From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

22 dmc devil may cry From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

At this stage of the calendar year, with the transition to new hardware and the current onslaught of software, it’s easy to get swept up in the annual gaming maelstrom. ’Tis the season, after all. Having said that, although this year may not signal the curtain call for the seventh generation of consoles per se — with Dark Souls II et al slated to release in 2014 — 2013 will still go down as a notable twelve months for the industry at large. Amid the build-up to the next cycle of home consoles, we’ve explored the xenophobic heights of Columbia in BioShock: Infinite, traversed a post-apocalyptic wasteland in The Last of Us, and took control of a criminal trifecta within Grand Theft Auto V. Undoubtedly, this pixelated trio stole much of the industry limelight during the course of the year, garnering overly positive approval from critics and gamers alike.

In the current climate, however, it seems a video game can either sweep the critical board like the aforementioned threesome with close to unanimous approval, or, more alarmingly, fall off the radar due to good, but not quite excellent ratings. These are the games that perhaps didn’t light up the Metacritic rating system upon launch and were instead forced to carve out a niche audience despite their innate quality. It’s a palpable issue; one which directly handicaps the staying power and overall longevity of any given release. Ultimately, though, it usually comes down to a lack of media coverage or advertising; particularly with smaller companies tethered with appropriately limited budgets.

As a result, these titles can become lost amongst the crowd; flash in the pan moments that sell moderately before nosediving down the chart rankings. Of course, this happens within every gaming year. For every critical darling like 2012’s The Walking Dead there exists the under-appreciated titles such as United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs. It’s simply the nature of the medium; or any creative platform, for that matter. What strikes a chord with the majority of gamers may not appeal to certain demographics and vice versa. But, crucially, this enthusiasm, or lack thereof, doesn’t necessarily represent the quality of the software. The titles in question can fall victim to tumultuous launch windows, passionate fan bases or general franchise fatigue that can undermine their overall impact on the gaming community.

Undoubtedly, there have been several surprises this year: Crystal Dynamics’ bold visualisation of the Tomb Raider franchise, for instance, along with the revitalised Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which steered the once ailing MMO back on course expertly. Nevertheless, given the spectrum between triple-A titles and the thriving indie community — which has seemingly widened with each passing year — there are numerous games from the last twelve months that weren’t quite given the attention they deserved.

With that said, let’s uncover the hidden, critically underrated gems of 2013.

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simcity traffic jam From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

Well, where do we start? Like Diablo III before it, SimCity launched head first into an array of DRM-related issues that were a consequence of the game’s always-online requirement. In the months leading up to release, Maxis seemed to have laid every rocksteady foundation imaginable prior to the return of the franchise after a ten year hiatus and yet, much to the disappointment of the fans, the game was borderline unplayable during its early stages on the market. Like a burst water main that couldn’t be tamed, the online outage spanned for days on end and, without an offline mode to compensate, gamers were understandably pissed.

To put things into perspective, SimCity currently boasts close to 1,700 negative user reviews on Metacritic. It was an unparalleled backlash that has stigmatised the game since day one; a dark cloud that will forever loom overhead the towering skyscrapers of Maxis’ city-building simulator. It’s a shame, really, that the much-anticipated reboot of the studio’s prestigious franchise was handicapped by the always-online DRM. While it may have been originally implemented to combat piracy, it effectively tainted the return of SimCity and ruined a potentially excellent release; heck, before it launched, there were premature talks that this title could be a candidate for Game of the Year. Oh, how things change.

At the core of the buzzing metropolis, though, is an addicting, complex title that implements interconnectivity between cities masterfully. When it’s fully functional, and you manage to access the game’s temperamental servers, SimCity excels at presenting the complex minutia of your budding cityscape. Core systems such as power supply and traffic are easy to coordinate and manage for weathered architects and newcomers alike thanks to the intelligent AI. But perhaps the most impressive cog in SimCity’s multi-faceted system is the Glassbox game engine. The company’s in-house simulation engine acts as the foundation for the game and allows for an incredible amount of detail across the four corners of your urban environment. The fact that every individual sim can be accounted for and tracked, even as your population balloons past 75,000, is a testimony to Glassbox’s innate capability.

