Anti-Valentine reviews PC games and writes about the video game industry.
What makes a game underrated? Is it that the game receives a poor review score? Possibly. Is is that nobody played the games when it was released? Could be. It’s a bit of both, but one thing is for sure, that these games, even overlooked as they are, are good games. They have a lot going for them if you are willing to put in the time necessary.
11 Most Underrated PC Games
- Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines
- Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
- Clive Baker's Undying
- Condemned: Criminal Origins
- System Shock 2
- Thief: Deadly Shadows
- Call of Chtulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
- Mirror's Edge
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky
- Requiem: Avenging Angel
1. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
Developer: Troika Games
I’ve played games with vampires in them, sure. I’ve even been a vampire in other games, like Blood, Morrowind, and Oblivion. Bloodlines is different though. Not only are you a vampire, but you exist within a vampire society that has its own laws, and this society exists within human society, as vampires often have to uphold the masquerade, by not drawing attention to themselves and doing anything that might give the game away and let people know that vampires really do exist. Failure to comply often results in vampire hunters arriving to do what they do best.
The story and plot in the game are masterfully written, as are most of the quests and side quests. The characters are all well developed, and the voice acting is great. It’s one of those games where you actually want to talk to characters, and you are given different potential responses depending on your stats, and also on which clan you belong to. Characters here have depth to them. They aren’t random characters all voiced by the same person who you need to talk to in order to progress in a quest.
Sure, the game has its issues. The combat isn’t particularly good – but then this could be said about most RPGs. The game is buggy but there are unofficial patches that can help here. Graphically, the game doesn’t look too bad even today, not worse than Half-Life 2, the game engine (Source) Bloodline uses. Of course on that note, being released around the same time as Half-Life 2 didn't help this game do that well commercially.
People in the know call this game a flawed masterpiece, and it’s not hard to see why.
2. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
Developer: Arkane Studios
Dark Messiah is basically an FPS meets RPG, or action RPG. It could quite easily be classed as a hybrid title if it actually had any guns in it.
It has linear level design which is more reminiscent of your typical FPS, much like Half-Life 2, whose game engine Dark Messiah uses. But the RPG bit comes in with earning skill points from achieving objectives and being able to spend those skill points on powers that you can upgrade. You can choose from three different trees – melee combat, stealth, and magic. While melee combat doesn’t really work too well most of the time, or at least takes time to master, you can use your surroundings to your advantage to gain the upper hand in battle – in fact it’s not only optional, but recommended, especially against tougher enemies, particularly when they’re in groups, which they almost always are.
The game’s stealth part works well enough, and coupled with magic, is a pretty good option against your foes. In fact the game is quite a bit like its spiritual predecessor, Arx Fatalis, and also much like another title by Arkane, Dishonored. It seems as though Arkane has, for the past decade or so, been trying to perfect the stealth game, through its releases, and Dark Messiah is definitely worth a try, although much like the middle child always is, it has been overlooked.
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3. Clive Barker’s Undying
Developer: EA Games
Clive Barker, to date, has only ever gotten to write three games – two of them based on books of his, and what do you know, the most successful one was that not based on a book at all: Undying.
The game takes place in Ireland at the Covenant Estate, and has you take the role of Patrick Galloway, a paranormal investigator, try to help his old friend Jeremiah, as he tries to rid himself and his family of a curse that has beleaguered the family for decades.
The game is known for being among the scariest games ever released, at least by those who have managed to play it, not only because of its gripping story, and terrifying environments that seem to come straight out of a nightmare, but also the chilling audio present in the game, from the atmospheric soundtrack right down to the blood curdling sound effects.
The game was well received by critics, but it was never particularly popular, as evidenced by its lacklustre commercial performance. A planned sequel to the game was even canned.
It’s almost on the brink of being obscure, seeing as it isn’t even available on Steam or anywhere else, only GOG.com.
4. Condemned: Criminal Origins
Speaking of scary games, right up there with Undying, this game definitely gets a nod as one of the creepiest ever made.
You are Ethan Hunt, a disgraced FBI agent who embarks on a quest to find a serial killer – but what makes this serial killer unique is that he kills other serial killers.
The game sees you travel to dark places and fight against some of the craziest, most relentless psychopaths you’ll ever witness in a game. And the worst thing is that you often won’t have a gun to aid you, so you’ll have to resort to using whatever you can find around you, whether it be planks of wood with nails in them to using a lead pipe, or even a sign board. Fights are brutal and you need to have expert timing to not only hit the enemy but also to deflect their attacks properly. It takes some considerable skill. And the interactive bits in the game will have you collecting DNA samples and other evidence in order to get leads on where to go next on the trail of the killer.
