Weekly Penguin
January 7th, 2024

Penguin DT's GOTYs 2023!

What am I working on right now?

New kind of an AI enemy. I spent ludicrous amount of time on the artwork for this one for no reason other that I went overkill with all the detail, most of which you simply won't notice during gameplay. I know, history repeating itself and there's nothing new on that.

I honestly completely lost the track of time with this, too. Whilst working on elements of it – scripts, engine implementation and especially the art – I practically zoned out of reality. I noticed I one day spent all day prototyping rendering techniques for this, with only two body function breaks. Which is why me having 'The Next Game free' two weeks over the holidays was a rare good call on my part.

Oh well, at least it means I can get this thing moving and functioning in the game soon – and as always, a lot of the ground work done for this entity can be used for others down the line.

Penguin DT's GOTYs 2023

GOTY 2023

Another year in the bag, another year of video games. Still stuck in the 'old gen', it is another hybrid year for me – a mix of games both new and of the Backlog. I also played so many different kinds of games from various genres that I just had to have an extensive honourable mentions section this time.
 

Best positive surprise:

Code Vein

(runner ups: Bread & Fred, Relayer, Severed Steel, Generation Zero)

I'm going to revoke my nerd card by saying this, but... I can't stand Souls-likes. The biggest hurdle in the genre I just can't get over is the stamina bar bollocks. I've said this before, but it is true: When your action-adventurer hero has a stamina worse than the time when me, an out-of-shape nerd, had a pneumonia so bad I was coughing blood, you should go back to the drawing board.

I'm saying all this, because Code Vein was the only Souls-like that clicked with me. Big part of it the setting that makes all the genre tropes make sense for once. For example, getting out of breath after a few swings of a sword makes sense, because this is an anime game where that sword is bigger than you. Or how the safe point resurrection mechanic works with the story, as you are basically a vampire.

In short; I really, really liked Code Vein. I had this in my backlog for aeons; I bought a bunch of Souls-likes trying to get into them, but left Code Vein as a straggler. It turns out I was saving the best for the last!

Best soundtrack:

Ion Fury: Aftershock

(runner ups: Bread & Fred, Warhammer 40k: Boltgun, void* tRrLM(); 2 //Void Terrarium 2)

Ion Fury: Aftershock is a marvellous expansion pack to my 2019 GOTY title – and Jarkko Rotsten returns to the digital crime scene with an absolutely amazing tracker soundtrack. Much like the game itself, the soundtrack takes everything modern tech and creativity allows from technology of a seemingly long lost epoch. The result is something that is both cutting edge and genuinely retro at the same time.

I couldn't imagine a better soundtrack to the game even if I tried.

After playing the game, go grab the OST, it is available on Bandcamp.

Best feelgood romp:

Bread & Fred

(runner up: void* tRrLM(); 2 //Void Terrarium 2)

This year was more than a bit rough for me head-space-wise, more so than usual, I was looking for 'feel good escapism' games to play. And you don't get much more feel-good than Bread & Fred.

It is a platformer starring penguins Bread and Fred – and for a single player dood like myself, Jeff the rock. It's been quite a while since I've played a classic, to-the-point platformer with controls this tight. Which is good, as it ensures you won't be mad at the game, but yourself, when you faceplant down the mountain. I'd say it definitely requires a controller, though.

The only reason I haven't featured it in Weekly Penguin yet is that haven't had the change to take the game's big selling point – the co-op – out for spin. However, that speaks volumes how solid the gameplay loop is – I can comfortably say it is GOTY material even without trying it.

I'm really looking forward to the console version – and hopefully physical copies to go along with it.

Best of Backlog:

Relayer

(runner ups: Code Vein, Source of Madness, Severed Steel, Generation Zero)

Elevator pitch; if Mass Effect was a turn-based mecha-anime RPG done with an indie budget and using visual novel style for cut-scenes. I knew of the premise, but didn't expect how much I would love the story. On the surface it sounds borderline stupid, with all the star children etc., but (most of) the characters are really well written, actually making you care about the stakes and the world.

