Some douche threw together this ‘click-bait’ piece just to get a free game, you must be thinking. That’s not entirely true. While I’m bound to piss a fanboy or two off, I’m actually merely presenting a summary of opinions and a result of some debate among our “staff writers” (other term for people who keep hanging around). That is one reason why the list is so goddamn random. Another reason, note, is that I am not ranking the most overrated games; this is a collection of the so [unjustifiably] called “underrated” titles we all really wanted to call out. Be warned though that my flame-shield is equipped, and hey, I am putting some extra effort to go as in-depth as possible, short of writing a full scale review, to explain the choices here.
This is our first composite list. If you’d like to participate in one, in the future, comment below. You’ll be asked to suggest an entry, explain it, and comment on others before the ‘Frankenstein’ article is put together.
5. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
I told you this was going to be random. I mean what does Amalur have to do with anything? It doesn’t have much of a cult following, and it actually sold 1.22 million copies in 90 days, which is pretty freaking impressive, considering that it’s not an Apple product or crack.
What’s more impressive though is that it still managed to bomb so hard that the muffin-lovin’ FBI decided to try and figure out just what in the fuck. And as it goes in the world of gaming, if a title has a few fun elements, is a new franchise, and doesn’t do well financially, it’s a goddamn masterpiece by default. Consequently, some have called Amalur (yes, we’ll just keep calling it ‘Amalur’) “one of gaming’s most underrated RPGs.” Well, hah! I’d argue quite the opposite, actually. While it’s probably not the most overrated RPG out there, I think we should knock the glorification down a notch.
If you read early reviews for this game, you will see copious enthusiastic mentions of the fact that it was meant to be an MMO, like it’s a positive thing. It’s not. It’s a terrible thing. It’s like playing up the fact that the two-door speedster you are considering was originally supposed to be a goddamn bus. It’s basically a promise of an endless series of repetitive fetch quests for mission-post NPC’s, only you get the pleasure of doing the senseless grind by your lonesome.
Before your fun parts start tingling because this sounds pleasantly familiar, note that I am telling you all this as a huge fan of the Elder Scrolls. Amalur is similar in that it is also technically an open world game with lots of buff dudes, but the experience is not nearly as engaging or immersive as the one offered by, say, Oblivion (probably the most criticized of Elder Scrolls games).
Again, it’s not garbage. It’s not even bad but that’s about that, really. Amalur doesn’t bring anything new or particularly exceptional to the RPG scene. The world, for instance is about as believable as Caitlyn Jenner’s titties. It’s properly huge but immediately feels completely artificial, basically consisting of obvious game levels, connected through narrow transition passages, and filled with meaningless wacky killer toons. The quest-givers of various shapes are also so unremarkable, they could as easily be floating sticky notes for you to insert into your journal.
Amalur doesn’t feel like a real, living place, nor does it reward exploration in any meaningful way, like an occasional mysterious hideout of a band of angry angry wizards, with some justification to their existence. It’s a single player grindfest through and through.
Here’s my biggest gripe with the game though: how utterly generic all of the above is. 38 Studios had legit fantasy nerd muscle, like R. A. Salvatore of Forgotten Realms and Icewind Dale, and Todd McFarlane of Spawn, and even some notable people from the Elder Scrolls games, yet, we got something as original and captivating as an average Jason Statham flick.
It might seem like they are trying to do their own thing when the game starts throwing one random-ass term after another (each one hated by the game’s author himself), but that’s only to delay revealing the fact that it copies every other standard fantasy world in every sword magic and bikini-armor game before it. You still get the elves, the dwarves, the trolls, the evil red what-have-yous, and they are still what you would expect in an MMO with OK graphics.
Yet again, I’d like to repeat the fact that this isn’t a piece of shit, per se. A lack of originality isn’t a deadly sin, and the flawed elements don’t downright suck ass (though some do suck balls). I’m not saying that no one should play this game, I’m just saying that it deserves to be played by exactly 1.22 million people.
This might be entirely my taste but the music was memorably awful to boot. That’s something it has in common with…
4. Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Yes, the Witcher is actually quite a successful franchise, and chances are that you are playing it right now, but there seems to linger a sentiment that it gets less love than it deserves. You know what else? I can mostly live with that, and I genuinely love CD Projekt RED, as a developer. They have a fantastic attitude toward their fans, CGI banging, and gaming in general, so I am glad that people buy their games. After playing the second Witcher though, I must say that I won’t be hyping myself up for another one anytime soon.
