There have been literally thousands of videogames released since Microsoft kick-started this generation of consoles back in 2005.
And all of the middling and major titles released over the past seven years have each been put through the same brutal acid-test of critic reviews, user scores and aggregated numbers.
Some videogames, however, have had a tougher time than others – falling out of favour for whatever reason despite showing promise. So below we are celebrating the unpolished gems of this world. The rough diamonds that, for whatever reason, haven’t had the big break they deserved.
A quick clarification before we begin: when people talk about ‘underrated games’, they tend to start rattling off games such as Bayonetta or Vanquish. Those games aren’t underrated. They sold like they were N-Gage exclusives, granted, but they’re not underrated. Pretty much everyone who has played them agrees they’re great.
The benchmark is simple. We are hand-picking the best games that scored less than a 75 per cent average on Metacritic. Each one is likely lurking in a pre-owned bin somewhere, and hopefully with our advice you’ll be more tempted to give them all a deserved home and some much-deserved TV time.
PS3, Xbox 360, PCMetacritc score: 74
Sample critique: “The action requires little real skill to control and although gaining new powers is a strong impetuous for continuing it’s all extremely shallow and inconsequential” – Metro GameCentral – 6/10
Why it’s secretly a bit good: It’s the epic open-world superhero game that the likes of Spidey and Superman have promised in the past, but never quite delivered.
‘Shallow and inconsequential’ is a pretty good summary of Prototype 2’s action, but since when did a GTA clone have to be a Franz flippin’ Kafka novel? While the New York Zero setting is a little contrived, gliding from skyscraper to skyscraper like a murderous sugar glider is a top laugh.
Ridge Racer 6
Xbox 360Metacritic score: 74
Sample critique: “Mediocre at best. If you’re trying to find a simple racer to appease someone who is confused with such daunting tasks as, say, reciting the alphabet, then Ridge Racer 6 might be what you’re looking for” – Game Over Online – 6/10
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Why it’s secretly a bit good: Namco only have themselves to blame for Ridge Racer 6’s lacklustre reviews. Like a Mini on a frozen Winter morning, it takes an absolute age to get going.
Power through the sluggish opening quarter however and your reward is a pulsating twitch racer that challenges you to steer a car sideways through the eye of a needle at screen-blistering speeds. For an additional thrill, try reciting the alphabet while you do so.
WiiMetacritic score: 74
Sample critique: “Pandora’s Tower doesn’t offer anything appealing or unique, and is not a Wii title that will find a home with many gamers” – Gameplanet – 5/10
Why it’s secretly a bit good: It’s no surprise that Pandora’s Tower got overlooked – a Nintendo console is always going to be a tough place for a Zelda clone to make a living.
But Pandora’s Tower carved a niche for itself by adding a speedrunning twist to the ponderous Zelda format. Pandora’s dungeons might not be as fiendishly inventive as Eiji Aonuma’s twining inventions, but the stress of a constantly ticking clock makes it easy to muff up even the simplest of puzzles.
Xbox 360, PCMetacritic score: 68
Sample critique: “Maybe if the gameplay were more endearing to the casual gamer, or if the visuals didn’t make half of the people who play the game foam at the mouth…just maybe Space Giraffe would have been as cool as its designers had hoped” – IGN, 47%
Why it’s secretly a bit good: Famously eccentric designer Jeff Minter out-weirded even himself when he decided to take a pile of Tempest grids and overlay them with a disorientating light synthesiser effect. “It’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on” bemoaned reviews at the time. A perfectly valid criticism, but it’s worth noting that this was exactly Minter’s intention.
To survive Space Giraffe’s visual onslaught, you have to play it by ear – using the subtle audio cues to ‘feel’ your way around the grid. If it clicks, you’ve got yourself one of the most unique and nuanced shooters around. If it doesn’t, you’ve just got a garish mess. An iffy tutorial section didn’t help sway the floating voters.
At 400MP, it’s worth a punt to see which side of the divide you fall on.
Earth Defence Force 2017
Xbox 360Metacritic score: 69
Sample critique: “Earth Defence Force 2017 is the action game equivalent of potato chips: no nutritional value, but tasty nonetheless” – Hardcore Gamer Magazine – 45%
Why it’s secretly quite good: EDF 2017 is ugly and jerky, true, but it’s absolute bucketloads of fun too. Someone once described it to us as ‘Robotron in 3D’, and that nails it on the head for us.
