This article has been a long time coming but since I’ve had spare time to dedicate to HiddenDefinition due to multiple health problems that have essentially left me housebound, I have finally been able to put together a comprehensive list of cheap titles that you may have never heard of but are worthy of your attention, and your wallet : ]
So without further adieu, here’s my list of five games that received critical acclaim but some of them just never managed to connect with a core audience:
1) Bulletstorm – Price Tag: $8 – $10 (used/new)
Bulletstorm is a case where the marketing failed to get peoples attention. I’m not talking about advertisements, viral internet hype etc but just overall basic marketing. As you can see below, the box art for the North American version of the game gives you absolutely no insight to how awesome this title is and whoever approved this should’ve been fired:
- The PlayStation 3 North American box art for BulletStorm. Box art should represent the theme of the title and is the most important thing on a published retail game since it’s crowded wall-to-wall with hundreds of other titles. The artwork should grab your attention so the consumer makes the critical decision to pick up the box and read the details about the title, perhaps resulting in a purchase. Unfortunately, whoever approved this box art clearly doesn’t understand the concept of marketing.
BulletStorm is a graphically impressive FPS that uses a skill-based system to improve your characters arsenal and his most important weapon, the leash (pictured above on the box- I guess they thought this would make for a great selling point) which acts as a grappling hook and latches on to enemies tossing them around like rag dolls. The “skill kill” system rewards you points for how creatively you dispose of your enemies. The more creative the kill, the more skill points you’re rewarded which can then be spent at certain drop off containers to expand your arsenal of futuristic weaponry.
You play as disgruntled mercenary Grayson Hunt, who along with his faithful squad of fellow comrades act as assassins for a unforgiving, militant General named Sarrano. Things go sour between Sarrano and Grayson, so him and his associates are issued their walking papers and essentially become new hits for Sarrano’s military and assassins. Eventually during the playable prologue of the game, you track down Sarrano’s flagship, a epic space battle ensues and your ship and Sarrano’s gunship both crash land on to a paradise-like utopian planet which has fallen to fighting factions, mutants and other creatures. You and your half-andriod, half-man partner Ishi must fight your way through the planet’s inhabitants and mutated wildlife to hitch a ride in General Sarrano’s few remaining escape pods from his downed spaceship.
The game encourages creative kills to unlock the more interesting weapons and it can be a lot of fun to experiment using a combination of the leash to whip enemies into the air and cherry pick them off or pull your enemy directly into your vicinity for a special melee attack. The number of various skill kills is incredible. You also have your AI partners to help you out during the game and while nothing special, they do come in handy when things get hairy. The banter between the serious cybernetic Ishi and the bawdy, lewd Grayson is entertaining, although it does borderline on ludicrous at times. The game is also visually impressive, with the jungle like environments of this once lush, utopian paradise extremely detailed. You’ll fight your way through the remains of hotels, theme parks, different faction camps, underground mines and even on space ships so there’s plenty of variety. The bottom line: Bulletstorm is just simple, dumb fun. When you don’t feel like getting into a heady, somber game Bulletstorm is the perfect release. It’s easy to pick up, fun to play and the game mechanics are addictive. While the story may not be anything unique, it services the game well enough to keep you interested about what happens to Grayson and his gang of cronies.
2) VANQUISH – Price Tag: $8 – $16 (used)
Vanquish is a fast paced 3rd person shooter with elements of classic beath-em up games such as Final Fight because of the waves of enemies that constantly attack you. The game features several unique tweaks to the genre, including a “bullet time” allotment to slow down the games pace so incoming projectiles can be avoided and a innovative booster-slide hybrid system which allows you to swarm into an enemy, perform a powerful melee attack combo and boost back away from the enemy before they can retaliate. This method of fighting takes some time to master and perfect, but once you do you’ll wonder how you played any fast paced 3rd person shooter without it. You play as Sam, a special agent recruited by the US Government who is administered a unique robotic exoskeleton complete with booster thrusters, a powerful sword/blade attack and advanced semi-automatic rifles.
The games story is a little convoluted, but makes for some interesting twists later on in the game: It’s hundreds of years in the future, Earth has been drained of most of it’s natural resources leaving countries disputing over the scraps that are left. The United States devises a cylindrical rotating space station that orbits the planet to alleviate Earths over population and energy crisis, as the station uses a solar energy reactor to fuel all it’s resources. Meanwhile on Earth, a coup by extreme nationalists in Russia takes place and overthrows the existing Russian government. In a move to seize more power, the Russian Extremists forcefully board the US Space Station and also kidnap one of the US’s prominent scientists who helped develop the ARS suit that Sam wears in combat. In an effort to prevent the space station being over taken and having the ARS technology fall into the wrong hands, the President of the United States dispatches Sam and a select group of highly trained soldiers to take the station back by force. As you make your way through the space station to regain control and eradicate the extremist threat, Sam discovers corruption and betrayal at some of the highest levels of US Government. As I said before, it makes for some interesting twists later on in a genre that you wouldn’t normally expect from a balls-out fast paced action shooter.