Before you accuse me of being young, let me start right there, with the praise this game gets for being mature and telling a story aimed at adults…
Assassins of Kings does feature boobies, I’ll give it that, but that’s about the gist of the maturity. I think some people confuse that word for a contrived gloom-fest, which progresses through countless cut-scenes of painfully dull conversation. I’d say instead that this game is just devoid of any fun. Nearly every character is hopelessly morose, since you know, whoever wherever is whatever, which apparently really fucking matters for reasons the game doesn’t care to communicate properly, erroneously assuming that you already care about the shit you are hearing for the first time.
I give the writers credit for introducing the term “brazen farter” into my armory, but even during the intended humorous bits, which always seem like they must have been funnier in the original language, the game just takes itself so fucking seriously, it’s exhausting. Geralt himself is such a boring, mumbling creep, he could be in the ‘before’ half of one of those Abilify commercials.
The absolute worst, and indisputably terrible quality of the story, which even the biggest fanboys can’t deny, is that it sharts at you with a million plot points that don’t go anywhere, and characters who pop in and out without warning or explanation, like an aggressive dong. You often have to re-play the campaign over, through an alternate plot path, to see why some NPC’s even exist. The game goes as far as making you play as some of these random strangers, with disastrously awkward results. For the very story driven and hard-structured game that the Witcher 2 tries to be, it just doesn’t work at all.
After playing the Enhanced Edition of Assassins of Kings, which is supposed to be better than the regular version, I have also firmly concluded that combat in the Witcher series remains the very definition of ‘suck’ (can’t comment on the third game). Honestly, it starts you with a hand-to-hand skirmish that’s literally a 100% quick-time-event sequence. You are then introduced to stealth, which is so fucking broken, I am not even sure how to explain what the fuck that was, so just google it if you want.
Of course, the majority of your time is spent with some fancy-looking sword play that is infuriatingly retarded. Sword in hand, you can send Geralt foe to foe, a la the Arkham series, but you never know if he will actually attack his next target or start with some twirly wirly bullshit that will get him inexplicably hit several times and killed. That is unless he decides to delay or ignore your commands altogether because he may or may not be still considering whatever you wanted him to do a second or two ago. I promise you that I’m not exaggerating in the least here, and don’t even get me started on the combat-related mechanics like, say, why does Geralt have to enter the meditation mode to drink a freaking potion?
What sense does that make? Nearly every fight in the game starts without a warning, some immediately following a lengthy-ass cut-scene, so can Geralt see the future to know to buff himself with potions and just the right ones? Because I sure can’t. But even then, why make something so simple so tedious? Why not just drink the fucking potion whenever needed, like the rest of the sword-and-magic-wielding folk of the video game land?
While we are talking redundancy, let me just go ahead and ask why give Geralt two swords in the first place, from the gaming perspective? Yes, some might think that it looks cool but it serves no purpose for the game whatsoever. If you see a beast, take out one sword; if you see a human, take out the other one, which works exactly the same and even has similar stats. What a fucking blast. The only thing this system does is it allows instances where you make a mistake and fight with the weaker sword, or unsheath the wrong sword, then put it back in and pull out the correct one while you are getting chased by a horny drowner (you’ve all done this). Why is a silver sword less effective against humans anyway?
Honestly, I didn’t hate Witcher 2, but the more I write the more I realize how annoyed I am with it. Let’s see… The pacing is all fucked. Too many quests are completely unclear and will not clarify some important detail, or even mention where to find something (not asking for an arrow pointer here, just a hint of a general direction will do). The game might ask you to literally speak to “someone”, and by that “someone” imply a single NPC in a heavily populated town, with no hint or logic to help you figure out who it is you are supposed to talk to. Worse, it often points you to follow a map marker to interact with an NPC that’s not there. Why? What happened? Who the fuck knows.
And that ending…
3. Torchlight II
I love Torchlight. It’s like a pot brownie, I love what it does, I love how it does it, and I love the idea of it. I am also one of those older PC snobs, who gave their youth to Diablo and Diablo 2, and who resent what Blizzard did with Diablo 3. The hipster in me also tends to root for the underdog and I still can’t believe what Runic Games have achieved with the budget of a stick and some rocks.
If you don’t follow, what’ I’m telling you here is that I have every reason to be biased in favor of Torchlight, and also that none of what I’m about to write is me trying to shit on the franchise. What I’m prepared to battle here is the undeserved status of a ‘Diablo killer’, attributed to this series. As much as I continue to enjoy Torchlight II, I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that it is what Diablo 3 should have been, and that’s not due to its’ lack of pentagrams.
