The video game industry is a diverse and wonderful thing, with big-ticket triple-A studios surrounded on all sides by independent titles and smaller releases to not only keep gamers satiated all year round, but also to draw inspiration from. Although these triple-A studios come with enormous advertising budgets to ensure that their titles are in gamers’ faces for month before their release, so many other titles don’t get that same air-time and, no matter how good they might be, they simply never get enough recognition for how good they really are.
This month, after a delay owing to academic commitments and our PAX 2017 experience, the Doublejump Staff sat down to discuss its favourite “hidden gems” in the games industry. These gems might not all be hidden in the more “traditional” sense of the phrase, but we wanted to shine a spotlight on some games that simply deserve more love or attention than they have gotten. Sit back, grab a drink and enjoy!
Cai: LISA: The Painful RPG
LISA is an introspective game, if nothing else. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with no females, and while the premise isn’t exactly original, the game follows it to some really interesting places. Brad is an emotionally repressed, psychologically damaged karate instructor who finds himself looking after the last girl on the planet, and as he strives to protect her from a cruel and dangerous world, LISA starts examining both his and the player’s motivations. It’s certainly not an easy game to play, and it can be emotionally draining, but that’s what makes it so unique and worth playing through until the end. Themes of drug dependency, abuse and personal morality are persistent and the game pulls no punches in its depiction of them, but where it shines is in forcing players to examine their own decision making and morality in key moments. Choosing whether to sacrifice a less-than-helpful party member or one of Brad’s limbs is not an easy decision to make, and both will have consequences reflected in the gameplay.
LISA is not the first game in the series, but it’s where the series finds its unique blend of dark humour and tragedy that now defines it. Surrealism, puns and zany characters provide welcome comic relief from the confronting story. If Brad falls asleep in the wrong area, he might awake to a new day, a party member being kidnapped, or a man trying his hardest to become a fish. No explanation is ever given for this, and the man won’t be seen again in the game. It’s these kinds of bizarre, unpredictable actions that make LISA memorable, and separate it from the other sad RPG games out there.
Equal parts hilarious and melancholy, LISA forces the player to make difficult decisions and examine what sort of person they really are. The humour and tragedy of the setting both combine to make a beautifully dark game in which the only morality is the player’s own.
Cav: Alpha Protocol
Although Obsidian Entertainment’s mainstream reputation was justifiably built upon its roots in revolutionary RPG developer Black Isle Studios (Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale), it deserves equal credit for its consistently skewed vision of RPG morality. From the vastly underrated KOTOR 2: The Sith Lords to Fallout: New Vegas to its most recent game Tyranny, Obsidian has excelled in diverting from the beaten path when it comes to worldbuilding and character.
This desire to put a left-of-centre spin on things is no more evident than in the studio’s 2010 action-adventure epic Alpha Protocol. A giddy take on the Superspy genre, it casts the player as secret agent Michael Thorton as he unravels an international conspiracy with a (for the time) distinctly forward-thinking sense of freedom. Players can blast their way through situations, specialize in hi-tech solutions or stealth their way along, with a still-impressive range of consistently well-written (and often hilarious) dialogue options allowing a huge amount of freedom in crafting Thorton’s personality. Sadly, the game’s overreaching ambition resulted in a lot of bugs, which unfairly turned popular and critical opinion against it, although it has seen somewhat of a renaissance in recent years as the gaming world has increasingly embraced the kind of freeform character development that Obsidian attempted.
Alpha Protocol, now freely available for pennies on most major digital platforms on PC, remains a refreshingly open-ended character-based RPG (as long as you forgive the jank), and comes highly recommended for anyone who loves a good, old-fashioned espionage romp — especially if you’re willing to embrace the, say, snarkier character routes (every gamer needs to experience the Michael Thorton Heel Run).
Damon: Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist
As a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, Legacy of the Duelist is everything one could have hoped for and then some. It treats players to a blast of pure nostalgia as they spend hours building their deck before duelling against practically every single character that’s ever shown their face in the popular anime. The game is incredibly complex and well put together, allowing players to build their decks based on a specific strategy or type of monster, or just put the cards they liked into a deck and see what happens; with so many cards available and so many decks to build, the replay value is astronomical when you consider that the game will run you a measly $20.
Nostalgia aside, Legacy of the Duellist is simply a phenomenally-made game. From recreating scenes from the television series to using direct quotes and even rendering in-battle cutscenes for famous monsters such as the Dark Magician, Red-Eyes Black Dragon and Blue-Eyes White Dragon, the game exhibits Other Ocean Interactive’s fantastic attention to detail, and the graphics as a whole are top-notch. Online play adds yet another layer — and a lot more value for money — to the game, allowing players to test their decks against opponents from around the world; gameplay is smooth, fast and without issue, keeping many players coming back to the game even after two years.
