Top 11 most underrated games I've ever played
Yes, I'm doing one of these. After the...questionable...results of my attempt at listing my top ten most OVERrated games, I realised it would make a lot of sense to list their opposites as well. After all, I'm a generally positive sorta bloke. Now, just because I think something's underrated doesn't mean I'd call it brilliant, but rather that it deserves more love than I've seen it get. In any case, I've played one bucketload of games in my day, owning maybe five hundred across various formats by now (PS2 makes up the bulk), so I've obviously found a few gems you might never have heard of. They mightn't be obscure and you've probably at least caught a glimpse of half of them, but playing them is another matter. This is my attempt at highlighting some less-than-famous and possibly even generally disliked titles so that others might discover their pleasures.
The following might strike you as notable in their absence:
ē Shadow of the Colossus
ē TimeSplitters 2
They're not in my list because I don't see how they could be called anything less than well-loved. Yeah, hardly anyone bought Psychonauts or Ico when they launched, but now they're so often used as examples of games which deserved to sell better that they're practically household names in the world of gaming. As for TimeSplitters, that series is far from being without a hardcore fanbase. Just thought I'd save people asking me about those.
And to avoid any confusion, this list is in no order other than alphabetical. Now if you're up to the challenge and in the friendly mindset I intend my audience to be in, let's begin.
Colony Wars (PS1)('97)
Oh, trust me, I've made my opinion of this one clear on many occasions. When I think sci-fi games, Colony Wars is probably the first non-licensed one to spring to mind. Stuff like Star Wars has an unfair advantage, being attached to an insanely detailed universe, but Colony Wars started in a world of its own and had to work to establish a style. And drokk me if the result isn't fan-smegging-tastic.
The straightforward story of a resistance group formed by residents of the Gallonigher System taking the fight to the exploitative Earth Empire is made to seem epic to a degree rarely seen in games; a grand soundtrack by the famous Tim Wright (CoLD SToRAGE) coupled with narration by a man who sounds remarkably like James Earl Jones create an atmosphere that is at times triumphant or desperate, but always epic. Epic truly is the only word. Except maybe awesome. I also love the art style, which takes a "realistic" approach to space travel that suits the simulation-style gameplay; fighters nip about and the hulking battleships glide through the abyss with all the haste of a glacier that's just been told to go to its room and do its homework. No Halo-esque Fisher Price spaceships here. Brilliantly, you can listen to descriptions of the ships as you see them throughout the game, which adds tremendously to the universe.
As mentioned, the gameplay is more simulation than arcade, but you can still pick it up and play without great difficulty, even if there's a lengthy adjustment period to the rather complex control scheme. Fighters go down in a concentrated burst of fire, but lasers have cooldown and your supply of missiles, torpedoes and other secondary weapons is very limited, so knowing when to fire both is essential. And I mean that: the last section of the story is ludicrously hard, to the point where I must confess I've never beaten it without cheating. There is mercy, though, as you can often fail a few missions before getting one of the several possible endings (the canonical one may surprise you), and following a game over, you get to replay any unlocked mission at your leisure.
Colony Wars is a game limited only by the hardware of the time, and you can tell Psygnosis pushed the poor little PlayStation to its limits when you consider the great number of objects and projectiles on screen at once. The frame rate is remarkably consistent as well, so they didn't even sacrifice performance. Even so, PS2 space shooters like Jedi Starfighter demonstrate what could have been done if Colony Wars had been able to use better tech, which makes it all the more tragic that Sony seem to have abandoned the series in deep space.
There are flaws, but almost all of them are more to do with the game's age and the PlayStation's limits than legitimate design problems. Besides, 3D space shooters aren't especially common, let alone ones with so much visible polish. The satisfying combat, incredible music and humbling scale make this easily one of my most beloved sci-fi games. Some prefer the first sequel, Vengeance, which definitely adds a lot of nifty features and builds on the story, but I think the original's mood and simplicity give it the edge.