Look, marking down a good game for not being a proper entry in another franchise is stupid and unfair and not what I’m doing. This is not so much about evaluating Torchlight II, as it is about rejecting its reputation, which I find relevant. Let’s face it, Torchlight would not exist without Diablo. To some, the whole point of the series is a store brand alternative to Diablo. It isn’t entirely unreasonable to look at it from this angle.
Just to be extra clear, I’ll wrap up this foreplay by clarifying that I don’t think Diablo 3 is better than Torchlight II either. Actually, I don’t know because I haven’t played Diablo 3. It’s a matter of principle mostly but I don’t find it all that appealing, (and if you know me and my addiction to Diablo, then your mind is blown). There is a long list of shitty reasons why I believe Blizzard steered the series in a very wrong-minded direction, which I won’t get into.
Torchlight II is a fantastic sequel in its own right, and from what I gather, it seems to be better than Diablo 3 in a number of ways: it’s excellently balanced in terms of progression, leveling and loot; it has a much more detailed and flexible character skill map; it’s a lot less linear, with plenty of cool and unexpected encounters and side quests; it’s moddable and offline (which shouldn’t even be a bullet point about a single player game but Diablo 3 made it so). However, as an overall package, it’s not quite on the same level as the 15-year-old Diablo 2, and possibly not even the Diablo 3 we got.
As fun as clicking on a mouse really fast is (which Torchlight II absolutely nails), it doesn’t quite stand on its’ own as a complete experience. At the end of the day, there has to be a point to it. Diablo was never just about the endless grind. It introduced a very compelling dark lore and oozed atmosphere from every orifice. The first game could even be called a horror title, considering what horror titles were like at the time…
Diablo 2 was lighter in tone but it gave significantly more attention to the plot, and retained that ominous feel, making the apocalypse feel important somehow. It had us play a vital part in a chapter of an ongoing saga, with heavy context and a truly dire conflict. This wasn’t you looking for a water chip; this was literal good versus literal evil, no-butthole-spared type of situation. This meant that every additional spawn of hell killed and every point of extra skill gained to make our hero stronger was thematically a very good thing. Those games carried some emotional immersion and it’s exactly what has always been sorely missing from Torchlight.
Torchlight never really tried to make you give a crap, by offering a solid atmosphere, or a cohesive story, or any real characters to care for. Even though Torchlight II darkened things up, with zombies and other cartoony grossness, there was no background to any of it. Grit and gloom is good but we don’t want it for the sake of grit and gloom. This is not about tone. I’d be entirely fine playing as Spongebob if the setting was well crafted and there was an engaging story I wanted to see a resolution to.
The main plot in Torchlight II is clearly an afterthought, and a very quick one at that. The creatures and the locations are very varied and pretty fucking cool actually but they don’t have any reason backing them, not even a cool character portrait or a decent bit of dialogue. You could similarly take one of the Lord of the Rings movies, for example, and cut the first half, leaving just the sword action. You would still get pretty good entertainment but it wouldn’t be a proper movie.
I must tell you. If Torchlight III was similar to the second game and it improved on the aforementioned stuff, I’d jack that shit into the back of my neck Matrix-style.
2. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Wiki says that various “major” gaming sites gave Eternal Darkness numerous fancy awards and called it things like ‘an amazing achievement’. It quotes reviews sweet-talking the thing like a creepy uncle, which basically make you feel like a douche for not being one of only half a million people who’ve bought this game. Multiple other sites call it a cult classic, and a cure for colon cancer, while the franchise has received some renewed attention recently for receiving not one, but two Kickstarter campaigns for a sequel, both of which have since failed.
Here’s the bottom line: I wouldn’t mind checking the sequel out myself, after watching the demo, but I didn’t actually back it (though one of us did) because I played the original. I suspect that the cult, which is supposedly following the original game, has not revisited it in a long, long while.
The very first thing I’d like to address, lest I forget, is the mention of some sort of great gameplay in all the praise. I have yet to meet a real life person who would make that real life mention. Really, if you can picture a Nintendo GameCube quality character model lifting its’ arm and then lowering it a little faster, you get what the majority of combat is like in Eternal Darkness, with some variation in speed and force depending on your weapon. You do get to use some ranged weapons but they don’t make things any better, considering the usual older-3rd-person-horror-game quality camera.
A big deal is often made about the fact that you get to play as different characters through different periods in history. While that’s true, it’s also not as sexy as it sounds. Yes, the characters you control look different but they play as the same guy with a different sucky weapon. Most importantly, I couldn’t tell you who the fuck they are. Most of them are about as fleshed out as the moaning zombies they fight. What their stories or motivations are is never really clear because some of them don’t even say a damn word. You just start a very random level, gain control of a random someone, and take them through an A-to-B corridor. It’s super awkward. All that stays clear throughout is that there is some evil somewhere somehow, and it wants to do some… evil shit, I guess?