We mean, it throws you into a fully-destructible city, with a whopping great cannon and an infinite amount of giant ants/robots/spiders to test it out on. What’s not to like? The lack of online multiplayer maybe, but come on. Don’t be like that.
Nintendo WiiMetacritic score: 72
Sample critique: “It might show off how well racers on the Wii will work when developers finally do it properly (yes, Ubisoft, we’re looking at you) but even so, there’s just not enough here to warrant the premium price” – Games TM – 6/10
Why it’s secretly quite good: Excite Truck was a victim of inflated expectations. For the first few years of the Wii’s existence, people expected motion control to provide a wonderful new dimension to games; the kind of next level experience that Nintendo had always promised. Ultimately, the controller’s limitations meant that the revolution was not going to happen (though Nintendo, which had sold more than 95 million of the machines, would beg to differ).
The Wii’s best games are often the early ones that kept things simple. Games such as Excite Truck, which is one of those breed of racers where the trick is to correct your positioning in mid-air so you don’t lose momentum when you land.
We’re spoiled for choice with these at the moment (MotoHeroz, Trials et al), but Excite Truck is the best 3D example of the sub-genre, and its wild handling is a perfect match for the Wiimote’s jittery nature. Terrible name, mind.
PS3, PC, Xbox 360Metacritic score: 72
Sample Critique: “It’s the best kind of 7/10. The gunplay is raucous, but never revolutionary. The relationships make you laugh, if not cry. Binary Domain is unpolished in all the right places” – Official PlayStation Magazine – 7/10
Why it’s secretly quite good: There’s one thing Binary Domain gets very, very right, and it’s not the box art. It’s the mechs. Most specifically, the satisfying way they fall apart at the seams (rivets?) when you shoot at them.
Mechs must have a good union, because games rarely manage to get this simple thing right. It’s okay for us humans to bleed rivers, but mechs tend to be allowed to die quietly and with dignity. Binary Domain addresses this imbalance with glorious, metal-crunching fury. Death to our mechanical oppressors!
PS3, Xbox 360Metacritic score: 68%
Sample critique: “Awful in nearly every way. The Twin Peaks meets Resident Evil with a dash of Grand Theft Auto formula sounds pretty great, but it was well beyond the capabilities of this development team. Terrible controls. Terrible pacing. Terrible sound effects. Terrible visuals.” – IGN – 20%
Why it’s secretly quite good: Deadly Premonition holds the Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Polarizing Survival Horror Game”, which in itself holds the record for “Most Peculiarly Specific World Record Category”. Little wonder really as it’s really quite bizarre.
Deadly Premonition is a game that defies easy classification. The closest we can come to describing it is as a budget Resident Evil with a penchant for mischief. Brutal acts of violence are accompanied by terrible one-liners. Outlandishly freakish scenes are juxtaposed by mundane segments where you trim your beard or swig coffee. It’s a surreal piece of interactive story-telling and you’ll either love it or hate it for that.
PS3, Xbox 360, PCMetacritic score: 72
Sample critique: “Alpha Protocol’s astounding intricacies are tarnished by bugs, clumsy gameplay mechanics, and rough production values” – Gamespot – 6/10
Why it’s secretly quite good: You have to dig deep to get the most from Alpha Protocol, but it’s worth the blood and tears.
Your digging will have to cut through a crust of ugly presentation and a mantle of shoddy AI. Then you’ve got to drill through the near-impenetrable outer core that is the main character’s crouching animation, which makes him look like he’s filled his pants.
Dig past all of that, and you get to sip from Alpha Protocol’s delicious gooey liquid centre; a stealth-action RPG which gives you a mind-boggling number of ways to develop your character’s skill set and approach each mission.
WiiMetacritic score: 74
Sample critique: “It all boils down to the controls. When you have the capability to utilize the innovative controls of the Wii, be sure to use them to the fullest extent” – Cheat Code Central – 52%
Why it’s secretly quite good: Does this sound familiar? It’s Excite Truck syndrome all over again. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see SSX Blur for what it actually is: a cracking little snowboarding game that works well within the Wiimote’s limited capabilities. Carving into the snow with the nunchuk feels great. We’ve even grown fond of the cartoon aesthetic. Time heals all wounds, right?