Graphically it’s quite bad looking, especially today – and it even used the same JupiterEx engine that powered F.E.A.R., another Monolith horror masterpiece. But nevertheless, it’s gloriously dark and will have you scared witless.
5. System Shock 2
Developer: Looking Glass Studios/Irrational Games
Most people know of the BioShock series, and why wouldn’t they – the hype surrounding these AAA games is tremendous, and there’s another one out every other year.
But before this there was System Shock. Now not many people know of this series – especially not the first game. The second game is known to a few, but was largely ignored around the time of its release, due to games like Half-Life, Quake 3, and Unreal Tournament taking centre stage. It was a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of appreciation for single player games, and System Shock 2 is easily one of the best I’ve played.
Some people think of it as Dead Space from 1999, and indeed having played said game, it takes inspiration from System Shock 2, but Dead Space doesn’t have the RPG element that System Shock 2 does. Not only do you have your classic inventory system, but you are given cybermodules for completing objectives, which you can then use at upgrade hubs to make yourself more proficient in combat, hacking, telekinesis and several other disciplines. You also get to choose your character type at the beginning of the game by deciding which branch of the military you want to sign up with – either marines, navy, or OSA. These choices and your career path will ultimately shape your character and give you a head start in the game on the course you wish to pursue.
It’s a great take on an RPG which I haven’t really seen before since. Most RPGs make you assign skills manually or answer a set of questions in order to determine your character. System Shock doesn’t have character customisation or the ability to get better at disciplines simply by using them, much like other RPGs might (particularly The Elder Scrolls series) – and these, along with linear level design and an unconventional approach to questing (there are few side quests in the game) and dialogue (virtually no interaction with NPCs) contribute to the game being placed squarely in the hybrid genre – that is FPS/RPG. In fact, if you were to look it up somewhere, I’m pretty sure there would be a description of this game next to it.
6. Thief: Deadly Shadows
Developer: Ion Storm
This game was overlooked, chiefly for two reasons: firstly, there were much harder hitting games that were heavily anticipated in the year of its release, like Far Cry, and especially Doom 3 and Half-Life 2. So Thief saw a relatively quiet release.
Those who actually gave it some time claimed that it just wasn’t as good as Thief: The Dark Project/Gold or Thief II: The Metal Age. They were rather glaring omissions like the lack of rope arrows and the blackjack, which was also missing. The game had engine limitations and as a result had a lot of loading screens during missions which were absent from the first two. Because of the engine it used (Unreal Engine 2.0), it also seemed to suffer from AI and animation issues which caused it to be rather buggy, much like its cousin, Deus Ex: Invisible War, which also came out of Ion Storm Austin. There was also very little in the way of reference to the first two games, and so it said that it alienated fan of the original games in an attempt to gather a more mainstream audience.
The game still has a lot going for it though. I liked the way that they opened up the map of the city so players had to travel to get to missions, and could stop in at merchants to buy supplies and sell goods obtained during missions, and do side quests too. It also had a great atmosphere in and around the city and during missions – arguably as good if not better than the original two, and naturally a graphical upgrade was present too, which wasn’t unappreciated.
The game also still retained a lot of what made it good, such as the hilarious dialogue and interesting characters (most of them voiced by Stephen Russell), as well as a bow and arrow that actually functioned better than the one in Thief or Thief II. The story was also worthwhile (one of its best features, really), and the missions were quite varied and interesting as well.
Compared to the latest Thief, which was even more distant from the original games (new voice actors, and other omissions and gimmicks that had fans in a tizzy), Deadly Shadows was actually rather decent – in fact more than decent, with its own share of good ideas that it brought to the table.
7. Call of Chtulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Developer: Head First
There are several games based on the Chtulhu Mythos out there, and this is believed to be about the best of them. It certainly is ranked among the scariest games of all time. but much like Lovecraft’s short story, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, it isn’t about gore – it’s about a slow burning sense of dread that only really hits you further into the game. It’s about seemingly odd and unexplained things going on – things that only a dark mind could concoct.
It’s buggy, it’s dated looking (even for it’s time – it was only ever really an average console port), but worth a play if you’re a fan of Lovecraft’s stories and wish to experience a truly terrifying title.