If you’re anything like me when it comes to video games, you probably base your next purchase on a variety of factors, including hype, your friends’ opinions, and finally, the post-release reviews. But sometimes, it seems as though only the biggest and most expensive games really get their due. For every “Call of Duty,” there seems to be a plethora of untouched games whose production values or lack of proper marketing warranted only a half-page blurb instead of a centerpiece. Often, these underdogs of the gaming market actually have way more to offer than their blockbustin’ counterparts in the way of fresh ideas and replayability.
Here are a few lesser-knowns that’ll have you glued to your controller with a 2-liter of pure sugar energy for an all-night gaming marathon the likes of which your 12 year old SNES-playing self would be envious of:
Syndicate- Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Syndicate, if you’ll think back to yesteryear, was a bird’s eye view shooting/strategy game which put the player into the shoes (or cyber-punk combat boots, as it were) of a four-man team of cyborgs whose goal it was to capture the technologies of their enemies in a future wherein corporations, as opposed to governments, rule the world. Throughout the game, players were forced to make tactical decisions on the fly, assigning different tasks to their group if they wanted to stay alive and achieve technological supremacy.
In Starbreeze/Electronic Arts’ 2012 reboot, the story remains the same while the playability is updated for a more modern audience. The view is switched to first-person, as this is seemingly the preferred medium for contemporary games, and the strategy aspect has been removed (mostly). You see, while the management and support of a team has been taken out, the developers threw in the ability to “slow time”. Now, while this has been done, and done, and done again, somehow it seems to act as a brand new device in Syndicate. Not only will slowing time give players the upper-hand in terms of agility and accuracy, but it turns the world into a grayish-green digital map-out of the world (think Neo’s “Matrix-vision”). It highlights the enemies in a contrasting color so that they may be easily identified through cover, allowing the player extra time to plan out his next devastating move accordingly.
Throw in some visceral melee moves, solid shooting, the ability to hack into enemies’ minds, a few nice twists on conventional weapons (like an assault rifle whose bullets can bend around corners), and one of the best cover systems I’ve ever seen implemented in a FPS (not to mention an addicting stand-alone co-op campaign), and you can feel pretty good about walking out of your game store only seventeen bucks poorer.
Bodycount- Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Guildford Studio
Show of hands- who remembers when going to the arcade meant picking up a light-gun and trading quarters for mindless explosions and violence? Actually, who remembers going to the arcade, period? Well, if you’re sitting there with your hand raised enthusiastically, this game is most likely for you. Bodycount was released as a “spiritual successor” to the cult video game Black. Those lucky few who played Black know what a huge claim this is. Unfortunately, Codemasters was unable to capture just what made Black such a captivating game with Bodycount. What they DID capture, however, is pure, simple, explosion-ridden goodness.
This game ditches the “follow the leader and wait for the dramatic climax of this level” formula that its big brothers have unleashed on the gaming world. Instead, the game’s entire goal seems to be beautiful destruction, and the plot amounts to a simple “Because why not?” The action is constant and the gunplay solid. Enemies will continue to pile onto the screen for as long as you feel content to mow them down. And the thing is- it works. I mean, it REALLY works. Not once did I stop to question where all the cutscenes had gone or why the main character was so silent or even what his name was, because the action is so engrossing. I still don’t know his name. Jackson, maybe? And I’ve played through the game twice!
Bodycount did make one huge mistake though- it tried to break ground where it shouldn’t have. The cover and aiming system, specifically, is a giant mess. When squeezing the left trigger on your controller (L1 on PS3), you zoom in for a more accurate shot. “Ok, I’m familiar with this mechanic”, you may say to yourselves. And then you’ll say, “Um… why can’t I walk and why is the camera shaking violently?” You see, the aiming function is meant to be used from behind cover, meaning that if you’re crouched behind a barrel or crate, you can use the analog stick in conjunction with the trigger to pop up or peek around the corner. If you use it to zoom in while simultaneously running across the battlefield, however, you’ll be rendered immobile and become the equivalent of the annoying kid brother who tagged along to paintball with you and your buddies, only more… dead. It takes some getting used to, but this mechanic does work (eventually). If you’re looking for a good excuse to blow some things up after a long day of work, Bodycount is a fun, cheap, and much healthier alternative than setting that dumpster out back on fire.
Viking: Battle for Asgard- Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Viking: Battle for Asgard is, hands-down, some of the most fun you’re ever likely to have while hacking and slashing. The plot is simple- players assume the role of Skarin, a fierce viking warrior. Struck down in battle, Skarin is resurrected by the goddess Freya and given the power to become her champion in the battle against the legions of the dark goddess Hel. From there, you’re given total control over the game. Throughout the course of Viking, players will free-roam their way across several islands, each with it’s own unique climate and aesthetic. Violent, bloody combat befitting a true Norse warrior follows your every step.
The combat is simple, yet solid and efficient. Two-button combos can be learned, upgraded, and unleashed on the hordes of enemies wandering the island. And trust me, you’ll need every combo you can afford in this game if you want to succeed. While you may feel accomplished after dispatching a dozen or so foes, nothing compares to the bliss (and often, frustration), of the “final battles” which occur on each island. In order to trigger these massive set pieces, the player must wander the land, taking down outposts and liberating Skarin’s viking brethren who are being held captive by the legions of Hel. And also summoning dragons. Did I mention there were dragons? Because there are. These beasts can be called in during battle at the expense of points, which are gained by defeating enemy shamans. Brutal, gory, and surprisingly beautiful for such an old game, Viking is about as close to actually being Conan the Barbarian as you’re ever going to get.
There you have it, gamers. These three titles are, while virtually unknown, some of the most downright fun and addicting games you can get for under twenty clams. Now what are you doing still reading this? Go to your local game store, drop a few bucks and start playing!