The PCG Q&A
Find previous editions of the PC Gamer Q&A here. Here are some highlights:
- What did you buy in the Steam Summer Sale?
- What minor flaw in a game makes you madder than it should?
- When is teabagging okay in first-person shooters?
What's the most underrated game on PC? This is the subject of the PCG Q&A, where each Saturday (and sometimes on Wednesdays too), we ask the global PC Gamer team for their answers to a burning question. We then encourage you to drop your answers to the same question in the comments thread below.
There's no comprehensive answer to this one, obviously, and it's just a bit of fun. We've picked games that either sold badly, were ignored despite having something to offer, or got an unfair kicking at launch by critics or players.
Evan Lahti: LawBreakers
OK, I'll jump on this grenade: it's LawBreakers. Corners of the gaming community were fixated on making it a punching bag for their amusement, and the "dead game" Reddit groupthink that ultimately suffocated LawBreakers had nothing to do with how good it actually is. Its character movement styles are inventive—the Wraith kick-slides along the ground to accelerate, jabbing the air with a knife to swim forward in low-grav. They can also triple jump and wall jump, a moveset that gives them Wraith a darting, alien locomotion that's enjoyable to master. Gunslingers teleport in short bursts like Tracer from Overwatch, but the first shots from either of their dual pistols are buffed immediately after you blink. If you fly backwards as the Harrier, you shoot lasers from your feet.
This is the only FPS I can think of that lets me shoot behind myself, never mind turning it into a way to physically propel myself forward. LawBreakers could've taken a much easier route and simply given everyone jetpacks and focused on unique guns, but instead it got ambitious and built weird, unfamiliar styles of aerial fencing, gunslinging, grenading, and more. It also sported some of the best netcode in years, backed up by expert testing.
Jarred Walton: Epistory: Typing Chronicles
I don't know that it's underrated, but I recently stumbled upon Epistory: Typing Chronicles, and it's great—and it was also a game I totally missed when it was new. I can thank Steam's Spring Cleaning event for recommending it as a game I should try, and I enjoyed the relatively short story, lovely aesthetic, and the crazy vocabulary. Anyway, I write for a living, so something that puts my typing skills to good use is a welcome diversion, and now I've inflicted my children with the game so that they can hopefully learn to type. My 15-year-old thinks it's great and my 8-year-old hates it (because it's too hard and frustrating).
Phil Savage: Dragon Age 2 (oh snap!)
It reviewed pretty well, but it would be fair to say that public reaction to BioWare's sequel was... unfavourable. That's fair: a game with only one cave layout shouldn't have so many missions set in a cave. In fact, many criticisms of Dragon Age II are entirely justified, but to write it off because of them would be to miss out on one of the most interesting RPGs BioWare has made.
Instead of sending you out on a grand journey, Dragon Age II is about a single city and the people within it. As Hawke, you travel to this city, survive in this city and fight to save this city over the course of around ten years. You get to feel like a member of the community in the way few RPGs, with their huge maps and sweeping stories, can support. And you get to hang out with Varric in a dingy pub. I'd love for a developer to revisit this style of role-playing, but, until that happens, I'll keep propping up the bar in the The Hanged Man.
Tom Senior: The Sims: Hot Date
Sims DLC often takes criticism for being little more than overpriced packs of digital items. Some of the DLC is like that, but the major expansions add loads of ways for Sims to interact and grow inside your carefully manicured fishbowl. Hot Date could have been a frivolous expansion that added a few new romance-themed behavioural patterns and some nice clothes, but it ended up adding a rich strata of nightlife that gave the Sims themselves a more rounded and believable existence.
Before Hot Date they hoovered, pooped, cleaned up mess and vanished off to work for hours at a time. Hot Date opened up huge new downtown areas where they could meet other Sims and, with a bit of luck, find a partner. The downtown area also froze time back home, which meant your Sims could have a career and hang out with friends and loved ones in the same life—they enjoyed a pretty grim domestic existence before this expansion came along. Dating sims are more prevalent now, but Hot Date brought the idea into the mainstream, and did a great job of making downtown a bustling social hub. For some reason Hot Date never seemed to receive the credit it deserved for its novelty and ambition at the time.
Austin Wood: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
There's no shortage of good 2D platformers on Steam. Most everyone is familiar with the big ones—the likes of Fez, Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, Celeste and Cave Story—but for some reason nobody ever talks about Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. It came out nearly six years ago, and it's still one of the best 2D platformers on PC—and the Rise of the Owlverlord level pack released in 2013 only made it better. (You can get the full package for under five bucks in the Steam Summer Sale, by the way.)
The art has aged well and the difficulty curve is spot-on, but what I love most about Giana Sisters is the music. You can swap between the titular sisters at any time, and while the happy blonde sister gets bright fantasy levels and bubbly electronic tunes, playing as the punk pink-haired sister drenches levels in horror themes set to fantastic original rock songs. I like my Ori and the Blind Forest orchestral swells as much as the next gamer, but you just don't hear rock music like this in 2D platformers anymore. I absolutely love it, so I played as the punk sister whenever possible. The boss themes are especially great. Giana Sisters looks, plays and sounds great, so if you've played all the best-known 2D platformers, or even if you haven't, you have got to give it a try.
Andy Chalk: The Long Journey Home
The Long Journey Home is a sort of Starflight/Star Control/Lunar Lander hybrid exploration-adventure about a small spaceship that's flung, Voyager-style, to the wrong side of the universe. It's weird, it's funny, it's occasionally frustrating as hell, and it's really good. It didn't catch fire, though, with critics or gamers: Our 68/100 review was actually one of the more positive takes, and it's still languishing under the weight of "mixed" user reviews on Steam.
A big reason for that was the game's utterly unforgiving nature at launch: it was quite happy to swat players down for the slightest transgression, to the extent that one bad landing, for instance, could signal the abrupt end of an otherwise very successful mission. A "Story Mode" option was added later that made survival (and thus the ability to actually get out there and explore) much easier, but by that point the damage of those initial review scores was done. But it's good! (I thought it was good right from the start, but the increased accessibility is definitely a plus.) And it deserves far better than it got. (If you're curious, it's half-price in the Steam Summer Sale.)
It's also not nearly as dramatic as the launch trailer above makes it out to be.
Samuel Roberts: Red Faction Guerrilla
Alright, this sold well enough to get a (bad) sequel and it was acclaimed by critics, so 'underrated' is a bit of a weird label. Thing is, though, why wasn't this the most influential game of its generation? Why did open world games become about ticking off icons, climbing boring towers and dull counter-based combat systems? Why didn't they become about knocking shit down and hitting NPCs with hammers? In that sense, I believe Red Faction Guerrilla is underrated.
The games industry didn't see the opportunity here, and it ended up having no imitators. And yet, it so clearly demonstrated how much fun it was to see things topple over because you detonated remote charges in all the right places. Is it too late for someone to make a proper open world sequel?
I also agree with Phil that Dragon Age 2 is underrated. I wouldn't want every RPG to be set in one location, but it was a neat experiment despite a weaker third act and a thin combat system. In some ways, I guess I never really left that one cave.
Some other runners up for me that spring to mind: decent Sonic-like Freedom Planet, D4, Star Wars: Battle For Naboo, Everyday Shooter, Ephemerid: A Musical Adventure, Darkside Detective, The Flame in the Flood, Mad Max, The Magic Circle and...Mirror's Edge Catalyst, which is several mandatory, terrible combat sequences away from being a great game. I should mention Alpha Protocol too, right?
Let us know your suggestions below.