Life has left this blog looking sparse as of late – life and far-flung technological issues that have turned me into a temporary luddite. Thankfully those issues look to be getting resolved, so I thought I would take a quick warm-up lap with a topic that’s been on my mind lately: my personal picks for underrated games.
This list is sure to expand with time as I find more sadly forgotten masterpieces, and should serve as a nice reference for what little-known or little-loved games I think everyone should try. And if I think they’re worth playing, you know they’ve gotta be good.
The last few weeks have not been kind to No Man’s Sky. After years of build-up gained it a massive following powered by ever-ballooning hopes, launch day proved it was not only far shallower than fans had expected, but also kind of boring. The situation has since gone full coke-and-mentos as negative reviews pile up and players call for refunds en masse.
I’m experiencing much of this from a distance, because I never had a personal interest in No Man’s Sky. When asked I’ve said it’s down to motivation – I need specific goals when I’m playing a game, which even the best resource-gathering titles (e.g. Don’t Starve) often lack. But the longer I look at the No Man’s Sky situation, the more I realize the thing that repelled me is something else, something much more intrinsic to the game as a whole: procedural generation. Because that shit doesn’t work.
As is wont to happen at about this time of year, Destiny is pulling me back in after a months-long absence. While I get the Moments of Triumph mostly squared away and clean up miscellaneous quests to prepare for Rise of Iron, I’ve also started poking at the universe’s extensive lore, walled off from the game itself in the online Grimoire – and not just to keep track of how many Calcified fragments I have left.
It’s packed with tons of truly fascinating, well-written information about Destiny’s bleak-dance-party version of the universe, but I’ve been especially interested in data about the Traveler – what it is, where its mysterious journey through space has taken it, what it’s actually up to because games have given me trust issues. Even the earliest fan speculation about the Traveler justified my suspicions that it isn’t as benevolent as it seems.
I’ve repeatedly found myself in fascinating conversations about horror gaming recently – meeting new folks who love horror games, venturing into the realm of horror board games (I can’t recommend Camp Grizzly enough) and waiting patiently for Friday the 13th: The Game has definitely given me even more opportunities than normal. And, as is wont to happen, PT has come up quite a bit – its impact, its unfortunate fate, just how pants-shittingly scary it is. But in all of that, the most fascinating discussions have been about the game’s story – and how, indeed, it does exist.
However, that story can be difficult to fully grasp while dodging a spasmodic ghostly stalker and trying not to look a whole houseful of paintings in the eye. And despite the fact that it’s been two years since PT first grabbed everyone’s attention, I’ve yet to find a clear, succinct explanation of the story for those curious about it. (The Grate Debate has a good video breakdown, but at 40 minutes long, succinct it is not.) So – for reference if nothing else – I’m going to do it here, digging through all the complex clues breaking down my theory on just what the hell happened in that house – and how it all comes back to you.
Last night Arkane Studios finally revealed a new trailer for Dishonored 2, full of stabbing and whales and black magic against a backdrop of the beautiful yet horrifically diseased city of Karnaca. Basically it was perfect and exactly what you’d want out of a Dishonored game. It also dropped one hell of a bombshell, revealing that the villain of Dishonored 2 is someone very familiar. Despite her extremely unpleasant fate at the end of the final Dishonored DLC, rumors of Delilah Copperspoon’s demise were, apparently, greatly exaggerated. After nearly brutally killing Emily Kaldwin once, she’s back to finish the job.
As shocking as this reveal is, however, it also probably went over a lot of heads. For those who haven’t played both Dishonored and its DLC, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, the thin and pale woman who appears in the royal throne room to harass Emily and Corvo is a totally new entity, and it’s not immediately clear just how threatening she really is. Yet Delilah Copperspoon may very well be the most terrifying figure in the Dishonored universe, and she’s a far greater danger than anything Corvo or Emily have faced before.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches.
Final Fantasy XII, that black sheep of the Final Fantasy family, is finally getting remastered like we always knew it would. And it does deserve it – fantastic characters, a rich world, and shockingly fun battle system create an incredibly enjoyable experience that still sticks with me ten years after I first played it (and I still maybe have a crush on Basch).
Of course, this is a remaster, not a remake, so it won’t fix FFXII’s most glaring problem – the plot. An identity crisis in motion, it’s never quite sure what it wants to be, and excessive padding only drives that point home as it drags the entire narrative down. Yet FFXII still absolutely deserves that remaster, because it’s one of the most fantastic games in the series. It doesn’t matter that the story’s a mess. That’s not what FFXII is about.
As thoroughly as Konami tried to scrub it from existence, PT lingers like crime scene evidence mopped up with kleenex. The way it evokes a constant sense of danger in an innocuous setting has already bled into the horror genre as a whole – it’s intriguing to see games like Layers of Fear build unnatural, ever-changing worlds around a unique kernel of fear, the way PT wraps it’s infamously horrifying hallway around that thing in the sink (you know the one I mean) and leaves it for you to find.
But sadly, not every scary-door-simulator hits that impressive mark. Case in point, The Park. A new first-person horror title with a fascinating, deeply uncomfortable premise as its backbone, it ultimately disappoints by making one seriously wrong turn: in trying to nail that PT vibe, it actually runs away from the kernel of fear that made it interesting in the first place.
WARNING: Copious spoilers for The Park ahead.