Our industry is one of innovation and invention – masses of designers, some indie, and some lucky enough to be working on huge AAA titles, flood the market each year with new IPs and titles, each one touting some new feature or theme that no other game has attempted successfully before.
And you know what? That’s brilliant.
The gaming industry is relatively young when compared with the film industry, and it is still ripe with ideas that haven’t yet been done. It can continue to prove itself and demand that it be taken seriously by society. We can shout that the ‘average gamer’ is over thirty, and that female gamers outnumber teenage boys, but we have to continue to improve and impress if the games we love are to continue to infiltrate popular culture.
So, innovation = good. Simple enough.
On the other hand, however, with all this advancement and evolution, attempts to out-do by increasingly ambitious young designers, it can quite easily be forgotten that this beloved hobby of ours was born to entertain.
People visited arcades to kill a few hours, they played thatgamewhereyoushootstuffwithplasticguns and thatgamewhereyoudrivereallyfastpossiblyagainstafriend because they were fun.
…in actively trying to innovate, you can risk ignoring the simple fact that you’re making this thing to entertain…
Now let me be clear – BioShock Infinite was both ground-breaking and a hell of a lot of fun, and I can only hope that many more studios can pull this off again but in actively trying to innovate, you can risk ignoring the simple fact that you’re making this thing to entertain – to amuse and divert, regale and distract.
When a game is simply made to entertain, with no gimmicks or attempts at touting that it is the newest narrative design dream, it can quite often be discarded as dull or nothing special, but in the years that I’ve been gaming, I’ve found repeatedly that these games, humble and probably a bit dumb, are usually the most fun.
Yeah, their protagonists and side-characters can be a bit one-dimensional, their combat might leave you awkwardly rolling into a wall or squatting oddly after climbing a flight of stairs whilst crouching – but if you can go in with no ridiculous expectations, they can quite often impress.
They might not leave you unable to put the controller down because you’re too busy contemplating the nature of the universe or the ambiguity of your physical existence as a projection on the horizon of the universe or some crap like that, but they’ll leave you with some fantastic memories of shooting a robot in the face or even some dick jokes.
You’ll have been engaged and entertained for a few hours, and when it comes down to it, isn’t that why we play games?
Below, I’ve listed a small selection of games that you’ve probably never even considered playing, with a couple of reasons explaining why you totally should.
3. Binary Domain
2012, Yakuza Team/Devil’s Details
Binary Domain was released last year to absolutely no fanfare. Some generic Japanese shoot-em-up? Why the hell would I play that when I have Mass Effect 3 or Max Payne 3 or Angry Birds: Space?
I bought Binary Domain earlier this year – on console, and to this day, I’m glad that I did.
Set in a futuristic Tokyo, circa 2080, you play fairly generic, he’ll-sell-well-to-mass-market, straight, white male with a big gun, First Sergeant Dan Marshall. He’s part of a ‘Rust Crew’, a team specially trained to fight robots, although most robots in 2080 seem to be quite easy to disable with a few shots to the legs so it doesn’t seem like the most secure career path. What skills do you have, Dan? Oh you can hit a robot in the crotch from a hundred yards? Well that’s very impressive but how is that going to help you sell a car or run formulas on a big spreadsheet?
Dan isn’t big on robots, and the world is absolutely rife with them – and Dan isn’t happy about this.
His main bro is Big Bo, and here’s your first reason to buy this game – Big Bo kicks ass. He only just missed the cut for last week’s list of characters you want watching your back, but he really is a great character.
Dan and Bo ride into Tokyo on cool little one-man submarine-bike things, because by 2080 that will be the only viable mode of travel by sea, you know. There’s some weird shit is going down in the headquarters of the Amada corporation, Japan’s biggest robot manufacturer.
There’s some weird shit is going down in the headquarters of the Amada corporation, Japan’s biggest robot manufacturer.
Amada built the first robot way back in 2040, but Bergen, their American counterpart, stole the technology, leading to a law-suit which left Bergen in control of the world market.
As it turns out, however, Amada have been producing ‘Hollow Children’, robots that look like humans that don’t know that they’re robots, and they aren’t allowed to do that because of the law and stuff.
So far, so generic. And it really doesn’t get much more complicated than that. The game itself is a third-person shooter, and over the course of the six or seven hours you’ll be playing this game, you’ll pick up some more bros for your rag-tag strike team.
They aren’t trying to be particularly unique and in fact many of them play to stereotypes. There’s the plucky but solitary Chinese soldier, Faye, and a couple of stodgy MI6 agents with weird accents.
In fact, the only character who really is unique in any way is Cain – a French android you pick up later on in the game. The writing actually shines for his character, with jokes left-and-right and some hilarious dialogue with other characters. He’s your second reason.
The game takes some cues from various films, as well as from other games, most notably many BioWare games, using a trust system with its characters reminiscent of the Dragon Age games that dictate how characters respond to you as well as their fates.
Give it a chance, and you get the opportunity to play through some really colourful levels, with a combat system that is actually a lot of fun (deconstructing completely destructible robots piece by piece with an assault rifle is enough to make anybody howl with joy.)
Despite receiving solid scores from many reviewers, Binary Domain sank like a stone, achieving a measly 20,000 sales in North America. And that’s a damn shame, because it’s actually a great game – the sort of game that when you’ve finished, you immediately Google for news of a sequel that for some reason, you know will never come.