The one caveat I have in recommending it is its super-slow start-up. It's akin to Final Fantasy XIII in that regard; the combat system shines once you unlock all the characters and their synergies to play with. However, that is tied to the story and doesn't happen until 10+ hours in. Patience is rewarded, though; when you get the character synergies firing like tactical fireworks, clearing challenging battles feels great.

It's a meaty beast of a game, too. After the main 40 hour campaign, there are two extra campaigns, offering a 'parallel timeline' sequel. In the end, my game clock reached over 100 hours (and for note, I didn't even 100% all Trophies / Achievements).

Petja's GOTY:

Baldur's Gate III

Combines an excellent story, great character customisation and challenging combat. Role playing game royalty, Larian didn't disappoint and contunues making brilliant games.

– Petja

Jouni's GOTY:

Warhammer 40k: Boltgun

(runner ups: Ion Fury: Aftershock, Bread & Fred, void* tRrLM(); 2 //Void Terrarium 2, Quake 2)

The moment this was announced, my brain was screaming: 'about damn time!'. Why this wasn't done 30 years ago is beyond me, but I'm delighted to get it in my mittens in 2023.

Warhammer 40k: Boltgun is classic FPS (or 'boomer shooter') set in the 40k universe. More specifically, it is a spin-off sequel to the great Warhammer 40k: Space Marine and (I assume) a prequel to Space Marine 2 coming next year.

And it is glorious, absolutely nailing everything it proclaims to do. It has tight FPS controls and gameplay, complete with modern DOOM '16 inspired mechanics and even advanced movement. However, all this is done with the utmost respect towards WH40k world and lore. For example, even though the player character is fast and responsive, he also feels exactly as heavy as an Adeptus Astartes should. Same for the weapons; the starter weapon, the titular Boltgun, doesn't shy away from the fact it is basically a rapid-firing cannon shooting explosive flechettes.

Whether you like the grimdark Warhammer 40k or classic FPS games, Boltgun is for you. Or if you're like me and love both, you'll name it the GOTY.

The only heresy related to this glorious game is the fact that there is no Big Box version.

Honourable mentions

So many great games, so few awards. Here are some more games well deserving some attention!

  • Ion Fury: Aftershock (Voidpoint / 3D Realms)

    The only reason I knocked to honourable mentions is because, it is an expansion pack – and I've traditionally excluded them from the main GOTYs. If I hadn't, this would win, hands down. It's pure, concentrated awesome! Think everything that was brilliant in the main game in a more laser-focused package. Go grab it!

    And fuck Embracer.

  • Sigil II (John Romero / Romero Games)

    John Romero's 30th anniversary DOOM WAD Sigil II is bloody great! Much like Ion Fury: Aftershock, the only reason this isn't swimming in actual GOTYs is it being an expansion. But oh boy, what an expansion it is!

    Much like its predecessor, Sigil II is available in multiple versions – free WAD /w MIDI OST, paid WAD /w full OST and physical.

  • void* tRrLM(); 2 //Void Terrarium 2 (Nippon Ichi)

    A brilliant sequel to the past sleeper GOTY contender! The story picks up immediately where the first one leaves off and finds clever ways to expand the world and the mechanics whilst also remaining familiar. Go grab it – but get the first game first, as this is a direct continuation of the story!

  • Quake 2 Remastered (id Software / Nightdive Studios / Zenimax / Micro$oft)

    Absolutely astonishing remaster of the 90s classic. Sublimely remastered with care and packed to the brim with content, this one actually manages to beat Quake 1 as a remaster. The best part of this release is, however, how it has made so many new folks discover this punchy classic.

  • Stasis: Bone Totem (The Brotherhood)

    A thrilling and atmospheric sci-fi horror adventure game – we don't get anywhere near something like this. It is a third game in the series, and though I wholeheartedly recommend them all, this one works well as a stand-alone experience as well.

