Year in review: The best video games of 2023 

Year in review: The best video games of 2023 
‘Assassin’s Creed Mirage.’ (Supplied)
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Updated 29 December 2023
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Year in review: The best video games of 2023 

Year in review: The best video games of 2023 
  • The quality of releases was extraordinarily high this year, here are just a few of the games that kept us up too late 

‘The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’ 

Developer: Nintendo 

Thanks in great part to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2023 has been arguably gaming’s greatest year. Several of its titles are already recognized as classics, and “Tears of the Kingdom” is perhaps the finest of all — at least in terms of gameplay. You control the franchise’s main protagonist, Link, as he searches for Zelda in the sprawling world of Hyrule and attempts to prevent the evil plans of the Ganon, the Demon King — and “control” is the right word here: everything about this game is incredibly fluid, particularly the combat (something other developers often struggle with). It’s also gorgeous to look at. Nintendo also pitched the difficulty level just right — it’s not an easy game, but it’s immensely rewarding. The only drawback? You can still only play it on the Nintendo Switch, meaning lots of people miss out on this extraordinary experience. 

‘Dredge’ 

Developer: Black Salt Games 

This downbeat indie release was one of the year’s great treats. Yes, it is — strictly speaking — a fishing simulator, but if you’ve ever had a fishing trip like this, chances are you’ve been scarred for life. You play a struggling trawler captain navigating a group of remote islands. You can trade your catches with the locals, and gradually improve your boat, skills and knowledge. But the more you find out about those locals, the more you’ll realize you’ll need all the help you can get to survive these waters. Smart and engaging, “Dredge” was a reminder that indie games can match any of the big boys. 

‘Hi-Fi Rush’ 

Developer: Tango Gameworks 

We did doubt if this wildly over-the-top rhythm-based action game — released in January — would bear repeat plays, but as we reach the end of the year it’s fair to say “Hi-Fi Rush” is still delivering on the promise of its title. You play as wannabe rock star Chai, whose music player is accidentally embedded in his chest during experimental surgery. Now you have to defeat the evil execs of the company that did this to you, with fighting skills that require you to try and match the rhythms of the game’s excellent soundtrack. It’s loud — both visually and musically, cartoonish, and a lot of fun.  

‘Assassin’s Creed Mirage’ 

Developer: Ubisoft Bordeaux 

The latest in Ubisoft’s blockbuster franchise about an ancient brotherhood of contract killers was something of an anomaly — a video game that brought Arab and Muslim culture and heritage to life in a respectful and immersive way. You play Basim Ibn Ishaq, last seen in the previous “Assassin’s Creed” installment as a secret villain. “Mirage” is a dozen years earlier in 9th-century Baghdad, before Basim turned into a bad guy. Lebanese-Canadian actor Lee Majdoub, who voices Basim, told Arab News earlier this year that making the game had been a “genuinely profound experience.” Apart from its cultural significance, though, “Mirage” was also a lot of fun to play — the franchise’s stealth and parkour foundations providing a solid base for an engrossing adventure. 

‘Alan Wake 2’ 

Developer: Remedy Entertainment 

It was a long, long wait for this follow up to 2010 cult hit “Alan Wake,” but Remedy absolutely nailed this sequel which has garnered near-universal acclaim (and a few major awards). While the original was mostly an action-adventure game, the sequel ramps up the horror elements significantly. We discover that Wake — a best-selling novelist — has been trapped in an alternate dimension for the past 13 years. Playing alternately as Wake and FBI agent Saga Anderson (investigating a string of ritual murders linked to Wake’s novels), you must solve mysteries, reshape the ‘Dark Place,’ escape time loops, and avoid getting killed horribly by monsters. 

‘Baldur’s Gate 3’ 

Developer: Larian Studios 

The year’s best fantasy RPG (and there were some great ones) rewarded devoted players with a feeling of truly being the co-author of a great story (brought to life with superb voice acting). Developers often claim that a player’s choices will affect their games’ storylines — but often that boast amounts to little. That’s not the case here: If you put the time into building relationships (for good or bad), then the knock-on effects genuinely change things. And the freedom you have as a player is truly astonishing — you can sneak around thieving what you need or go full-on Berserker and hack down everything in your path; you can schmooze and seduce or keep yourself to yourself; you can turn enemies into friends or into dust. So immersive and so re-playable that it should probably come with some kind of warning.  


Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm

Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm
Updated 18 July 2024
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Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm

Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm

DUBAI: MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm festival, returning to rock Banban, Riyadh from Dec. 12–14 for its fifth edition, announced superstar rapper Eminem as its headline act.

Joining Eminem in the lineup will be US rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, British rock legends Muse, Swiss DJ duo Adriatique (Adrian Shala and Adrian Schweizer), German DJ Boris Brejcha, Italian DJ Marco Carola, British-Canadian DJ Richie Hawtin and many more.

As the region’s biggest music festival, Soundstorm delivers a vibrant mix of music styles and genres from around the world.

Ramadan Al-Haratani, CEO of MDLBEAST, said in a statement: “Soundstorm, the region’s biggest music festival, has successfully made a remarkable impact on the regional and global music scene, making it an eagerly anticipated annual festival for music fans worldwide.