2011, People Can Fly (Epic Games)
Alright, let’s get it out of the way – if you don’t like dick jokes, you aren’t going to like Bulletstorm. It is built on a foundation of dick jokes and various other veins of juvenile humour, and it isn’t at all apologetic. If this doesn’t faze you and you’re actually partial to the odd phallus-based witticism, then Bulletstorm is totally the game for you.
Both People Can Fly and Epic were of course heavily involved with the design process of that pillar of the frat boy game collection, Gears of War, and it shows – even the main protagonist, generic-man-with-gun, Grayson Hunt, looks like a rejected GoW character, but the game really shouldn’t be discounted because of this.
There’s no over-arching conspiracy, no galactic threat, just you and a pal, on a barren planet full of stuff that wants you dead, trying to kill the guy that deceived you…
Grayson and his main bro Ishi, once members of shamed black-ops squad Dead Echo, crash-land on a hostile ex-resort planet after Grayson hastily orders a cheap revenge attack on the guy that tricked them into a life of scrap-hunting, generic-shouty-soldier-boss-man General Sarrano.
That is literally it. There’s no over-arching conspiracy, no galactic threat, just you and a pal, on a barren planet full of stuff that wants you dead, trying to kill the guy that deceived you and get the hell out of there. Simple, tested, effective.
Along the way, you pick up the severe and enigmatic Trishka, voiced by Jennifer Hale. She joins you reluctantly at first, loyal to her boss, but over the course of the game, she becomes an interesting addition to your team.
The characters themselves are interesting enough, Grayson, voiced by Steve Blum, offers a refreshing ‘fuck you and the gigantic mutant dinosaur you rode in on’ attitude to proceedings, and his writing, whilst often a bit infantile, can occasionally actually be very clever.
Ishi, too, is an appealing secondary character. Almost killed by the crash landing, he is only just saved by the addition of cybernetic parts that leave him trapped between his humanity and the logical nature of his computerised mind.
The setting of the game, a destroyed resort planet, offers a vibrant and fascinating world in which you get to blow a lot of shit up.
The combat, whilst initially very standard, grows with the addition of the ‘Leash’, a feature which allows you to pull enemies towards you and bounce them around like rag dolls. Coupled with various other amusing weapons (remote controlled sniper bullets, anyone?) and a detailed list of challenges and dares to cause the most damage possible create a playground that can entertain for hours, literally.
Again, despite good reviews, Bulletstorm just couldn’t quite pull off the sales part of the process, which is probably why I bought it for £8. But seriously, if you ever see it on sale and you aren’t offended by the phrase ‘kill your dick’, you should absolutely buy this game.
1. Alpha Protocol
2010, Obsidian Entertainment
You’ll probably have heard of Alpha Protocol, even if you’ve never seen it on sale – the people who say it was better than it was given credit for, a modern-day cult classic. And do you know why people say that about it? Because it’s bloody brilliant.
Made by the less successful but just as ambitious younger sibling of BioWare (I’m sensing a pattern, here), Obsidian, it was praised for its story and technical attempts, but criticised for not being polished, and that’s a fair criticism.
But when given a chance, Alpha Protocol absolutely shines as a foray into action-RPG storytelling.
The story, when given a general glance, doesn’t really stand out as anything special. A pretty generic spy-thing out of any film ever. But it’s not here that Alpha Protocol is trying to be different.
The game itself is astoundingly intricate, just as intricate as any other narrative-focused game around…
The game itself is astoundingly intricate, just as intricate as any other narrative-focused game around, and even though these complexities and elaborative storytelling practices can be overshadowed somewhat by the various glitches and general shoddiness of many areas, when Alpha Protocol is looked at as a package, an attempt by a studio that wasn’t working to the best budget, but had copious amounts of passion behind them, you can begin to see that oddly – the game can be highly entertaining.
You play Mike Thorton (not Thornton, unless you’re a half-arsed hack job game journalist), a spy who is recruited by the highly secretive Alpha Protocol organisation, a clandestine special-ops group who act outside of the US government.
The first few levels are very general tutorial levels, then you’re pitted against a highly generic terrorist organisation out of literally any post-9/11 Hollywood blockbuster.
Give it a chance, though, and you’re rewarded with a cast of colourful and varied characters who offer some seriously entertaining stories. There’s Mina, your handler who, depending on how Mikey chooses to talk to her, an option given to players by the timed dialogue wheel system, can become one of the few people he can trust.
Then there’s SIE, a dominating and probably psychotic German mercenary who at least gets points for being one of the most unique characters in gaming, Albatross, the leader of an elite paramilitary group and his mute, ass-kicking, dual-pistol wielding assistant Sis, and so many more.
It’s a shame, really – because it really does make an effort to be ambitious, with the addition of character romance, an advanced timed dialogue system, and the elaborate story that it tries to tell. And it’s sad that even though it’s a title ripe for a sequel, with a completely willing (and generally brilliant) studio like Obsidian behind it, Sega aren’t interested, because if there’s even one game that deserves a sequel, it’s Alpha Protocol.
If you have any suggestions for games that you think deserve more credit, leave a comment below, tweet me at @ChuckieRoberts or email me at email@example.com so, and I’ll probably make an effort to acknowledge your existence.