With the next generation of consoles coming later this year and many of the biggest titles of 2020 like CyberPunk 2077 and Watch Dogs Legion being delayed until the fall, gamers are currently experiencing a bit of a gaming drought.
Of course this makes it the perfect time for gamers to catch up on their swelling backlogs before an avalanche of virtual goodness fills their fall schedule, or perhaps discover a hidden gem they may have missed over the last few years.
It's inevitable that some quality games get overlooked - whether they be smaller scale titles that found a niche audience but went largely ignored by the public, AAA releases that had flaws and were given an unneccessarily bad rap, or games that simply got lost in the crowd, there has been no shortage of surprisingly good and fun titles this generation that never got the recognition they deserved.
As such, a list of the top ten console games from this generation that were criminally underappreciated is assembled below.
10. Agents of Mayhem
Volition/Deep Silver, 2017
A spin-off of the popular Saints Row series, Agents of Mayhem fell flat on its arrival thanks to its overly cartoonish vibe (which unlike Saints Row, this release lacked the personality to pull off successfully) and its rather bland open world. The story is entirely forgettable as are its characters, and the game world, despite being colourful and futuristic-looking, is rather dull.
Despite this, the gameplay itself is a blast; essentially a single-player third-person hero shooter, players can swap between three (of twelve unlockable characters in total) characters on the fly, each with their own abilities and gear.
The weapons are punchy and the action chaotic, making it the gaming equivalent of a blockbuster popcorn flick; it may not have a great story or memorable characters, but it's a good time nonetheless.
The mission design is dated and the side missions are extremely repetitive which is what killed it critically, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is satisfying and addicting - if you like going around and blowing shit up in third-person shooters with whacky weaponry and having tons of enemies to kill, it's well worth a playthrough.
Considering you can get it for around $10 on Amazon (even cheaper during digital sales), if you're in the market for a fun and brainless shoot-em-up you can't go wrong.
Comcept & Armature Studio/Microsoft, 2016
A Microsoft exclusive that was painfully overlooked, ReCore doesn't reinvent the wheel nor is it a masterpiece. It is however plenty of fun and is a polished, unique third-person action/platformer that released at a reduced price given its small development teams.
Despite its lack of a AAA developer, ReCore still manages to pack its world with locations to explore and an addicting gameplay loop. Set in a bleak future, the main character faces off against mechanized enemies that each sport one of three energy types, with her weapons being colour-coded to be effective against the matching energy type.
The rather simple concept is applied not only to the combat but to the various puzzles and platforming sections you'll come across throughout the game, and is a fun mechanic despite its simplicity. There's also tons of hidden secrets and upgrades to find to enhance your abilities and those of your robotic companions, who aid you in battle and in navigating the environment.
The one major gripe comes from the lack of a fast-travel option, which can make returning to previously visited locations quite a trek and gets grating later in the game. It doesn't stop ReCore from being a fun game to sink your teeth into for a few days though and it regularly goes on sale for less than $20.
8. Homefront: The Revolution
Deep Silver, 2016
After THQ's bankruptcy saw the Homefront IP bounce around to different publishers, Deep Silver bought the series and set out to make a reboot/sequel titled Homefront: The Revolution.
With an intriguing setting based in an alternate near-future that sees North America occupied by a technologically advanced North Korea, the series has a ton of potential for deep storytelling and interesting plotlines.
Taking up arms with freedom fighters in Philadelphia, The Revolution lets players modify a variety of weapons on the fly and use plenty of gadgets and guns to their advantage in guerilla warfare against occupation forces in the gritty and damaged streets of Philly.
The game certainly sounds amazing and should have been a hit, but thanks to a ridiculous amount of bugs and technical issues, it was doomed for failure from the moment it launched. Subsequent patches eventually made the game playable and stable enough to enjoy, though technical hiccups still persist and it isn't the best-looking game out there; the core gameplay however is well-done especially if you like your shooters tactical or stealth-based.
The variety of weaponry is satisfying and the gunplay is smooth, with plenty of room to try different tactics to outsmart the (admittedly very stupid) AI opposition. While the setting is cool and interesting, the characters and plot are rather generic, making this the videogame equivalent of an action-packed B-movie.