Darkwatch (PS2, Xbox) ('05)
Vampire cowboys. What more could I possibly need to tell you? That two-word summary of the subject alone should make it clear that this is essential play for everyone, yet it's a tragic fact that less than every single person on the planet has tried Darkwatch. It's especially unfortunate given that the recent landslide of zombies in the media has made the slightly different angle this otherwise straightforward FPS leans at all the more interesting.
After picking the wrong train to rob, Jericho Cross manages to unleash an ancient coffin-dodger and gets himself infected in the process, kick-starting a quest to seal the bugger away. All that's standing between you is an endless supply of undead nasties to blast, bash and generally obliterate. And it's glorious.
If I had to pick a word to sum up Darkwatch's gameplay, it'd probably be "claustrophobic"; with few exceptions, you spend your time trying to keep the hordes off your face. Luckily, ammo is plentiful, your weapons are suitably ridiculous and the melee attack is surprisingly handy. Skeletons with their heads blown off sometimes stagger around uselessly before collapsing, banshees cackle as they float towards you with open arms and the fat blokes who remind me of Mr. Creosote enjoy spewing untold horror into your eyes. It's all very silly, but terribly enjoyable.
Toys like the dynamite bow and the deliciously overkill dual pistols are complimented by vampire powers that are unlocked as you perform various good or evil deeds. It's a half-arsed mechanic and none of the abilities are particularly inspired, but there is at least a distinct difference in which ones you get depending on your alignment, so there's a tiny bit of added replay value there.
It won't win prizes for originality and enemy variety isn't as great as I might have made it sound, but it's a fast-paced FPS of the kind that the mainstream has all but abandoned and makes a refreshing change of pace. The Xbox version is obviously prettier, but the PS2's co-op mode is definitely worth investigating. No idea why the Xbox couldn't have that too, really, but that's the situation. Who in their right mind could say no to vampire cowboys?
Kessen II (PS2) ('02)
I've never met someone else who's played this one, I can tell you. Consoles aren't exactly known for their RTSes, but this is about as good as they come. Set in the Three Kingdoms period of China's history (apparently), you must lead Liu Bei and his forces against those of the power-hungry Cao Cao. The story is the sort of melodramatic, poorly-acted stuff you'd expect from the company that brought the world Dynasty Warriors, but it does have a certain charm and it must be said that some of the dialogue reaches almost Resident Evil levels of hilarity.
But what makes Kessen II for me is that its gameplay is simple, but not to the point of seeming insulting. Being PS2-exclusive, it was designed with the limitations of a console in mind. As such, the game pauses whenever you look at the map, movement is simple and the controls are actually remarkably intuitive after an initial struggle. You move your units around the level until they bump into an opponent, at which point the two enter real-time combat with hundreds of guys swarming about.
You can only control generals directly, but have access to powerful abilities that can be aimed and deployed to give your side a boost. You can raise troops' morale, charge through enemy ranks like a bull, let loose a volley of arrows or even call down freaking meteors from space. Naturally, these powers need recharging, but a well-aimed hunk of rock can give your side the edge required to either crush the interlopers or cause them to break rank and flee.
Yes, there's a surprising amount of strategy by console standards. For instance, generals get experience and level up as their unit defeats others, so it's worth hunting down stragglers before completing a level. On the flipside, though, a unit that is defeated during a mission gets no experience, so it's important to know when to turn tail and leg it. In-between stages, you also get to choose between such options as extra men, extra training or research into powerful new gear. Finally, many missions give you a choice of starting position on the map, and which you choose can greatly alter how the battle plays out. It really is deep when compared to something like Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction.
The presentation is also stupidly nice: the visuals are of considerable quality given the amount of stuff on the screen, and the soundtrack is truly beautiful. In particular, I once called the Field Battle track "my favourite piece of game music that nobody else has ever heard", and there have been few challenges to that description since. There are some frame rate problems, but I've never found them that severe.
