For part 2, we explore a trio of games that received almost no marketing push, or were just sent into the wild on Steam in the hopes of grabbing an audience. They range from a Sony published game to a one-person, free-to-play nostalgia trip, and they all show that budget is the least important decider of a game’s quality. The one unique aspect of those listed below is that they are much more fun to play with a group because the shared experience enhances the games impact.
It goes without saying that I highly recommend these games for both the veteran and casual gamers.
8. Until Dawn
Would you believe me if I told you that the best teen horror movie in the last five years was a choose-your-own-adventure video game starring the cheerleader from Heroes? If not, then you haven’t played the grossly under-marketed, Until Dawn. It takes all the innovative properties of a David Cage game adds it to a classic “cabin in the woods” style horror story, and executes both much better.
Starting out as a PlayStation Move game in 2012, Until Dawn shifted from an underwhelming product using a gimmicky peripheral to a realistically animated game that was heavily inspired by R-rated teen horror movies. For most games, a three-year development cycle where just about everything about your game changed would be a disaster, but Supermassive Games not only released the game, it exceeded whatever expectations that Sony had for it. The only downside to the game’s release was that it came out in August instead of October, but thankfully for Supermassive, this misstep didn’t hurt sales.
Until Dawn’s story is that rare combination of cheesy and well-written. The cliché parts and roles are on purpose, but behind those moments or characters is a deeper meaning than most movies or games in the genre. It does help that the actors perform as though it was a feature-length movie rather than just a voice acting side job. This really shows when the characters interact as a large group because their reactions are less robotic and closer to what you would expect their non-animated versions to do. There are a few times when the combination of quality performance and animation drag the game into the Uncanny Valley, but thankfully those moments are very few.
There is no better game on the market that both video game lovers and their not-as-obsessed friends and/or significant others can sit down enjoy together. Until Dawn is perfect for couples, families and drunken nights with your friends, all while keeping its entertainment value as a single-player experience. Here’s to hoping that Supermassive understands why this game is great and creates an equally well done sequel.
7. Contradiction: Spot the Liar
Talk about cheesy and campy.
The only reason this game is on the list is because I have a soft spot for really over-acted FMV games. Not only does Contradiction: Spot the Liar scratch that itch, it also manages to be a pretty good adventure game as well. For a small Kickstarted game developed in Britain and originally released on the Apple App Store, it manages to get enough right gameplay-wise while throwing enough wackiness in the story to keep you interested.
Contradiction follows the investigation into the mysterious death of Kate Vine by the very expressive Detective Inspector Jenks. During the 8-hour or so game, you travel through a small town in England finding clues and, as the subtitle suggest, spot the liar during interviews. It is at its heart a puzzle-solving game that forces you to concentrate on every answer from an interview and each piece of evidence that you collect in order to spot the — ahem — contradiction to move the investigation forward. Some answers are more obtuse than others but if you truly pay attention, there’s nothing that should stump you too much.
The best asset to the game is that despite its campy-ness and inconsistent performances, you never want it to end. If only because you want to see what crazy turn the story takes next. Those twist are best enjoyed in a group setting because the reactions are the best part and playing through this game alone robs you of a tremendous feature. There’s a reason why this game was originally released on Apple products, including Apple TV. If you need an example of why this game is great, go watch this quick look on Giant Bomb.
6. Emily is Away
Ah, AOL Instant Messenger.
How thee both blessed and ruined my formative social years. If a door bell doesn’t remind you of waiting for your crush to sign on, then you were not a teen in the late 90s or early 2000s. Much like Snapchat (Forgive me, if this is wrong, I’m old) today, AIM was a way of life throughout my most hormonal years and defined the social connections in high school. And Emily is Away captures both the excitement and heartbreak that an IM can have.
The game takes place over 5 years from 2002 to 2006, so for better or worse, I can relate to almost everything that happens in the story. Emily is Away is very straight forward as its one and only mechanic is IM-ing with a girl named Emily from your high school, so it is pretty easy to understand. What the game lacks in gameplay, it a makes up for in its story and atmosphere. It get the little things right, including the emo AIM profiles and goofy away message for every character in the game. Since your only direct interaction is with Emily, you can miss a lot of the games fantastic character development by only talking to her and not checking your buddy list (God, this is better than Facebook friends).
Be forewarned the game is short and linear, but it is the nostalgia and heart breaking conclusion that make this game well worth the effort to download. By the way it’s free to play on Steam, so you really have no excuse not to play it, especially if you lived through the rise and fall of AIM. Since this is a story about relationships, it’s probably best played with a significant other or very close friends. If you are not okay crying in front of people, I recommend playing alone.