Games That Deserve Your Love
The current generation of consoles has harvested a bumper crop of incredible games. From the cultural phenomenon of Grand Theft Auto IV to the cinematic luxury of the latest Metal Gear Solid, the number of high-profile releases has truly been staggering. It's therefore unsurprising that many worthy games have slipped through the cracks.
In the following slideshow, we take a look at some of the games that deserved to go on to bigger and better things.
Mirror’s Edge (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Mirror’s Edge was probably the most original full-price release of 2008. In a sea of generic rip-offs and samey sequels, its high concept gameplay really stood out from the crowd. The game combines an Aeon Flux-esque storyline with Prince of Persia–style platform acrobatics — all packaged in a unique first-person perspective with some of the most stunning visuals you’ll ever see. As futuristic courier Faith, it is your mission to deliver mystery packages across the dystopian city landscape, which basically involves leaping across lots of rooftops and karate-kicking cops. (Think Run Lola Run crossed with the free-motion sport parkour and you’re halfway there.)
Mirror's Edge - Game Screen
Tragically, few people seemed to understand what EA was aiming for. Some critics derided the game for its trial-and-error progression, while others dismissed it as a noble failure. Personally, we loved the game to bits: not just for its originality, but for its striking design and free-flowing gameplay. If you ever needed proof that innovation still exists in the videogames industry, look to Mirror’s Edge. (And if you’re wondering why it doesn’t exist more, look to your own reflection.)
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PC)
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames was the other free-roaming action game of 2008. Rudely sandwiched between high-profile releases from Rockstar and THQ, it was unfairly dismissed by most critics as a Venezuela-based GTA-knockoff. Even an ill-advised publicity stunt involving free petrol failed to generate the game much notice. Simply put, the sandbox delights offered by Grand Theft Auto IV and Saint’s Row 2 were more than enough for most gamers — a third trip to the playground was just overkill.
More’s the pity, because Mercenaries 2 is one of the best sandbox titles we’ve ever played and an easy contender for the most underrated — and destructive — game of 2008.
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames - Game Screen
We also liked the believable sense of escalating anarchy as the world’s powers converged upon the war-torn country. Despite the cheesy cut-scenes, the game world truly felt authentic, with the panicked populace fleeing in droves as the smoke and chaos rise. In fact, we’re even willing to overlook the game’s terrible packaging, which features some of the worst video game art we’ve ever seen (well, apart from this guy).
Midnight Club LA (PS3, Xbox 360)
As the Need for Speed series stumbles from one car wreck to the next (Need for Speed Undercover anyone?), Rockstar’s rival racing franchise has continued to speed past the competition. Midnight Club LA is unquestionably the most exhilarating ride yet, with more substance beneath the hood than almost any other racer.
The game managed to achieve a great balance between arcade-style racing and car customisation, ensuring you always had something interesting to do.
Midnight Club LA - Game Screen
Using the same RAGE engine as GTA IV, the game’s sprawling cityscape was truly awe-inspiring, with the believable weather effects adding some real-time strategy to the races. With online support for up to 16 players, fresh downloadable content and a 68 song tracklist, Midnight Club LA definitely fired on all cylinders. It certainly deserved to score higher than the 70s and 80s it received from most games journalists, which makes it a worthy candidate for our list.
Sega Superstar Tennis (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS)
Sega Superstar Tennis is a lot better than you’d think. Essentially Virtua Tennis in a cuddly Sega-ised skin, it contained more tactical depth and complexity than a cartoon tennis game has any right to. And yet, it’s the type of game that anyone can pick up and play instantly: from grubby-fingered tots to geriatric granddads. Like any good party game, there is a cavalcade of different tasks, modes and mini-games on offer, including fun-filed missions based on Sega classics. Part of the fun comes from unlocking new goodies, with additional courts, stages and characters waiting to be discovered.
Sega Superstar Tennis - Game Screen
You don’t have to be a Sega fan to enjoy Sega Superstar Tennis... but it sure does help. From the assorted game-tribute missions to the familiar courtside spectators, there’s always something cropping up to bring a smile to a former Mega Drive owner’s face. It’s baffling that the game averaged an underwhelming 68 percent across all formats (a score we must sheepishly admit to contributing to). On the plus side, the game’s low sales means you can now pick it up dirt-cheap!
Wet (Xbox 360, PS3)
Wet was always destined to become a poor man's Bayonetta. Both games feature balletic gunplay courtesy of a busty brunette in stilettos. Yet, while Bayonetta was heralded as one of the best action games of its generation, poor old Wet was left out to dry. (Do you see what we did there?)