To top it all off, there's a stupendous amount of game to be found here. Not only is the story lengthy and feature a few occasions where you have to pick one of a few possible missions to do, the outcome of which decides what cool bonuses you unlock next (LIKE ELEPHANTS), there's a superb surprise when you finish: an entire new campaign from Cao Cao's perspective. That's very rare these days, even if some of the missions are just the same but played from the opposite side of the map.
The few real nitpicks I can come up with are that the default difficulty is pretty easy, though I've never tried the harder setting, and that the lack of a level select is a bit inconvenient. Apart from that, though, this is an impressive achievement in the world of console RTSes and the perfect sort of thing to play on a lazy afternoon, since you can easily point your guys in one direction and then watch smugly as they trample your foes. Essential for anyone who claims there's no such thing as a good console RTS.
Lego Rock Raiders (PC) ('99)
There was a time when Rock Raiders was the coolest thing in the world, before Total Recall usurped it. As such, taking that universe and making an awesome game of it was sure to please me. Taking the form of a streamlined resource-gathering RTS, you have to command rock raiders to collect ore and energy crystals with which to upgrade your base and defend your haul from such threats as slimey slugs and the iconic rock monsters. It's very simple to us life-long gamers, but seven-year-old me found it to be just about the most dizzyingly complex thing ever.
The rock raiders themselves are entirely expendable, since you can teleport more in at no cost, but it's certainly possible for your precious crystals to those beasts that lurk in the dark. The game makes sure you've gone through a fair few missions before any real threats pop up, but even when they do, defence is easy when you know the drill.
But digging into walls for that sweet booty is your main duty, since most missions just require you to collect however many crystals. The different kinds of wall are dirt, loose rock, hard rock and solid rock. The last two can only be breached with explosives or the big drilling machines you eventually get to play with. Ore and crystal seams are rare but offer one-time dollops of juicy resources.
You'll be expected after a certain point to construct a support station in order to keep the oxygen levels in the cavern from depleting. Though a fun challenge at first, the game quickly makes this a necessity and the routine of getting the support station in place as soon as possible starts to grate after a time. Still, the odd mission sees you having to lead a lost rock raider return to the headquarters unharmed, and others require that you build power path to delay the spread of deadly lava. There are definitely many little ways in which the game tries to keep things fresh, but the tricks run out after a certain point and the remaining levels start to feel awfully similar.
Even so, Rock Raiders has a community dedicated to fixing the troublesome bugs (which are mainly minor) and modding, and while I never bothered looking into that, it's probably worth the effort. This may be a kids' game and not hold much challenge for us grown-ups, but it still has an undeniable charm and gives the player a lot more faith than some other things I tried at that age. It's an ideal introduction to the genre for young gamers-to-be and still manages to be a nice, quiet thing to play if you're a bit older. It also has to be said that the soundtrack is funkalicious.
Silly voices naming everything FTW.
Second Sight (GC, PC PS2, Xbox) ('04)
Free Radical's TimeSplitters may be legendary among its fans, but I doubt half as many have tried this altogether different breed of beast that the dev also produced. If the idea of a third-person, psychic-powered stealth-'em-up with a legitimately awesome and well-told story sounds intriguing to you, read on.
John Vattic wakes up in some shadowy military hospital with no idea what the psych happened and is flabbergasted to find he has spoon-bending brain powers. The amnesia thing is obviously incredibly overdone, but overlook the stigma and you'll find that uncovering clues at the same rate your virtual avatar does makes proceedings a hell of a lot more engaging. I always find it distracting in a game or film when characters act shocked at the discovery of some plot detail you predicted a mile away, and Second Sight does a commendable job of getting around this issue. On top of this, John begins having flashbacks to an operation he was dragged along for six months ago, and the relevance of these events is also unclear.
Gameplay is, admittedly, a bit stiff, but Free Radical never made a third-person title before or since. Besides, they tried to cram a fair few mechanics in, so it was pretty inevitable that playing with a controller would be a bit confusing at first. I don't actually have as big a problem with the camera as a lot of the reviewers at the time seemed to, though it definitely reeks of "mi ferst ferd persun gaim".
