And now we return to Darkstation's look at the most underrated games of this generation. _____________________________________________________________________
Mikhail Popov- SSX (2012)
It seems odd to write words of praise for a “forgotten” game when it actually came out less than 6 months ago. So here’s a reminder of a 2012 game that was good when it came out and has only gotten better from a loyal, dedicated development team’s patching efforts: SSX. First, I’d like to put SSX’s release into proper context. It came out a week after EA’s cyberpunk shooter Syndicate and a week before EA/Bioware’s controversial space epic Mass Effect 3. When presented with those three games, all coming out within weeks of each other, it’s hard to imagine many gamers going for SSX rather than, say, ME3.
When it came out, a lot of gamers were disappointed in the lack of a split-screen multiplayer mode and synchronous online multiplayer. While split-screen is impossible due to memory limitations, a recent patch did add the ability to snowboard with four online friends at the same time. Unfortunately, this patch arrived after most players have either forgotten about the game or dismissed it in the first place.
Of course, if your friends aren’t playing SSX, then you don’t have ghosts to race against. Without leaderboards filled with friends’ trick scores, you don’t really have motivation to continue playing the game. That’s not to say you can’t compete against strangers, because you totally can. And you should. I earned more than 500 million credits (used for buying better equipment for the characters) by playing high-paying global events.
I’m doing a poor job of convincing you to pick up the game, huh? What if I told you that for the first 2 months when SSX came out it was – sans brief exceptions – the only game I played? What if I told you that it has a fantastic soundtrack full of dope remixes? Or that there are some really interesting drops that add incredible variety to the gameplay? Or that there’s a nearly limitless skill ceiling and your success is up to you?
And you know what? Asynchronous multiplayer was my favorite part of that game. I love turn-based games on iOS that don’t require me to be online at the same time as my opponents. I love that I can play a single match of Frozen Synapse on PC for several days. I love that I can just get into SSX at any time during my day and compete against the ghosts of my friends who have better scores than I do. And because my drops are also recorded and uploaded, my friends can do the same when I beat their scores and times.
The environments look great, the characters have awesome animations to look at, and above all: SSX is really fun to play. The game has been updated a bunch of times since it came out and some of the patches have added new features and optimized existing ones. The single player campaign has a ridiculously dumb “story,” but it does a great job of introducing you to different mechanics found throughout the many drops.
I think it’s worth the full price I paid for it at launch and it’s a great deal at whatever cheap, discounted price you can find it for nowadays.
Adam Condra- The Club
Shooters, of the first or third perspective, are constantly on the hunt for new ideas. While Gears and Call of Duty have clamped down on the biggest innovations of this console cycle, it’s not difficult to churn through their sediment and come up with gems that twist familiar mechanics in interesting ways. Whether it’s War for Cybertron’s aggressive, “mobility is your cover” play logic, or the gonzo playground that is Bulletstorm (an underrated game in its own right), it’s apparent that great ideas are found as often under the surface as they are in the limelight, and no game exemplifies this truth more than The Club.
Developed by Project Gotham Racing’s Bizarre Creations, which sadly closed in early 2011, The Club sought to blend its developer’s racing expertise with the West’s favorite genre, and it worked. Players stepped into the shoes of one of eight international tough guys/extreme athletes, who sprinted through specialized shooting courses against a dwindling timer. While the plot would’ve been thin for an iOS game, The Club’s basic gameplay was undiluted arcade bliss.
Running through one of the game’s stages rarely took more than two minutes, but they provided near-endless replayability in the search for higher scores, greater accuracy, and shorter times. Sharp, sensible controls that made it easy to change both directions and weapons, and level designs that pushed players forward while constantly revealing new secrets to extend combos and clearly reward successful strategies gave The Club arcade legs among the likes of Burnout and Tony Hawk. Sadly, however, it tanked, and the brilliant simplicity of its gameplay was doomed to commercial penury. At the $60 retail level, that tale is easily understood, as long load times and meagre multiplayer offerings failed to enrich the package. Nevertheless, The Club’s invigorating mix of shooting and speed make it well worth tracking down and forking over the pittance it costs these days.
Allen Kesinger- Dante's Inferno
As hard as I can try to play up the strengths and originality of Dante’s Inferno, the fact of the matter is that the game is not likely to escape from the shadow of God of War. Thanks to the blatant similarities between the two games, viewing the game in a vacuum can be a difficult task for most. However, I’ve long held the opinion that calling Dante’s Inferno a clone based on a “bastardization” of classic poetry more than a little disingenuous. I freely admit that the gameplay is derivative as all get out, and while it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, never does it feel cheap, poorly constructed, or a waste of money.
The real meat of Dante’s Inferno is exposed once you peel back the gameplay layer and expose the title’s bold and horrifyingly beautiful art design. In most media, Hell is often depicted as a dark, red hued realm filled with lava and laughing imps. By using the poem as source material, we get to experience the Christian version of Hell in all of its unholy glory: Walls writhe with the souls of the damned. The plight of unbaptized babies is unflinchingly depicted. Lakes bubble over with boiling blood. Suicides hang from decaying branches. The Lust level gained infamy for its frank and grotesque depiction of sexual organs. In an industry that isn’t afraid to sell sex, Dante’s Inferno offers a genuine reversal of the trend as the phallic and vaginal imagery (as well as a thirty foot tall Cleopatra whose nipples spit out tongues and demon babies) is not meant to titillate, but to horrify. Visceral’s bold design choices are certainly worth the praise it didn’t get.
As for the game’s story, once you accept that the game is not a direct adaptation of Alighieri's poem (I’d say it inspired the game) the narrative is not as bad as others would say. Apart from the traditional themes of redemption and good versus evil, Dante’s Inferno is an opportunity to see the life (and afterlife) of a flawed Crusader living in an era when religion was an incredibly powerful and influential tool and motivator. This was a time when the idea of a realm filled with nine separate levels of horror was outmatched by the most terrible fear of all: the absence of God. While it is easy to call the game out for being over the top, it’s important to realize that the vision of Hell is based on the original source material. If the game were a direct adaptation of the poem (in which the player is given a tour of Hell and chats with a few notable damned souls), it wouldn’t be exciting enough for the average gamer. Skill trees, epic set pieces and Quick Time Events are tried and true mechanics found in any game in the genre meant to keep the player engaged.
While the idea of adapting a famous piece of literature into a video game may rankle some, the fact of the matter is that Visceral treated the most notable and important element from the work - the depiction of Hell - quite seriously. As a video game, it’s a solid, third person action adventure with a number of epic set pieces on par with other games of its ilk. Considering the game’s age, there is likely to be a low financial barrier of entry so there’s no real reason not to give the game a chance.
Still didn't catch your favorite underdog amongst our list? Discuss it below, or regale us on Twitter, via @Condrarian (me), @bearloga (Mikhail), and @LibrarianGMR (Allen). We'd love to discuss more underrated gaming excellence and look forward to hearing from our readers!