Five Underrated Games From This Generation
This console generation has saw some terrific games being released, not to mention more and more people have been buying and playing games than ever before. With that though, the gap between the best games and those though can dumped in the bargain bin has increased exponentially. Big publishers after all, are able to saturate gaming sites with news on the AAA games they want the consumer to buy. Hell, a lot of game sites don't do a decent job actually highlighting some of the often overlooked titles that come out every year.
So, in an attempt to rectify that problem slightly, here's five seriously underrated games from this generation.
1. Alpha Protocol
Let's get one thing straight, Alpha Protocol is certainly not a great game. In fact, a lot of the time it's hardly anything better than average. What it did do however, is hint at a kind of gameplay that only Mass Effect managed to touch on.
Alpha Protocol is a spy RPG; you heard that right. Seriously, it begs the question why no one ever attempted this before. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment, known for creating Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, the game casts you as secret agent Thorton. Thorton can be customised however you like, and better still, the game leaves it completely up to you how you carry out your missions, as well as how you decide to progress through the game.
Take how I played through the game. I focused on improving my stealth skill and martial arts, by about a third of the way through, Thorton was a veritable Sam Fisher. On the other hand, what you can do is focus on explosives and heavy machine guns and turn yourself into an absolute gun-toting badass.
What's more, the game had a great dialogue system that actually affected the way the game played out. Each conversation had a timer too, similar to The Walking Dead game, so it better reflected a real conversation. The best part though, your choices actually mattered: after completing the game I was really surprised how many different ways I could have handled things when I checked through them on YouTube.
I suspect the reason the game struggled to sell was that reviews attacked the poor combat system. It was quite sketchy at times and the game seemed to be riddled with glitches. Worse though, certain builds made it almost impossible to complete certain sections. Remember my Sam Fisher guy? He was awesome at sneaking through areas, but when I had to take on a boss, I had almost no combat abilities whatsoever; it was really frustrating to have a build that was awesome to play but useless in specific situations.
The plot also suffered somewhat. It couldn't make its mind up whether to play it serious and straight up or be really daft. In the end it did the worst thing possible: settle in middle. After being all po-faced in the beginning you then have to take on a Russian mob boss who powers himself up on...cocaine. And I don't just mean he does it to give him some courage, the drug actually makes him super powered.
Still, it was unfortunate that Sega decided not to release any more games in the series, despite Obsidian saying they were interested in working on a sequel.
2. Alice: Madness Returns
Maybe I'm slightly biased with this because I love Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland but I really don't seem to hear people ever mentioning this game. For those that aren't aware, this is actually the second Alice game. The first was released almost a decade prior to this one, called American McGee's Alice. It was a decent enough platformer, even if it happened to be incredibly frustrating at times.
Alice: Madness Returns acts as a sequel of sorts, both to that game as well as Caroll's novels. The plot centres around the fact that Alice is mentally ill and that Wonderland was something that she dreamed up in here head in order to protect herself. Now that she's an adult, and a seriously ill one at that, Wonderland has changed in order to reflect this. The Cheshire Cat, for example, is no longer a fluffy cat but an emaciated piece of skin and bone with a creepy smile.
The art design is gorgeous, and beneath a simple tale is a rather disturbing exploration of a young woman's psyche. There's a lot of hints to what's ailing Alice hidden away in the very environments you explore. The outcome is a shocking one, and as far as game stories go it's certainly one of the better ones in recent years.
It's gameplay however, leaves a lot to be desired. Initially planned to be developed shortly after the original, you get the impression that this is ten year old game in every way minus the graphics. Platforming is overly simplistic and not nearly engaging enough, while combat is very basic, utilising a simple lock-on system and dodge manoeuvre. The mini-games that you're occasionally required to play also go on for far too long and could have almost been cut entirely and not have affected anything.
With better gameplay, Alice Madness Returns really could have been something great. As it stands it's a gorgeous looking game, with a great story, trapped in years old game design.
3. Brutal Legend
It's a guess, but I'd assume that lot of people that play video games also happen to be fans of heavy metal. Take look at a good portion of metal album covers and they're usually covered in fantasy, science fiction or horror artwork, it lends itself to games more than you think.
Starring Jack Black of all people, Brutal Legend follows the adventure of Eddie Riggs, a roadie who is advertently transported to a world of heavy metal music. It's a funny concept and the art design is wonderful. Each area you visit looks like it's just been ripped straight from an album cover, except you're actually playing in it.
For what is already a pretty leftfield concept, Brutal Legend also has a lot of different things going on in its gameplay. Some parts are essentially a third person adventure, such as when Eddie has to go and steal some guitar strings from a spider nest (because the spiders here spin strings not webs of course). In addition to this though is a pretty impressive free-roaming component that lets you explore the fantasy world from the comfort of Eddie's "Deuce", a flaming hot-rod that is built and customised by none other than Ozzy Osbourne.
