We’ve all played the huge, blockbuster titles and the ‘critical darlings’ right? But when it comes to the end of a consoles natural life span there are usually hundreds of games in the back catalogue deserving of your time that you just “never got around to” when they were first released. With the ‘next generation’ consoles now out in the great wide world though, it might feel tempting to shun these games in favour of the big, the glitzy, the new. But you would really be missing out on some truly exceptional experiences that you will now no doubt be able to enjoy for a fraction of the price of a brand new game.
So before you trade in your old reliable PS3 for a glossy new PS4, consider these two underrated classics and know that there is plenty more where they came from!
Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool indeed for game developers when your prime market is jaded individuals such as myself who grew up in the 1990’s, a time when the mechanics of a game were of utmost importance. Sega already proved as much with their wonderful Sonic Generations game, a title which managed to successfully exhume the spirit of the classic Mega Drive games and bring them into the HD generation without the bells and whistles detracting from the games core. Ubisoft’s ‘Rayman Origins’ pulls a similar trick only it does so with an even greater level of success, that it might also be one of this generations most beautiful games is just the icing on the cake.
Created by Michel Ancel, the original Rayman, a genre defining 2D platform game, was released for the original Playstation back in 1995 around the time of the systems launch and proved to be one of its most successful and lauded titles. And with good reason. Ancel and his team created a rich world which took the flights of fancy of the Super Mario franchise and threw caution to the wind. So whilst lesser developers will continue to use generic jungle, desert, snow and lava worlds, here you had worlds designed around musical instruments, stationary and condiments. This quirkiness holds sway over the series’ most recent adventure, this years ‘Rayman Legends’ but as wonderful as Legends is, it is in essence little more than an expansion pack. ‘Origins’ is where the true genius lies.
Let’s make no bones about it, Rayman Origins is a gorgeous game. The developers have opted for a highly stylised cartoon look over standard polygonal rendering and the fluidity of the graphics will truly take your breath away at first. It’s the closest I think gaming has come yet to playing like a fully interactive cartoon; in fact it looks better than most modern cartoons. The presentational wonders don’t begin and end with the graphics either, the soundtrack is pitch perfect, like a Disney soundtrack remixed by the Jet Set Radio team, even the characters nonsensical ‘sim-talk’ proves oddly endearing given the context.
The visual invention is reason enough to recommend the game wholeheartedly but it’s the perfectly balanced gameplay which proves its real triumph. The tightest controls this side of Super Mario are matched to level design which is dynamic, adventurous and exquisitely paced. Throughout the adventure our disembodied hero unlocks a variety of techniques which expand the users palette of moves in a beautifully organic way which doesn’t feel contrived or patronising at-all. The difficulty too is increased ever so slightly level after level which perfectly aligns with the players developing skills, there are no ‘cheap’ deaths here, if you die it’s your fault and that’s the way it should be.
It has been nearly a decade since the last true Rayman game was released (the spin-off ‘Rabbids’ franchise not-with-standing) and 16 since the franchise branched off from its roots into the realms of 3D (with the wonderful Rayman 2) but Origins was more than worth the wait. Pitch perfect gameplay, peerlessly inventive visuals and a 4 player co-op mode which makes Lego Star Wars seem like pulling teeth by comparison add up to one of the best 2D platform games of all time.
The ‘super-hero sandbox game’ has become a genre in itself of late with the ‘Crackdown’, ‘Prototype’ and the original ‘Infamous’ it’s staples. Of the three Sucker Punch Productions ‘Infamous’ was by the far the most compelling, an open world game which managed to avoid the pitfalls of similar games by virtue of its excellent core gameplay mechanics, absorbing plot and gorgeous graphics afforded it as a PS3 exclusive. It’s almost par the course these days for action games to include RPG elements and separate good/bad paths but Infamous implemented these devices in a much more organic and intuitive manner. With its stylish comic book styled cut-scenes, epic landscapes and peerless re-playability it was a rare hit for the PS3 (which until then had been losing ground to the more affordable XBOX 360) and the cliff-hanger ending left players in no doubt that a sequel was in the works. Just 2 years later it arrived and whilst it didn’t exactly tear up the rule book it added just enough to the original games format to ensure it was able to be seen as its own beast.
Speaking of beasts the story picks up right where the previous game left off with Cole discovering the first games antagonist ‘Kessler’ was actually a version of himself sent from the future to prepare him for the coming of ‘the beast’, an evil creature whose path of destruction will lead to humanities end. The opening scene is a real blinder as the beast (a gigantic lava monster) suddenly appears, tearing up your native Empire City as you are forced to fight it off from a collapsing dock. The graphical leaps here are clear from the off-set with the textures more refined than before and the effects lending the game a real filmic quality. Having subdued the beast for a while it manages to severely wound Cole who loses some of his powers as a result and when he wakes days later Cole, his friend Zeke and NSA agent Lucy Kuo are on route via ship to New Marais. There they discover wealthy industrialist Joseph Bertrand has taken control of the city with the help of his self-appointed militia force. He at first appears to be a religious nut whose sole purpose is to wipe out ‘conduits’ (people with powers) from existence but as the game progresses his true sinister intent becomes abundantly clear. It’s a story even more gripping than the first with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing and the in-game cut-scenes this time around feel less stilted than before.
The story is only the icing on the case though; the real selling point here is the city of New Marais itself. If the first game Empire City was essentially New York then New Marais is New Orleans, a seedy but beautiful city built on swamp land which seems to represent almost a combination of all the best parts of New Orleans, Amsterdam and Paris rolled into one easily navigational map. It’s a veritable playground which feels more natural and ‘alive’ than Empire City and the variety of missions (both side missions and story missions) is a great improvement. The fact that you start off with all the powers you gained in the first game is a bonus too, they could have so easily pulled the ‘Metroid trick’, stripping you of your powers and having to earn them back. Instead you simply gain more powers which this time can include fire and ice attacks as well as upgraded primary attacks. Speaking of which the melee system this time around takes it cues from the God Of War franchise, a smooth flowing system in which Cole uses a sort of prototype lightsaber instead of his fists.
With the third game in the series primed to launch on PS4 next year there is no better time to jump on the ‘Infamous train’. The original game was certainly playable but honestly you could probably get way with skipping it and heading straight for this superior, consistently awe inspiring sequel. Although you can buy both for a low price if bought preowned, after all you could always part with some of your old games and sell them for cash online.
Charles Barley is an avid gamer and copywriter who can’t bare it when fantastic games get overlooked.