Hi-Fi Rush is a tubular action game that turns the rhythm up to 11, and I couldn't let 2023 go by without singing its praises

Chai and his feline friend from Hi-Fi Rush grin, determinedly, as part of our personal picks for PC Gamer's GOTY 2023.
(Image credit: Tango Gameworks / Bethesda Gameworks)
Personal Pick

Game of the Year 2023

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2023, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.

2023 has been an absolutely absurd year for games. Not only have we had some incredible hits like Baldur's Gate 3, but we've also seen some older titles become their best selves, with both Cyberpunk 2077 and Warhammer 40K: Darktide both getting really, really good.

Yet Hi-Fi Rush—a game that power-slid onto Game Pass and swept me off my feet—somehow feels like a distant memory. Maybe it's just because I've had some massive life changes since it came out like oh, I don't know, getting a job at a little website called PC Gamer. But I really don't think Hi-Fi Rush should pass us by without a mention, because in my personal opinion? It freaking rules.

Hi-Fi Rush is a third-person action game that takes after games like Devil May Cry—games where rhythm has always been a massive component. Stringing together combos is as much about staying on tempo as it is knowing which buttons to press. You can't just mash your way through, you gotta get down with the groove.

I'm not a huge DMC fan, but I have played Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (which I consider to be a rhythm game masquerading as a soulslike), and it's the same story there. The back-and-forth flow of attacking, jumping, and dodging feels like a high-stakes session of Parappa the Rappa. Even the raids of Final Fantasy 14 are often described by its players as a choreographed dance. We can't escape music in games. It's just in our blood.

Hi-Fi Rush, like a lot of its violent musical contemporaries (such as Metal: Hellsinger and Crypt of the Necrodancer) makes this subliminal Whiplash bootcamp an explicit part of its gameplay. Unlike J.K Simmons in Whiplash, though, the game's not gonna throw a chair at you for messing up. On the contrary, Hi-Fi Rush just rewards you for doing well. Positive reinforcement is powerful.

That reinforcement isn't just in the numbers. Everything about the game's visual design coaxes you into staying on-beat. Chai snaps his fingers in time. Enemies idle and attack to the rhythm. In some levels, even the geometry gets with the groove. Hi-Fi Rush becomes its own metronome. It's seamless when you play it, and I can't even imagine the amount of effort that went into making everything run just-so.

(Image credit: Tyler C. / Tango Gameworks)

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to challenge our own Tyler Colp to a Scott-Pilgrim style bass battle for giving the game a 69 in his Hi-Fi Rush review. Even more unfortunately, he does make a lot of very good points.

Hi-Fi Rush has a gorgeous visual style, compelling character design, superb animation, and a welcoming world to rock through. The characters are all so charming, and often laugh-out-loud funny—unlike Tyler, I grew really attached to Chai by the end of everything. I will, however, concede that Hi-Fi Rush doesn't do a good job at being punk.

The game doesn't have much to say beyond "be yourself, big corporations bad, don't let the man keep you down!" in a way that borders on kitsch. There's this disconnect between the sales pitch and the story's lack of ambition. You're a rebel set against the world, but nothing really changes beyond putting nicer people in power. 

Unruly corporations are bad because they want to use a big silly mind-control device—rather than the overwhelming force, exploitation, and disillusionment that happens in the real world. Mind, Hi-Fi Rush is angling for a lighter tone, but I don't really think there's a peppy way to discuss a lot of this stuff. Rebellion happens because of anger, and while that anger can be righteous, it's always ugly.

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

On the other hand, I'm a sucker for a simple story. I think straightforward action movies and popcorn flicks have a place in our world. Besides, solid character development gets you far. Hi-Fi Rush's story didn't inspire me in the way I think it wanted to, but I was still completely charmed and smitten with its cast. Ultimately, I think that's fine.

Despite all this, the fact that Hi-Fi Rush is 'just' a great action game and nothing more might be why it didn't hit our GoTY list this year. The spot it would've claimed—Action—went to Armoured Core 6, and I can't say that was outright the wrong choice. That game brought a whole new crowd to FromSoftware's lesser-known series—and it does a better job at touching on the bleakness of a corporation-infested future, too.

Still, I couldn't yet this year pass without shouting out Hi-Fi Rush. It was a completely unexpected treat which kicked the year off with a screeching guitar solo and a boombox cat. Rock on.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.