If dumb AI and a sometimes-confusing navigational system is enough to turn you off of a shooter, then steer clear of Homefront: The Revolution, but if you're willing to put up with some rough edges you'll find a lot to love in this gritty FPS. It may not have been worth its original asking price, but at around $15 it makes for a great budget shooter.
7. Mass Effect: Andromeda
BioWare/EA Games, 2017
Andromeda was a game that became popular to hate on. As no stranger to hating on EA myself, I get many of the reasons why people felt the need to trash the last Mass Effect title. The sad part is that for all its faults, Andromeda is still an extremely fun and likeable game that didn't quite deserve the level of bashing it got.
EA and its since disgraced developer BioWare were rightly crucified for releasing a massive AAA game in a major franchise with extremely shoddy facial and speech animations and a litany of bugs; it was clear that the game needed more time in the oven and was released without the level of polish one would expect from a series as big as Mass Effect.
The game itself however is still surprisingly good - while the story never reaches the spectacular highs of the original trilogy and its characters are far less memorable, it delivers a fun romp around new planets and plenty of familiar alien species (weirdly, there were no new alien races despite the game taking place in another galaxy, which seems like a massive missed opportunity) with tons of new places to explore and conspiracies to uncover.
The combat in Andromeda is perhaps the best in the series - while the framerate can chug along at times, Andromeda injects plenty of mobility into Mass Effect's traditional third-person shooting that complements a bevy of elemental and technological powers and a diverse arsenal of weaponry to discover and upgrade.
Though the somewhat by-the-numbers story and lack of polish certainly hurt it, Andromeda's minute-to-minute gameplay is on par if not superior to the last two entries in the original trilogy.
While it may be controversial to say to some, and it certainly can't hold a candle to the story and world building of the series' first entry, Andromeda is easily a more fun game to play today than the original Mass Effect, which had somewhat clunky and basic combat. Which is all the more reason it's incredibly disappointing that the backlash and resulting dismal sales figures made EA axe Andromeda's planned trilogy and put Mass Effect on the shelf to this day.
6. Mad Max
Avalanche Studios/Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2015
Coming out just months after the phenomenal Mad Max: Fury Road, Avalanche's open-world third-person action game combined a classic take on the iconic character with the slick production values and badassery found in Fury Road.
Taking the timing-based melee combat from the Arkham games and cranking up the brutality to eleven, Mad Max is a delight to play as you smash countless foes with brutal counters and sawed-off shotgun blasts to the face. It's as fun to play on foot as it is to drive the Magnum Opus; your own fully customizable death machine on four wheels.
The vehicular combat is still unrivalled amongst its peers - stellar handling with an intuitive control scheme, plenty of different guns and weapons to use on other drivers, and tons of upgrades to earn and find throughout the vast desert wasteland that will keep you customizing and perfecting your killer ride throughout your 20-40 hour playthrough.
While the game received generally favourable reviews, it lost points based on its rather repetitive quests and somewhat sparse open world. Gamers that did happen to pick it up scored it much higher and many called it the sleeper hit of the year thanks to its thrilling gameplay and intriguing world, but unfortunately it failed to garner much mainstream interest and therefore fans of the excellent Mad Max videogame adaptation are unlikely to see a sequel as a result.
It's been on sale for around $10 at multiple points digitally, or you can pick up a copy on Amazon here. If you liked Mad Max: Fury Road, are a fan of third-person action games or vehicular combat at all, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy and experience Avalanche's excellent take on Mad Max.
5. Ryse: Son of Rome
As a launch title for the Xbox One, Ryse: Son of Rome was clearly meant to showcase the raw power and graphical capabilities of the next generation of Microsoft's home consoles.
On that front, Ryse delivered in spades; developer Crytek had always been known for creating beautiful games (like the Crysis series) and they pushed the new hardware to its limit for their hack n' slasher set in ancient Rome.
To say the game looked great would be an understatement - even today (particularly with enhanced 4K visuals on the One X) Ryse holds up as a beautiful title nearly nine years after its debut. The sound design is likewise superb, and despite the intensive visuals, Ryse managed to be surprisingly well-polished.
What ended up killing the hype for the game was in its visual execution of its combat system - when gamers finally got to see the game in action, it looked like one extended quicktime event (QTE) sequence that offered very little in terms of player freedom.
