By Sam Coles:
Games are the most disposable types of media, there are games that are cutting edge right now but however they can look like a piece wood on top of dried leaves a couple years later. It’s not always the case but there are games that are lost to time, this can be a multitude of reasons, whether it is the lack of marketing, releasing at the wrong time or people just not buying the game. I want to go over games that I think are underrated, and maybe perhaps recommend some games to budding gamers and collectors out there, let’s get into it!
Let’s start off with a game that is certainly more notable, but went under the radar nonetheless with its release in the summer of 2012. Originally conceived as a new instalment in the aptly named True Crime series, Activision cancelled it as they didn’t see as profitable. However Square Enix took on the project and renamed it Sleeping Dogs, with a release in 2012 which reviewed somewhat well but didn’t meet Sqaure’s sales expectations. What was great about this game was mostly the setting and story, playing as an undercover police officer infiltrating the Triad was engaging and interesting. Not only that the setting of Hong Kong was unique, it really felt alive and United Front Games really captured the culture and night life of the neon lit streets.
Gameplay was no slouch either, during this time Grand Theft Auto clones were slowly fading, but Sleeping Dogs takes that formula and puts its own spin on things. For one it takes inspiration from Hong Kong action and martial art films, the combat is extremely brutal and satisfying where you can slam opponent’s heads into table saws or blow brain matter out of them in John Woo style slow motion. The driving was a lot of fun, although not realistic by any means it was fun to ram people of the road or jump out of your car, while it is still going, then land on the roof of another and hijack it.
Sleeping Dogs did get a remaster for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in late 2014 with slight changes, but again it didn’t really sell that well. The chance of seeing a sequel anytime soon are very slim as I don’t really hear anyone talk about it these days, which is a shame as it was one of the more unique GTA clones.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Seems to be a running theme with 2012 releases, Kingdoms of Amalur was an unfortunate victim of releasing six months after Skyrim which it was immediately compared to. From the minds of Ken Rolston lead designer of Oblivion, former Rare composer Grant Kirkhope, character designer Todd McFarland and famed fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore. It was a truly unique role playing experience, which took elements from games such as The Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Fable and even World of Warcraft with its colourful aesthetic.
For starters the gameplay felt great and honestly was better than Skyrim well the combat is, the combat felt like it had weight and impact with a system that felt like a brawler, a basic one but that is not a bad thing at all. What was great was that you could mix match weapons and abilities on the fly, as you could map them to different buttons and directions on the d-pad. It kept things fresh and stopped it from being a tedious smack something with stick until it is dead, like in Skyrim.
Even today the game has beautiful graphics; you have to take into account that at the time the games industry had an obsession with coating everything in a horrendous grey hue, all of the sake of gritty realism. No instead Kingdoms of Amalur goes for bright, colourful and diverse locales, to the lush green forests to bustling streets with vendors trying to push their wares. It is astonishing how over seven years later this game looks beautiful, it still has me just exploring in awe.
So where is Kingdoms of Aumalur now? Well THQ Nordic have bought the rights, but have an issue of remastering the first game as technically EA still own the rights to the first game, it’s rather messy. However a new game looks hopeful and I would love to see a new instalment to this underappreciated RPG.
Max Payne 3
Oh look another video game release from 2012, it’s a strange year as we had a decent releases but a lot of games just didn’t resonate with audiences. It’s a shame because Max Payne 3 is a fantastic game, with great gameplay, engaging story and graphics that still hold up today.
Max Payne 3 was victim to a very rock development cycle, I remember following it from when I was in secondary school at the age of 14 to when it released when I was in college at the age of 19. Initially announced in late 2007 Max Payne 3 was slated for late 2009, and then late 2009 came and nothing, then 2010 came and nothing again and then late 2011 came along and it was re-announced for it to finally to come out in May of 2012.
We see an aging and broken Max in this game where he decides to take up a private security job in Brazil, where his booze and painkiller mind is constantly in the clouds as he is alone with his thoughts. Things lead to a dark rabbit hole of kidnapping and organ harvesting, which I won’t spoil as I want you to play it.
Gameplay took a more realistic approach as it uses Rockstar’s RAGE engine, so Max has real weight and you can feel his aging body as he dives through the air dodging bullets. Shooting is incredible as it takes influence from other Rockstar titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead, but with a Max Payne twist with over the top violence as you see every bullet tear through the flesh of your enemies.
Max Payne 3 is super cheap these days as you can pick up a second hand copy on PS3 or 360 from anywhere from £1 to £2 so there is no excuse really.
Raven Software are generally known for helping the well-oiled machine that is the Call of Duty series, however from mid-90’s up to the late 2000’s they made some of most unique first person shooters. Quake 4 is often forgotten in a sea of first person shooters, and when it is brought up in discussion it’s generally negative. Now why is it presented as a negative game, well people often sighted it as “generic” with its setting, and honestly I would say “Did you play Quake 2”? Anyway it was the last of the traditional shooter alongside F.E.A.R, because the same year saw the release of Call of Duty 2 which shook the formula up for better or worse depending on your opinion.
Quake 4 is a direct sequel to Quake 2, where we see the marines clearing up the rest of the Strogg after the defeat of their leader. You play as Matthew Kane who is one certified bad ass; well that is what the game tells us. The game’s story is well…. An id Software story, where they prioritise gameplay over narrative.
Gameplay is certainly slower than Quake 2 and 3, as it goes for a more claustrophobic environment and there is more of an emphasis of working with your squad. Now this isn’t a bad thing as you still have the classic Quake weapons such as the shotgun, grenade launcher, hyperblaster, lighting gun and of course nail gun. However there are new additions like the vortex gun, which fires mini black holes which sucks up any unfortunate Strogg within its vicinity. You do rely on your squad in this game as they can heal you with more health, armour or just provide additional fire support. However they can be a pain sometimes, as they tend to get in the way and this mostly due to the more enclosed environments.
Visually for a game that is nearly 15 years old it holds up remarkably well, there is so much attention to detail with shadows and dynamic lighting that you just don’t see in games anymore. It runs on a modified Doom 3 engine, and yes its atmosphere does scream Doom 3 sometimes with the quieter moments but that keeps the flow of the game so it’s not just relentless action.
Quake 4 is a great shooter, and if you are going to play it these days don’t get the 360 version. Don’t get me wrong it’s not unplayable, but there are segments where the frame rate will dip to single digits especially when you start using automatic weapons like the hyperblaster or nail gun. If you can get it on the PC, it just makes me wish for a re-release on consoles where the framerate doesn’t tear its own arms off in an effort to run.
Those are just a few games that are I think are overlooked in the industry over the past 15 years or so, there are many more I could talk about but I would be here until Christmas talking about it. Tell me what games do you think are underrated, and you think everyone should play? Comment a game in the comment section or Tweet me @BristolianGamer.