“This has contributed to enhancing the Kingdom’s position in the music entertainment sector.”
 


Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 

Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 
Updated 18 July 2024
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Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 

Sound of Ruby: ‘The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing’ 
  • The Saudi alt-rock veterans are enjoying the rewards of more than two decades of work 

DAMMAM: Dammam-based alternative rock band Sound of Ruby have been telling stories through music for decades.  

“We can say that we were the first band to play rock in Dammam, or Saudi Arabia,” frontman Muhammad “The Camel” Al-Hajjaj, who founded the group in 1996, tells Arab News.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Al-Hajjaj describes the band’s sound as “punk rock, alternative rock, emphasizing Saudi and Arab music,” and cites Henry Rollins — founder of US hardcore band Black Flag — and grunge legends Nirvana as influences, along with two of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s major inspirations, Pixies and Melvins.  

But back in Nineties Dammam, there were few who shared Al-Hajjaj’s love of loud Western-style rock music. “If we saw someone wearing a rock band T-shirt, we’d immediately try to talk to him,” Al-Hajjaj says. “It was hard. The popular music (in the community) at the time was rap, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and Arabic (mainstream) music. I like Michael Jackson, by the way. But it was hard. We’d hear ‘What is this?’ from people.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Al-Hajjaj, like many rock musicians, taught himself to play guitar. He was inspired to do so, he says, by a scene in 1985’s “Back to the Future” when Michael J. Fox’s character plays the famous riff from Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” (also covered by several other guitar greats, including Jimi Hendrix). “It made me love the instrument,” he explains. “My father said, ‘Be good and I’ll buy you a guitar, don’t worry.’ It was the era of MTV and Channel V, there was a love for the guitar.” 

At that time, he stresses, there was no internet on which to view tutorial videos. So Al-Hajjaj bought a 20-page book (“I still have it today”) which showed the finger patterns for chords and began to learn a few songs. “Everything was do-it-yourself,” he says. “We’d get together at weekends and play small underground gigs.” More than 12,000 kilometers away from where Rollins and the Melvins were based, Al-Hajjaj was mirroring their punk DIY ethic.   

“They had vicious names for those of us who listened to that music,” he says. “But, with time, there was acceptance.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

Sound of Ruby played a major part in gaining that acceptance. And they did so at a time when there was no infrastructure in place to support anyone interested in creating music in the Kingdom that was not Khaleeji pop. That, in itself, is remarkable enough. The fact that, almost 30 years on, they’re still going (albeit with some lineup changes over the years — the current roster is Al-Hajjaj along with bassist Kamal Khalil, lead guitarist Nader Al-Fassam, who’ve both been part of the group for a couple of decades, and drummer Faris Alshawaf, who only recently took over from his brother, Talal) and still retaining their alt-rock roots as they move through middle age is even more astonishing. 

It helps significantly that Khalil also owns a recording studio. “We’re lucky to have a sound engineer who’s been a member of the band for 24 years,” Al-Hajjaj says. That enabled Sound of Ruby to put out professional-level recordings (10 albums so far, plus singles) even when there were few studios geared up to capture rock music in the Kingdom.  

It’s been a long road, Al-Fassam acknowledges.  

“When I joined the band, my son was 10 days old; today, he’s 20,” he says, adding that his son is now a musician himself, performing in several bands around Dhahran.  

“We’re proud that we’ve influenced the younger generation throughout our artistic career, providing them with support and encouragement,” Al-Hajjaj says.  

Sound of Ruby members Kamal Khalil, Muhammad Al-Hajjaj and Nader Al-Fassam. (Supplied)

Many in the younger generation got a taste of Sound of Ruby in one of Saudi Arabia’s most successful movies, 2022’s wrestling-themed action-comedy “Sattar” — which is now also available on Netflix — thanks to Al-Hajjaj’s younger brother Ibrahim, an actor and comedian.  

“An opportunity came when a rock song was requested for ‘Sattar.’ Our song ‘Fannan’ was very suitable for the scene,” he said.  

In ‘Sattar,’ Ibrahim plays Saad, a soft-spoken daydreamer who longs to be a wrestler—an ambition that seems far out of reach. In the scene, he is driving in the car with his loving fiancée by his side and his demanding future mother-in-law in the backseat. When they ask him to play some music during the already awkward ride, “Fannan” blasts from the speakers. 

At first, Saad, the character, nervously fiddles with the radio dials, clearly worried they might misunderstand his musical tastes. But quickly, his voice clears and he cheerfully proclaims: “This is a Saudi band, Sound of Ruby — I like to listen to different sounds and be cultured.”  

The women look baffled and reply, “You have strange taste.” 

Throughout the movie, Saad has to constantly overcome potentially crushing obstacles — both personally and professionally. The audience never stops rooting for him. This is a relatable Saudi struggle to balance childhood dreams with adult pressures, aiming to make society and family proud; Saad’s journey begins in the underground, outside of the mainstream, fueled by passion and perseverance. It’s easy to see why Sound of Ruby were chosen to help soundtrack his anger and frustration. 