In reality, the system wasn't nearly as bad as it initially looked - while counter attacks and executions would initiate canned animations, the combat system wasn't far from plenty of other action games like the Batman Arkham entries, it was just poorly conveyed to the players. The developers looked to fix this button prompt system by instead highlighting enemies in different colours (corresponding to the button they should push) to perform those counters and executions.
The result is actually a blast - it may not have quite the free-flowing and diverse combat seen in the afforementioned Arkham games, but it's a fun hack n' slasher with brutal finishers and an unmatched cinematic feel.
As many launch games that put an emphasis on presentation, Ryse's campaign was rather short at roughly 6-8 hours from start to finish, but it packs that time with slick action, beautiful environments, and a surprisingly solid storyline.
In addition, a unique co-op mode set in the coliseum has two players (you can also play solo, which is perfect if you're just picking up the game now) fighting against waves of enemies and completing changing objectives as the arena literally reconfigures itself in real-time between rounds. It's quite a sight to behold and is a ton of fun, especially when playing with a friend as you can execute brutal co-op executions.
Ryse may not be a groundbreaking or revolutionary title, but it is a ton of fun and deserved much more success than it received. Unfortunately a sequel isn't coming but considering the Xbox digital store regularly puts it on sale (with all of its downloadable co-op maps) for under $10, there's really no excuse not to give it a go.
4. Shadow Warrior 2
Flying Wild Hog/Devolver Digital, 2017
In 2013, Polish indie studio Flying Wild Hog (that's legitimately their name) released a shockingly good throwback to old school FPS games. Itself a remake of the 1997 FPS of the same name, Shadow Warrior was a slick and supremely gory shooter that didn't take itself seriously, sporting plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour and one-liners (the main character's name is Lo Wang after all).
It was way better than a low-budget title had any right to be and would be high up on this list itself if it wasn't for its sequel, Shadow Warrior 2. Bigger and better in every way, SW2 completely changed the game's level design and instead turned it into a semi-open world with procedurally generated areas and randomized enemies, featuring plenty of side quests and rewarding exploration.
Gameplay is even smoother and more polished than 2013's reboot, with the added benefit of procedural damage that lets you slice or blow off your foe's limbs and appendages in gleefully gory detail. There are tons of different enemy types to kill, from freakish monstrosities to ninjas and demons; a slew of supernatural abilities and responsive melee combat give you tons of options to pick from when taking them out.
With 70+ weapons available which include a wide assortment of firearms and swords, tons of different abilities and enhancements to earn and upgrade, and heaps of replayability thanks to its procedurally generated system, Shadow Warrior 2 is one of the most fun shooters you can find from start to finish.
Its campaign is also playable in its entirety in co-op with up to four people - the fast-paced and gory combat turns into absolute mayhem with a full squad and you won't find a co-op shooter that's more fun to play.
Though some may find the overly silly dialogue and story to be offputting, the gameplay is superb and for those that want to experience a great shooter that doesn't take itself seriously, it'll have you grinning from ear to ear as you cleave demons in half with your trusty katana.
It may not have the mainstream recognition of its shooter contemporaries, but Shadow Warrior 2 easily holds its own against any of the top singleplayer or co-op FPS experiences around and its polished gameplay will have you wondering why a small budget release has better production values than many major AAA titles.
With its developer stating that the game quadrupled the original's sales and currently sporting three unannounced games in development, it's a good bet we'll see a Shadow Warrior 3 in the near future. Hopefully then the series will get the recognition it deserves.
3. Sunset Overdrive
Insomniac Games/Microsoft, 2014
The Xbox had already firmly solidified itself as the home of shooters and racing games on consoles in the last generation. With the Xbox One, Microsoft attempted at multiple points to establish a foothold in the action/adventure market, most notably with titles like Ryse: Son of Rome and later Quantum Break. Sunset Overdrive, a colourful action game from beloved developer Insomniac, was another one of Microsoft's forays into the genre.
While a certain other console manufacturer can release dismal dreck such as a glorified mail delivery simulator and yet still sell millions of copies and have thousands of fanboys exclaiming their console's domination of the story-driven game market (and this is coming from someone who owns both major consoles), Microsoft can release a bonafide gem like Sunset Overdrive and somehow fail to profit.
