Sega are absolutely mental most of the time. I think this is established by now isn’t it? From Blast Processing to Sonic being part hedgehog part werewolf to Shadow the EDGEhog. They published Typing of the Dead: Overkill, park zombie game, part typing tutor. Have you seen the official Sonic the Hedgehog Twitter account? It’s glorious. And terrifying. I don’t care if it’s associated directly with Sega or not, the company clearly allows this to happen.
Anyway, a little while ago they gave away a big load of free games to anyone who would take them on Steam. Some were actually good, like Golden Axe and Gunstar Heroes. Even Hell Yeah! wasn’t that bad. Then there was Renegade Ops, a game that I’m sure was meant to be a parody of or homage to 80s action films. But here’s the thing, 80s action films were mostly about fun. This is all about being bored and slogging through it because I don’t want to add another damn game to my list of shame. So you get to pick a character and follow the commands of Macho McBeardman who wants to stop a terrorist with a nuke named Inferno and he’ll do it by any mean necessary! So long as those means involve driving a car around following an arrow until you blow up the thing it’s pointing at. I know I shouldn’t expect much in the way of story, so I’ll let that slide because it’s going for the silly vibe, but that’s about as much praise as this game’s getting.
The game boils down to you driving around the map to different targets, which need to either be destroyed, driven into, or collected. For the first half an hour it’s fairly good fun, as the Avalanche engine (of Just Cause 2 fame) does a good job of letting you blow up nearly everything. But before long you realise that you’re doing the same thing over and over again. It’s a small mercy that the game is only 4 hours or so long. The game plays like a twin stick shooter, but as you’re in a car you can’t just turn instantly around due to your turning circle. This makes sense, but does occasionally lead to you getting stuck on the scenery which is a huge pain, often leading to losing a life.
Having lives is something of a saving grace until the super secret hidden time limit kicks in! Yes, you have a time limit, but you won’t be told what it is until you’re about to run out. No number of lives can save you here, if you run out of time it’s back to the start! Enjoy rolling through another 20 plus minutes to get back to where you were. I suppose traveling around the environments would be enjoyable if they were different and interesting to look at, but after the first stage showcasing desert, forests and water, get ready for grey tracks, grey concrete and grey metal to drive your grey truck on. Dull. On the plus side, the different characters (including Gordon Freeman!) are all unique, with their own vehicle, special ability, and skill tree to unlock as you suffer play through. You’ll want to stick to the same one throughout your game though, as you’ll probably need those skill unlocks to stand a chance later on.
Now here’s your final positive. There’s 4 player online co-op, which can actually be pretty fun, albeit messy. There is so much going on when all the players together in the same area that it can be hard to see what’s going on, but it can have moments of entertainment here. The real problem with this game is that the developers seem to have taken the idea of Just Cause 2, which was enjoyable and over the top as a third person action game, removed the fun movement system and the beautiful world to explore and replaced it with a dull world and a bunch of cars. Cars can be fun! But this isn’t.
Renegade Ops was developed by Avalanche Studios and published by Sega. I played the game on PC (via Steam) and I don’t recommend you try this. It’s barely worth it in co-op. But your time is worth something to you surely! I don’t care how free this game seems to be, don’t waste it.
Lots of games look great these days. The amount of power in modern PCs is unbelievable compared to even 5 years ago. Even modern consoles can throw around some realistic looking environments (at the expense of framerate sometimes). The Forza series is well known for looking beautiful, Battlefield has often had exceptional environments and just look at The Witcher 3. Look at it!
The thing is, there’s a difference between great graphics and a great art style. The Battlefield series often looks great, but it looks like any other military shooter only a little prettier. The same with racing games, which seem to have hit something of a peak where the only thing they can do now is make slight graphical improvements for each new iteration. To my mind, a great art style is something different. It’s taking your game in a brave graphical direction, altering the game that was going to look photo-realistic and changing it to something outlandish and exciting. Here are my thoughts on 5 games with great art styles. As ever, these are my opinions only. And I’m not really known for my art appreciation, so approach with that in mind!
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
I’m going to start with a less than popular art style. Coming off the back of the darker, moodier style of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker was quite a departure with it’s bright colours and cartoon style. I can fully understand people coming from the N64 games into this one and finding the change quite jarring. I, on the other hand, find it utterly gorgeous.
