There are way more great games than there is time to play them. It’s something every gamer has to reconcile him or herself to, especially as one gets older. With “new” consoles firmly planted in millions of living rooms, I thought it might be fun to look back at last generation and what I consider to be some of the most under-appreciated games. The choice of “under-appreciated” is important, here. I’m not saying these are the most critically or commercially under-rated or under-selling games, these are overall the most under-appreciated. I took into consideration critical response, sales, impact on the industry, and standing the test of time. This list is made up of great games that never found an audience, mediocre games that tried something cool but didn’t quite succeed, and a few personal favorites that I wish more people had played.
It is, by necessity, a highly subjective list, so please feel free to disagree in the comments. I’m sure that I missed out on some great games, too, and I’d love your suggestions. Enjoy the list, and hopefully I’ll open your eyes to some games you need to play!
20. Sleeping Dogs
I know there are plenty of people out there that love Sleeping Dogs, but I wanted to include it on this list because the game is even better than most people say. I honestly prefer it to GTA because the story and setting are more interesting, which is pretty high praise considering most viewed this game as a GTA rip-off when it was first announced. Sales were low when the game launched, but it has since found a stronger following. There was a planned spin-off in Sleeping Dogs: Triad Wars, an MMO inspired by the original game, but it was sadly canceled. Still, there’s some hope for an eventual Sleeping Dogs 2.
19. Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus
I’m a huge fan of the Ratchet and Clank series, with Up Your Arsenal and Crack in Time being among some of my favorite games of all time. During the PS3 generation, there was a bit of a Ratchet and Clank overload, however, with releases almost every year. Tools of Destruction and the standalone DLC Quest for Booty were well received, and then Crack in Time upped the expectations for the games in a major way. From there, the series took a nose-dive. All4One was a multiplayer focused game, and then Full Frontal Assault took the series into the tower defense genre. Both maintained the humor of the previous titles, but the gameplay wasn’t what people wanted. At the end of the PS3 generation, Insomniac released Into the Nexus, a sort of epilogue to the “Future” storyline of Tools of Destruction and Crack in Time. I completely understand people skipping it due to the oversaturation, timing of release, and disappointing prior releases, but if you enjoyed the PS4 reboot, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. It was definitely a return to form for the series.
Here’s where I’ll probably lose some people, but hear me out. This list isn’t just comprised of great games that people may have missed, but also of games with great potential or unique ideas that just didn’t quite come together. Brink is definitely the latter, but it’s still a game worth mentioning. For those that forgot about the game immediately after release (which is probably most people), Brink was a competitive multiplayer shooter boasting large amounts of player customization, and some cool parkour movement. The story setup and world were also interesting, with shades of gray instead of a “good vs evil” type of fight. When the game came out, it just didn’t execute well on most of its features. The shooting wasn’t terribly inspired, the movement didn’t always work as intended, and the game modes didn’t do enough to stand out. It just reeked of a game that wasn’t finished at release, and while I actually enjoyed it more than most, the game didn’t have the legs to keep me invested. This was truly a missed opportunity to create a great new shooter franchise, especially considering the strides that have been made with “always online” shooters in recent years.
17. Lord of the Rings: War in the North
I’m a huge Lord of the Rings nerd, so when War in the North was first announced, I was really excited. I loved the idea of experiencing a parallel story to the books, and I liked the ability to choose a class and play co-op. While the game did deliver on the story front, the gameplay just wasn’t anything fresh or new. I still enjoyed playing through it co-op with my brother, but that was mostly due to the story and interactions with smaller characters from the books, not because the game was actually fun to play. The enemies were extremely repetitive at times, the level up system was highly archaic, and the side quests became tedious and monotonous very quickly. Despite all of that, this is still a game I look back on fondly, since there have been far too few great Lord of the Rings games.
16. The Darkness
The Darkness was definitely a weird game. It was extremely dark and the story felt melodramatic at times, but the game was an absolute blast to play. You could dual wield weapons while also utilizing the demons attached to your shoulders for insta-kills — and all of them were violent and cool. The gameplay didn’t feel as tight as it needed to, there was some monotony to the level structure, and the demons themselves could be a little glitchy, but I just really enjoyed being able to use everything at my disposal for crazy kill combos. The sequel was less successful, in my opinion. It mostly felt like a rehash, and I lost interest after a few hours.