Insomniac, creators of revered action platformers like Spyro and Ratchet & Clank, pulled out all the stops for their Xbox One exclusive - a vibrant world filled with easter eggs and pop culture references, incredibly satisfying gameplay mechanics with an unrelenting pace, and gorgeous visuals and sound design to complement the absolute chaos that frequently unfolds as you play.
Set in a dystopian near-future which sees nearly an entire city's inhabitants turn into mutants courtesy of an evil corporation's latest energy drink, Sunset Overdrive has a typically lighthearted narrative that serves as a great excuse to go around the city and blow shit up to your heart's desire.
With a variety of whacky guns and explosives at your disposal, slaughtering waves of mutants never gets old and unlike most modern third-person shooters, cover is a foreign concept in this game.
Instead, constant movement is not only encouraged but essential to survival. It's a good thing then that Insomniac's traversal mechanics make navigating the city an absolute treat; your character can "grind" on telephone wires, railings, edges of buildings, and more like they're on an invisible skateboard, can zipline under those same wires with one hand while their other hand is free to blast away with a weapon, can use tons of different objects to jump off of and propel themselves skyward, and even wall-running makes an appearance.
Combined with the satisfying and hefty array of unique weaponry, the traversal system makes Sunset Overdrive a high-octane thrill ride through a colourful playground of a city.
The missions themselves are also surprisingly varied and plenty of quests veer into parody territory, including a Breaking Bad-inspired quest that involves helping a man named "Jess" with his "cook". There are literally tons of references to movies, TV shows, and other videogames throughout the game world and plenty of fourth-wall breaking moments that further add to the unique and crazy world Insomniac has created.
Although there's sadly no co-op for the main campaign, there is an additional Chaos Squad mode which takes the tower defense-style horde mode found in several singleplayer missions and scales it up for groups of up to eight people to compete in. It certainly lives up to its name; the campaign regularly gets chaotic as it is so adding another seven human players and tons more enemies to the mode turns it into absolute mayhem that's a thrill to experience.
Despite scoring rave reviews from critics and fans alike, the game disappointingly failed to garner much in terms of sales. While some may point to the cartoon-ish style that may have driven away the Xbox's more hardcore shooter crowd, other major releases sporting similarly cartoony looks have been massively successful both before and since so it's hard to pinpoint exactly why such a great game failed to find a larger audience.
Funny enough, Insomniac would go on to create a massively successful PS4 exclusive, Spider-Man, with its incredible web-slinging traversal system borrowing heavily from Sunset Overdrive.
If you have an Xbox and haven't played Sunset Overdrive, you're missing out on an absolute gem and considering its low price, now is the perfect time to see what you've been missing.
2. Titanfall 2
Respawn Entertainment/EA, 2016
It's hard to call a game that reportedly sold around four million copies underappreciated, but considering it's one of the greatest first-person shooters of its generation and yet was completely overshadowed and forgotten about by the majority of gamers within weeks, it definitely deserves a spot on this list.
Created by the co-founders of Infinity Ward (creators of the Call of Duty franchise) after their very public split from the company following the tremendously successful Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Titanfall was an Xbox One exclusive that launched to much fanfare in 2014.
Taking the run-and-gun style of Call of Duty to entirely new levels with oh-so-satisfying thruster-assisted wall-running, wall-jumping, and double jumps, Titanfall was a multiplayer delight especially when paired with its titular Titans - massive mechs players could call in to assist them in battle or pilot themselves to wreak havoc on the battlefield.
The game was supremely polished and silky smooth, providing some of the best competitive multiplayer shooting gaming has to offer - combat was frantic yet balanced, gunplay was slick beyond compare and the mech warfare (as well as the seamless transitions to and from thanks to the mobility of the pilots) was sublime.
The original did have a few drawbacks however - as a multiplayer-focused title, there was no campaign whatsoever and although Respawn tried to inject background story into the matches, there really wasn't much lore or story whatsoever to go along with the superb combat. The amount of content, however great it was, was also a little lacking.
Two years later, Titanfall 2 arrived and addressed those critiques with aplomb.
In one of the most pleasant surprises in recent gaming memory, Titanfall 2 delivered a campaign that went above and beyond expectations. Superb level design in gorgeous and diverse locales, a brilliantly paced and surprisingly deep storyline, flawless gameplay mechanics, silky-smooth performance, and a captivating score with excellent sound design all combined for one of the greatest campaigns in shooter history.