The recently released Cities of Tomorrow expansion pack proves that there’s still a healthy audience for Maxis’ simulator. Granted, it may forever be tarnished with those initial launch woes and server outages, but SimCity is still a remarkable time-sink that is accessible yet challenging, simple yet complex; one which can stand shoulder to pixelated shoulder with the other great offerings that the RTS genre has to offer.

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Metro: Last Light

Metro  Last Light 13561509451603 e1368890594737 From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

As one of the victims of THQ’s financial fallout last year, Metro: Last Light had to overcome several hurdles in the lead up to its eventual release; including considerable delays and alleged controversy over the game’s budget. This tumultuous development had a residual impact on the final product, with the studio opting to bypass multiplayer and cooperative modes, choosing instead to pour all of the resources available into the game’s single-player — and quite frankly, it shows.

Though they’re considered a mandatory add on, single-player campaigns within modern first-person shooters are often the weakest point of the overall product; undercooked narratives that are shoehorned in purely to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Metro: Last Light, however, is a commendable exception. 4A Games’ immediate sequel to Metro 2033 continues the unforgivingly bleak storyline with great effect. Similarly to its predecessor, players assume the role of Artyom, a grizzled ranger who harbours a lifelong connection with the Dark Ones — mutated humanoids that act as the overarching villains.

Metro: Last Light is a strictly linear foray; one that has you exploring the bowels of Moscow’s sprawling metro system. Having said that, this concentrated formula doesn’t detract from the overall experience. What gives the game its distinctive sense of novelty is the palpable sense of atmosphere that the studio have melded into every nook and post apocalyptic cranny in the surrounding environment. The game wasn’t necessarily poorly received. Its primary flaws included uneven gameplay and numerous technical glitches — which I wholly concur with. Outside of critical circles, though, it felt as if the game was underserved through lacklustre advertising and its conscious choice to omit multiplayer and co-op modes, which in turn impacted its innate appeal for gamers who took it at face value.

Hype can be a cruel mistress. For a game that remains loyal to a single-player story, touching upon emotional, humanitarian themes with interesting precision in the process, Metro: Last Light deserved a greater shot at a mainstream audience. And though 4A Games plan to bring the title to the PlayStation 4 next year, its latest outing will remain as one of the most underrated games of 2013.

Seeing as a lot of people I’ve spoken to haven’t even heard of this game, I’ve decided to include the trailer since I’m sure that many of you aren’t familiar with it.

Please enable Javascript to watch this video

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Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs

Amnesia A Machine For Pigs From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

Survival horror seems to be witnessing a mini resurgence of late. Mind you, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the genre’s lodestones — established brands such as Silent Hill and Resident Evil — have failed to deliver in their recent outings. Nevertheless, with notable titles such as The Evil Within and Among The Sleep slated for next year and 2013 heralding spine-chilling releases such as Outlast — which, incidentally, will rear its otherworldly head on PS4 in early 2014 — and, crucially, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, I can assure you the horror genre is very much alive and kicking.

At the core of its dark and twisted DNA, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a survival horror game, and the spiritual successor to 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent. As a timid adventurer prodding in the darkness, players assume the role of Oswald Mundus, a forgetful father who must search for his wayward children as the 19th Century looms to an end. And that’s when things begin to go awry. The narrative heart of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is borderline Lovecraftian; from stylistic tendencies to the perpetual sense of dread, the point-and-click adventure evokes many of the tropes from the American author’s work.

Taking place in London at the height of the industrial age, the game recreates the Victorian setting with chilling accuracy — largely thanks to the stellar and indeed hair-raising sound design, which really reverberates through your nervous system when the Manpigs begin to wail. In truth, much of the story is uncovered through journal entries, but it’s within these fevered scribblings that the game’s narrative manifests itself. Though some titles lean on this mechanic as a bankable platform for superfluous exposition, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs uses them to great effect as you piece together Oswald’s fragmented memory.