15. Bioshock 2
Bioshock 2 is a better game than most others on this list, so why isn’t it ranked higher? That all comes down to expectations from the previous game, and the fact that when those expectations are stripped away, most people would, in fact, say that they like Bioshock 2. The first game is quite possibly my favorite game of all time, so I was understandably disappointed when Bioshock 2 launched. The story just didn’t have the twists and turns of the original, and while being back in Rapture was great, there weren’t enough new things to keep me interested. However, I loved the combat. Being able to dual wield plasmids and weapons was awesome, and the weapons themselves felt powerful. Playing as a Big Daddy, on the other hand, worked better in theory than in practice. Your character was too slow, and since it made fights with other Big Daddies commonplace, they had to introduce new, bigger types of Splicers — and the Big Sister, a variation of the Big Daddy that moves more quickly. I wish we’d have been able to play as a Big Sister instead. It’s also worth mentioning that while the multiplayer was completely unnecessary, I had a great time with it for a few weeks.
14. Quantum Conundrum
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never even heard of Quantum Conundrum, but that’s also a big reason why it’s on this list. Puzzle games are always tricky to recommend because it’s such a broad genre that plenty of people don’t find fun or accessible. But, if you like games like Portal or The Unfinished Swan, it’s worth checking out Quantum Conundrum. The game is definitely inspired by Portal in its style and sense of humor, but the gameplay is something completely different. You basically control different dimensions, using them to solve puzzles. So, there might be a ledge that you need to climb up, but it’s out of your reach. There’s a safe nearby that you could use, but it’s far too heavy to lift. So, you change to a pillow dimension where everything is light and fluffy, and then you can lift the safe and place it where you need to climb. Then you turn back to the regular dimension, and you’re able to get up on the ledge. That’s a very simple example, but you get the point. Be forewarned, though. The difficulty curve is fairly harsh, and the first-person platforming leaves a little to be desired, which I think held the game back from reaching a wider audience.
13. Asura’s Wrath
If you can’t tell from the above picture, Asura’s Wrath is freaking insane. I’ve never been a big anime person, but this game takes one of the best elements of classic anime, the over the top boss battles, and makes a game out of it. This is one where you don’t really play the game so much as you experience it — and I mean that in the least pretentious way possible. There isn’t a whole lot of gameplay in Asura’s Wrath. There are some simple combat sections, but most of the game is spent watching boss battle cutscenes. The actual boss battle combat mostly boils down to quick time events and button mashing. While definitely not for everyone, Asura’s Wrath is excess in video game form, and worth witnessing for yourself.
12. Papo & Yo
On the other side of the spectrum is Papo & Yo, a light puzzle game centered around a boy and his monster. The creator of the game has said that it was inspired by his relationship with his father, who was an alcoholic. This is a complex game that to me is more about its story than its gameplay. Plenty of games nowadays deal with mature themes, but Papo & Yo really flew under the radar. The puzzle solving sequences weren’t terribly difficult, as you alter between two realities to move boxes or create bridges, and the storytelling is far from straight-forward. But if you have some extra time, it’s worth seeing this game through to its conclusion. Be prepared for some bugs and glitchiness, though. The game has bigger ideas than it can execute, but the story is truly impactful.
11. Lost Odyssey
Lost Odyssey is an extremely Japanese game, so if you aren’t into that, look elsewhere. But for those who enjoy JRPGs, this game is flawed but worth your time. It’s a fairly typical fantasy story, dealing with absolute evil and the need to save the world, but the characters are more interesting than you might expect. It’s an insanely long game with tons of story and side quests, and the turn-based combat is well done, if not particularly unique. There’s a cool ring creation element to the combat, where you can make and use different rings for different combat uses. It’s something that’s a little different and keeps the micro-managing aspect of combat fresh. The game was really good looking for its time, but also like most JRPGs from the era, there are loading screens everywhere. Still, Lost Odyssey went under the radar, even by most JRPG fans, and that’s a shame. As a huge Final Fantasy fan, this was a great alternative.
Continue to the next page for my top ten!