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Under the Radar - Everything Else

by Tim McDonald on Oct. 5, 2008 @ 2:18 a.m. PDT

In the past we've delved into some of the games you haven't played, taking in some of the best of the unknown horror, indie, and comedy games. With those extremes out of the way, this time, we're going to tackle a variety of games. For those of you who didn't read the previous articles, these are games that you've probably not played, but you really should.

It's been a while, hasn't it, guys and girls? I've been off on what we'll politely term a sabbatical, and you've been starved of my impressively verbose sarcasm and cynicism. But not to worry — I'm back once again, and articles will be back to a regular schedule, so you'll have your fill of text-based bile for the foreseeable future. Hurray!

This time, we're taking a look at no theme whatsoever. We're just going over all of the stuff that either didn't fit into categories, and the things that I didn't have room for in the previous categories. That, or I was too stupid to put in them.

So ...

(PC, Xbox, X360 via Xbox Originals)

Yes, I'm an idiot, and I willfully admit it. This should never, ever have been missed out of the Horror roundup. Hell, I've been thrown out of game stores before for hitting people in the face with bargain-bin copies of this while screaming "NO! Don't buy another yearly sports release! Buy THIS instead!"

No, really. There's at least one local store staffed by people who let out a collective groan when I walk in.

Anyway. Thief: Deadly Shadows was the third game in the Thief series, not numbered presumably out to fear that no one would buy the third iteration if they'd not heard of the others, and lots of people didn't bother buying the first two either. (Go out and rectify this now, too; they're only about $10 apiece.) The series revolves around Garrett, growly voiced master thief, as he roams around a steampunk city, breaking into heavily guarded places and trying to avert an apocalypse. Again. It differs from the first two by having free-roaming city sections, which are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they allow side-quests and plenty of extra loot, while on the other hand, they can be deeply irritating when all you want to do is the next mission.

Stealth-wise, Thief: Deadly Shadows is just as much a work of genius as the first two games. Those who feared that simultaneous Xbox development and the third-person perspective would ruin the game were proven wrong on release, because it's just as good as ever. Locations have multiple routes and plenty of hidden treasures, and fantastic voice acting, a great plot that ties off the series, and the Shalebridge Cradle — one of the most underwear-saturating locations ever seen in a game, and a masterwork of level design that deserves an article to itself — just add to this must-buy title. Much like Garrett, it's clever, it's sharp, and it's very, very cool.

(PC, Xbox, X360 via Xbox Originals)

A second numberless sequel, and a second game spread across three systems thanks to the wonder of Xbox Originals! Dreamfall is the sequel to The Longest Journey, deservingly acclaimed as the best point-and-click adventure to come out in a long, long time. The Longest Journey featured phenomenal writing and some very clever puzzles, combined with an incredibly coherent and consistent pair of worlds. Dreamfall also features phenomenal writing and excellent environments.

Unfortunately, it strips out the clever puzzles, presumably in a misguided attempt at breaching the mass market. What we get, instead, are insipid fetch quests, awful combat, and broken stealth sequences. Did you re-read the last sentence? Perhaps you looked back up at the title to make sure I'm writing about why Dreamfall is worth your attention, rather than The Longest Journey? Right. There's a reason for this. Specifically: Dreamfall has one of the best stories I've ever seen in a game. Ever. This isn't much of a claim, I admit, so I'll extend it and state that Dreamfall also has one of my favorite stories in any media. Ever. It's not necessarily the best, I'll admit that, but certainly a favorite. This is stretching dangerously close to the pigeonhole of "interactive movie," I know. Wait! Come back! It's good, I promise! The insipid fetch quests at least let you admire the gorgeous scenery and some more phenomenal dialogue!

The other point of note is that Dreamfall, as it is, simply could not work on any other medium. As a book, it would be flawed; as a film, it'd be too long. As a game, with utterly sublime voice acting and characters so good that I pretty much fell in love with them, it really shows exactly how games can come together as an art form of their own — well, "interactive media" rather than games; it's clearly not a game because the game elements are rubbish. It's tolerable, for the sake of the story, but still rubbish.

Knowledge of the first game isn't essential but will certainly help and add some childish joy to the "Hey, I remember this person from that bit in the first game" parts, and the first is dirt cheap these days, too. It's also got a bit of a cliff-hanger ending, but we've been promised that we'll know what happens next for sure. If a game isn't feasible, then a book or a comic, or even just the design notes, presumably all reworked so that they'd make sense in another format. It's the plot and the characters that make Dreamfall a genuine classic, and if they melted even my cynical stone-molded journalist heart to the point that I was in tears by the end, just imagine what it'll do to you.

Picross DS


My "sabbatical" left me with an awful lot of time on trains and the like, and the only portable system I had with me was a DS. This is why it's such a surprise that, now that I'm back with all of my other systems, I can't put down goddamn Picross DS.