Where Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs stumbled for most, though, was in its final delivery. Not only did the eventual scares undermine the tension that preceded them, the story can indeed become muddled as you weave your way through the hellish, subterranean factory. Still, with The Chinese Room taking the developing reins — in lieu of Frictional Games, who developed the predecessor — Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a bona fide horror game; one which recognises that subtlety is the sharpest tool in its gnarled and twisted toolbox, kicking action-orientated elements to the kerb.

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dmc4 e1358549072655 From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

When Ninja Theory’s bold and radical reimagining of the Devil May Cry franchise was announced at Tokyo Game Show back in 2010, it ruffled more than a few demonic feathers. Long-time fans of Capcom’s hack-and-slash series cried out in anger over the modern interpretation of Dante, the game’s protagonist, criticising the sudden departure from the pearly white hair and the decision to introduce a younger Son of Sparda. For the first time, a Devil May Cry title was being manufactured by a British developer, and as the gun-toting demon slayer came West, Ninja Theory crafted the all-new Dante with a particular coat of sardonic paint.

Granted, the story may have been a little trite, and some missions felt like they were spliced in to meet the series’ signature twenty level structure — the level where you navigate the human world alongside Kat as a spectre, for instance. Nevertheless, DMC’s core campaign was fun, challenging and dripping with style. As you’d expect from any Devil May Cry release, dialogue and set-pieces are incredibly sarcastic and Ninja Theory excelled in their handling of the franchise’s legacy. The relationship between the characters, for example, felt genuine thanks in large part to the impressive voice acting which, coupled with the game’s modern, electronic score, brings the darkly satirical Limbo City to life brilliantly.

Perhaps the lynchpin of DMC, though, is the game’s combat system. Ninja Theory may have fine-tuned the fighting mechanic to make things more accessible on the surface — the simplified ranking system and overpowered demon weapons in particular — but there’s still a lot of depth to the familiar system. Much like Devil May Cry 4, switching between weaponry on the fly is deliriously empowering, and bludgeoning hell spawns with angelic and demonic weapons seamlessly as you grapple with airborne enemies is a hyperkinetic thrill ride.

Also, it drops F-bombs flippantly and pokes fun at fanboys while managing to comment on modern society with its tongue firmly in cheek. In fact, from the moment you pick up the controller, it feels like DMC has had one too many cans of Virility. And while Devil May Cry 3 remains as the pinnacle entry in Capcom’s series in my book, Ninja Theory’s fiery reboot explored a lot of the franchise’s finer details and brought a pragmatic approach to characterisation that, up until this point, wasn’t necessarily considered.

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Dragon’s Crown

dragonscrown 1 From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

In the build-up to release, Dragon’s Crown had a staggering weight on its shoulders. Not only did it represent Vanillaware’s most expensive project to date — a reported ¥100 million, or approximately $1 million — but the beat-em-up title has been lingering in development for thirteen years, a time which forced Ignition Entertainment to pass on the developing duties to Atlus. After this lengthy incubation period, Dragon’s Crown launched exclusively for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, and though it received generally favourable reviews, it perhaps deserved a little more praise for reintroducing a very dormant genre.

Like all categories in gaming, the 2D beat-em-up has experienced its fair share of peaks and troughs; although with the mass-market push towards 3D adventure games of late, the genre’s legacy has filtered into hack and slash properties such as God of War and the aforementioned Devil May Cry. Nevertheless, Dragon’s Crown harnesses the old school sensibilities found in games such as Guardian Heroes and Odin Sphere — which, incidentally, was also developed by Vanillaware — to deliver a truly modern, hyper-stylised, beat-em-up title.

Often when two genres are merged, the results can be somewhat lacklustre. But Dragon’s Crown skates past that pitfall stylishly, implementing some highly addicting character progression choices alongside a randomised, Diablo-esque loot system. For the game, your side-scrolling begins in the realm of Hydeland, wherein you must take up arms as one of the game’s six classes — namely The Dwarf, Elf, Sorceress, Fighter, Wizard and Amazon — to reclaim the titular Dragon’s Crown and restore the calm.