The almost cell shaded style makes the whole world look inviting, from the crisp looking waves on the ocean to islands covered in forests, everything begs to be explored. The colours being so strong means that unexplored lands in the distance will stand out, drawing you in. Characters look fantastic too, with simplistic facial expressions giving you everything you need to know about the tone of the scene. I feel the art style has something of a child-like quality to it, which is somewhat fitting with the tone of the game: a young boy out on an adventure, still with a belief that the world is full of excitement and wonder. I adore the look of this game, which is part of the reason that it’s my second favourite Zelda game. But more on that another time!
This is a very recent one. So recent in fact that I wrote about it here a couple of months ago. Superhot has one hell of a unique look, with stark white backgrounds punctuated by bright red enemies. Your focus is never anywhere apart from exactly where it needs to be. Your targets stand out clearly and their bullets and weapons are clear against the environment. Which makes failures even more infuriating, because “I didn’t notice it” is no longer a valid excuse.
The fact that your opponents and their gunfire only moves when you do makes everything even more striking. Seeing a bullet gradually glide past your head, alerting you to an enemy to your right is quite a moment, one that probably wouldn’t be nearly as impressive in Generic Military Shooter 2017. Superhot’s action meets puzzle gameplay style is brilliant and its start art style complements it excellently.
Thomas Was Alone
From one brave art style to another. A puzzle platform game (you know, that genre that I hate?) with genuine heart. The style of this game could not be more simple, with every character being a slightly different rectangle. The object of the game is simple, get each rectangle to their respective exit portal by using their abilities in combination. In the hands of a less talented designer, this game could have been a bland PC puzzle game, but Mike Bithell, and later the team at Bossa Studios, created something genuinely beautiful.
The narrator, Danny Wallace, imbues each shape with so much personality thanks to the writing. The fact that you can feel empathy for a rectangle is a testament to how well written this game is and I don’t think the impact would be nearly as powerful if you were in control of a humanoid character. The environments are very simple, just being black lines, a stretch of water or a white button which keep your attention on the narration and the characters you will doubtless be invested in. Thomas was Alone is a hard one to write about in terms of how it looks and why it works (more fool me for trying!), but it is a genuinely beautiful game when it’s in motion. If you haven’t given it a try, I would encourage you to check it out.
A Metroid-Vania game based on the Mexican Day of the Dead. To be honest when I first heard the premise for this game I had no idea what to expect beyond it being a comedy game (and I only based that on the title). But I looked into it and found a gorgeous game featuring an undead luchador punching his way through the forces of the underworld in a brawler style. Solid mechanics, amusing characters, and a great art direction.
I’m not too familiar with the Day of the Dead celebration. I know that it has some cool looking skulls and that’s about the extent of my knowledge. This game seems to base its whole art style around cartoon versions of those skulls. This is probably the closest a game has come, in my mind, to looking like a Saturday morning cartoon without making it obvious that that’s what it’s going for (I’m looking at you Awesomenauts). Everything looks absolutely fantastic, with bright colours punctuating every strike your Mexican wrestler hero lands. As you switch between the world of the living and the land of the dead, the colours take a stark turn, going from yellows and reds and purples and greens to highlight the changes between the realms. A fantastic looking game with fun combat. Lucky for me I picked it up for free on Games with Gold!
Right, so the game was alright at best. A fairly solid 3D brawler that would get stale after a while. If it looked like a standard game, I suspect no-one would really remember it let alone allow it a semi-sequel in the same universe (Anarchy Reigns). What makes this a memorable game is almost certainly its art style.
The whole game is in black and white, making it look somewhat like a stylised comic book, with bright splashes of crimson to highlight blood when you dispatch an enemy. Sound effects would appear on the screen as words as bodies are thrown against spikes to really emphasise the violence going on. It really looks like nothing I’d seen before; the comic book style really worked. Unfortunately it wasn’t perfect, as the monochrome style meant that sometimes it would be difficult to see what was happening. This can be a bit of a problem in a 3D brawler like this where awareness of enemy placement can be a matter of success or failure. Still, it’s a hell of a brave style.
