10. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Man, people love to hate on this game and I really don’t get it. I understand the frustration with Star Wars canon, in that the protagonist, Starkiller, has absurdly powerful force powers that don’t really make sense in the greater mythos of Star Wars. But, it is a video game, after all. Now that all of this stuff isn’t considered canon anymore, can’t we just look at this objectively instead of holding it to some stupid standard? Force Unleashed is a blast to play. Sure, the story is kind of dumb and the main character is even less interesting than Luke in A New Hope, but throwing Stormtroopers off cliffs as you electrocute them feels really good. There were some nice moments of levity from Starkiller’s droid PROXY, and the idea of hunting down Jedi while also dealing with the evil of the Empire was fascinating. The second game refined the combat, but the story went completely off the rails, which is why I chose the first game for this list.
Rage was a game that held an immense amount of promise and fought against very high expectations. While it didn’t completely live up to those expectations, it’s still a great game. For the most part, it’s a straightforward first-person shooter — there isn’t a ton of story, and there’s really no leveling up or character customization. There is some customization on the weapons, as you can add a few attachments and choose different types of ammo. But really, the strengths of this game are the graphics and the way the guns feel. Id Software helped invent and refine the first-person shooter with Doom and Quake — and you can see those influences here. Every weapon feels balanced and fun to shoot. It’s also a graphical powerhouse, despite the mostly drab desert setting and some repetitive enemy types. The biggest complaint I can lodge against Rage is the abrupt ending. It seriously comes out of nowhere and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But the exploration, combat, and even driving mechanics all add up to a solid, if unoriginal, gaming experience.
8. Binary Domain
It would be very easy to write Binary Domain off as a forgettable, mid-tier published shooter. But anyone that would say that about this game did not play it. It has awesome robot enemies, funny characters, a crazy anime-inspired story, awesome boss fights, and fun combat. There’s also a unique squad aspect to the game, where you can converse with and issue orders to your squadmates, depending on your affinity with them. If a particular character doesn’t like you, they might not listen when you tell them to cover you. It’s an interesting mechanic, but one that didn’t work 100% of the time. The different character classes feel unique to one another and the environments are varied. However, the writing and voice acting feel like they belong in a b-movie, which is disappointing. There also isn’t co-op for the main campaign, which was a missed opportunity. Completely destroying the robotic enemies makes up for every other fault, though.
7. Metro: Last Light
Metro: Last Light is one of the more recent games on this list, and one that’s also available on PS4 or Xbox One. That’s my big hint that you should go pick it up. As with some other shooters on this list, the mechanics of Last Light don’t really push the envelope very far. Instead, it’s the story that makes the game stand out in my memory. Last Light is actually the second game in the series, with Metro 2033 preceding it. That game doesn’t make this list because Last Light really improved on the original in every way, and the first game isn’t required to get the most from Last Light. The stories do connect and build, however, so if you can play 2033, it wouldn’t be a waste of your time. One of the more interesting aspects of Last Light’s combat was the ability to use certain ammo as currency in the game. It really made you choose between dealing more damage or being able to upgrade your weapons. The story and setting of Last Light also deserve special mention. On the surface, the game seems like just another post-apocalyptic story, this time taking place in Russia. But the game deals with much deeper themes, as the radiation from nuclear war has developed another humanoid species. They seem like antagonists on the surface, but they’re just trying to survive like everyone else. The game has plenty of horror elements, too, if that’s your thing.
6. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Before revitalizing DevilMayCry, Ninja Theory put out this mostly forgotten gem. Besides having a terrible name, there were some other issues that held this one back. Overall, it’s fairly buggy. The main character seems to take a second before reacting to your button inputs, which is a major problem for a game so obviously inspired by God of War. But, the game also boasts very likable characters and some brilliant level design. The story starts off in an interesting direction but doesn’t completely follow through by the end. I did really love the color palette and style of the game, though. This is one that flew under most people’s radars, and that’s a shame. A sequel would have done the series well, with a chance to fix some of the bugs and minor gameplay annoyances. Unfortunately, with Ninja Theory having moved on to other properties, a sequel would be almost impossible at this point.
