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!