As you make first contact with the enemy you realize that you are fighting unmanned, programmed cyborgs – and a shit ton of them too. The Russian extremists have obviously built an army of killer drones and you will constantly be under attack by the red colored, russian programmed robots. Combat in Vanquish is quick and fierce, and you can only handle a select few weapons at the same time. If you keep the same weapon for an extended duration and keep picking up that weapon from a fallen enemy or weapons case it will be upgraded. This makes weapon upgrades extremely simplistic and durable; essentially the longer you hang onto one weapon and keep itemizing the same weapon every time you pick it up, that particular weapon levels up and eventually maxes out. Discard that particular weapon and repeat for another gun and you will eventually maximize that gun as well. The upgrades to any weapon that you have had in your inventory will always retain the upgrade, even if for instance you discard a fully upgraded shotgun in level 3 and don’t reequip it again until level 5.
What separates Vanquish apart from other 3rd-person action-based shooters is just the pure insanity and chaos of how many enemies you will have to take down in a given area at one time. Not only that, but you are assisted with a squad of marines that while not the brightest NPC’s in a game, they can provide cover fire. One interesting aspect is that you start off with a decent amount of space marines along side you and as the game progresses they whittle down to about 8-12 marines near the final act of the game. However, if you see a fallen comrade Sam can rush to their aid and revive them, but if you let them die they’re gone for good. One less marine to help you in the fight. It’s a nice concept that keeps you alert for the potential to save and assist downed friendlies. Also, Vanquish doesn’t skimp on the boss and mini-boss battles. Expect to face numerous giant mechs and other strange armed robotic drones with your squadron or one-on-one. The boss battles can get crazy, and I loved every moment. Vanquish is an intense, fast-paced, absurdly fun sci-fi shooter. You can ratchet up the difficulty to a more extreme mode and make the game even more intense after you complete your first play-through. Vanquish is great sci-fi shooter that no fans of the genre should pass up.
3) Demon’s Souls – Price Tag: $14 – $20 (used/new)
I couldn’t compile this list without including at least one PS3 exclusive. Demon’s Souls was developed by Sony-centric Japanese studio FROM SOFTWARE, who have been responsible for a lot of great PSOne releases such as the Kings Field series, Shadow Tower, Echo Night and their stalwart franchise Armored Core (which has yet to get a decent iteration this console cycle). Incredibly, Sony actually passed on Demon’s Souls when FROM SOFTWARE suggested that the game should receive western localization and publishing. Today, Sony admits that was a “big mistake” (no shit). The game sold like hot cakes in Japan and small-time publisher Atlus stepped up to the plate to localize and release the game in the North American markets (Atlus, by the way, is a fucking amazing publishing house; releasing unique and awesome JRPG games in the NA markets such as the Persona series and other SMT related titles).
With little to no marketing support for the game when it became available in the states during 2009, the JRPG turned into a surprise sleeper hit thanks to it’s punishing yet genuinely rewarding style of play. The game became well known as a true gamers game, rewarding those willing to endure the games grueling difficulty with a deep level of gameplay and awesome boss battles. Demon’s Souls became critically acclaimed almost universally and thanks to word-of-mouth, it sold well over 500,000 units by September 2010. Not bad for a game that had virtually no marketing or advertising. The game became so popular that a multi-platform spiritual successor, entitled Dark Souls, was released as the games sequel. The “Souls” series has quickly become FROM SOFTWARE’s new franchise IP. To this day, Demon’s Souls still can only be purchased for the PS3 making it a worthy exclusive to Sony’s already diverse line-up of exclusives.
If you’re looking for a challenging, unrelenting 3rd person RPG that rewards persistence with genuine challenges, Demon’s Souls makes for an excellent bargain bin purchase. Oh, did I mention it also contains a unique multiplayer mode that integrates into the single-player experience? The multiplayer portion of the game has become so popular that Atlus decided on two separate occasions to shut down the North American servers but each time decided to keep the serves chugging due to popularity and consistent player enthusiasm. Atlus has stated that as long as the online community for Demon’s Souls remains proportionately active they will try and keep the servers up and running.
4) Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – Price Tag: $8 – $10 (used)
Enslaved is a game that I have seen around the shops in abundance, but until I actually took the time to read what it was about via the interweb did I become interested in this tale of two travelers forced to work together to survive insurmountable odds. Sound familiar? It should if you’ve played Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us“. The fundamental basic story for each title is quite similar. Monkey, a physically stout warrior wh0 is essentially a transient and Trip, a very attractive female with technological skills that surpass my CompTia A+ certification ten-fold find themselves literally forced together after escaping a crashing prison transport. The two must traverse a post-apocalyptic wasteland being hunted down by mechanized robots, creatures native to the planet and god knows what else. While Monkey does most of the brute work, Trip uses her wits to help navigate the terrain and assist you when possible.
The games combat is simple but challenging, as taking on to many enemies at once will often result in failure. You must find a balance with using your shields to block incoming attacks and your stun capabilities so that enemies are left dazed and open to attack. While I haven’t played through the entirety of the single player campaign yet, I can definitely say that this is a game I will enjoy. The visuals are bright and vivid, as the world you must journey through to get home is full of lush jungles and dilapidated buildings. I can tell that Monkey and Trip will have conflicted feelings toward each other, and the story seems to indicate there’s more to Trip then just being a tech savvy computer nerd. If you enjoyed The Last of Us, you should pick up Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The game is dirt cheap (I only paid $8.00 for my copy) and seems well worth the price of admission. Look for my full review on HiddenDefinition soon.
COME BACK TOMORROW FOR MY FINAL AWESOME BARGAIN BIN GAME…..