2023 is nearly over, and, well, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? There’s a strong case being made that we’ve just witnessed the best year in gaming, in fact, with both artful indie games and triple-A behemoths pulling together to deliver us memorable experiences ranging from space travel, to space horror, to city-building, by way of crossing dimensions as an alien humanoid beetle.
With The Game Awards right around the corner, we’ve assembled 11 games on PC Game Pass that have been nominated for awards this year, which you can play right now for $1 for your first 14 days as a new member and after that the modest monthly price of $10.
Nominations: Best Sports/Racing
Described by our reviewer as “the closest PC gaming has to Gran Turismo,” Forza Motorsport is the quintessential car racing sim. Its RPG-like leveling mechanics make playing online a compelling, neverending journey of self-improvement, while the fundamentals of the on-road experience are the best the series has ever seen, with extra weightiness to the cars and a new vehicle handling model that really make you feel each car’s subtleties, like (reviewer Phil’s lovely words) “the wayward pull of a 1970 Dodge Coronet Super Bee and the worrying vagueness of the iconic Lamborghini Countach's steering at high speed.”
Nominations: Best Action Game | Best Audio Design | Best Score & Music | Best Art Direction | Innovation in Accessibility
Cel-shaded rhythm action courtesy of the wonderful, unpredictable minds at Tango Gameworks. Hi-Fi Rush has you mad-dashing around a ludicrously colourful city, smashing up robots to the iconic beats of early 2000s bands like Nine Inch Nails and The Prodigy. Combine light and heavy attacks, summon the aid of chirpy AI companions, master those parries, and get intoxicated by the nostalgic Saturday Morning Cartoon zappiness of its characters and fusion of music, visuals, and punchy rhythm-based combat.
Nominations: Best RPG
Bethesda took a moonshot at making ‘Skyrim in Space,’ and while it might not quite have received the same fanfare as the studio’s Fallout or Elder Scrolls series, it’s still a damn fine space epic that’s at its best when strange AI and systemic things happen around its solid RPG foundation. Become an organ trafficker, get married, make a home on the most remote planet in the galaxy; the galactic possibilities are breathtaking (even if there are a lot of loading screens between them).
Cities: Skylines 2
Nominations: Best Sim/Strategy
After single-handedly taking the city-building mayorship from SimCity in 2015, Cites: Skylines has received its long-awaited sequel. Much like the first game when it launched, this is just the starting point, as Cities: Skylines 2 inevitably evolves over the years with expansions and DLC, but it’s a solid foundation. Our reviewer Chris Livingston said that little improvements like importing and exporting electricity, AI traffic improvements, and the ability to upgrade existing buildings in a modular way are great touches, and set it up well to take over from its predecessor with time.
Nominations: Best Independent Game | Best Debut Indie Game
From Jeppe Carlsen, the intense mind that brought us Limbo and Inside, comes a more colourful affair, casting you as a beetle-humanoid-thing traversing worlds using a strange orb, and solving all manner of super-satisfying puzzles across surreal alien landscapes. Our Jon Bailes absolutely loved it, praising everything from its puzzles to audiovisual design, saying “Cocoon is a game about the texture of puzzles, and rarely have they felt this good.”
No Man’s Sky
Nominations: Best Community Support
No Man’s Sky’s journey from disastrous launch to award-winning open-ended space sim has been a showcase of how a developer’s determination and post-launch support can turn a ‘dead game’ around. Earlier in the year, No Man’s Sky hosted the massive ‘Singularity’ expedition, while in August, the game received the massive Echoes update, overhauling space combat (freighter-vs-freighter combat!), and introducing a new race of robots, which comes with piles of story content. The support has been outstanding, the nomination fully deserved.
Nominations: Best Debut Indie | Games For Impact
This beautiful short story about a Tamil family trying to acclimatize to the culture (and cold) of Canada is mostly told around food and the dinner table, expressing the importance of a meal that’s been sidelined in today’s era of takeaways and TV dinners. You spend much of this 90-or-so-minute game over the cooking pot, solving simple recipe puzzles, in between uncovering the rich but at times tragic story of Venba and her family over the dinner table.
Nominations: Best Audio Design
With all the debate around what maketh the great remake, space-based survival-horror Dead Space stomps onto the scene and shows us the schematics. Redesigning parts of the dread mining ship, the USG Ishimura, to allow a bit more exploration, and giving the still-impressive graphics of the original a facelift, Dead Space recreates the lonely, gory experience you remember from 15 years ago with extreme care. The gritty industrial weaponry, the targeting of sinewy, dangly bits on Necromorphs, the frantic stomping as you crush them underfoot; it’s a thing of dark beauty, and hopefully the first steely step in the long-dormant series’ return.
Lies of P
Nominations: Best RPG | Best Art Direction
The Soulslike genre is always vulnerable to feeling derivative, and Lies of P can’t quite escape the Bloodborne comparisons with its nocturnal gothic-type aesthetic, the die-a-lot bonfire-based structure, even the UIs, we associate with FromSoft’s classic. But Lies of P ‘holds its own, even if there are strings attached.’ The designs of the mechanised monstrosities you face, the interesting weapon-crafting system that lets you combine different blades with different handles, and the fact that it successfully tells a grimdark Pinocchio story (of all things) amount to one of the most original Soulslikes in years.
Sea of Stars
Nominations: Best Independent Game | Best RPG
Sea of Stars pays tribute to the halcyon days of 16-bit JRPGs while showing a clear path for how this genre can look going into the future. You have the endearing companions, but their individual stories are a bit more relatable than the super-earnest ones of the 90s; the traditional turn-based combat is layered with the possibility of breaking enemy turns; the world shimmers with life, and offers more open exploration than the path-based worlds of yesteryear’s games that so clearly inspired it. While our reviewer Kerry doesn’t think it quite recaptures the magic of 90s RPGs, she still deemed Sea of Stars “a polished, enjoyable blend of old and new.”
Nominations: Best Action Game
A Souls-like shooter with persistent three-player co-op, Remnant 2 expands on the original with three distinct realms to explore, each shuffled around with well-implemented procedural generation that makes every one of your expeditions feel fresh and dangerous, and each playthrough distinct. An interesting mix of classes gives you options about whether to play it as an over-the-shoulder shooter, a Soulsy slasher, or a little mix of both, while the co-op lets you synergise the classes, giving it a deft little touch of the party-based RPG. Our very own Rick Lane thought it was great, calling it a 'looter shooter sequel that makes subverting expectations a habit.'