Some honourable mentions! Limbo is extremely striking with its use of light and shadow to highlight your character and the world around you. It looks great but I decided against listing it as I wrote about the equally gorgeous Inside by the same developer recently. The same is true of Oxenfree, which also has a good look to it, with its muted colour palette across the whole island. Valiant Hearts also springs to mind, with its hand drawn almost cardboard cutout animation style conveying a huge amount of emotion with what could be argued is a crude art direction. I had a lot of others in mind, but I think that’s quite enough for one post!
How about you?
Are there any games that you think look especially good and stand out from the crowd? Let me know, I’ll even tell you if they were one of my shortlisted games! Happy gaming!
I’ll openly admit that I’m normally the first to complain when a reboot of a classic game is announced. There are just so many bad ones. Bionic Commando, Sonic Boom, Turok and (in my opinion the most egregious of all) Syndicate are all examples of game series that have been given a shoddy reboot to grab money from an established franchise. Thankfully, in recent years good reboots seem to be outweighing the bad ones, and 2013’s Tomb Raider was certainly a pleasant surprise. I didn’t have much interest in it as I was never really a big fan of the Tomb Raider games, but it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable game. An origin story for Lara Croft with a semi open world to explore, although the shooting felt a little floaty and there was the curse of last generation’s tacked on multiplayer.
It sold well enough in spite of what Square Enix might have said (apparently just shy of 4 million units is a failure) to earn a sequel. And here we are with Rise of the Tomb Raider, which has been on Xbox One and PC for some time now, and will soon be coming to PS4. We find Lara in pursuit of an artifact known as the Divine Source, said to conquer death, with the aim of restoring her father’s name. Before long we find a shadowy religious organisation also searching for it because…reasons. I felt that the villains’ motives were very unclear during the game. They seemed to be no more complex than “to rule the world” which is about as generic as they come. The key members of Lara’s opponents are not all that well fleshed out, although how she relates to them in cut scenes is well done at times. Overall, the story is a little weak, but what there is of it is told well, in spite of something of a plot hole towards the end. Collectable logs from different eras of history add depth to the areas you’ll be exploring and how the Divine Source has effected various groups over time.
As has been the case with a lot of games I’ve played recently, this one looks great. The ice and snow effects are gorgeous, and little details like footprints in deep snow and Lara wringing out her ponytail after swimming add to the look of the game. Cobwebs in caves blow gently in a breeze and wildlife go about their business, looking up suspiciously when they hear you pass by. There are some oddities in the environments though. This game is far more linear than the previous installment, which is fine, The environments seem to go from snowy, mountainous peaks to sun-drenched forest in a very short space of time. Maybe this is something that happens in nature, I’m no expert, but I found the shift somewhat jarring. There is something to be said for keeping you environments varied I suppose.
Those environments would be meaningless without something to do in them, and Rise of the Tomb Raider has plenty of activities without overwhelming you (take note, Assassin’s Creed: Unity). You’ll find the aforementioned logs, historical relics, animals to hunt and challenges to complete. Best of all are the return of the challenge tombs, hidden deep inside caves. These act as large environmental puzzles that reward you with new skills for Lara. These are by far my favourite part of the game, forcing you to use the abilities you’ve gained in creative ways to navigate hidden temples and stranded ships. This is where the game is at its most creative and it’s a shame that there aren’t a few more of them, or those that are there aren’t a little longer.
Combat is enjoyable (although it lacks much depth) and doesn’t overstay its welcome, although it does get a little tedious towards the last half hour. Stealth is an option in most cases apart from the odd set piece, allowing you to hide in tall grass and snipe with your bow or stealth kill enemies. Makeshift grenades and Molotov cocktails allow for some diversity through the game’s crafting system (which pretty much every game needs these days apparently). Different arrow types can also be crafted to alter your strategy somewhat, as well as upgrades for your other weapons and equipment. All these materials are found in the various environments, by searching, hunting animals and looting enemies. Crafting elements in games are becoming the new modern military FPS: absolutely everywhere. But they make sense in this game world, and aren’t overly relied upon. The combat itself isn’t too challenging, you’re far more likely to die due to the occasionally wonky platforming. Most of the time it works very well, but sometimes your just doesn’t go quite where you expect, or you can’t grab onto the ledge you thought you could. The game has plenty of checkpoints though, so it won’t set you back far.
