Nine obscure games from big developers

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Every studio has to start somewhere, and not every game can be a big hit. Some of PC gaming's most influential studios have an odd game or two in their back catalogue. Perhaps the team was trying something new, or trying to move into a different market—either way those games exist now as oddities. Some of them are now freely available, others have found homes deep in Steam and GOG's libraries.

Impossible Creatures (Relic Entertainment)

Relic is famous for its RTS games, most notably Dawn of War, Company of Heroes, and Homeworld. A few years after Homeworld, however, they made a very strange strategy game about cross-breeding animals to make new units. You played as a guy called Rex Chance, on a mission to gather animal DNA and grow his army of mutant freaks. No other game since has let you combine a rhino with a baboon to create a baboceros. You can give a tiger the head of a hammerhead shark and then breed dozens of them to rush the enemy base. It isn’t a great game, but it has novelty value, and you can pick it up for about 10 bucks on Steam. —Tom Senior

Dangerous Dave (John Romero)

John Romero’s love letter to Super Mario spawned a bunch of sequels including Dangerous Dave in the Deserted Pirate’s Hideout and Dangerous Dave Goes Nutz! Before id Software, Commander Keen and Doom there was this, a straightforward platformer about a man called Dave who gets into scrapes. If you’re curious you can play the game in your browser via Classic Reload.  —Tom Senior 

Covert Action (Sid Meier)

Sid Meier’s considered this ambitious spy sim to be too unfocused, but it’s still a clever puzzle game, and well ahead of its time. Various aspects of a CIA agent’s life are modelled in separate minigames. One moment you’re wiretapping a suspect, then you might raid an office, or escape pursuers in a car. With each mission you earn details of a wider conspiracy spread across the US. It’s mightily impressive for a 1990s DOS game, and a bold follow-up to 1987’s Pirates! You can pick it up cheap on GOG. —Tom Senior 

Omikron: The Nomad Soul (Quantic Dream)

The Nomad Soul is probably best remembered as the David Bowie game, but it was also Quantic Dream's first project before Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit made them (and David Cage, of course) a little more famous. Bowie provided music for the project as well as his voice and motion capture. It was part adventure game, part beat-'em-up, and it even had some first-person shooter sections—the dialogue and voice-acting have aged about as well as you'd expect. It's pretty hard to recommend as anything more than a curio now unless you played it at the time, but hey, it always costs pennies in a sale, and you should watch the fourth wall-breaking Bowie bits, as captured above by thesacredmystery on YouTube. —Samuel Roberts

MDK2 (Bioware)

Just after Bioware released Baldur’s Gate they created a sequel to the surreal third-person action game MDK. The game featured three playable characters: Kurt Hectic in the famous kevlar MDK armour, the puzzle-solving genius Dr Fluke Hawkins, and a four-armed dog called Max. It wasn’t bad, actually, even though Bioware were seen as an odd fit to make the game at the time. MDK2 retained some the original’s Giger-esque organic geometry but lightened the tone and put more jokes in. You can still buy it on Steam.  —Tom Senior 

Shattered Steel (Bioware)

And before Baldur's Gate, Bioware created an entry in that most mid-late '90s of genres, the mech simulator. In Shattered Steel, you fight both land and air-based enemies with an increasingly elaborate and beautiful arsenal. It was pretty well-received, getting 79% back in PC Gamer UK issue 37, and if you want to check it out, it's on GOG. I'm sure it's fondly remembered by some '90s PC players—it only really seems obscure in relation to the games Bioware would go on to be famous for.   —Samuel Roberts 

Blackthorne (Blizzard)

This Prince of Persia style sidescrolling platform game has been largely forgotten, though you can download it for free on Battle.net. Head to your account settings, then click the ‘games and codes’ drop-down and get the download from the ‘classic games’ section at the bottom. Across 17 levels you clamber around platforming sections and engage in the odd gunfight with a shotgun. The rotoscoped animation still holds up pretty well and it has a SNES-era charm.  —Tom Senior 

Stormrise (Creative Assembly)

Image via Moby Games.

From a brief time about a decade ago where publishers tried to make console-friendly strategy games a thing (see also Ubisoft's RUSE, Endwar and the decent Civilization Revolution), Stormrise was a sci-fi RTS that got a pretty dreadful reception back in 2009. You got a third-person POV from your units, which is a little different from other RTS games, but controlling your forces was a little arduous. It was called "an awful vision of strategy's future," by the UK magazine, getting a brutal 35% in May 2009. The Australian branch of Creative Assembly was later closed in 2013, and it's no longer possible to buy Stormrise on Steam.  —Samuel Roberts 

Ninja Blade (From Software)

From Software was remarkably prolific years before Demon's Souls on PS3 became a breakout hit in 2009. Ninja Blade was like playing a budget version of Ninja Gaiden, an okay cover version that offered enjoyable enough hack-and-slashing, even if it felt a little cheap and arrived right when action games were sadly rife with QTEs. You can buy it on Steam for £7/$10, but the user reviews suggest you'll be dealing with a few irritating bugs if you do. I'm sure there are better From Software games you could be playing instead.  —Samuel Roberts