But the band’s perseverance has paid off. The music industry is starting to catch up with their ambitions. The Kingdom’s cultural scene has been forever altered by the sweeping changes of the last six years. And Sound of Ruby’s live performances are no longer secret, underground affairs. You can often catch them live at the café-cum-record store Bohemia in Alkhobar.  

“The spread of culture is a very beautiful thing — whether it be music, acting, or any artistic work,” says Al-Hajjaj. “It’s a beautiful thing that we now play in our beautiful city. I used to dream of a place like Bohemia before — previously, concerts and audience participation were all outside the kingdom. Now, with the support of the Entertainment Authority, we are breathing life into the music.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by soundofruby (@soundofruby)

And Sound of Ruby are making full use of this new freedom.  

“We released three new songs from our new album, that will be released this year,” Al-Hajjaj says. “Stay tuned for the album and concerts. In 2026, the band will celebrate its 30th anniversary.” 

Like the precious gemstone they’re named after, known for its resiliency, Sound of Ruby are standing the test of time. 


Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein

Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein
Updated 18 July 2024
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Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein

Princess Rajwa shows off growing bump during outing with Prince Hussein
  • Royal couple visit firm creating content on social issues
  • Prince lauds company’s focus on mental health concerns

DUBAI: Princess Rajwa of Jordan once again showcased her impeccable maternity style this week alongside Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah during their visit to Digitales Media, a local company that creates content on social issues.

The princess, who is from Saudi Arabia, wore Max Mara’s Drina silk-and-linen dress in a warm, brown color. It featured a high waistline that accommodated her maternity figure, with a softly pleated skirt of mid-calf length.

The dress had long sleeves with subtle cuff detailing and a gently gathered neckline.

The princess paired her outfit with a pink Fendi leather purse and matching pink satin ballet flats from Miu Miu.  

“Rajwa and I were delighted to visit Digitales today ... A Jordanian company creating impactful content on social issues and mental health,” the prince wrote on his Instagram, with pictures from the visit.

The royal couple, who announced the pregnancy in April, are expecting their first child this summer.

Since then, Princess Rajwa has been turning heads with her maternity style.

In May, she was spotted shopping in Amman wearing a blue denim jumpsuit from the Tencel Denim Maternity range by British label Seraphine.

She completed her look with white sneakers and accessorized with a Bottega Veneta Mini Cabat leather tote bag.

In her first maternity pictures, which were released on June 1, she donned a Vernia red blouson sleeve pleated maxi dress by Alice + Olivia, a contemporary clothing brand based in New York City.

The flowy, summery dress was cinched at the waist, accentuating her growing bump, and featured a V-shaped neckline.

On June 10, she attended King Abdullah’s silver jubilee celebrations in Amman, in a bespoke gown by Saudi Arabia designer Honayda Serafi.

This was just over a year after she wore an all-white look by the same designer for her pre-wedding henna celebrations.


Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode

Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode
Updated 18 July 2024
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Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode

Ramy Youssef nabs Emmy nomination for directing ‘The Bear’ episode

DUBAI: US Egyptian comedian, writer and actor Ramy Youusef has nabbed himself a Primetime Emmy Awards nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.

Youssef earned the nomination for directing “The Bear” episode titled “Honeydew” from its second season.

The fan-loved episode focused on the character Marcus, the lovable pastry chef portrayed by actor Lionel Boyce.

This is the third Emmy nomination for Youssef and his second for directing, after earning a 2020 nomination for directing an episode of his eponymous series “Ramy.” 

For this year’s Emmys, Youssef competes against “The Bear” series creator Christopher Storer for the episode “Fishes,” Guy Ritchie for “The Gentlemen,” Lucia Aniello for “Hacks,” Randall Einhorn for “Abbott Elementary,” and Mary Lou Belli for “The Ms Pat Show.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Bear (@thebearfx)

Overall, “Shogun” led the nominations with 25 nods, including limited series, and earned first-time acting nods for Hiroyuki Sanada and Anna Sawai.

Additionally, the FX network garnered a total of 93 nominations, bolstered by a record-breaking 23 nods for “The Bear.”


Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert
Updated 18 July 2024
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Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

Eminem set to perform at Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix after-race concert

DUBAI: Global hip-hop star Eminem will be part of a stellar lineup for the 16th edition of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the 2024 Yasalam after-race concerts.

The American rapper will perform on Dec. 7, joining US pop rock band Maroon 5, who appear on Dec. 6, and British rock group Muse, who will hit the stage on Dec. 8.

Eminem has won 15 Grammy awards and an Academy award. His 2010 album “Recovery” was the first in the US to be certified platinum digitally. In March 2021, his greatest hits album, “Curtain Call: The Hits,” became the first hip-hop album to spend a full decade on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.

His latest album, “The Death of Slim Shady (Coup de Grace),” was released on July 12, 2024, and currently sits in the top 10 on the Rhythmic radio charts.

The after-race concerts will take place from Dec. 5-8, with access exclusive to Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix ticket holders.