Once you get your brain round it, there's a fun and ever-expanding array of abilities at your command, which helps keep you distracted from the clumsy controls. You start with only a healing power and the ability to move small objects, but you'll be juggling troopers and "chuck[ing] globules of physic energy like pain-flavoured basketballs" by the end. That extract from my review is one of the greatest lines I've ever written. More passive gifts like astral projection and invisibility encourage stealth and are required to solve some minor puzzles, but this is still one of those awkward games that actually ends up getting a bit easier by the end, simply because your fully-upgraded arsenal makes you a demi-god. True, the baddies gain some resistance to your voodoo in a bit of plot convenience that isn't really explained, but they're no less susceptible to bullets or fast-moving televisions.
I've been a bit critical of Second Sight so far, but it's best to think of it as falling into that same category of games as Deus Ex: games whose ambition and charm make up for some very obvious design faults and general lack of polish. A classic Second Sight trick, for example, is levitating a guy and then nudging him into a wall until he glitches through the scenery and dies. That stops being hilarious and starts getting tedious pretty sharpish.
By far Second Sight's biggest claim to fame is its story, which is genuinely one of my favourites in all of gaming. It wouldn't sound that amazing if I just explained it to you, but the pacing and structure is truly sublime by gaming's (admittedly rather pathetic) standards. My absolute most beloved game story ever is that of the Legacy of Kain series, but Second Sight is probably not far behind it. Get over the mixed bag that is the actual gameplay and Second Sight can make it very worth your while.
If you'd prefer a psychic adventure with more entertaining and balanced action, then you oughta investigate Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, which actually came out at a very similar time to Second Sight in one of gaming's most suspicious coincidences. They compliment each other perfectly, since Psi-Ops' story is entirely forgettable, so it's just a shame the two companies couldn't've somehow combined the two good halves to make one glorious whole. Though certainly a bit wonky, Second Sight is still one hell of a ride and a true example of how to tell a story through an interactive medium. Flash back to the past and stick it in your operating theatre.
Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf (aka. Sheep Raider) (PC, PS1)('01)
It's a strange world we live in where a game based on a series of classic cartoons can feature a Seventies porn soundtrack, but I'm not complaining. As noted in the Colony Wars segment, a great number of games from the time when the PS1 sat triumphantly on its throne of dead Saturns have done a miserable job of standing the test of time. I've found that most of those that have survived came out later on, sometimes even after the next generation was in full swing. Such is the case with Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf, a thoroughly original work of mad genius that sadly seemed to get washed away by the tidal waves caused by the arrival of the PS2. Had it seen a release on Sony's new baby, it might have garnered more attention and maybe indicated that the PS2 could be as quirky as the ill-fated Dreamcast, but 'twas not to be.
This is not a plot-heavy odyssey into the unknown. Ralph Wolf is hired to star in a reality TV show hosted by Daffy Duck in which he must complete a selection of courses, each requiring him to steal a sheep from Sam Sheepdog and place it in a designated location. That mutt can't see much but runs like a cheetah and hits like a gorilla, so a head-on assault will get you precisely nowhere. The challenges start off simple but become gradually more fiendish and inventive, eventually requiring you to plan elaborate chains of events, resulting in a successful sheep capture and a blissfully unaware Sam.
Part of the mastery is that everything works by cartoon logic: a simple fan can push a boat down a river; crude costumes are entirely convincing; hypnosis is immediate and requires only a flute. If you try and approach puzzles in a realistic fashion, you won't get anywhere. The secret is to channel your inner child and utilise the same extremely loose understanding of physics and reality. Once you master this art, you'll cease to question how a cannonball can simply annoy a beehive's occupants rather than completely obliterating it.
