Right now, conventional wisdom has it that this console generation will come to a close by the end of next year. Ask any gamer on the street what the best games of the last 6-7 years have been and you're likely to get a litany of overlapping- but well-deserved -answers. Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Uncharted, Skyrim- there's certainly been no shortage of modern classics for us to enjoy. But if you plant your feet and dig deeper into said gamer's personal taste you'll tap a different vein of games: the underrated gems that each player holds in high personal esteem. These games might not have the groundswell or even the proper critical acclaim they may deserve, but in talking with fellow gamers and sussing out their personal bests you're likely to discover a host of titles that the world may have forgotten, but nevertheless managed to impress the small audience they had. Here now is Part 1 of Darkstation's look at our most underrated games of this generation.
Ashley Chittock- Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis
When we went into the latest generation of consoles, all eyes were on Rockstar to see what they were going to do with all the great new technology available. Could they produce open world games and gritty shooters unlike anything we imagined? Could they push the limits of futuristic technology and evolve what a video game even is?! It was hilarious then, and it still is now, that their first next-gen title was a table tennis game. But not only is it the best table tennis game, it’s the best tennis game available.
The brilliance of Rockstar Table Tennis isn’t something that’s easy to put into words. Much like the sport itself, there’s hidden depth and nuance that comes only with practice. All the playable batsmen and women feel weighty yet controllable, and the gameplay is an accurate replication of the sport in real life. Matches are a twitch-fest, and once you learn to be able to choose the correct shot in the split second the ball spends in mid-air it’s every bit as intimidating as Olympic-level ping pong.
It was most fun in multiplayer, and here’s the best thing about it: the online worked at launch! Somehow video games got worse at accomplishing this as the years have gone by, but with Table Tennis it worked a treat. The short match structure was perfect for local, winner-stays-on bouts too, and I think it was with Table Tennis that I experienced my first taste of competitive multiplayer money matches.
I’d love to see a sequel that both uses all of Rockstar’s latest physics engines, and incorporates all of the online functionality that modern games have developed since Table Tennis came out. It ranks only behind Red Dead Redemption in my favourite Rockstar titles of this generation, and I only wish I had someone to play it with now.
Joel Szerlip- Heavenly Sword
If you took a blind look at the first party lineups for all three major publishers this generation, I believe Sony would easily be considered the winner. Since 2007, Sony has been able to repeat big release after big release and it all started with Heavenly Sword, the most underrated game of this generation.
Heavenly Sword was developed by Ninja Theory, who later brought us the critical darling Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Heavenly Sword is a single-player game that has been compared to God of War for its over the top action and quick time events. However, putting that label aside, Heavenly Sword was a fantastic journey with incredible action, and graphics that are still better than 90% of games out right now. The game's combat was fluid, consistent, and extremely satisfying. It's one of the few single-player experiences I actually did go back and play again a year or two later.
Heavenly Sword has a MetaCritic rating of “79,” however, back in 2007 I gave the game a 9/10 and stand by that score to this day. It is a great example of a game that didn’t try to add unnecessary online/dlc content and just focused on being an incredible action game. If you haven’t checked it out yet check your local bargain bin and enjoy the most underrated game of this generation.
Jonathan Miley- Divinity II
Long ago, in the year 2002, a game with a ridiculous title was released, Divine Divinity. In 2004, it received a spin-off of sorts, Beyond Divinity. But in the fall of 2009, it got a real sequel with an equally weird title: Divinity II: Ego Draconis, which literally means “I, of the dragon”. While the first two games had an isometric camera and would not be wrongly labeled as a cross between Diablo and <emUltima, Divinity II was more akin the first Fable with a splash of The Elder Scrolls, having a third person camera, action combat and load screens at every. Single. Door.
