PlayStation Year in Review: A steady but subdued year for Sony, despite its noisy neighbors and a visit from Spider-Man

(Image credit: Sony; Insomniac )

2023 always had scope to be a strange one for Sony. For one, PlayStation entered the year with relatively few first-party exclusives on the books – in comparison to previous years, at least; certainly since the introduction of PS5 in 2020 – with its biggest rival Microsoft gearing up to launch Starfield, easily one of the most-anticipated games of recent times, as an Xbox console exclusive. 

Marvel's Spider-Man 2 was the obvious challenger here from a commercial and critical perspective, and while it's difficult to compare the two directly (we'll dig into that further down the page), Insomniac Games' second crack at the red-suited superhero quickly became the fastest-selling PlayStation Studios game over a 24-hour period, selling more than 2.5 million copies in a single day

Final Fantasy 16 was received well at launch in June, wowing players with its combat, voice acting, and spectacle (I'll leave fans of the series to debate the strength of its story, mind you); while the much-anticipated Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth was pushed back several months into next year. The PS5 had this year's runaway hit Baldur's Gate 3 all to itself in the console space for several weeks; whereas timed-PS5-exclusive Forspoken didn't quite live up to expectations. PSVR 2 excelled, not least by way of Horizon Call of the Mountain; yet the company's marquee PlayStation Showcase and State of Play events too often flattered to deceive. And so went the last 12 months for PlayStation – seemingly matching many of its forward strides with one or two in the opposite direction. 

With the Microsoft-Activision deal bubbling under the surface, a fair amount of Sony's front-facing visibility in 2023 was spent speaking out about why the proposed multi-million dollar acquisition wasn't good for the video games industry as a whole. And while I don't disagree with the sentiment from an anti-monopoly point of view (I will, however, put the glaring inconsistencies in Sony's argument to one side for the sake of debate), I personally felt both sides allowed the tabloid charade of it all to become an increasingly bigger distraction over the course. 

All of which is to say: 2023 always had scope to be a strange one for Sony. And, for me, it totally was.

The state of play

PS5 Dualsense

(Image credit: Sony)

Ahead of May's PlayStation-focused event, I ran a headline that read: Sony simply turning up at the PlayStation Showcase will keep Xbox on the ropes. With the virtue of hindsight, I'll be the first to admit that I missed the mark at top-level – Sony ultimately delivered a lukewarm presentation – but I nevertheless stand by the points made within. Xbox console-exclusive Redfall, aka Microsoft's biggest blunder of the year, was barely behind us when this particular PlayStation Showcase rolled around, and we were less than a month on from a Microsoft earnings report that stated Xbox hardware revenue had plummeted 30% in the previous year. At the same time, Sony had announced that the PS5 was selling faster than PS4 in the US despite years of console shortages, and that the PS5 had passed 500 million home consoles sold as a result. 

Roll all of this into the fact that at the time – way back in the heady days of late May earlier this year – the Microsoft-Activision bid was enjoying one of its signature lulls, whereby any deal whatsoever seemed all but unlikely. Fast forward several months, and not only has the Microsoft-Activision deal gone through, but Microsoft has also enjoyed the successful launch of Xbox-exclusive, Starfield. As mentioned above, making side-by-side comparisons between Bethesda's space-faring RPG and Marvel's Spider-Man 2 is impossible, given the fact many Xbox players are playing the former via Game Pass. What we can say about the superhero PS5 exclusive, however, is that it sold more than five million copies in 11 days and was the highest-selling video game of October 2023. That's pretty good going. 

Alongside all of this, the fact that Baldur's Gate 3 launched on PS5 shortly after its arrival on PC made Larian Studios' hit role-player an unlikely boon for Sony – the PS5 becoming the only console alternative for trips to the Sword Coast between September 6 and December 7, when that journey was finally possible on Xbox Series hardware following a handful of delays. I don't think the importance of this inadvertent period of exclusivity can be underestimated, especially given the fact that games of this nature (Larian games in particular) tend to fare better on PC – not to mention the fact BG3 had accrued a solid and pre-existing following via three years in Steam's Early Access initiative. With the promise of Baldur's Gate 3 DLC on the horizon, PlayStation players will inevitably extend their love affair with GamesRadar+'s Game of the Year for 2023 when the time comes.

PlayStation Portal on woodgrain table next to plant

(Image credit: Future / Phil Hayton)

"The Sony State of Play event in September did a far better job of stirring hype for what lies ahead – even if much of that extends into next year"

On the hardware front, the PlayStation Portal landed in November with its 8" display and built-in DualSense controller designed to sort of replicate the PSP and PSVita handhelds of bygone eras. The jury's still out on how well it manages that – but another peripheral that was well-received from Sony's 2023 purview was the PlayStation Access controller. Designed in collaboration with the accessibility community, the Access aims to help players with disabilities play more comfortably, with a broad range of customization options.  

Despite the aforementioned mediocre PlayStation Showcase in May, the Sony State of Play event in September did a far better job of stirring hype for what lies ahead – even if much of that extends into next year. This showing's coup de gras was destined to be a closer look at Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, part two of the planned trilogy, and it wasted no time in getting going. With flashes of Junon Harbour, the parade on the central thoroughfare of the same seaside town, the cable car ride to the Gold Saucer, Cait Sith, Vincent, Zack, Red 13's hometown of Cosmo Canyon, Bugenhagen, mention of Emerald and Ruby Weapon, and that big bastard swamp serpent that Sephiroth makes light work of – it all looked stunning. Now with its February 29 launch date in sight, 2024 can't come soon enough. 

Elsewhere on PlayStation's coming soon radar sits The Last of Us 2 Remastered (January 19) and Pacific Drive (February 22); with a number of TBC labels hanging over everything from Phantom Blade 0, Sword of the Sea, Hideo Kojima's new project OD, Concord, Marathon, the Silent Hill 2 remake, and Marvel's Wolverine. To the latter end, the catastrophic Insomniac leaks that unfolded this week at the hands of hackers dealt a devastating blow to all of those on the receiving end. 

The depth, scale, and scope of the leaked material that's now in the public domain is unlike anything I've ever seen before in video games, and is certainly a sore one for Insomniac who'd otherwise be riding high into the New Year buoyed by its latest successful release. This is indeed a notable set-back for a first-party PlayStation studio, but if Rockstar Games' recent trajectory in the face of high-profile leaks is anything to go by – from its own in-development content hack last year through to this month's stellar GTA 6 trailer – then I'm confident Insomniac has what it takes to bounce back once it's dusted itself down and is raring to go again. 

And with the sentiment of looking forward in mind, despite a fairly stop-start year from PlayStation against what we're otherwise used to, its next steps into 2024 and beyond will be, as ever, well worth watching. 

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Joe Donnelly
Features Editor, GamesRadar+

Joe is a Features Editor at GamesRadar+. With over seven years of experience working in specialist print and online journalism, Joe has written for a number of gaming, sport and entertainment publications including PC Gamer, Edge, Play and FourFourTwo. He is well-versed in all things Grand Theft Auto and spends much of his spare time swapping real-world Glasgow for GTA Online’s Los Santos. Joe is also a mental health advocate and has written a book about video games, mental health and their complex intersections. He is a regular expert contributor on both subjects for BBC radio. Many moons ago, he was a fully-qualified plumber which basically makes him Super Mario.