Truthfully, the narrative through line feels a little generic, and the fact that there are only eight dungeons to fully explore is a little disappointing, particularly when visiting the locales for the second, third and fifteenth play-through. Having said that, the combat system in Dragon’s Crown is complex and rewarding. It’s so grounded in conventions that it will feel intuitive to any RPG fan from the get-go. And though the game drew criticism for its female character models — with the Sorceress drawing particular attention — Dragon’s Crown is an eye-catching title that offers style, substance and replayability in spades.

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Dead Space 3

dead space 3 coop 625x1000 From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

They say bad things come in threes, and there is perhaps no other gaming protagonist who could attest to this motto more-so than Isaac Clarke; Dead Space’s very own engineer-cum-monster hunter. Picking up the dismembered threads of its predecessor, Dead Space 3 takes place largely on Tau Volantis; an abandoned ice planet that’s been overrun by nasty necromorphs — go figure. For the game, players are tasked with recovering a wayward, 200-year old codex to unearth the planet’s mysteries, all the while trying to trace Ellie’s SOS signal — Isaac’s love interest from the second game — amidst the unforgiving terrain (imagine Hoth, but overrun with reanimated corpses).

Dead Space 3 also marks the introduction of several new features for the series, including cooperative play and pesky human enemies in the form of Unitologists. One of the standout features of the game, however, is the way in which the harsh environment filters into the gameplay. Visceral Games haven’t simply transposed our world-weary hero to a new locale for the sake of it. From thick blizzards obscuring your field of view to the way your body temperature plummets when exposed to the elements, it’s almost as if you can feel the icy cold air creep down your spine from the other end of the screen.

In gaming, threequels have been a historically difficult feat to pull off. For the third release, it’s quite often the case that an intellectual property begins to either stutter due to repetition — Batman: Arkham Origins, for example — or, in a bid to keep things fresh, implement a new feature that inevitably dilutes the core heritage. Alas, Dead Space 3 is a slightly less linear foray than its ancestors, and though it may not be — whisper it — as scary or unnerving as the first two titles, there’s still plenty of moments in the game when you realise that playing alone in the dark probably wasn’t the best strategy.

Over the years, Visceral Games’ interstellar property has established a sense of legacy through its interesting, quasi-religious story and signature, horrific aesthetic. And though I would tend to agree that the series has become more action-orientated with each iteration, diluting the sense of tension in favour of blockbuster set-pieces, there’s still an innate gravitas to Isaac Clarke’s space-traversing odyssey that lends Dead Space 3 the benefit of the doubt.

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Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist

splinter cell blacklist From SimCity To DMC: The Most Underrated Games Of 2013

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why Splinter Cell: Blacklist — the latest in Tom Clancy’s long-running, espionage franchise — fell off the community’s green-tinted radar so soon after launch. Though Ubisoft made the decision to pass over Michael Ironside’s signature night vision googles to newcomer Eric Johnson — the Canadian actor who assumed the role of Sam Fisher’s voice and performance capture — Blacklist picked up the narrative reins from its immediate predecessor, Splinter Cell: Conviction, with style.

The sixth installment brings back several much-loved features from previous titles. Not only does Splinter Cell: Blacklist include the ‘stealth-only’ option for the game’s campaign, but, after a seven year hiatus, Spies vs. Mercs returned for the multiplayer component; which brings its interesting blend of first-person and third-person perspectives to the tactical playing field. In terms of story, the United States comes under threat from a terrorist organisation called ‘The Engineers,’ prompting Fisher to lead the Fourth Echelon against the group in order to protect the Blacklist – a list of US assets that act as the plot’s MacGuffin.

With 14 unique co-op assignments to complete and four different mission types available, Splinter Cell: Blacklist isn’t exactly short of content. Granted, there were several technical issues during its early days on the market — which, for me, materialised in the form of freezing issues on the PlayStation 3 — and though the core campaign wasn’t anything to write home about, the latest entry into Tom Clancy’s prestigious series has the production values of the biggest triple-A title with the intelligence to match.