After the game ends, you can go back and replay sections for chasing high scores. This wouldn’t really be worth mentioning in most cases, but there’s a good system of altering the game for these which adds a lot of fun. You earn points throughout the game that you can use to buy card packs that can be applied to your next replay, adding big head mode, stronger weapons, reducing your health and so forth. These will add score modifiers to your run, either more points for cards making it harder, or fewer if they make it easier. It’s a fun system that makes replaying levels far more enjoyable than in other games. Sadly it comes at the expense of the inclusion of micro-transactions for buying card packs. You can earn them in game, but I do find this sort of micro-transaction irritating, especially when you have a full DLC package involved too.
Rise of the Tomb Raider was developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it as a solid action adventure game in spite of a couple of flaws. There’s plenty to do here without feeling like an Ubisoft collectible party. Another series reboot that’s working well? Maybe that will be the theme of video games in the 2010s.
I know, I know. A review is just the opinion of one person, and that’s as true with a little blogger like me as it is with a professional writer. In spite of what people may want or claim, you cannot have an objective review (nor should you expect one. Have a read of Vahrkalla’s thoughts on reviews for an quick, well-written piece on this). But sometimes the professionals really do manage to underrate a game. Some excellent games end up receiving less than stellar reviews for any number of reasons, which more often than not leads to lost sales. Keep in mind that in this era, games scoring less than 8/10 are often seen as bad or not good enough and are less likely to be picked up by gamers beyond those who have bought into any hype. This is especially true if a game hasn’t had a huge marketing campaign.
With this in mind, I’ve found 5 games I absolutely loved that people may have ignored due to lower review scores (although some get a second wind thanks to word of mouth). I’ve included their Metascore, for what they’re worth, to illustrate their critical reception. I’m not saying that these games should have received a substantially different score (I for one think that scores are a less than helpful practice in reviewing), simply that they may have been overlooked by large numbers of people who put their faith in review scores. As ever, I must have played the game and these are my opinions only but I genuinely believe that these games deserved better!
Spec Ops: The Line (Metascore: 76)
This one is almost a poster child for under rated games when it comes to critical review. I can understand why, on the surface, this game might not be looked on all that favourably. On the surface you have a pretty generic third person military shooter with very light squad command elements. The gameplay is fairly basic cover-based shooting against ordinary enemies and military targets, using assault rifles and grenades as you have so many times before, but it’s when you look below the surface that this game becomes so much more.
The narrative is exceptional, exploring war in a way that no other game I can think of would dare to. Your characters journey from reasonable, in control commanding officer to broken murderer due to the horrific sights he sees and decisions he takes is something quite memorable. Some of the actions you carry out, either by choice or otherwise, will stick with you for a long time after playing this as will the final scenes of the game regardless of the choices you made. No matter how ordinary the moment to moment gameplay is, this is a game you simply must experience if you’re interested in shooting games being more than just a chain of arenas. How many other games, rather than giving you tips in the loading screen, will demand an answer to the question “Do you feel like a hero yet?”
Binary Domain (Metascore: 68)
Another third person shooter here. In terms of mechanics, this game is rather similar to Spec Ops. It’s a third person cover-based shooter, with minor squad management elements. This pushes the boat out a little further though, having some light RPG elements for developing your characters and weapons. However, I think it suffered the same fate of being seen as yet another cover based shooter coming out when the market was saturated with them. It didn’t help that early on the story and characters are unbelievably cliched.
However, the story does pick up quite well as the game progresses, handling the topic of people being treated differently (being seen once again in the latest Deus Ex game) fairly well. The combat is very satisfying when fighting enemy robots, with chunks of armour flying off with every successful hit and boss encounters being challenging and varied. The graphics were (and if I’m honest, still are) pretty good, although the sound was somewhat weak in terms of weapons. The game experimented with voice commands which was interesting, although as is often the case using buttons tended to be faster and more accurate. Nevertheless, I feel this was unfairly overlooked due to it being another third person shooter in the crowd, and it’s well worth a look.
Comix Zone (Metascore: 71, for the Xbox 360 re-release)
This is a bit of an odd one, as review scores for the original release are not all that easy to come across, but I remember when this came out in the when I was a teenager, and the reviews were not all that high scoring. It came out late in the life of the Mega Drive, and there were a large number of excellent brawlers on the system. Nevertheless, I borrowed it and found it to be pretty damn good. The story is nonsense, but who plays a beat ’em up/brawler for the story? You play a comic book artist, Sketch (sigh), who gets sucked into his own comic book, cue face punching.
