Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Overlooked games that are worth a second chance

With releases like Portal 2, Batman Arkham City, L.A. Noire, Deus Ex Human Revolution, and of course The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 2011 has been without a doubt a “full” year.  The hype created by all these releases, combined with the limited budget of the average gamer, caused some less known (but equally good) games to be overlooked.
Furthermore, even though not every game out there can have the budget, detail and graphics of a blockbuster, there are a few 2011 releases which are worth a chance, especially now that their prices have significantly dropped.

Alice Madness Returns (Spicy Horse, EA)
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
3rd person Platformer/Action Adventure

Alice Madness Returns is the (much delayed) sequel of American McGee’s Alice, which came out in
2000. Madness Returns is a direct sequel, continuing the story exactly where the first game left off. Alice Liddell has to deal with the tragic death of her family caused by a fire which she believes that she has started. After being released from the psychiatric ward where she was confined, Alice lives in an orphanage under the care of Dr. Angus Bumby, who attempts to help her by making her forget her traumatic memories. Nevertheless, Alice continues having random visions and pretty soon, when reality becomes too much for her to bear, she once more returns to wonderland. This version of wonderland though is much more grotesque, twisted and uninviting than it was before. Alice has to fight her way through, encounter friendly and not so friendly faces, and come face to face with her inner demons as she retrieves her lost memories piece by piece.

First and foremost, Alice Madness Returns is not without flaws. The game camera sometimes has a mind of its own, which can become frustrating; also, the Unreal Engine which the game uses has begun to show its age. Add to that the fact that it was not promoted as much as other EA titles and that it is a sequel to an 11 year old game which is unknown to a great number of today’s gamers and you have a solid reason as to why not so many people rushed to buy the game when it came out.

On the other hand, Madness Returns is a solid platformer and a quite decent sequel. It has breathtaking environments and with each visit, wonderland looks different and even more distorted. The game has an interesting story, which is a twisted continuation to Lewis Carroll’s novels.  Fans of American McGee’s Alice will certainly enjoy it as it continues the story and makes many references to the first game.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Fictional Games, THQ)
Platforms: PC
1st person Survival Horror/Adventure

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a very dark game with an intriguing storyline. Daniel, the game’s
protagonist, wakes up alone in the middle of a castle and (as the title suggests) remembers almost nothing. The only thing that Daniel knows is his name, the fact that he comes from Mayfair and that someone, for some reason, is out to get him.  The story becomes more twisted when Daniel finds a note, which he has apparently written to himself, explaining that he had intentionally erased his memories and that he must descent into the inner sanctum of the castle in order to find and kill the Baron, Alexander. Soon enough Daniel discovers that he is not alone as a dark presence inhabits the castle. The game succeeds in creating an extremely horrifying atmosphere as the player practically never feels safe; Daniel has absolutely no means of fighting the several monsters that he encounters; the only way for him to remain alive is to flee. The only tool that Daniel has at his disposal is a lantern which he must use wisely as light attracts the monsters. On the other hand, if Daniel remains in the dark he cannot be spotted but his sanity meter begins to drop; when it goes too low, Daniel’s mind starts playing tricks on him, making him see things that might or might not be there.

The game came out only for the PC, plus it was only available as a digital download for several months before it finally got a retail release. Additionally, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is strictly a game for adults; it uses intense psychological terror combined with graphic splatter and torture images, something which somewhat limits its target audience.

Amnesia is a must-buy for any horror fan. It is one of the scariest games – if not THE scariest game - to come out in a long while; it has an interesting story which clearly draws inspiration from Stephen King and Clive Barker novels. The game makes a superb use of sound effects, managing to make the overall experience even more terrifying.

Shadows of the Damned (Grasshopper Manufacture, EA)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
3rd Person Shooter

With video game legends Goichi Suda (No More Heroes), Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill series), and
Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil) collaborating to create this game, it is a real surprise that its sales ranks were hands down disappointing. However, Shadows of the Damned is a pretty decent action/shooter with a rather risquรฉ sense of humor. The story follows Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter whose girlfriend has been abducted by Fleming, the Lord of Demons. Garcia has no choice but to follow them into hell and battle countless demons in order to save her. Although admittedly the game doesn’t have the most original story, it is still manages to remain interesting, combining crude jokes with “punk rock” and b-movie elements.

The game was released after Portal 2 and before Deus EX: Human revolution and on top of that it was not marketed as it should be. Furthermore, the game’s style and sense of humor could seem too vulgar for some people’s tastes.

Any b-movie or grindhouse fan will definitely enjoy playing Shadows of the Damned as it makes a great homage to the genre. Akira Yamaoka has once more done a great job working on the game’s soundtrack and sound design.  Overall, it is a good game with enjoyable game play which unfortunately did not get the exposure that it deserved.

Catherine ( Atlus, Deep Silver)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Action, Platformer, Survival horror

The first thing one should know about Catherine is that the game is quite unique and it hardly falls
under any category. The story revolves around Vincent, a 32-year old average guy who lives an average life, dividing his time between work, his long-term girlfriend Katherine, and his friends. When Katherine starts asking Vincent to take their relationship to the next level (in other words to tie the knot) he begins to feel stressed by the pressure of commitment. Things get really complicated when after a night with the guys and a few drinks Vincent ends up having a one night stand with a girl named Catherine. Catherine is the complete opposite of Katherine; she is sassier, carefree and to top it all, she couldn’t care less about commitment.  Naturally Vincent finds himself torn between the two. In the meantime, several mysterious deaths start occurring in Vincent’s city, all involving young men who died in their sleep, all of them with a horrified look upon their faces. Rumors talk about a common nightmare (involving wall-climbing) that unfaithful men keep having, where when someone falls in their dream they get killed in real life too; soon enough Vincent starts having the same nightmare himself. Throughout Catherine the main protagonist has to make a few decisions which affect the game’s morality system, leading to several different endings. Vincent’s nightmares serve as puzzle/ platforming levels; some are simple enough to go through but others can be frustratingly hard.  Thankfully there is a hidden ‘very-easy’ mode which makes things slightly better.

For starters Catherine was not released in Europe until February of 2012. Moreover, the game’s cover and sexy anime style were a bit misleading and certainly did not do the game any favors, as many people considered it to be merely an erotic Japanese game. However, even if Catherine’s story revolves around human relationships, it does not contain any explicit material whatsoever.

Catherine has a fresh and unique storyline, and also a rather interesting subject matter, especially for a video game. Sure it is not for everyone, but if one gives it a chance they will most likely be pleasantly surprised as Catherine is a way more serious game than it initially seems to be. Finally, although it’s nowhere near the caliber of Mass Effect, the different choices that the player can make during the game leading to multiple different endings provide Catherine with great replay value.

Overlooked games that are worth a second chance
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