While we concede that Wet lacks the verve and energy of its Japanese rival — and is a little too fond of QTEs — there's still a great game to be found here. Just ask 2K Games' Anthony Lawrence, who proclaimed it one of his favorite games of 2009 in a recent interview. (Incidentally, he was supposed to be talking about BioShock 2.) With its knowing nods to grindhouse cinema and relentless acrobatic combat, Wet was probably one of the most stylish games of 2009. In fact, we'll take its exploitative grit over Bayonetta's bubblegum insanity any day.
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway was destined to become a casualty of war from the very beginning. Released a few months before Activision’s much-hyped Call of Duty: World at War to an audience that was largely fed up with WWII action games, it was never going to be the huge success Ubisoft was hoping for.
Thing is, it’s actually a better game than its Activision rival. Although the online component is slightly under par, the single-player campaign more than makes up for it.
Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway
The poignant story takes place under gorgeous sunlit scenery that contrasts with the desolation around you. With smoke, dirt and blood soaring copiously through the air, it's easy to become completely engrossed — and chilled — by the experience. The plot is far superior to Call of Duty: World at War: it plays out like a mature action thriller, with a genuine attempt to convey the psychological hardships of war (indeed, a tie-in novel was published by the game’s historical director). The assorted missions on offer also attempt to serve up something different, with the green-tinged hospital shoot-out being one of the many highlights.
Brutal Legend (PS3, Xbox 360)
Keen eyed viewers will have noticed that Brutal Legend also appeared on our Most Overrated Games of 2009 list. "How is this possible?", we hear you ask. Well, first off, office opinion was fiercely divided by Tim Schafer's rock opera opus. While some of us found it to be fun and original, others dismissed it as an uneven and self-indulgent mess — as pointless as a heavy metal umlaut. Also, while reviews were generally positive, the game's sales were wholly disappointing. In other words, Brutal Legend was overrated by reviewers, but underrated by the gaming public, which is why it appears on both lists.
For all its flaws, Brutal Legend deserves plaudits for being that rare breed of video game — a unique IP that offers something completely different. For this reason alone, everyone should have embraced its stage-diving debut and treated it like rock god. Instead, we let Jack Black crash through the floorboards to his bloody doom. Free Bird.
Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
After the truly risible Microsoft Viva Pinata: Party Animals, Trouble in Paradise was all too easy to dismiss as another soulless Pinata cash-in. It seemed that developer Rare was determined to bleed the original game’s reputation dry, with plush toys, animated TV shows and actual piñatas shoved down jaded shoppers' throats. Thankfully, it turns out that this 2008 sequel was just as endearing and fun as the first game — not that many people bothered to notice.
Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise
Trouble in Paradise once again charged you with micro-managing a garden filled with adorably sweet (and sweet-filled) Mexican toys. With more than 100 different piñatas to interact with — including 30 brand new species — the game was even more complex than its madcap predecessor. The introduction of tangible goals leant the game an addictive edge missing from the first game.
Despite scoring fairly well amongst critics, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise failed to register on most gamers’ radars. We guess you were all too busy blowing off Locusts' heads in Gears of War 2 or something. For shame.
Red Faction: Guerrilla (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Red Faction: Guerrilla is a tricky fish to fry. There were flaws aplenty in this game, ranging from repetitive missions to uneven gameplay. It also suffered from one of the weakest storylines we've seen from a 'Triple A' adventure game. However, Red Faction: Guerrilla overcame these faults to become one of the most entertaining video games we've ever had the pleasure of playing. Its sophisticated physics engine and destructible environment were truly out of this world. If you've ever had a deep seated desire to level an entire city with a sledgehammer, this was the game to own.
Red Faction: Guerrilla
Red Faction was something of a sleeper hit, with sales gradually building after a disappointing launch. So why are including it on our list? Because everybody seems to have forgot about its existence. When it came time to nominating their best games of 2009, most publications didn't even give it an honourable mention. Perhaps they had all been given memory-suppressants, like Quaid in Total Recall. Or maybe games journalists are just stupid.
The Club (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
There was a time when action arcade games were all about the action. To have fun, all you needed were some enemies to shoot at and a scoreboard to beat. The Club, released by Sega, was a valiant attempt to return to these arcade gaming roots. It removed the pointless window-dressing that bogs down most action titles and polished what was left to a killer sheen. The result is a third-person shooter stripped down to its barest essentials: men trying to kill each other in big rooms.
There are no hammy cut scenes or tacked-on stealth missions to wade through here: The Club is all about running-and-gunning from start to finish. With an emphasis on scoring kills as quickly and dramatically as possible, it was the ultimate way to get a quick adrenalin fix. Packed with multiple game modes, assorted firepower and hours of online longevity, it was easily one of the best action titles of 2008. The fact it was overlooked is almost criminal. If you prefer simplistic thrills over plodding storylines, The Club will definitely not disappoint. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!