I don't tend to get along with puzzlers as a general rule, but Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf's charm is so strong and the difficulty curve so reliable that it's easily one of my favourite games on the system. Every new gadget you discover is a joy to play with, and figuring out every aspect of their function is essential. Yes, you'll get angry at certain points, but I never felt like there was anybody to blame for my failure but myself. Well, there's one encounter at around halfway that's quite poorly explained, but once you know what to do, it's a fun challenge. When this and sliiiiightly iffy jumping are the only real complaints I have, you know you're onto a winner.
I'm aware there are other games in the herding genre, if that even is a genre, but neither Sheep or Herdy Gerdy engage me anywhere near as much. In particular, I find the latter's aesthetic incredibly annoying as opposed to delightful. Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf may be technically horrendous by today's standards, but its aesthetic is timeless and, if anything, is all the more beautiful in an age dominated by grey shooters who seem to be doing their utmost to have as little personality as possible. Anybody who seeks a demonstration of brilliant level design, charming flavour and some genuinely brain-straining puzzling, I present to you the answer to your prayers. The PS1 version is plentiful and the PC one is abandonware, far as I know, so you should feel no guilt in acquiring it that way.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (GC, PS2)('02)
I've said for many years that the best things to come out of the prequel trilogy were the masses of games and other tie-ins, plenty of which are legitimately great and worthy of your time. Pretty much everybody's familiar with Battlefront, for very good reason, but you're a good bit less likely to have tried this piece of Episode 2 merchandise.
Set ten years before all that Clone Wars business, you take on the role of Jango as he sets out to hunt down the crazed leader of a freakish cult in exchange for all the credits he'll ever need. To this end, you must blast your way through a number of familiar Star Wars locales and a handful of new ones. The action is straightforward, but zipping about with your pack and shooting fools' faces off is plenty of fun. The addition of flamethrowers, rockets, darts and some heavier guns means you have quite the array of death-dealing appliances, though even the basic pistols are deadly. It's quite the shooting gallery, and though you can die quite quickly, it's not too hard to just stay on the move.
There are some memorable setpieces too, like hopping between shipping containers in pursuit of a target or single-handedly taking down a Republic gunship. These sequences add some spice to an otherwise steady and repetitive experience, but it's not a terribly long story so you could probably burn through it in a dedicated weekend. It is awfully pretty, though, and really shows off some of the galaxy's seedier haunts. LucasArts have historically released polished titles and this effort is no different.
A fairly peculiar gimmick sees you scanning guys with your visor to identify wanted men and then either killing or lassoing them to collect your cash. The only things this currency unlocks are fun extra content, so there's no need to do it if you can't be arsed, but it gives completists something to strive for.
I'm not calling Bounty Hunter revolutionary or a forgotten classic, but it's a perfectly solid adventure that seems to be a bad rap for whatever reason. If you wanna talk bad Star Wars games, I could show you some nightmarish things, so don't go calling a fine title like this horrible.
Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue (DC, N64, PS1)('99)
Funnily enough, we've ended up with two rare instances of enjoyable tie-in games being next to each other in the list. Life is awesome sometimes. I'm of that generation which grew up on such awesomeness as Toy Story and the frakking terrifying Jurassic Park, so discussion of either tends to get me all dreamy-eyed. Obviously, the latter has the advantage of starring giant reptiles, but the former is still not without its charms.
As with most of the best game adaptations, Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue has only tenuous connections to its source material. You're the big-chinned rocketman himself, hopping through themed levels, including Andy's house, a construction site, Al's Toy Barn and an airport. Sprinkled throughout each are five tokens, which must be earned either through platforming, fighting a mini-boss or completing a mission given by one of the various recognisable characters you'll meet. You only need a single token to beat the level, but you need a certain number of tokens to unlock boss stages, which are required to progress. Of course, earning the tokens is often fun enough by itself, so you might well end up getting them all for the hell of it.
