Let's face it, games that get the media get the sales. It's undeniable. What about those games that only get mild attention, or virtually none at all? Many would argue that if the game doesn't have the budget for mass advertising, it's not any good. There are some real gems to be found among all these relatively unknown games, however. Mild spoilers ahead.

A spin-off of the Fallout RPGs (see number 7), that really can’t be grouped together with them because of how different it is. Fallout Tactics is a tactical combat game that makes use of the Fallout series’ experience and skill system. While in the RPGS, you need to have a character who can do a little of everything, regardless of how you focus them in your build, in Fallout Tactics, all they need to be good at is killing stuff. You manuever up to six squad members through missions that range from 30 minute kill-fests to 1 hour or longer investigations that usually turn into kill-fests by the finish. While the missions are long, there are also a lot of them, for a 30+ hour game, not counting any time you spend roaming about doing random encounters and hunting for secrets. You can also choose whether to play the game in real time (RTS) combat, or turn-based combat, which usually becomes a bit more focused on strategy than the real time. With over 100 real world weapons and science fiction possibilities, you’re never short on armaments for your squad, which can be built from a pool of 40+ recruits, including even Super Mutants and the deadly Deathclaws. While not likely to garner many replays, due to the repetitive “find this and kill everything that tries to stop you” missions, it is still worth a look, and if you can find someone to play online multiplayer with you, it can cause a great deal of interesting and challenging matches.

Don’t like the Sims? This game offers you the chance to scare the living snot out of them, and laugh as they run screaming into walls and each other from the antics of your ghosts. In this game, your goal is the scare every mortal presence from the maps, which are usually one building but are sometimes more, through the use of ghosts called haunters, whom you control their placement and what scares they use. Mortals are all unique in their appearances and fears, so using the right scare with the right ghost offers a much better result on a particular mortal than an all out “eat this!” screamfest. No real plot to speak of, but the game is fun and an interesting diversion to say the least of it. Name another game that lets you control a headless horseman, anyway.

The Sims in space. Combined with the Tycoon games and Starcraft. I kid you not. Space colony revolves around three aspects. The first aspect is resources. Whether mining, growing, or harvesting, you get those resources and sell them to make cash. The second aspect is the people. You’ll meet plenty of characters throughout the game, each with a unique personality and interests, and will need to build your colony to meet their needs and wants to keep their Sims-style happiness meters full, as they are your workers who gather your resources. In a particularly large base with ten or more of them, you can get lost for hours in this game just having fun with the characters. The final aspect is combat, which can be as basic as setting up auto defense lasers to keep out those annoying space wasps, or as complex as building defense posts, robot commandos for raiding attacks, and a nuclear missile to wipe the enemy base from the map once you find it. One great aspect is the free build mode, where you can choose a planet with the conditions you want to build on. Planets in free build range from easy, comfortable planets, to mean little alien infested worlds that force you to earn every inch your base is built upon.

An RPG set in a post apocalyptic future with strategy oriented turn-based combat, Fallout is both a serious look at mankind and the world as a whole, and a parody of many other RPGs, with so many pulp-fiction references and jokes that you definitely won’t see them all on the first play. Fallout and its sequel play as a point and click adventure, and make use of a skill system which allows you to level up your character as you see fit. You can make a nigh unstoppable juggernaut who can swing a minigun around like a pistol, or try a diplomat and talk your way out of most situations, or even create a sniper who can kill well before his foes even see him. You are also given free choice of whether you want to be a hero or a villain based on your decisions and actions in-game, though the sequel does this much better, while the original practically forces you into the “hero” role. The sequel also departs a great deal from the seriousness of the original, going for even more humor in most situations, though by the climax you are given an in-depth look at a very possible future for the American government, and the “patriotism” that got it there.

This game was lost amidst the flood of other incredible games that came out at about the same time, including Shadow of the Colossus and God of War. 3D brawlers are not considered a terribly good genre in the first place, with a few notable exceptions, and some, like Spartan, simply aren’t noticed by the main crowd, while the good old 2D brawlers like Viewtiful Joe draw huge numbers of fans. Spartan is designed around army-based combat, like Dynasty Warriors and Mystic Heroes, but follows a very different vein. Rather than follow history, or even an existing legend, Spartan is an all new tale of the Roman Empire invading Greece, and the super-man who would single-handedly lead Sparta to victory. Unlike many of these mass-combat games, your allies are actually quite intelligent, and do meaningful amounts of damage to enemies. You must still carry the tide of battle, however, as you are often heavily outnumbered, and sometimes face an enemy or two that your allies have no chance against. One great example would be when you face off against a minotaur, with numbers of enemies and allies all about, and you get to practically ignore your enemies and fight the massive beast, huge numbers of soldiers getting blasted about as they are caught in the crossfire. Spartan also avoids the tactic of removing characters that are out of sight or inactive from the field that some brawlers use, which can cause them to reappear at inconvenient times, by a lower quality of graphics than most games have, but it allows more than 300 characters to be active at once. Those kinds of numbers are a worthwhile sacrifice for uninterrupted bashing of enemies such as Crassus, the Hydra, and even an undead dragon.

