“The Club is much more skill-based than it first seems, rewarding the twitchy and punishing the hesitant.”
Here’s another one that might have been ahead of its time. Fashions in gaming go in cycles, and as we’re now just starting to see tactical shooters edge back into the spotlight it’s hard to remember there was a time when run-and-gun action was looked upon with pity and disdain.
Occasionally described as “a racing game with guns”, The Club is frenetic and much more skill-based than it first seems, rewarding the twitchy and punishing the hesitant. Nothing else has ever quite captured the feel of its unique gameplay. If it launched today, with full the social support of new consoles, you’d probably see one of those tiresome months where every gamer in the world seems to be tweeting challenges to beat their high score.
Motion controls, and especially the Kinect, have such a bed reputation amongst gamers that it’s quite likely many copies of this Xbox 360 pack-in have never even been opened. A collection of mini-games designed to show off the capabilities of Microsoft’s new controller, Kinect Adventures is one of the few showcases that is also actually pretty fun to play.
Not every mini-game is as satisfying as it could be, but the ones that are fun are brilliant with a few mates over – or even over Xbox Live. The collection’s tendency to take photos of you at your most awkward moments is fiendish and therefore hilarious, especially when you’re quietly working your way through story mode and feeling a bit ashamed about how compelling the progression system is. Hold your head high, mate; we’ve all done it.
Straddling genres and reinventing them for new platforms is a risky business, and The Outfit is a poster child for the mixed success of this bold approach. From PC strategy master Relic Entertainment, The Outfit waters down its strategic elements a little too thoroughly, but on the other hand is an excellent example of how to avoid all the fiddly bits that make the genre so difficult to sell on consoles, and taking your game online to face real human foes ups the required thinking considerably.
At the end of the day, this is a game where you blow things up with tanks, and it’s pretty hard to argue with that – especially when the thing you’re blowing up include “the whole enormous sodding level”. Wheee!
Shadows of the Damned
“Shadows of the Damned is what happens when Suda is asked to write an elevator pitch for a western executive.”
One of the must frustrating aspects of gaming is that the most beautiful and unusual creations tend to die on release, and it’s only when their organs are harvested for other projects that we come to truly appreciate them. This is the culture in which Goichi Suda, a man with enough imagination to power a dirigible, must attempt to sell games. Shadows of the Damned, in which our Latin Lover descends to Hell to rescue his girlfriend, is what happens when Suda is asked to write an elevator pitch for a western executive.
Gloriously marketed in the dying throes of EA Partners, Shadows of the Damned failed to ignite hype, but it is both a better and a weirder game than its dismissive detractors assume. Suda cannot hide his light under EA’s bushel, and when push comes to shove Grasshopper Manufacture can’t resist making a tight action game.
There’s an argument that games need to be immediately compelling, and it’s a fair one. If you have to play for so many hours before “it gets good”, why wouldn’t you just play something else? This is perhaps one of the reasons why so many people chose to play something other than Brütal Legend, which hides all its most interesting elements – namely RTS-style combat and some genuinely funny writing – behind hours and hours of third-person action adventure.
For those who brave those opening hours, or who are attracted by the game’s sensational rock soundtrack, the effort is well-rewarded. This was the game that drove Double Fine to go completely indie, and for that we must thank the cold, unfeeling games industry, even as we mourn the fact that we’ll probably never see a sequel build on what promised to be an incredible formula.
“The gameplay goes from brainless blast-a-thon to tight, controlled and arguably even tactical action.”
Bulletstorm is an easy game to hate. The marketing was over the top stupid, and lacking the self-aware detachment that would have made its sheer, mind-numbing testosterone piquant rather than distasteful. The grinning madness with which it invited you to get silly was always going to offend, and not for the reasons People Can Fly probably intended.
Which is a great shame, because Bulletstorm is a great deal of silly fun, and as shooters go, one of the most rewarding. Put in your time and score those ridiculous skill shots and you’ll find the gameplay goes from brainless blast-a-thon to tight, controlled and arguably even tactical action. Plus, it’s pretty funny when you shoot them in the ballsack. What? It is.
Platinum Games is one of those developers, like Grasshopper, that makes excellent games nobody spends enough money on. And like many games on this list, Vanquish was developed with a cynical eye to appealing to the western market. Turns out that no matter how well you wrap it up the Call of Duty brigade is not going to buy a Japanese mechasuit third-person shooter, and the Japanese-games loving crowd is not into “generic” western-influenced designs.
Ignore both of these perspectives, though, and you’ll find one of the most challenging action games of the generation. Relentlessly fast-paced and twitchy, Vanquish lives up to the claims its competitors wave about but never meet: it is visceral. Keep your dull plodding along corridors and letting the AI do the shooting; Vanquish only wants you if you’re hard enough.
Of course we can’t have hit on every uncelebrated success of the last generation – we haven’t even started on indies! – so add your favourites in the comments below.