With Thief breaking hearts and Titanfall not quite taking off in traditional Call of Duty fashion, we're actually in a bit of a lull as far as good games go. Watch Dogs is on the way, as is Dark Souls II, but not a whole lot is really pushing the envelope right now. That makes it as good a time as any to look back at five games that were unfairly maligned or just plain overlooked.
This guest post by Dustin Sklavos was originally published on the Corsair blog. Dustin is a Technical Marketing Specialist at Corsair and has been writing in the industry since 2005.
Since Steam (yay) and Origin (ugh) are open 24 hours a day, these games are often available at deep discounts and definitely worth a try.
F3AR (Fear 3)
The first FEAR did phenomenal business, but FEAR 2 never really took off. It wasn't a bad game, it just wasn't particularly great, either, and Monolith mostly let the franchise go after that. WB Games took over and handed a third game to Day 1 Studios, but the ill-advised live action trailer probably didn't do what was already a tenuous investment any favors as far as getting reach.
At the same time, I think the lack of scrutiny proved to be an asset. Day 1 Studios took a rote sequel to a game nobody really cared for and actually had fun with it. Experimental and fun multiplayer modes like F***ing Run and a heterogenous co-op story mode complimented some brilliant level design and vis def to make a game that was, frankly, a blast to play.
I don't think it's any scarier than any of the preceding games in the franchise, but it's tremendously enjoyable and really worth a second glance.
Dragon Age II
BioWare seemingly rushed Dragon Age II into production and out the door, and the game was poorly received due to a substantially less epic story, simplified combat and companion building, and BioWare's hallmark recycled environments. I won't argue against the recycled environments, though I think the slightly simplified combat and companion building were done fairly deftly.
What Dragon Age II has going for it is that it, in my opinion, fixes three of the biggest problems with Dragon Age: Origins. The plot of the first game may have been epic in scope, but it was also aggravatingly mundane, squandering a lot of the stellar worldbuilding in favor of building up the painfully generic darkspawn. Dragon Age II flips the script completely, telling the story of a single character and the political intrigue that springs up around him/her.
The jumping in time as the story moves from chapter to chapter can be offputting for some players, but it's appropriate to what they're trying to do and is far more nuanced than the first game.
The second problem was that Dragon Age: Origins just didn't look that good on the PC. It was beautiful, but Dragon Age II looked an awful lot better, sporting DX11 support and, at the time, doing a good job of pushing gaming PCs.
The third problem Dragon Age II solved was that Oghren wasn't in it.
Flying Wild Hog, the developers of the similarly underrated but beloved Hard Reset, were charged with updating the nineties shooter artifact Shadow Warrior. Unlike 3D Realms and Gearbox did with Duke Nukem Forever, though, Flying Wild Hog was able to recognize their source material for what it was (and wasn't). The resulting remake is overwhelmingly superior to its predecessor.
Shadow Warrior 2013 almost completely eschews the original's racist humor in favor of a much smarter, more clever, and ultimately much funnier approach, more or less satirizing the original. At the same time, the game mechanics are in line with rebuilding a classic style kill-'em-all shooter with modern technology, resulting in a stellar single player campaign.
What you may not be expecting is just how good the game looks, though. The animated cutscenes are gorgeous on their own, but the modern game engine leverages DirectX 11 features against excellent vis def. Like Day 1 Studios did with F3AR, Flying Wild Hog took a potentially throwaway project, had fun with it, and made it their own.
Remember Me got a lot of press leading up to its release about its high concept science fiction story, mixed race female protagonist, and stunning vis def. Then it came out, the reviews came in, and they were decidedly mixed. That's understandable. We wanted thought provoking science fiction, we got Star Trek V. The writing was incredibly ambitious, it just wasn't very good.
Lost in the shuffle, though, was an enjoyable and easy to learn combat system, a solid soundtrack, and absolutely stunning visuals. While Remember Me may have felt limited by a middling implementation of Unreal Engine 3 at more than a few points, the artists at Dontnod did a stellar job of at least realizing their world visually. Fusing the fun combat and imaginative vis def are boss battles with smart, challenging enemies and monsters.
Remember Me's script is pretty dire and the protagonist's guide, Edge, is borderline insufferable, but the game is incredibly engaging on a visceral level and well worth checking out.
BioShock 2 exists as the misbegotten sequel nobody wanted, and I suspect a lot of people played it for a couple hours, found all their worst fears confirmed, and put it down never to be played again. BioShock Infinite doesn't outright ignore BioShock 2 but it doesn't acknowledge it, either. It's easy to see why people were underwhelmed: playing as a Big Daddy wasn't actually that exciting a concept, and visually it looked almost identical to the first BioShock. The ideas and themes we were presented with oftentimes looked at first blush like obvious, unimaginative extensions of the first game.
If you stuck with BioShock 2, though, you got a chance to go down a very interesting rabbit hole. The game gradually begins to drag itself free of the weight of its predecessor and slowly reveals itself to be an unusually worthy follow up. Superficially it's an unimaginative mirror image of the first game, but the devil is in the details, and BioShock 2 ultimately winds up enjoying a remarkably deep and in many ways better paced narrative.
2K Marin and 2K Australia approached the source material with reverence and respect and fleshed it out in thoughtful ways. If you loved the first BioShock but were disappointed in Infinite, now is a good chance to pick up this largely forgotten middle child and give it a go.