it" system... Astarion it is, then!
Best Game that we only like for its technology – Exoprimal
Exoprimal is one of those games that it’s easy to forget even came out this year, despite the fact that it only released back in July. It’s a sort of just-fine multiplayer third-person shooter that sees players face off against swarms of Dinosaurs that for some reason despite being from Capcom isn’t a Dino Crisis spin-off. Puzzle that one out.
Anyway, Exoprimal is nothing particularly hot to write home about. It’s a decent laugh online, especially if you’re getting it as part of your Game Pass subscription. But that swarming enemy technology where thousands of raptors or whatever fill the screen and surge towards you is pretty cool. Exoprimal runs on RE Engine, as all current Capcom games do. One sees giant hordes of enemies in a Capcom engine and thinks… Dead Rising? Let’s just call Exoprimal a Dead Rising RE Engine technology test. In that context, it’s Game of the Year.
Most annoying fans - Xbox
You know who we hate? Xbox fans. We just can't stand them, with their "Game Pass is so good, Phil Spencer will buy all the game studios and wear cool t-shirts, our console is the best" mentality. Like… get over it Xbox fans. Maybe, and just maybe, if you become less annoying, we'll like you as we like PlayStation and Nintendo fans. Xbots, amirite?
Worst Fans - PlayStation
You know who we hate? PlayStation fans. We just can't stand them, with their "PlayStation Plus is so good, we get all the best AAA prestige exclusives that aren't dull, our console is the best" mentality. Like… get over it PlayStation fans. Maybe, and just maybe, if you become less annoying, we'll like you as we like Xbox and Nintendo fans. Sony Ponies, amirite?
Most pious fans - old people who like Nintendo
You know who we hate and think are pious? Nintendo fans. We just can't stand them, with their "Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is the most eclectic and loving curated subscription service, Nintendo carves games out of frozen unicorn tears (cried from happiness), our console is the best" mentality. Like… get over it Nintendo fans. Maybe, and just maybe, if you spend less time worshiping a photo of Miyamoto, we'll like you as we like Xbox and PlayStation fans. Drank the cult of Nintendo Kool-Aid much, amirite?
Fans we couldn't be bothered to write about (or make an image for) - PC fans
These awards aren't sponsored, but if they were we'd have had a section like this: SHOES
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VG247 is not affiliated with Shoes and does not claim that Shoes will improve your performance in video games. They can, however, look good.