It's a simple premise that will seem much more complicated in text, but I'll give it a try. In much the same vein as Minesweeper, you have a blank grid, and certain squares of this grid are supposed to be filled in. When they're all filled in, they will show a pretty picture. You fill in the squares yourself, guided by numbers along the top and side. If your grid is 10x10, and one line on the left has the numbers 2, 2, 4, then you know that in that line, there are a group of two adjacent squares that need to be filled in. Then, at least one space away, there are another two squares that need filling in, followed by at least one space, and then four adjacent squares. In this way, you slowly build up the picture. In this example, it's easy; considering the spaces needed, 2 followed by a space, then 2 followed by a space, then 4, fills in the entire row. It's a bit harder when your 10x10 grid simply has a "1" along one row. That's when you need to check the vertical columns and work it all out, and oh good grief, it's addictive.

So yes, it's an extremely simple premise, and while it starts off very easy, it gradually gets harder and harder, to the point of not telling you when you've made a mistake and filled in the wrong square, with grids getting larger and larger. It's incredible fun and very much a "just one more picture" thing, and considering it's incredibly cheap, don't buy it under any circumstances, or it'll consume your life as much as it has mine, and you won't have any money left because you'll stop working so that you can play Picross DS.

Off to do another picture. Rest of the article later.

(Xbox 360)

Earth Defense Force 2017 has been criticized by pretty much every other Web site and publication out there, proving only that everyone else is mad and wrong. To be fair, many of them are also accurate, such as the one right here on WorthPlaying, penned by Alicia, basically stating that it's incredibly stupid fun. However, all of these other journalists are clearly heartless automatons incapable of love, because nobody likes it nearly enough.

EDF2017 is stupid and ugly and, yes, fun. It has 150 weapons. It has a premise so silly that I can't even summarize it without breaking into a grin, though I'll paraphrase part of it: "We don't know if these aliens are hostile or not yet. Our government has dubbed them 'the Ravagers.'" It has towering skyscrapers that can be toppled with a single rocket and hundreds of giant enemies on-screen at once, and massive explosions and idiotic voice acting and ants! Giant ants! And robots! And spiders and spaceships and co-op (which is local only, but you have friends, don't you?).

Even the sheer banality of the achievements — finish the game on each difficulty, essentially — ties into the fact that it's pretty much the game equivalent of B movies. Considering that to unlock all 150 of those weapons that's exactly what you have to do, it's not really a big problem, either, and considering that the weapons are equally silly and hilarious and fun, you'll probably do it. It's joyous and stupid and hilarious and cheap, and I just want to restate that every single building in the damn city can be knocked down with a single rocket, and add that you have infinite ammo.

It's lovely to see a game like this every now and then. If you don't mind the fact that it's unpretentious and incredibly stupid, and if you enjoy shooting things with unfeasible weapons, there's a good chance that Earth Defense Force 2017 will capture your heart as much as it has mine.


I chose Suikoden V because Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest get all the attention, and because there always has to be one game that most people might've heard of.

Really, though, the Suikoden series doesn't get enough attention. Removing Suikoden IV from the equation because it's awful, the rest of the series is a striking set of JRPGs, with the slightly unusual focus of building up a castle and recruiting a staggering 108 characters, normally in order to win a war of some kind.

It's Suikoden V getting the attention today, however, which is actually a prequel to the entire series, barring IV. In the grand tradition of JRPGs, it takes a long time for the plot to actually get going (in this case, about 10 hours before you're past the opening bits, and no, that's not hyperbole), but you're rewarded with a surprising amount of politics mixed in with the standard greedy-people-and-ancient-powers plot. It's a long game with some great characters and interesting plot twists, and while the combat system is generic, the six-character limit in your party and the constant intrigue of exactly what potential new members are lurking in the new area you've unlocked, and what they might add to your castle, helps push you forward.

At the outset, your castle is a tiny hovel with a few rooms and a few people to talk to, but by the end, it's a monolithic skyscraper filled with characters who all do different things. Not everyone's combat focused; some run shops, while others let you change the background music and window color of your castle. Yes, there are characters who serve absolutely no other purpose in the game than to let you redecorate your castle. The quirky little features — like the suggestion box that your members can drop things into, and the baths where you can take members of your roster in order to overhear some interesting conversations — just adds to the character and the richness of the game world. Also, one of the recruitable characters is a giant turtle who takes up multiple slots in your battle roster, and there just aren't enough of those in games.

While not quite reaching the heights of some of the earlier titles in the series, Suikoden V is a superb piece of work and certainly one of the best JRPGs out there, which is a fairly impressive claim by itself. If you like this style of game, you can put up with a ridiculously slow start, and, more importantly, you can find it, it's certainly worth a try.

And for now, that's about it. Go and play these things. You've got time before the next, which I promise won't be another few months away.

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