5. Final Fantasy XIII
Plenty of Final Fantasy fans hated Final Fantasy XIII, and I can definitely see why. There were tons of quotes floating around after its release about the game having a twenty-hour tutorial and pointing out how linear it was. I can’t dispute those claims, but honestly, it didn’t bother me. It’s not a perfect game, and it definitely has its flaws, but I truly enjoyed FF XIII, having played through it several times and committed to getting the platinum trophy on more than one occasion (sadly, I never followed through). The story, like with most Final Fantasy games, is highly divisive. It’s definitely overly complicated, but I invested in most of the characters enough to really care about what happened to them. It did take many hours before the game really opened up, allowing you to choose your party members and level characters however you wanted. But, if you stuck it out, you were rewarded with one of the most fun combat systems in a Final Fantasy game to date. I’d love to see the paradigm system come back in a future game. XIII also looks beautiful, with some stunning CG cutscenes and character animations, as well as fun enemy designs. It is worth mentioning that the sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2, was one of the only games in which I’ve ever skipped cutscenes. And I skipped Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns completely. But FF XIII is still a special game to me.
Another highly divisive game, Bulletstorm’s tone really turned off a lot of people, and it’s a fair criticism. There is some cringe-worthy dialogue in there. But, if you can look past the “bro” attitude and toilet humor, the gameplay in Bulletstorm is something special. The basic pitch is that you get points for killing dudes in the most creative ways possible, with numbers popping up whenever you get a kill. It’s totally gratifying and fun to grab an enemy with your whip, toss him into the air, headshot him with your shotgun, and then kick him into a giant venus flytrap type monster. And then it’s even better when you have “+3000” markers popping up in the air, paired with “Headshot! Face Kick! Air Kill!” everywhere on the screen. It’s complete sensory overload, and I loved every minute of it. The game is also filled with some awesome set-piece battles, which make great use of the diverse weapon types. Plus, you can now play it on PS4 and Xbox One. So you should do that.
3. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a trainwreck of a development story. Conceived to be a taste-test to an eventual MMO, Reckoning was funded by a retired baseball player that knew nothing about making video games, after borrowing money from the state of New Jersey. The game didn’t sell well, he couldn’t pay the money back, and things quickly went downhill for him and for the studio. It’s really a shame because this game showed a ton of promise, and I’d have loved to see more games set in the same universe. Reckoning also suffered from releasing just a few months after Skyrim, and while the comparisons weren’t totally fair, they still happened. And they definitely didn’t happen in favor of Reckoning. But beyond the terrible name and development troubles was a deep action RPG with a ton of personality and varied combat. Obviously, you could design your character and choose a weapon class, but the game also did something smart in allowing you to completely respec your character with very little penalty. You’ve been using a warhammer all game, but just found a pair of really cool daggers? You can completely change your character in order to support that playstyle, and then you could change back whenever. It was a great idea that I’d love to see more RPGs adopt. It’s really a shame that we’ll never see another game in the series, but I’m sure you can also find it for super cheap. With the amount of content in the game, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.
Vanquish is full of over the top action. The weapons feel great, the movement is frenetic yet specific, and the enemies are fun to fight. This is a very Japanese shooter, and I love it all the more for that fact. Shinji Mikami, the developer behind Resident Evil 4, is credited with the creation of the game, and you can see the roots of his past work in Vanquish. While the story and characters are underdeveloped, everything surrounding them more than makes up for that fact. You really just need to see the game in action in order to understand. Everything explodes, the colors are bright, the weapon and environment designs are futuristic and cool, and the movement feels great. You can play the game like a typical third-person cover shooter, but then you’d be missing out on the best aspects of Vanquish. You can use your suit to run, jump, and slide like a crazy person, and it’s awesome. The game can definitely be difficult — depending on your ability and experience with shooters — so know that before diving in.
1. Spec Ops: The Line
Spec Ops: The Line is my number one most under-appreciated game for one reason: its story. The shooting mechanics are fine and do their job well, but there’s nothing particularly special about them. At first, the game doesn’t seem unique in any way. It feels like a standard, third-person modern day shooter, set in the desert where you’re tracking down terrorists with your clichéd squad mates. But things quickly take a turn when the true nature of the game is revealed, and things only get more insane from there. I don’t want to say anything about the story here because it really is the reason to play Spec Ops: The Line. I’ll just say that there’s no possible way to see some of the twists and turns coming, and that’s pretty impressive in an industry where it feels like everything has already been done and overdone. Spec Ops is a truly special game held back by the way it was marketed, which can be said of plenty of other games on this list. If you’re willing to invest the time, you need to see how Spec Ops wraps up. You can even throw it on easy difficulty, I won’t judge you.
Hopefully I’ve introduced you to some games you haven’t played, and you’ll have a reason to break out your old systems. Feel free to return the favor in the comments below. I’m always looking for new old games to play!