Other Ocean Interactive has created a real masterpiece, and it’s a shame that Legacy of the Duelist — a game that is worth far more than the price of admission — isn’t as popular or well-known as the anime was in its heyday.
Emily: Haunting Ground
Horror titles such as Outlast and Amnesia: The Dark Descent paved the way for players to experience weaponless survival horror; paving the way for them, however, was Haunting Ground, a lesser-known entry into the genre that adds a canine companion and an incredibly disturbing storyline. The spiritual successor to the equally-frightening Clock Tower series, Haunting Ground casts players in the role of Fiona, who wakes up in a cage within the mysterious Belli Castle with no memory of how she got there. Fiona must, of course, explore the castle to try and piece together what happened to her while also keeping herself out of harm’s way.
Deeply and surprisingly scary, Haunting Ground evokes fear in many different ways as players traverse the castle and hide from the castle’s inhabitants. Their motivation for wanting Fiona dead are creepy enough, but Capcom did a fantastic job of exacerbating players’ fear by ensuring that Fiona’s enemies — a group of competent humans rather than your run-of-the-mill zombies — will take a chance and search under beds or in closets and scare the living shit out of her and the player. Additionally, when Fiona is in a dangerous situation, players feel her panic as the screen blurs, menus are disabled and Fiona begins to trip and fall into walls, outside of the player’s control. What really brings the game onto another level is the inclusion of Fiona’s White Shepherd friend, Hewie, who supports her throughout the game — once his obedience is earned — by sniffing out items, attacking enemies, checking for threats or simply walking by her side. To this day, Hewie is still one of the best dog companions we’ve seen in video games.
Although it never quite reached the same critical and commercial levels as some of its successors, Haunting Ground was a fantastic entry into the survival horror scene, bringing an intense, disturbing and often uncomfortable experience with a few little nuances that haven’t been seen in the genre since.
Jake: Everything Supergiant Games has ever made
After eight years and three critically acclaimed titles, Supergiant Games has carved a niche for itself in the indie market and although the games media has developed a bit of a love affair with the small San Francisco-based studio, that love affair hasn’t translated into the widespread community recognition that Supergiant truly deserves.
With 2011’s Bastion, 2014’s Transistor and this year’s Pyre under its belt so far, Supergiant has built its reputation on a beautiful, colourful, hand-painted art style, captivating sound design, complex and interesting storylines and quirky characters. Although all three titles fall under the same action-RPG genre on the surface, each one brings a small change or reimagining to the table that makes it stand out as a Supergiant title: Bastion’s world is constructed and deconstructed by the player’s footsteps, each of which is narrated as it happens; Transistor is narrated by the player’s weapon; and Pyre is a fantastic cross-breed between a role-playing game, a choose-your-own-adventure title and a sports game. Each of the three titles are expertly crafted, with evidence of the team’s passion shining through in its attention to detail and even its outbound communication, and all three are great for casual or hardcore gamers alike.
Despite Supergiant’s incredible critical success, I always find myself recommending its titles to people who’ve simply never heard of them, and that’s a crying shame; do yourself a favour and check them out.
Rhys: DmC: Devil May Cry
The Devil May Cry series is considered a pioneer of the early 2000s hack-and-slash genre, bringing some of the fastest-paced, most challenging gameplay possible on the hardware that was available. As such, the announcement of a soft reboot, in the form of DmC: Devil May Cry was met with outrage, particularly surrounding a redesigned Dante. Although it was confusing to see players writing the game off based on a character design, it was hard to approach the game with anything but caution considering that the early trailers made it difficult to see the game’s appeal, even for a long-time fan of the series.
Considering all of the negativity surrounding the title, then, it was fantastic to see that developer Ninja Theory delivered such a phenomenal game, bringing that same fast-paced action players were used to alongside the ability to change and upgrade a far more brutal Dante’s arsenal to make every combat situation fun and different. Players could choose to focus on crowd control using his angel weapons, focus on pure damage by using his demon weapons, or to mix the two for some very interesting combinations. The sound design made every hit feel meaningful, and there was nothing more satisfying than reaching a SSS ranking and maintaining it throughout the levels. Although the new Dante was average at best — despite some of his vulgar quips getting more than their fair share of laughs — the fast-paced gameplay continues to bring me back to the title that many fans like to label the “black sheep” of the Devil May Cry series.
Although DmC: Devil May Cry was a critical success, and it did get a lot of attention, it sold quite poorly by AAA standards due to the fans’ uproar; I’m here to encourage anyone who likes the Devil May Cry series to give it a shot and see how good it actually is for themselves.
With so many new and interesting video games being released every year, there are sure to be a few hidden gems that we haven’t mentioned; feel free to get involved in our community via the links below and let us know what you think!