As you can imagine, given the subject matter, the soundtrack is one of the best in any game. There's the obvious inclusions; Dragonforce's Through the Fire and the Flames comes belting out as you escape from a collapsing building, complete with hordes of demons chasing after you. Alongside other must haves like Judas Priest and Motorhead, there's some interesting additions to round out the selection such as Dark Tranquilty's Cathode Ray Sunshine, which is possibly one of the best tracks on there. There's some surprising omissions though; no Iron Maiden for starters, and it would have been nice if they'd have cut back on the number of Tenacious D and Ozzy Osbourne songs (he gets his own stuff along with some Black Sabbath material) to round out the collection some more.
Brutal Legend also adds an interesting RTS style tweak to most encounters. Each section of the game sees you take on different enemies (glam rockers, goths etc.) and this involves reaching the enemies stage and destroying it. To do this you have to built up a combat force to reach the enemy stronghold. There's no denying that storming towards your opponent whilst leading an army of headbangers is pretty darn funny.
However, because the game flirts with so many different gameplay styles it never fleshes out any of them to its fullest potential. The RTS sections are the most frequent but always seem as if the time would have been better served making a better third-person hack-and-slash, even it is less unique. The game also happens to be really short, which probably hurt its sales somewhat when it was released a few years ago. It's cheap enough now though and is well worth checking out, flaws and all.
4. Binary Domain
It's strange that I include this in a way because third-person cover shooters are possibly the most saturated genre out there. If anything, there's plenty that are overrated. However, Binary Domain wins some points for being nothing short of fun to play. It doesn't do anything new, it's a Japanese clone of Gears of War in pretty much every aspect.
The one thing it does change though is the tone and setting. Binary Domain follows a "Rust Crew", who are essentially a group of Blade Runners sent to clear out robot threats throughout the world. Set around a hundred years in the future, robots are now commonplace and are even capable of passing as humans. As you can see, Binary Domain rips off most of its idea from Isaac Asimov stories as well as Blade Runner and The Terminator.
It's a cool idea though, and more importantly the robots are a fun enemy to fight. Even normal grunts won't stop attacking you if you haven't shot them enough. Blast their legs off and they'll come crawling after you whilst still firing. Meanwhile, the boss enemies are reminiscent of old 16-bit era end of level scenarios, where the enemy would resemble an animal of some sort. Cats, dogs, giant robot octopus, there're all here and while the game never really deviates at all from its core gameplay of shoot, cover, reload, it's still difficult to dislike the game.
The plot isn't that bad either. Don't get me wrong, it's so daft and over the top that you'll be laughing at it, but the characters are likable and it's nice to have a change from the typical doom and gloom we get from "gritty" western shooters. There's also the addition of some light RPG mechanics, including some conversation options which are supposed to influence how your different crew members feel about you. However, it ends up being a wasted idea since they're so inconsequential, such as being able to equip a minor damage boost, that it's a mystery why they were included in the first place.
5. Valkyria Chronicles
Of all the games on this list, Valkyria Chronicles is certainly the one that deserves the most attention. Described as a labour of love by its developers, the resulting game is nothing short of fantastic. It's a lovely game to look at, giving the appearance of a drawing in motion, and the gameplay is a great mix of RTS and strategy RPG elements.
Taking place on a fictional continent called Europa, the plot involves a small country that is beset on both sides by two warring empires: the East Europan Alliance, and the Atlantic Federation. Trapped in the middle of this fighting is the country of Galia, which is drawn into the war because its land is rich in Ragnite, a source valued by both sides because of its potential use in weaponry.
I won't explain any more of the plot because it's a charming, rather heart-warming story that actually explores the horrors of war that affects the young people of Galia that are drafted in to the army in order to defend it. Similarly, the story avoids painting the antagonists as simple pantomime bad guys and instead explores the reasons why they are fighting, as well as the toll the war is taking on them.
At around twenty chapters long, each taking a good while to complete, Valkyria Chronicles is a hefty RPG package. It may test your patience sometimes, some of its cutscenes stretching on to Metal Gear Solid levels in length, but the story is so well told that you're not likely to notice it that much. Bar some occasionally questionable AI, it's a great addition to the rather niche strategy RPG genre.
A sequel was made but, unfortunately, it was for the PSP. Whilst selling well enough in Japan, it fared even worse than the original overseas. That's probably why the second sequel, also for the PSP, didn't even leave Japanese shores, although attempts are being made by some fans to create an English language translation.
© 2013 LudoLogic