  • Generation Zero (Avalanche / THQ Nordic)

    One of the most atmospheric games I've played all year was the Backlog gem Generation Zero, an almost-minimalistic open-world survival game set in the alternate timeline 1980s Cold War era Swedish countryside... during a robot apocalypse.

    The game itself is great, but I can't stress how good the sound design of it is. I can't remember the last time I paid this much attention to sounds as I did here, crawling in the hay trying to figure out is that just the wind, or the mechanical whir or the robot coming from beyond the ridge? The sound design is so good that for it alone you really need to try it out.

  • Severed Steel (Greylock Studio / Merge Games)

    Severed Steel a stunningly fast stunt FPS. The core idea is that you die from just a few hits... but you are immortal when you perform a stunt (flips, wall-runs, slides, dodge jumps, etc.). Time also slows down when you do this, resulting in constantly moving and hyper-kinetic gunfights. It's a spectacle for sure.

  • Source of Madness (Carry Castle / Thunderful Publishing)

    I've never been a big fan of randomized game content generation nor utilisation of AIs in development. Both utterly fail in creating anything that triumphs handcrafted work.

    And in walks Source of Madness, using both randomization in ways where it works. See, this is a H. P. Lovecraft mythos rogue-like that generates its levels, yes, but also its Shoggoth monsters for each run. And it doesn't matter that half the time the monsters look like something that shouldn't be alive, but mass of limbs that just writhe about... because that's the point.

    Oh, the game is great, too; one of those rare rogue likes where the narrative works inside the narrative. You play as members of the Lovecraftian cult, the members passing their forbidden knowledge to their successors.

    It's also a 2D twinstick shooter platformer at heart, so it feels triple-great.

  • BloodRayne Remasters (Ziggurat)

    Nightdive gets much love for their remaster work, but Ziggurat ain't no slough either. Their BoodRayne releases are well done, with buttery smooth frame rates and some upgraded character model work. The third one – Betrayal – even has whole new voice over recorded by the cast of the original two games. Brilliant stuff!

    Now, how about BloodRayne 3 to resolve the absolutely bonkers cliffhanger of BloodRayne 2?

2023 games in the to-play cue

These are the games from this year I already have but haven't gotten into yet, as I play only one game at a time. Well, whatever time I have in the day, as almost all of it is about our 'The Next Game' these days. I'm super hyped about all of them, so expect to see some of them next year in the Backlog feature.

  • Tin Hearts (the next game in the cue)
  • Turbo Overkill
  • Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless
  • The Kindeman Remedy

There's also System Shock remake, for which I'm waiting for the (physical) console version.

Then there are games I haven't bought, as I'm (still) in the previous-gen-mode, but intend to grab right away if / when I ever decide to upgrade.

  • Alan Wake II
  • Atomic Heart
  • Baldur's Gate III
  • Cookie Cutter
  • Deliver Us Mars
  • Ghostrunner II
  • Starfield

Most anticipated games of 2024

List of upcoming games has a giant caveat – if I decide to upgrade to a new console or manage to MacGyver my dev rig to also work as a gaming rig without compromising its longevity. If one of these happens:

  • DOOM: Year Zero (if it is real and Micro$oft doesn't screw it up)
  • Alone in the Dark
  • Outcast: A New Beginning
  • Phantom Fury
  • Retrospace
  • Tempest Rising (soundtrack alone is killer)
  • Warhammer 40k: Space Marine II
  • Wrath

After looking at the list, I realised all but two are under the grip of Embracer. Yikes.

Until next time,

Jouni Lahtinen, the head penguin

Blog history

23-10-13

Dev update!

22-03-02

The End

11-06-23

Almost there

08-08-26

What's up?

08-07-02

Wrapping up

08-03-27

Gone surfing

08-03-14

Coincidences