In 2011, Divinity II was re-released to include its expansion pack, "Flames of Vengeance," and an updated version of Ego Draconis. This was a very good thing, because I may have forgotten to say, Divinity II was pretty much completely broken when it was originally released. And sadly, the Xbox 360 version stayed broken because it received no patches. And when I say broken, I mean BROKEN. The original game had bugs that made your character die as soon as you loaded a save and terrain that swallowed you whole, not to mention quests that could never be finished. Thankfully, those issues were rectified in the re-release, "The Dragon Knight Saga."
That title brings me to why Divinity II is so awesome. In most games involving dragons, your sole goal is to kill said dragons. But in Divinity II you are a both a Dragon Slayer and a Dragon Knight. Which means you not only fight dragons; you become one. Mind blown, right? Roughly half-way through the main game, you gain the ability to transform into a dragon at will. Provided you’re not in a building, cave, or somewhere else where turning into a giant dragon might do you harm. This does two main things: cuts down dramatically on travel time and allows you to fight large numbers of enemies at once. Oh, and you can breathe fire as well.
Taking a cue from Fable, Divinity II has no classes. Instead, you can mix and match the three main paths (might, magic, and finesse) as much as you want. In addition to these more common skill trees, you also have access to the Dragon Slayer and Priest skill trees. These hold abilities such as mind reading and creature summoning, respectively. Which brings me to another awesome thing about Divinity II; you can read people’s minds. And this isn’t just for scripted events. No, you can read every single character’s mind. Sometimes this will give you a valuable info for a quest, while other times it’ll let you get friendly with a shopkeeper so that they will lower their prices.
Mind reading and dragon morphing aside, Divinity II is not perfect. It is not pretty, its story is kind of a mess, and its combat could be a lot more engaging. But in the end, the sheer awesomeness of the actions that you get to perform makes it worth every second. From blowing up towers as a dragon, to customizing your headquarters, to killing a man soul-forged to a chicken, Divinity II is a sadly underrated game. And you should go play it.
Jake Stroth- Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days
Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days didn't seem like a game that was going to be largely forgotten by the gaming populace. There was pretty heavy marketing leading up to its release in August of 2010, and it was a sequel to a game that had been surrounded by controversy. When the game did come out it received largely mediocre reviews, averaging a 63 on Metacritic. Despite the poor reviews, I really wanted to play the game for quite some time, but I never got around to trying more than the demo. I finally bought the game during a holiday Steam sale and played it late last year. In a lot of ways, the game was disappointing. It had boring, repetitive, and somewhat broken gameplay. I got frustrated several times and almost didn’t finish it, but I persevered and eventually got to the end. Despite all its issues, I really liked Kane and Lynch 2. One of the game’s positives is its presentation. The whole thing seems like it was filmed on a handheld camera. Your view shakes as you run, there is heavy artifacting during large explosions, and you can often see film grain during some of the darker sections. This great camera work adds a lot to the experience and helps you fit into the dark and bloody underworld of Shanghai. The multiplayer is similarly unique. You stage heists with a crew of human teammates, but you can betray them at any time, adding a layer of tension and nuance not often found in multiplayer shooters.
The real reason that Kane and Lynch is a game worth remembering is its story. Kane and Lynch are truly horrible people. They think nothing of taking hostages, getting into shootouts with cops, and committing other horrible crimes, but unlike GTA or Saint’s Row there is no glamour to the duo’s rampaging. Both men are clearly broken, both mentally and physically, and by the game’s conclusion all they have gained is an impressive body count. They’ve lost everything else that matters. Yet despite all this, you can’t help but root for them, hoping that they can somehow find redemption and peace. Ultimately, they aren’t heroes or villains, just pathetic people who cause others pain. It’s a truly grim and mature work. This sort of storytelling is rarely seen in video games, and that very novelty is enough to make it a game that people should definitely play.
Agree? Disagree? Have your own title you think deserves championing? Let us know in the comments below, or accost us on Twitter- @AshleyChittock, @Darkstation_com (Joel), @SpectralHunt (Jonathan), and @JakeStroth. Be sure to check back next week when we discuss the unrecognized merits of killing for sport, snowboarding, and... hell?