The multiplayer added to the rock solid foundations of the original with more abilities and tools, different gameplay mechanics and modes, and plenty of customization. While some (like myself) may have slightly preferred the simpler approach to the multiplayer warfare found in the original, Titanfall 2 certainly delivered an amazing sequel that deserved to be a smash hit.
The game scored greatly with critics and fans alike, but publisher EA's own stupidity ended up turning Titanfall 2 into a financial underperformer.
For starters, Titanyfall 2 launched on October 28, 2016. Battlefield 1, EA's flagship shooter franchise, released just one week prior, on the 21st. Guess which game got the majority of EA's marketing push?
Respawn's brilliant title was pushed aside by its own publisher as EA looked to compete directly with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (which launched on November 4) for FPS supremacy; ironically, the title EA was largely ignoring was better than both of those games.
Being sandwiched right in the middle of two of the biggest and most established franchises in gaming was essentially publishing malpractice - it was almost as if EA wanted one of their own releases to fail.
Though it maintained a hardcore following, a sequel was effectively put on the backburner thanks to EA, though Respawn has since released two massive hits, both last year: the free-to-play battle royale Apex Legends and the best Star Wars game in years, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Apex Legends is particularly of note given that Respawn developed the multiplayer hit using mostly assets from Titanfall, including many of its weapons and abilities. So in a way, Titanfall 2 did become a major hit even if only in the form of a standalone, free-to-play offshoot.
1. Quantum Break
Remedy Entertainment/Microsoft, 2016
An incredibly ambitious title from the master world-builders at Remedy Entertainment (creators of Max Payne, Alan Wake, and more recently the exceptional Control), Quantum Break took Remedy's ambitions of blending movie/television production values in regards to storytelling with brilliant and tactile gameplay to the next level.
Rather than simply applying cinematic qualities to the game, Remedy instead chose to blend their third-person action game with a proper live-action TV show. Before you groan at the thought of a poorly made TV series dragging down an otherwise good game, Quantum Break utilized a proper television production studio with an impressive budget and plenty of capable actors, including Shawn Ashmore, Aidan Gillen, Dominic Monaghan, Lance Reddick, and future Control star Courtney Hope.
The result of Remedy's (and Microsoft's given they published the title as an Xbox One exclusive) gamble was something not only unique but quite remarkable - Remedy managed to seamlessly integrate a smooth and satisfying action platformer with a slickly produced and engaging TV show.
Giving players advanced time manipulation powers thanks to a failed time machine experiment that sets off an apocalyptic series of events, Quantum Break is a story-driven action game with satisfying shooting mechanics, plenty of powerful and awesome time powers like the ability to suspend an enemy in a time bubble or reverse damage to an object, and a richly detailed universe with tons of backstory and character.
Remedy even manages to make the chore of finding collectables fun again thanks to its compelling plot and complex characters, no small feat in the age of tiresome note collecting.
Some of the time-manipulating setpieces are truly jaw-dropping (like one section that sees a ship crash through a bridge, only for time to stop and proceed to "warp" back and forth in sections as the ship and bridge is in the middle of being torn apart) and with 4K enhancements on the Xbox One X, it still holds up as one of the best-looking games out there.
Luckily you can choose whether or not to download the 4K versions of the episodes as they are ridiculously large files, so make room on your hard drive if you are dead set on experiencing the entire game in 4K.
With an emphasis on player choice, the roughly twenty-minute episodes (that are smoothly transitioned to as players progress) vary greatly based on player's decisions preceeding the episode, as does the story told entirely within the game itself. As such, its roughly 10-15 hour length is effectively doubled as it is more than worth at least second playthrough to see how much different things can unfold when other choices are made - many scenes and story beats change quite drastically depending on your decisions.
The game is truly a sci-fi fan's dream and features some of the best world-building you'll find in any medium. If you liked 2019's Game of the Year then you'll love Quantum Break; not only does Control borrow much of the mechanics and style of Remedy's prior game, but it also sports a similar tone and Remedy's unique sci-fi feel.
It's a blast to play and an experience every gamer should seek out; if you have an Xbox One you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy and experience Remedy's overlooked masterpiece for yourself.