The most underrated games of 2008

Some of these games were overlooked by the buying public, while others were unfairly dismissed by critics. Some were overshadowed by a rival in the same genre. Whatever the reason, they all share one thing in common -- they should have been bigger hits!

  • 2008 was unquestionably a bumper year for gaming. From the cultural phenomenon of Grand Theft Auto IV to the cinematic luxury of the latest Metal Gear Solid, the number of high-profile releases was truly staggering. It is therefore unsurprising that a few games managed to slip through the cracks. Some of these games were overlooked by the buying public, while others were unfairly dismissed by critics. Some were overshadowed by a rival in the same genre. Whatever the reason, they all share one thing in common — they should have been bigger hits!

    We highlight the year’s most underrated games across all formats. In addition to presenting our case for each game, we have also included buying information and links to the original reviews (including the occasions when we got it wrong). If this year’s Triple A titles left you with a slight hollow feeling, read on to discover what you should have been playing.

  • Mercenaries 2: World in Flames (Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PC)

    Mercenaries 2: World in Flames was the other free-roaming action game of 2008. Rudely sandwiched between high-profile releases from Rockstar and THQ, it was unfairly dismissed by most critics as a Venezuela-based GTA-knockoff. Even an ill-advised publicity stunt involving free petrol failed to generate the game much notice. Simply put, the sandbox delights offered by Grand Theft Auto IV and Saint’s Row 2 were more than enough for most gamers — a third trip to the playground was just overkill.

    More’s the pity, because Mercenaries 2 is one of the best sandbox titles we’ve ever played and an easy contender for the most underrated — and destructive — game of the year. To our knowledge, no other game in this genre allows you to raze the entire cityscape to the ground: not a single skyscraper is impervious to punishment, no matter how huge. (By contrast, even the smallest apartment block in GTA IV refuses to crumble.) To put it bluntly, Mercenaries 2 is a pyromaniac’s wet dream.

    We also liked the believable sense of escalating anarchy as the world’s powers converged upon the war-torn country. Despite the cheesy cut-scenes, the game world truly felt authentic, with the panicked populace fleeing in droves as the smoke and chaos rise. In fact, we’re even willing to overlook the game’s terrible packaging, which features some of the worst video game art we’ve ever seen (well, apart from this guy).

  • Mercenaries 2: World in Flames can currently be snapped up for around $70 from most game stores — a saving of $30 compared to the original RRP. Click here to read our original review.
  • Mirror’s Edge (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

    Mirror’s Edge was probably the most original full-price release of 2008. In a sea of generic rip-offs and samey sequels, its high concept gameplay really stood out from the crowd. The game combines an Aeon Flux-esque storyline with Prince of Persia–style platform acrobatics — all packaged in a unique first-person perspective with some of the most stunning visuals you’ll ever see. As futuristic courier Faith it is your mission to deliver mystery packages across the dystopian city landscape, which basically involves leaping across lots of rooftops. (Think Run Lola Run crossed with the free-motion sport parkour and you’re halfway there.)

    Tragically, few people seemed to understand what EA was aiming for. Some critics derided the game for its trial-and-error progression, while others dismissed it as a noble failure. Personally, we loved the game to bits: not just for its originality, but for its striking design and free-flowing gameplay. If you ever needed proof that innovation still exists in the videogames industry, look no further than Mirror’s Edge. (And if you’re wondering why it doesn’t exist more, look no further than your own reflection.)

  • A shiny new copy of Mirror’s Edge will currently cost you around $80 from most retail stores. Click here to read our original review.
  • The Club (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

    There was a time when action arcade games were all about the action. To have fun, all you needed were some enemies to shoot at and a scoreboard to beat. The Club, released by Sega, was a valiant attempt to return to these arcade gaming roots. It removed the pointless window-dressing that bogs down most action titles and polished what was left to a killer sheen. The result is a third-person shooter stripped down to its barest essentials: men trying to kill each other in big rooms.

    There are no hammy cut scenes or tacked-on stealth missions to wade through here: The Club is all about running-and-gunning from start to finish. With an emphasis on scoring kills as quickly and dramatically as possible, it was the ultimate way to get a quick adrenalin fix. Packed with multiple game modes, assorted firepower and hours of online longevity, it was easily one of the best action titles of the year. The fact it was overlooked is almost criminal. If you prefer simplistic thrills over plodding storylines, The Club will definitely not disappoint. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!

  • You can buy a brand new copy of The Club for as little as $25, which is insanely good value for money. Click here to read our original review.
  • Castle Crashers (Xbox 360)

    While Jonathan Blow’s Braid scooped most of the year’s industry awards, it was actually a nother Xbox Live Arcade game that won our hearts. We’re talking, of course, about Castle Crashers. With its cutesy wee graphics and trite storyline, Castle Crashers didn’t look like much at first glance — especially to hardcore gamers. But get four mates together (preferably with some beers) and the 2-D side-scrolling action swiftly became hugely addictive.