Killzone 2 (PS3)
Let's face it: Killzone 2 was never going to get a fair shake from the gaming community. It all started at E3 2005, when Killzone 2's debut trailer caused a storm of scepticism to erupt across the blogosphere. In short, Sony was accused of passing off pre-rendered PC graphics as in-game PS3 footage. People were apoplectic.
At the time, Sony bashing was fresh in vogue, and Killzone 2's ‘fake trailer’ provided the perfect scapegoat. After E3 ’05, practically everybody outside Sony’s fanbase wanted to see the game fall flat.
By the time Killzone 2 limped into storefronts, most people had stopped caring. What was once touted as “the ultimate Halo-killer” was now being dismissed as “just another FPS”. While Killzone 2 did okay commercially, its sales were eclipsed by Halo 3 — and even the much-maligned Halo: ODST. To add insult to injury, few publications saw fit to include it on their Game of the Year list. Now we’re not saying Killzone 2 is a Halo-killer — whatever that means — but it’s certainly a lot better than most people give it credit for. Also, the Hellghast are just about the coolest video game villains ever. Those guys eat Spartans for breakfast.
Year after year, gamers continue to cry out for something 'fresh' and 'different'. While we’re happy to keep buying the same old sequels, we also want new ideas, unique designs and original IP. In a less mad world, we'd have a perfect mixture of both.
Sega’s MadWorld delivered all of the above and more — just like Icho, Killer 7 and Mirror’s Edge. Collectively, they sold about 13 copies. Tch. Is it really any wonder that games publishers are increasingly reluctant to invest in original concepts? Clearly, we only have ourselves to blame.
But the ironic thing is, behind its startlingly unique visuals, Madworld is just a paint-by-numbers scrolling beat 'em up — and a bloody good one at that. (It's certainly better than Ubisoft's TMNT games, which continue to sell well.) Maybe if Sega had used a dull brown colour scheme like every other action game in existence, MadWorld would have been a bigger hit. Sigh.
Bionic Commando (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
We’re not even going to try to convince you on this one. But it's true.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Once upon a time, gamers didn't seem to get the cowboy genre, despite its endless scope for action and adventure. Even after the runaway success of the TV show Deadwood, Westerns continue to remain at the fringe of the gaming landscape; like mangy, flea-bitten dogs.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
All that changed of course with the release of Red Dead Redemption -- but its way was pathed by an earlier trailblazer. With its compelling storyline, exciting set pieces and well-implemented gunplay, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood really deserved to be a bigger hit. The early war-set missions are particularly noteworthy, proving that a pre-WW2 shooter can work if handled properly. With any luck, Activision will take note and release a Call of Duty: American Civil War game. It'd certainly be better than storming the beaches of Normandy again.
Head to your local game dealer, slap down a fistful of dollars, and take it home: you won't be disappointed.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mac)
Two great games for the price of one, and nobody cared.
Seriously, what more do you people want? Vin Diesel's blood?
DJ Hero (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
For years now, the Guitar Hero franchise has been trotting out the same tired old concept via a roster of diminishing tracks. With each new release, the pool of prospective songs becomes smaller and smaller, until we're left with the likes of Counting Crows and (hnnngh) Taylor Swift. Call us ageing hippies if you must, but the Guitar Hero series used to be about real music. Now, it's just another platform for vapid, plastic pop.
he game's October launch brought about the sort of changes that critics had been clamouring for: namely, a markedly different play style, an all-new controller, and a radically different approach to music in the form of novel mash-ups and remixes. More to the point, it was a lot of fun.
Activision claims DJ Hero was the top grossing new IP of 2009, but that's a bit of an empty boast. (What was it up against exactly? Scribblenauts?) Meanwhile, business analysts have reported modest sales. If the game's slashed RRP is anything to go by, we reckon the analysts must have the right of it. With any luck, DJ Hero 2 will be a bigger hit.
Halo 3 ODST (Xbox 360)
In the weeks leading up to the launch of Bungie’s hotly anticipated Halo 3 ODST, a bleak and cynical trend manifested itself on the Web. ”Is Halo 3: ODST Really Worth $60?” asked GamingUnion.net, with clear rhetorical bias. ”$60 for an expansion pack? Halo 3 ODST underwhelms” claimed Ars Technica — their minds presumably made up before even seeing the game. ”Worst Halo Yet!” stormed TechUnion.us (er, since when did Comic Book Guy review video games?)
Halo 3 ODST
...Okay; so the game was initially conceived as an expansion pack, we get it. But that doesn’t mean it’s a rip-off at full price. From the polished and plentiful CGI cut scenes to the endlessly playable four-player Firefight mode, there was more than enough content here to justify your 60 smackaroos. In terms of new and original content, it certainly trumps most of EA’s annual sports titles.
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