The release of Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us was the bell that rings in that weird time of year for games releases, that summer gap during which very few publshers dare to, well… publish. Crickets will be chirping for pretty much all of July, and up until the 20th of August on which Saint’s Row IV, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and Splinter Cell: Blacklist all suddenly fling themselves onto shelves in one go, marking the beginning of this generation’s final flurry of releases before giving way to the next. Perhaps it’s a benevolent voice from publishers, a kind whispered suggestion that we go outside and enjoy the summer sun while it lasts, before we are ordered to march inside again and fulfil our bad-guy-shooting duties. Well, it’ll be a cold day in hell before Twinfinite condone you going outside. I say use this time to catch up on some unappreciated gems of this generation before you buy your non-backwards compatible next-gen console and the opportunity is blown. Here’s some picks of my own, and of course add yours in the comments!
Child of Eden
It is crazy how much Child of Eden undersold. I mean, it should be illegal. Shipping a mere 34,000 units in its first month (though admittedly at the time it was a 360 exclusive), its release went hardly noticed by most despite the millions of people that Microsoft claimed had bought a Kinect. However, if I’m to push something about Child of Eden, it’s that it doesn’t need Kinect. I don’t own a Kinect, I don’t like the Kinect, but Child of Eden is easily one of my favourite games for the Xbox 360. While it’s certainly disarmingly short and simple (the controls only consist of the analogue sticks, right trigger, A, and very occasionally B), its direction is unique enough to be effortlessly fascinating. Much like its PS2 predecessor, it’s an on-rails, fantastically coloured journey through space and time with a surprisingly steep difficulty curve and high skill ceiling. Despite offering a perfectly pleasant experience simply playing it to look at the pretty shapes and colours, it’s a game I’ll also hammer away at in an attempt to beat my times and scores for hours with no frustration – very unlike me, I assure you. Come for the thumping uplifting trance beats, stay for the replay value!
I admit, if you spend plenty of time on the internet, you might have actually not missed this one, since director Swery65’s 2010 title has picked up quite the cult web following, with a fair few of Twinfinite’s staff within its ranks. However, with a $20 release price and almost zero budget for advertising, Dead Prem slipped under the radar for plenty. And for some people, that’s a mercy – ‘weird’ just doesn’t cover it for this game, and I know more than a couple of people who’ve just had to call it quits after a couple of hours. Give this Twin Peaks reference-fest another go, though, and you’ll discover that such things as adding a fishing simulation to an open world survival horror format can actually work… incredibly well. It doesn’t survive on quirk alone, either, as somewhere around the halfway mark Deadly Premonition almost stops telling a bizarre pastiche of a storyline, and actually starts telling a great one. Out of nowhere, I was enormously connected to the hilariously animated and voiced residents of Greenvale, even if I was laughing my ass off during the B-movie cutscenes. My advice: don’t quit.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
The first Condemned was released at an awkward time – late 2005. At the genesis of the Xbox 360, yet before Halo 3, before Gears of War, before Oblivion. Sadly, a lot of people hadn’t felt the incentive to move to the new generation of consoles, and missed out on this truly stellar horror title. Knocking out some poor fool’s teeth with a crowbar in first person feels great in any game, but none do it better than Condemned, and none bar Amnesia have delivered scares as well either. At risk of explainabragging, I’m pretty tough to spook when it comes to horror games, but Condemned is always on a scale of chilling to god damn terrifying. People who know what I’m talking about: the locker scene, right? Condemned’s clunky, full of unspectacular dialogue, and everyone seems to have weirdly big shoulders, but it nails atmosphere, and when you hit a guy with a 2×4 with nails in it, it nails combat too, with nails.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
No, this isn’t the same as the irritatingly similarly-titled Harmony of Dissonance, and in fact the main draw of Harmony of Despair is a complete diversion away from the series as a whole, with the introduction of 6-player co-op. I’ll be the first to complain about its poor size in comparison to its price (a mere 6 stages for $15) and the hilariously overpriced yet almost necessary DLC stages, but as far as loot farming and co-op sidescrolling fun goes, Harmony delivers in spades. At first it appears to simply be an homage made for the consoles of today, ripping levels from recent Castlevania titles and letting you bash through them with friends. Dig a little under the surface, though, and dip into the frighteningly hardcore community, and you enter a mad world of speedruns, grinding, and obsessive farming. I didn’t think I was the sort of guy to play a 10-minute level 50 times in a row to try and get a rare pair of fucking boots that some randomer on a forum said existed, but here I am now – with the boots. You might uncover a monster within you. I say embrace it.
Toy Story 3: The Video Game
I was going to open this with a ‘no, really!’, but does this really need to be justified? The original Toy Story games on the Playstation were adventurous and loveable, if slightly ham-fisted, platformers that remain as fond memories, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that some 15 years on Disney Pixar are still able to get the right developers to do the job. In fact, Toy Story 3’s game goes above and beyond the expectation by not only being a platformer and a joyful action adventure, but an open world sandbox too, offering about 20 hours of quests. While it does hit an abrupt end when all the side quests suddenly dry up, it doesn’t change the fact that the game’s polished, hugely varied, and ever-so-true to the film franchise. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a game that’ll truly make you happy.
Of the lot, I admit this is the least likely for one to have missed, so I guess this is more of a ‘if you haven’t got round to it, get round to it’. I feel ashamed that even as a writer, I can think of no better for Bulletstorm than ‘fantastic’. Which is a little ironic, considering the game’s rather colourful vocabulary and range of synonyms for the male sex organ. Bulletstorm came when we needed it most, when shooters had peaked, when we’d called in the last airstrike we could possibly have found cool, when we’d forgotten that shooting thousands of guys to bloody ribbons was actually a lot more fun when it didn’t give us some awful premise of it being ‘believable’. For as dumb as phrases like ‘what the dick?’ are, Bulletstorm treats you like an adult, as someone who doesn’t just want another run-of-the-mill Middle East-terrorizing shooting gallery, who actually wants to make spectacular things happen instead of having it shown to them in a cutscene, and who realises that dinosaurs never go out of style.