    The game plays out like a super-deformed version of Golden Axe, with your quartet of knights hacking their way through an endless onslaught of barbarians and evil-doers. The juxtaposition of cartoony graphics and brutal dismemberment was certainly worth a giggle, especially for fans of Happy Tree Friends. The game is also surprisingly deep, with the ability to tweak character attributes and gain experience points adding a dash of RPG strategy to proceedings.

    While Castle Crashers isn’t exactly ‘underrated’ (it has averaged 82 per cent on, we feel it was worth including due to the thunder-stealing existence of Braid. If you only buy one XBLA game this Christmas, make it this one.

  • Castle Crashers can be downloaded over Xbox Live Marketplace for 1200 points (around $15).
  • Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

    Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway was destined to become a casualty of war from the very beginning. Released a few months before Activision’s much-hyped Call of Duty: World at War to an audience that was largely fed up with WWII action games, it was never going to be the huge success Ubisoft was hoping for.

    Thing is, it’s actually a better game than its Activision rival. Although the online component is slightly under par, the single-player campaign more than makes up for it. The poignant story takes place under gorgeous sunlit scenery that contrasts with the desolation around you. With smoke, dirt and blood soaring copiously through the air, it's easy to become completely engrossed — and chilled — by the experience. The plot is far superior to Call of Duty: World at War: it plays out like a mature action thriller, with a genuine attempt to convey the psychological hardships of war (indeed, a tie-in novel was published the game’s historical director). The assorted missions on offer also attempt to serve up something different, with the green-tinged hospital shoot-out being one of the many highlights.

  • With a current RRP of $69.95, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway is now around $30 cheaper than its original asking price. Click here to read our original review.
  • Sega Superstar Tennis (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS)

    Sega Superstar Tennis is a lot better than you’d think. Essentially Virtua Tennis in a cuddly Sega-ised skin, it contained more tactical depth and complexity than a cartoon tennis game has any right to. And yet, it’s the type of game that anyone can pick up and play instantly: from grubby-fingered tots to geriatric granddads. Like any good party game, there is a cavalcade of different tasks, modes and mini-games on offer, including fun-filed missions based on Sega classics. Part of the fun comes from unlocking new goodies, with additional courts, stages and characters waiting to be discovered.

    You don’t have to be a Sega fan to enjoy Sega Superstar Tennis... but it sure does help. From the assorted game-tribute missions to the familiar courtside spectators, there’s always something cropping up to bring a smile to a former Mega Drive owner’s face. It’s baffling that the game averaged an underwhelming 68 per cent across all formats (a score we must sheepishly admit to contributing to). On the plus side, the game’s low sales means you can now pick it up dirt-cheap!

  • Sega Superstar Tennis can currently be picked up for the bargain-basement price of $24.95, making it the ideal sticking-stuffer this Christmas. Click here to read our original review.
  • Midnight Club LA (PS3, Xbox 360)

    As the Need for Speed series stumbles from one car wreck to the next (Need for Speed Undercover anyone?), Rockstar’s rival racing franchise has continued to speed past the competition. Midnight Club LA is unquestionably the most exhilarating ride yet, with more substance beneath the hood than almost any other racer.

    The game managed to achieve a great balance between arcade-style racing and car customisation, ensuring you always had something interesting to do. Using the same RAGE engine as GTA IV, the game’s sprawling cityscape was truly awe-inspiring, with the believable weather effects adding some real-time strategy to the races. In addition, the lack of loading screens made for a pleasantly streamlined experience, and the cars themselves all handled perfectly. With online support for up to 16 players, fresh downloadable content and a 68 song tracklist, Midnight Club LA definitely fired on all cylinders. It certainly deserved to score higher than the 70s and 80s it received from most games journalists, which makes it a worthy candidate for our list.

  • You can drive Midnight Club LA out of your local dealer now for under $80; that’s a saving of 30 bucks. Click here to read our original review.
  • Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise

    After the truly risible Microsoft Viva Pinata: Party Animals, Trouble in Paradise was all too easy to dismiss as another soulless Pinata cash-in. It seemed that developer Rare was determined to bleed the original game’s reputation dry, with plush toys, animated TV shows and actual piñatas shoved down jaded shoppers' throats. Thankfully, it turns out that this 2008 sequel was just as endearing and fun as the first game — not that many people bothered to notice.

    Trouble in Paradise once again charged you with micro-managing a garden filled with adorably sweet (and sweet-filled) Mexican toys. With more than 100 different piñatas to interact with — including 30 brand new species — the game was even more complex than its madcap predecessor. The introduction of tangible goals leant the game an addictive edge missing from the first game. Consequently, it felt less like a twee gardening experiment and more like a proper video game.

    Despite scoring fairly well amongst critics, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise failed to register on most gamers’ radars. We guess you were all too busy blowing off Locusts' heads in Gears of War 2 or something. For shame.

  • You can currently purchase Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise for around $70. Click here to read our original review.
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