When speaking to real life people about Eternal Darkness, they all give one single reason why it’s awesome. Well, they give two, but one of them is “good story” (because it’s ambiguous, you see), which they can never elaborate on with any decent plot detail.
The one you will hear most often is the so called ‘insanity meter’ system, or rather the insanity effects. Basically, the game gives your character an ever-draining insanity bar, and if you allow it to go down enough, the game throws some cool troll-y tricks at you, which break the fourth wall, like something out of Metal Gear Solid. You might see some bugs (both insect and glitch variety) on your TV screen, a TV volume bar might pop up, a message might inform you that the game is about to erase everything from your memory card…
Undoubtedly, those are cool. I thought they were pretty funny and added a unique element to the game but they are not enough. At the end of the day, it’s all a clever gimmick, which made the game memorable for some, but it doesn’t do enough to improve the actual game, you know, the other 99% of the experience. If you don’t entirely suck, you are not supposed to even see these effects, as you are must keep the sanity meter up, which is not difficult to do. At a time when you can go to Youtube and watch a video showcasing a summary of all the insanity effects, I don’t see any good reason to play the game.
If they do restart the funding for the sequel though, do check it out, because it does look like a cool budget title.
I’m really stepping into some shit here by criticizing this game. Psychonauts has become a very popular title to claim rabid fandom to. It’s supposed to give you some sort of gaming cred among the nerds, I noticed, so you might even find the whole thing similar to how hipsters like to wear those Pink Floyd t-shirts, even if they haven’t heard a single fucking song, and then claim that it’s the best band ever, after the Black Eyed Peas.
There are numerous articles claiming that Psychonauts is one of the greatest games ever made, as well as ongoing petitions for a sequel. As of late, whenever some loose talk of a sequel gets kicked around, it’s always supposed to be the best news imaginable. This makes Psychonauts very difficult to criticize but I must try.
First, let me say something about Tim Schafer. I don’t know enough about the guy to claim that he doesn’t pour babies’ tears into his cereal in the morning but he seems to have a great sense of humor, he always looks he is having fun, and well, he could probably write circles around anyone here. Most relevant of all, his games have always delivered some unique settings, complemented by fantastic writing and art direction, rivaled by little else outside of the more recent indy stuff. It’s a shame though that the gameplay has often sucked so much.
From Full Throttle to Grim Fandango to Psychonauts, there has always been something off about the way ‘Schafer games’ have actually played. Playing them is almost like trying to snack on a truly awesome sandwich while someone is farting in the direction of your face. I’d often find myself enduring the gameplay and trying to enjoy the creative gold hidden within, despite it. And Psychonauts does have that gold, kinda (I’ll explain the ‘kinda’). The concept is novel once again, the humor is fitting, while the art style is cute and quirky. Again though, I wish it was a movie so I could actually enjoy it.
It’s not just about the harsh controls, which feel like you are using an early version of some emulator to handle input (not that I ever do that…ever). If judged by the things you end up doing most in the game, Psychonauts is a clunky mess despite feeling like it might mean well.
From the get-go, it’s difficult to make sense of its’ unfocused structure. The ”hub” quickly becomes an empty, uneventful place, and continues to serve very little purpose, other than wasting your time. The action levels might throw a few cute jokes your way, but ultimately, most of them feel tedious, repetitive, disjointed and clunky. Meat Circus is often mentioned as one of the worst and most frustrating video game levels ever made, and I can think of a few others in the same one game, like the Milkman Conspiracy or the very last level. Most of them offer so little in terms of a fun challenge that the developers had to throw in enough collectibles to rout the fuck out of the most compulsive hoarder.
From camera to character movement, it all feels half-assed, and it all adds up to interfere with your enjoyment. Platforming feels like something from the early N64 era that’s not Super Mario 64, but the game also likes to change shit up unexpectedly with difficult gameplay sequences that are just as rough, and which require you to get good on the spot.
I have to say that, as is the case with most Schafer games, I’d be interested in a remaster of Psychonauts, but I’d be sure to check some reviews because I’m not so sure proper criticism has been voiced enough to ensure needed improvements. Hey, that’s actually pretty much the point here.
Psychonauts does create a fun world and a few fun story concepts, but if I’m honest, it’s mostly good because it’s a video game. I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t change the channel if it were a cartoon I caught on TV. This is very subjective, again, but I do want to mention this, as well as the fact that I cannot say the same about Grim Fandango or even Brutal Legend.