If there’s one thing this game has going for it, it’s the art style. Everything looks like a hand drawn comic book. Even the transition from scene to scene have this style woven into them, as Sketch leaps out of one comic book panel and into the next. It really was quite striking for the time. The gameplay was standard brawler, built on simple combos to wear down your opponents. But, and I think this is where the review scores dropped a bit, this game was hard. Even by coin gobbling arcade game era standards. Still, perseverance lead to enjoyment of a solid, often overlooked game. There are re-releases of this on various consoles, so checking it out will set you back very little.
Alpha Protocol (Metascore: 63)
I loved this one. This was one of those rare games that I finished and started up again straight away to experience again. Alpha Protocol was a third person action adventure in an espionage setting. There were some quite major RPG elements in this, to the extent that if you didn’t put points into pistols you wouldn’t be able to hit anything more that 3 feet away from you using a handgun. It also had a conversation system based on the tone you want to take during discussions to pry the information you needed out of people. This lead to a number of different paths through the game. I’m not kidding when I say this game had massive choice elements. I could have played this game 6 times over and taken a massively different route each time.
Alpha Protocol’s problem was that it set itself up as a spy based Mass Effect, but wasn’t nearly as polished. There were bugs aplenty. None were game breaking, but when you come from something as well constructed as Mass Effect (yes I know it had its faults), errors stand out. The conversation system, whilst tremendous fun, had problems with you not being certain how to talk to people especially when you factor in the tight time limit to make you decisions. Another issue was the RPG elements. If you put too many points into short range weapons, you could be utterly hopeless towards the end of the game. Still, if you go into this using common sense and don’t mind some small errors, you can have a lot of fun with this game.
Deadly Premonition (Metascore: 68, IGN gave it 20 whilst Destructoid gave it 100)
I know I said Alpha Protocol was unpolished, but compared to Deadly Premonition it’s practically a mirror sheen. This game is scruffy, ugly and has less than sharp controls. But it’s one hell of an experience. The story is utterly bonkers, the characters are lovable lunatics and there are some moments in the game that are genuinely tense. You play Agent York sent to investigate a small town, where he discovers crazed undead monstrosities and a mystery surrounding the locals, a mysterious killer and the contents of his own mind. York constantly talks to a seemingly imaginary partner, Zack, about the investigation, locals and random topics (horror movies and British punk music come up on a few occasions).
I can fully understand low scores for this game. It’s wonky in so many ways. The controls (especially the driving) are not the sharpest, the shooting is only marginally better. It’s one of the least impressive looking games on Xbox 360 (it wouldn’t look out of place on PS2) with poor lip syncing and characters lacking graphical detail. The game explains very little about what to do or how to play. I missed a huge amount of content the first time through simply because I didn’t know certain things were even possible. But my god is it an enjoyable experience. If you can look past the cracks you will be greeted with an open world adventure with a full day/night cycle, a Dead Rising-esque time based mission aspect, characters with their own schedules who all have something for you to do, and one of the craziest Twin Peaks style plots you will ever experience. In fact, Twin Peaks is clearly a huge inspiration for this game, and if that’s a show you have even a passing interest in, then this is a game you’ll want to check out.
Some honourable mentions! Alice: Madness Returns (Metascore: 70) was a pretty good follow up to American McGee’s Alice. Whilst it didn’t do anything particularly brave, it was a well made game with fantastically insane environments to explore. Singularity (Metascore: 76) looks like a very generic FPS game, but it’s actually an entertaining time travelling shooter with a hell of a plot. I remember trying to break the game right at the end when it came to making a decision, but the developers had obviously expected people to do that and put in a resolution that fit in with it. Asura’s Wrath (Metascore: 71) is more than a little polarising as it’s barely a game most of the time. It really comes across as a long series of QTEs with some occasional fighting, but there’s really nothing else like it out there and it should be commended for doing something brave and doing what it did well. Shame about the shady DLC practices.
And that’s the list! Some top games that got overlooked by a lot of people likely due to review scores. If you haven’t played any of these, I implore you to pick them up and give them a try!
Are there any games you think were overlooked? Did critics review a game you love unfavourably? Or did you get a game based on positive reviews that you ended up hating? Let me know!