Well, we’re finally coming to the end of this console generation. We know the names of all the next-gen successors, we know they’ll be out by the end of the year, and likely after E3, all remaining questions will be laid bare. One of the nice things about this generation having gone on so long is that the libraries for current consoles have become massive. In our scramble to play the latest Halo and Gran Tursimo, sometimes gems slip through the cracks. With the exception of The Last of Us, this summer is pretty barren on the new games front, so why not dive into some of those games that you probably heard about yet never played? Here, I’ll even give you some suggestions.
The poor sales performance of Bulletstorm always depresses me. In a generation full of brown and gray shooters that took themselves way too seriously, Bulletstorm dared to do something different. It made first-person shooters fun and arcadey again. Adding a stunt or trick system to the manner in which you kill enemies refreshed the shooter gameplay in a way it desperately needed. These days, shooter campaigns can feel mindless and empty: walk forward, shoot some guys, walk forward. Bulletstorm kept you on your toes and constantly changed things up by letting out more potential ways to fight alongside the crazy weapons. It also doesn’t hurt that the story, music, and voice acting was way better than it had any right to be. Ignore the terrible marketing for the game—Bulletstorm is an excellent, unique experience and you should play it before it’s forgotten forever. If you’d like more information before taking the plunge, feel free to check out my review.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
While The Witcher 2 is best played on PC for its absolutely breathtaking graphics, it’s worth this list for the Xbox 360 version. If you’re like me, you’re constantly in the market for a good dark fantasy game. Dragon Age couldn’t do it for me; the combat was just not my style. The more I think back on Skyrim, the bigger a mess it seemed. The Witcher 2 is dark, mature, provocative, smart, profoundly challenging, and even a little funny. You know that feeling you get after watching Game of Thrones where you want to play a fantasy game? Let us count the ways The Witcher 2 is like Game of Thrones: a war is started over a king’s bastard children, you are hunting a kingslayer, magic is rare and those who practice it are not trusted, dragons have appeared for the first time in many years, and it feels like no character is protected by “plot armor.”
But The Witcher 2 is so much more. It forces you to make decisions with no clear or better option. You simply have to assess the situation and decide what you think is best. In that way, it harkens to The Walking Dead (a game I leave off this list simply because of how popular it is). Framed around the choices are more side-quests than you can shake a sword at, dozens of interesting characters, beautiful environments, and more. The combat, largely the most horrible part of the original game, has been totally redesigned and is completely engaging. The moment you set foot into the The Witcher 2, you realize that you have entered a fully realized world and you don’t want to let go until you see as much of that world as possible.
Why play Sleeping Dogs when Grand Theft Auto V is just around the corner? Well, GTAIV was a thematic mess, for one. Sleeping Dogs nails the serious, stressful crime-focused storyline with a gravitas that GTAIV only wished for. It’s clear while playing Sleeping Dogs that the creators have not only seen dozens of Hong Kong crime dramas but that they love them too. There’s a real sense of love present in every element of Sleeping Dogs. From the rain-soaked streets of Hong Kong, beautiful in their reflection of endless neon signage, to the precise and flowing animation when participating in fights, everything in this game is exactly how it needs to be: the music, the arcadey driving controls, the Woo-esque bullet time at key moments, the staggering environmental detail that builds the atmosphere, everything.
Outside of the story, Sleeping Dogs is just a pure joy to play. The amount of options it puts into your hands is commendable and even shadows the mighty Saints Row: The Third. Want to hold your car door open and hit stuff with it while you drive? You can. Want to jump out of/off of vehicles and shoot them in slow motion to make them blow up while you fly through the air? You can. Want to grab random people and stuff them into your trunk to take them for a drive? Go for it. Want to consume a delicious pork bun and 50 cans of energy drink? Sure. Sometimes it can be hard to plan on doing something in Sleeping Dogs because there’s simply so much stuff around to distract you. United Front Games definitely seems to understand how to make an effective open-world game. I think this one is free on PS+ right now, so you really have no excuse for not getting lost in it.
I never played the original SSX games. In fact, I think the last snowboarding game I played was 1080 Snowboarding on the N64. Yikes. Yet, despite being only a little over a year old, I’ve probably put more hours into SSX than any other console game this generation. It pulled me in immediately and still refuses to let go.
While the single player campaign isn’t much to get thrilled about, it’s the Global Events multiplayer system where SSX shines. Basically, events are started and persist for a certain number of hours. You have until that event ends to put in your best time or score or whatever. When it ends, you’re rewarded with credits (in-game currency) respective to your placement on the ladder for the event. It’s addictive, and buying into the high roller events can command your afternoon or evening with ease. But the Global Events are really just one small part of a smart whole. SSX oozes style. The artsy snowboards, the neon-laden outfits, the lights that burst from your character when in special mode—everything is smooth and bright and eye pleasing. Also, it’d be silly to praise SSX without mentioning that it has probably the greatest licensed soundtrack of all time. Every single song it plays fits the game’s sense of speed and style perfectly. What’s even more crazy is that the song is seemingly remixed as you play, its beat altered depending on how fast you’re going, the rotation of your spins, the impact of you landing back on the ground, and more. This is what I mean when I say that everything in this game works together to provide an amazing whole.
Each mountain in SSX is visibly and thematically different. My favorite tracks are on the Himalayas, where a savvy player can find him/herself grinding down the Great Wall. Each character has a unique style and special trick, from the most physics-breaking flips to what seems like breakdancing in the air. Between high-speed races, insanely ridiculous trick contests, and hair-pulling survival runs, SSX provides something for people of all play styles. I know that when I’m sitting inside this summer, avoiding the 110 degree weather, I’ll be playing this game. I know a lot of people seem worried about the next generation consoles, but I only have one request for the coming next generation: please let there be another SSX.