You're armed with a chargeable laser (which actually works, inexplicably), a spin attack and a stomp, but there are power-ups to be found that grant you temporary bursts of speed or invincibility. The enemies you face seem to have come from some Tim Burton cocaine fantasy, since I can't imagine actual toys that frightening being sold to kids. At any rate, the variety and creativity on display in both the environments and foes is very nice, and suggests the developers where given plenty of room to flex their mental muscles.
And that's pretty much all there is to Toy Story 2. It was marketed towards kids, after all, but it's simple without being insultingly so. My generation in particular will still get a kick out of seeing those characters, and anyone else is still liable to enjoy the high-quality platforming and sheer variety. This is a superbly solid experience by the standards of tie-in games, and while it won't win any awards for storytelling, but it just might win your heart.
War of the Monsters (PS2)('03)
Remember a time when first party titles could be pretty much anything and in no way guaranteed to make huge returns? Sony outdid themselves during the reign of the PS2, with the previously-mentioned Ico and Shadow of the Colossus being the most obvious examples, but War of the Monsters is no less worthy of attention. Maybe it's not blindingly unique or technically astounding, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a more awesome gaming party experience.
Essentially a 3D take on the Rampage formula, it gives you a mad selection of towering beasts to choose from, dumps you in a deliciously destructible location and tells you to go mad. There's hardly any skill or balance to speak of, but a bunch of blokes fuelled by alcohol will be too busy laughing hysterically to notice. Tragically, you can only have two players at once, though you can have a pair of bots as well, but this is still the exact sort of thing to break out when you need mindless violence.
Not only can pretty much everything be destroyed, an insane range of objects can be picked up and used as weapons. Best of all, there's surprising variety in the effects available: pointy things impale; generators electrify; things full of fuel explode; heavy debris knocks folk down in one hit. But even the humble girder can be a devastating tool of destruction, delivering some heft blows before sending your victim hurtling into a block of flats.
That's the charm of War of the Monsters: the complete disregard for realism and the embrace of absurdity. It's possible to initiate a nuclear meltdown and then throw somebody into the resulting pool of radioactive slop, for smeg's sakes. Beating the shallow-but-distracting story mode will play your chosen abomination's unique video, demonstrating in beautiful cheese-o-vision their origin story. Throw in some perfectly cartoonish sound effects and a frankly astounding b-movie-esque score and you're left with a truly wonderful product. Also, there's a dragon.
X-Men 2: Wolverine's Revenge (GC, Mac, PC, PS2, Xbox)('03)
Oh, this bugger. There aren't many games that produce such a strong feeling of ambivalence in me. On the one hand, Wolverine's Revenge is clunky, merciless and incredibly frustrating. Then again, it's also incredibly satisfying when you finally manage to beat a half-hour section on the tenth try. I can only imagine the majority of people who've attempted to best this one have got to about the midway point, run head-first into the wall of impossibility and given up in a huff. I can't defend the bewildering lack of checkpoints or difficulty that relies largely upon memorising extended sections of a level, but I can encourage you to have a proper go before pulling out the white flag. You might just thank me for it.
Unlike a number of other games focusing on the near-invincible hunk of manliness that is Logan, you're taught quite quickly that running in with your claws bared will only get you killed after a certain point. Instead, you're encouraged to sneak, using your smell-o-vision to detect your hunters and make them the hunted. The killing animations are remarkably brutal, so there's a true sense of satisfaction when you skewer the git who spotted you on your last attempt. Every stealth kill also earns you a dog tag, which you need to unlock more powerful context-specific combat moves, so it's worth being stealthy even when you might not need to just so you can maximise your collection. Trust me, you'll need to be in top form.
Probably the game's weakest and most aggravating moments are when it forces you into combat. You can't just button-mash, but it's miles from being half as good as something like God of War; Logan doesn't move with cat-like grace so much as lumber around with bear-like clumsiness, so staying on the move and making the best of your powerful combos is the key to survival. Even so, there's a certain lengthy stretch late in that drove me to pyromania, so watch out for that. Mercifully, the game's regular boss battles are actually quite enjoyable and not as maddening as you might imagine, though Magneto is a cheap bastard. Gotta admire Logan's balls for chasing down a man who could rip his skull out of his head with a thought.
