Second Chances: 5 Games That Deserve Another Look

Gaming is a time-consuming hobby. Unlike music or movies, which require a minimal investment, video games can be lengthy and involved affairs. As such, it’s much easier to miss out on really good games that come and go without much notice. Perhaps it’s because of a bad release date, or maybe it just didn’t get heavy distribution or advertising. Hell, maybe it doesn’t have a good Metacritic score, or it was completely ignored on gaming message boards. Regardless of the reason why, some games just don’t make it, and that’s a shame. That’s why we’re here, though – to pick out some unheralded gems and give them the attention they so richly deserve. They might not be able to compete with the heaviest of hitters, the so-called “AAA” games that sell millions, but they present entertaining gaming experiences all the same.

The Subject: Singularity
The Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
The Publisher: Activision
The Victim: Raven Software
The Reason: Can’t find “Call of Duty” in the title

This statement of opinion is perhaps a touch provocative, but… I found Singularity to be the best FPS published under the Activision banner in the last few years. It hits almost everything I really want in a first-person shooter: an interesting plot that doesn’t involve terrorists or invasions from foreign armies; unique gameplay mechanics; and a setting that cannot be dubbed as “tired.” It’s certainly not an original game, due to borrowing many concepts from other releases. However, what it does very well is create a mix of tight shooting action (seriously, there’s some downright excellent gunplay here) with crazy time manipulation tricks. Only here can you press a button and age an opposing enemy to death. Even better, later on in the game, hitting that button twice in succession turns them into a monster that preys on everything – including its former allies. Activision didn’t try enough with Singularity – they gave away a free copy of Prototype to early purchasers, but that was the only incentive they offered – and even then, it was only in the Xbox 360 version. Other than that, the game came and went. Raven’s reward? Making multiplayer map packs for Call of Duty games. Sigh.

The Subject: The Saboteur
The Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
The Publisher: Electronic Arts
The Victim: Pandemic
The Reason:Oh, I don’t know… maybe because EA SHUT PANDEMIC DOWN WHEN THE GAME RELEASED? GRRR. Also, it released two weeks before Christmas.

Do you like shooting Nazis? Blowing up Nazi bases? Stopping Nazis from turning WWII-era Paris into Berlin West? Do you like escaping angry Nazis by making out with beautiful French women? Do you want to climb the Eiffel Tower, and then jump off it… and live? Then boy, do I have a game for you! World War II games were played out ten years ago, but Pandemic’s swan song The Saboteur manages to pull it off by being crazy unique. Rather than put you on the front lines of pivotal WWII battles, it instead makes the war a backdrop for revenge. All Sean Devlin wants is payback for the murder of his best friend, but along the way, sure, let’s stealth kill wandering guards, sabotage Nazi lookouts, and help the French resistance (with its cast of colorful characters) drive Hitler’s boys out of Paris. Alas, the game was doomed – EA pushed the release date into December, which is past “Black Friday” usefulness… and oh yeah, Pandemic was shut down. Super. However, the game lives on, so if you’re into sandbox games, Nazi murdering, and neato period pieces, The Saboteur is a really good pick.

The Subject: Test Drive Unlimited
The Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
The Publisher: Atari
The Victim: Eden Games
The Reason: Atari? Test Drive? Blah!

Though its sequel is already in the wild, the original Test Drive Unlimited is still the one that deserves extra attention. Released in 2006, TDU is a very ambitious open-world racer that seamlessly integrates traditional single-player racing with online interactions. Dubbed M.O.O.R., or “Massively Open Online Racing,” the game lets players use the island of Oahu as a “lobby” for instant races and clan-styled experiences. Even if that’s not your thing, the huge array of offline events – over a hundred races and at least 75 “missions” – means you’ll be spending a lot of time racing… or just driving around the map seeing the sights. The real kicker is, even though the game is almost five years old, there’s still a large community of people playing, meaning there’s always a race to be had. Though neither the Atari brand or Test Drive pedigree mean much in 2011, Test Drive Unlimited is a true diamond in the rough if you love racing games.

The Subject: Alpha Protocol
The Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
The Publisher: Sega
The Victim: Obsidian Entertainment
The Reason: Sega. ‘Nuff said.

Obsidian has developed quite a reputation for making complex, interesting role-playing games… that almost always come with some serious strings attached. Generally, the company makes its fortunes from the properties of others – see games like Fallout: New Vegas and Dungeon Siege III for starters. Alpha Protocol, on the other hand, is a completely original Obsidian property, and perhaps is the best demonstration of the talent that lies within the company. Just the concept itself – an espionage RPG – is a fresh, unique way to present the genre. Mix that in with a complex interaction system where the opinion of your character changes on the fly, and you have a special game. Some of the gameplay can be a little rough, especially since the gunplay uses traditional “dice rolls” to dictate damage, but the story, characters, and dialog is top-notch. Alas, Sega did very little to help the game out, and now Alpha Protocol is a one-off. Still, it’s a solid RPG, and especially worth a glance if you’re looking for something outside the traditional science fiction and fantasy settings.

The Subject: DJ Hero/DJ Hero 2
The Platforms: PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
The Publisher: Activision
The Victim: Freestyle Games
The Reason: Guilt By Association

Everyone knows the cautionary tale of Guitar Hero, but in a sad case of collateral damage, the DJ Hero franchise was put down alongside its guitar-playing cousin earlier this year. This is a shame.The original game was an interesting and fresh addition to the music game genre, thanks to an eclectic setlist, deep rhythm-based play, and a fun new controller… though the latter might have been a serious negative for some. Sadly, the game tanked. The same can be said for its greatly improved sequel. DJ Hero 2 offered refined gameplay that added complexities, but also created more user-friendly elements all the same. An expanded playlist (which allowed one to import DJ Hero DLC) and lengthy “Empire” career mode gave the game extra heft as well. Regardless of its fate as a victim of circumstances, one can find a DJ Hero 2 bundle for the price of a brand new game. Plus, the original game received a disc-only release, which can also be found for a budget price. So… for less than $100, you can have two great rhythm games that do something completely different from other games in this genre.

Considering the state of gaming – a state where many great titles slip through the cracks – this list could have been ten or fifteen games deep. These are the five that came to mind the fastest; games in a wide variety of genres that appeal to almost every subset of gamers. With summer upon us, the quiet calm before the Q4 storm has arrived – this is the time to experiment, the time to pick through the shelves to find something that perhaps is not an “elite” game, but instead a “great” game that was lost in the shuffle or outright ignored for one reason or another. These titles are the backbone of video games: the kind of fun adventures that come around without a lot of hype or fanfare… yet become the pleasant surprises that make gaming fun.

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