When you think RTS, you think Warcraft, or Command and Conquer, or one of other the innumerable series that force you to gather resources, build an army, and wipe out your foe, correct? Stronghold, unlike most other RTSs, is a defensive oriented game, focusing on building your castle, manning its walls, and preventing the waves of enemy forces from taking it. Stronghold also focuses on resources more than most others. Your men need to be fed, so you need farmers, and will need weapons and armor, so you need fletchers, blacksmiths, and pole turners. Those workers will need supplies, so you need miners and woodcutters. You will also need men to be trained as soldiers. No soldiers appearing out of thin air here! The attention to detail can throw some players off, but after some practice, it becomes second nature what it takes to get your castle off the ground, and will have a self-supporting stronghold with a growing army in just a few minutes. The expansion adds deathmatches, allowing you to face off against one or more foes on the same map, and whoever destroys the opponent’s stronghold first wins, so the classic gameplay is not forgotten. The incredible detail does not hinder the game in full swing, though. Most RTS games also cap your army at so many units, usually around 100, but Stronghold seems to have no strict limit unless you are playing with four or more players. It is truly an amazing sight to see your 800 strong army face off against an enemy of equal size.

Baldur's Gate was a masterpiece for the PC, as anyone who has played it can tell you. Icewind Dale could be called a tactical combat version of Baldur's Gate, like Fallout Tactics is a tactical combat version of Fallout, as it uses the same gameplay engine and Dungeons and Dragons based experience and combat system, but that would be doing it an injustice. Icewind Dale allows you to create a party of adventures from scratch, from many races such as humans, elves, dwaves, and more, and you can set them up as fighters, mages, paladins, thieves, or many others, and can even choose from nine seperate alignments of good, evil, and nuetrality. While the game lacks the depth of character development that Baldur's Gate possessed, the plot is incredibly well told and devoloped, with even a twist right at the end that you will not see coming. You often face larger groups of enemies than Baldur's Gate ever showed, and the bosses abandon BG's newb friendly approach, making even the first major conflict a knuckle biting challenge. As you get further into the game, you will also see remarkably well designed monsters such as dragons and giants, and when you first enter the dwarven fortress near the end, the view is breathtaking. An excellent RTS RPG, worth a look for RPG fans or strategy lovers.

When people think of the Survival Horror genre, games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill are the first that spring to mind. Haunting Ground is a different form of Survival Horror, with the emphasis on survival and horror. The player assumes the role of a young girl named Fiona who wakes up naked in a cage in a slaughterhouse with no idea how she arrived. She escapes and finds herself in a large castle, apparently owned by her family at some time, and begins to have memory flashes of the car crash she was in that killed her parents. Then she meets the gardener of the estate, large man with the mind of a child who seems to think Fiona is a life size dolly. Then the nightmare truly begins. Armed with only her wits, Fiona must evade her pursuer and escape the castle, aided by a friendly dog named Hewie who can sniff out useful items and attack Fiona’s pursuer to buy her time to hide. As the game progresses, the characters become remarkably well developed, as you see the change in your pursuer from the innocent child-like interest in Fiona to a full-blown psychotic sex-drive, and you even move on to other foes even more intent on killing Fiona, including an emotionless, murderous maid, and a mad-man trying to create the ultimate being from the innate uniqueness Fiona possesses. This is the first horror game that one can consider truly scary in some time.

While not terribly unknown, Killer 7 is often overlooked because of its odd control scheme and cel-shaded graphics style. What can certainly be said about it, however, is that it is different from any other game you have ever played. Killer 7 makes a deep examination of the human psyche, coupled with an exciting story set in a improbable near future, and uses of supernatural elements to create a world like we’ve never seen. What starts as a simple assassination mission for the elite assassin group, the Killer 7, turns into a run-in with an old enemy, and evolves into a plot that threatens the very stability of the world, and the lives hundreds of millions of people, all occurring whilst the lead character, Garcian Smith, struggles with clues to his unknown past, and the fate of the Smith Alliance years ago, and his own thin grasp on his sanity. And when the truth comes out, it’s like nothing he ever imagined.

A virtually unknown game outside the Infinity Engine cults of fans, Torment is from the designers of classics like Fallout and Baldur’s Gate, and more modern games like Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2. It is held in high regard to this day as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, RPGs ever made. Torment puts the player into the role of a being known as the Nameless One, who awakens on in the Mortuary, the home of the Dustmen, a cult that worships death. With the aid of a talking skull named Morte, he escapes into the city, following small clues he left to himself before his memory was lost, in hopes of finding the truth of who he is, and why for some reason he cannot die. More people begin to gather around him, tormented souls who are drawn to the Nameless One’s pain, and join in an adventure that spans multiple parallel universes, including the city of Sigil at the center of the multiverse, Carceri the prison plane, and even into the depths of the nine hells themselves. What truly sets Torment apart from so many other RPGs, is that the Nameless One is not out to save the world. His quest for his memory is much more personal, and though it affects the people around him, in the end, he is only seeking for himself. Or is he? The open ended style of game play allows the player to turn the Nameless One into a hero or a villain at their own discretion, and whether he is calm and reasonable, or a comedian and unpredictable in his behavior, making for very different experiences on replays. The story itself is very deep and requires multiple plays to truly grasp the depth of the examinations of the human soul, and yet can be perfectly summarized in one question. “What can change the nature of a man?”

Many of these games were made not with profit in mind, but with the desire to create something fun to play. In the age of insane graphics and gigantic weapons, most of them are left behind. If you can get over two dimensional graphics for most, or odd control schemes in others, or the fact that you play a wimpy girl instead of a larger-than-life hero in yet another, you might want to take a look. You won't be disappointed.

List by Freedan the Eternal (02/20/2007)

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