Wolverine's Revenge is an acquired taste. Indeed, I kind of doubt I'd like it if I discovered it for the first time today, but it remains one of my guilty pleasures. If you enjoy other masochistic adventures like Maximo, you might just have the right mindset to get some twisted pleasure out of Wolverine's Revenge. At any rate, it may actually be one of the most emotionally evolving games ever; play it long enough and you'll find yourself howling with primal rage.
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner (PS2)('03)
I'd be intrigued how many of you even knew there was a sequel to ZoE, given how about ten people bought it, myself included. If you didn't like the original, this follow-up probably won't fare any better, but if you enjoyed its predecessor in the slightest, then this just might blow your mind.
There's a plot, of course, and it's typical Kojima. If anything, I think it's even ramblier and more nonsensical than before, but at least the protagonist's balls have dropped. Besides, replacing the rather freakish 3D character models with anime-style drawings works well, even if it raises the rather awkward question of why the inside of the orbital frames is apparently in a completely different universe than the outside.
But you're not here for plot. You're here to jump into Jehuty and make some things explode. Luckily, Konami's approach to making the sequel to their stylish mech-battler was apparently to crank the awesome dial to eleven. That means far more enemies on-screen at once, the replacement of the clunky level-select system with a more linear style of progression, literally some of the best boss battles ever and an insane amount of gameplay variety. Yeah, you're typically just hacking and shooting things, but the sheer number of ways to do it is mind-boggling.
The difficulty has also gone up markedly, since enemies no longer politely attack one at a time, so I'd imagine beating this sucker on the highest setting would take some kind of divine intervention. If you don't fancy a huge challenge and just want to feel like a god for a few hours, then just turn the difficulty down and you're set.
There aren't a whole lot of games these days that blow me away from a visual standpoint. Obviously, older games are more graphically limited, but at least big-name releases were allowed to have interesting visual styles back then. ZoE 2 is, in my opinion, stupidly beautiful, making the ever-more-ridiculous missions all the more jaw-dropping. Little details like the cell-shaded explosions, the darting motion of the robots' eyes and the pulse of energy that flows through your frame's body, even changing colour to represent your health. The style is, naturally, extremely Japanese, which wouldn't normally appeal to me, but the designs for the frames are just so goddamn gorgeous (unfortunately phallic COCKpits notwithstanding) that it transcends the cultural barrier. The soundtrack also takes a similar electronic, j-pop and orchestral route as before, but again, seems to have been blown out of all proportion to the point of being stupidly catchy.
I really do struggle to find fault with ZoE 2 beyond the plot's general incomprehensibility. True, it's even shorter than the first game, but those few hours are some of the most intense you'll ever see in your gaming life. It's also endlessly replayable, especially with the increasingly malicious difficulties and some fun unlockables, my favourite of which is the versus mode, which returns from the first game and now lets you take control of even more overpowered robot killing machines. It's not remotely balanced, but it's an amusing curiosity.
ZoE has an obsessive cult following and the upcoming HD re-release should ensure that even those fools who got rid of their PS2s will get a chance to experience the japgasm that is The Second Runner. It doesn't make a lick of sense and is about as needlessly flashy as they come, but few games have half as much style and class.
Subjectivity is the word of the day with any list, but everything here is worth a look if my quasi-reviews have made them sound appealing. I can't guarantee you'll love Colony Wars as much as I do, particularly since you won't have the benefit of nostalgia goggles, but you'd only be hurting yourself if you didn't give it a go. And I stress again that these are friendly suggestions and not some aggressive attempt at shoving my personal preferences down your gobs. In a perfect internet, people would take that as a given, but it pays to cover your tracks. I'm sick of cleaning tomatoes off my windows.
And if this piece leads you to discover something amazing, please do let me know. My ego could always do with some inflating.