Tell us, were there any games from the last twelve months that you felt didn’t receive the critical praise they so deserved? If so, be sure to drop your thoughts in the comments section. Or, feel free to vote on our picks with the widget below.

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  • Pauly V.

    Good shit — love DmC

  • upma

    Seriously? did you get paid to write that sim city review? yet another review far off the mark. ive never heard so much rubbish in my entire life. have you even played the game? i can win the game in 6hrs, its a facebook game far too easy and nothing like the original sim city, theres no room to build, you can fill the grid in an hour and then you get seriously bored and start deleteting buildings to build something new. not gonna blow anymore steam over this, you clearly havent played it long enough.

    • Nerevarine

      I thoroughly enjoy SimCity. Now that server capacity and numerous bugs are fixed. Sure, the map feels cramped, yet I’m able to see past that. I understand their reasoning for putting your CPU on a complex simulation – rather than a watered down simulation on a larger map. We can only hope that the fanchise manage to live on for us to see larger maps in a SimCity “6″.

      BTW. I googled myself to this article, having spent most of my weekend and all of sunday playing SimCity =P

  • Sam

    Having only played DMC recently, I think Ninja Theory is deserving of a major round of applause. They made a smartly refined update of a franchise in need of one, all while respecting the core elements that made the original popular to begin with. Other developers tasked with doing a reboot should take note.

  • Clinton H Davis

    SimCity isn’t underrated. It’s just as bad as people think/thought and has many issues still not fixed by the devs. Though they are finally looking at putting an offline mode into the game, the damage is pretty well done as most of us who would have bought it as an offline game are about the give up on ever buying it and just continue to play older games until something else comes along.

  • worst list this year…

    Dmc was an awesome game. so glad you threw that one in there. People tend to forget how dated the original four are at this point, and Dmc brought a stylish new take to it, while still giving nods to the original. That’s a delicate balance to dance, and they did it marvelously.

  • John Tremendol

    Ratchet and Clank Nexus

  • IRMacGuyver

    Most of these games aren’t underrated they’re just flat out rejected by the gaming community for being franchise cashins

  • Red Flame Fox

    DmC was awesome, too bad stupid fanboys ruined its reputation.

    • Shawn

      Vergil’s DLC on hell and hell is hard as fuck.

  • Agt_Pendergast

    DmC. Removing the lock on means there are no directional input attacks (so each weapon has less moves than it’s previous counterpart), no enemy prioritizing, moves like stinger and killer bee are less reliable, and the two demon pulls become less useful the more enemies there are. The weapons seem to be totally unbalanced (angel weapons seem to hardly any damage whereas the demon weapons seem to destroy the bosses).

    On top of that, the enemies don’t seem very aggressive even on hard and the bosses seem limited on attacks and get stunned for half a minute. No royal guard, no DT burst or distortion, no taunts and no styles and a rating system that hands out S rank like it’s candy. It’s not under-rated, it was overhyped by the gaming media. I would rather games advance, not go backwards.

    • Shawn

      Try it on hell and hell because you might come out with a new opinion on the difficulty.

      • Agt_Pendergast

        I already gave more it more than enough chances. I’m not going to be spending any more time or money on it just for the chance one issue of many might be resolved.

  • Soil

    DMC’s downfall was one simple fact: It was DMC. The story was a reboot, yes, but the characters and universe were similar only in name, otherwise so very different from the original material that they could have easily just created a new IP. Instead they succeeded in riling up the DMC fan base, many of whom blacklisted the game purely on those grounds. Without the support of the fanbase they had to appeal to the hack-and-slash audience that was already hyped over the next God of War game (Ascension was due in 2 months.) Sadly, Dante’s Inferno suffered a similar fate, though arguably that game had plenty more flaws.

    • Shawn

      Its sad but they’ve probably found an entire new fan base to build off much like what the first devilmaycry went through when it first came out.

  • SimCity Sucks

    You must be smoking crack to give Sim City that review. It sucks balls even worse now than it did prior to the always online fiasco