3 Underdogs That Were Better Than Their Big-Franchise Rivals

by Simon Kobic


Sometimes you watch a great movie or read a great book and none of your friends have ever heard of it. Weird thoughts start pouring into your head. Is it just me? Am I weird? How could it be possible that no one has ever heard of this? Is society so shallow that it only consumes what’s popular on the market, or are so many of the great things in the world bound to remain undiscovered? Well it’s the same with video games. And there are some examples where amazing creativity, brilliant concepts, or beautiful storytelling led to a fantastic adventure that many people missed out on. Instead they blindly followed their big-franchise counterparts without looking at the competition.

Here are some of my personal favourites. If you are familiar with any one of them, you’re in luck. If not then I recommend you have a look at it. Give it a shot. You might just love it. Like I did…

Killing Floor

When in 2008 Left 4 Dead was released it was THE game to play if you enjoyed blowing up zombie’s faces. It had high value production and it was well received by the community of gamers. It supposedly captured (and I quote) “the tension and the action of a Hollywood zombie movie”.

So when a year later a small company by the name of Tripwire Interactive released their title, Killing Floor, not many people managed to hear of it. Why? The game was developed for the price of a Tesco’s lunch, it didn’t receive massive ad campaigns and it certainly didn’t look the part.

In fact it was (and still is) glitchy, ugly looking and foremost has the most annoying stereotypical British voice acting ever done in Video Games. There is no plot, no cinematics and comparing it to L4D is like comparing the RITZ Hotel to camping inside a tent on the top of Mount Everest.

And the bad news doesn’t stop here. Even the smallest of things look and feel unpolished. From how you navigate the menus, to server browsing… I could keep going on and on, but you probably would stop reading.

So why is Killing Floor on this list? You see, sometimes when you’re tired of “Hollywood cinema” and all its glory and explosions, you sometimes switch to watch European cinematography, much rawer and truer in its form. And it’s the same story with Killing Floor.
Killing Floor is not the RITZ, it never will be. It doesn’t try to be. What it is though is a raw gaming experience; it really does feel like going camping. You’re covered in mud, it’s dirty and wet. You hate it, but something draws you into it. You rather take the bath in a cold river than a sauna in an expensive hotel.

That is because small things can also be enjoyed and Killing Floor delivers in this department. In many years of my personal experience with games, it would be hard to name any other game that gives you so much satisfaction when you blow a zombie’s head off – when you do, the slow motion kicks in and you follow up with another headshot and hear the satisfactory sound of another head blowing up. Or when you chop off an enemy’s limbs and dodge fireballs shot at you in slow mo.

With so many ways you can play this game, from being able to choose one of the seven classes and having the level up-experience based system, to a huge variety of interesting and innovative weapons like the fireball gun, crossbow, katana, magnums, shotguns, rifles and so on, along with tons of official and unofficial maps on different difficulty settings, this game guarantees you can soak hundreds of hours into it EASILY.

The community is great at providing interesting content. The publisher itself releases free updates a few times a year, keeping it fresh. It’s not an easy game though, make no mistake. You will die and die, and swear, but once you get the hang of it you’ll love it. You will build up a friends list of people to play with (this being a cooperative game) and you will be hunting to unlock every achievement there is to get.

So if you can for a moment just get past the initial flaws, and overlook the unpolished nature of the game you will enjoy this.
And do you know what the best part of it is? It’s all for just £15… a third of the normal price you pay for a new game.

Dragon’s Dogma

This choice might come with a little controversy. Dragon’s Dogma was released earlier this year, making it a fairly well established new IP. Capcom revealed that their sales for this game reached over 1 million copies. That’s a good result for a new game, right? Especially given how difficult the situation is with pushing new brands in the gaming industry (or any other industry for that matter).

But is it really good? Not so long ago we saw a release of a major title by the name of SKYRIM. Now, when Skyrim was announced everyone was wetting themselves in excitement of what’s to come. I am mentioning this because Dragon’s Dogma is often compared to its “older brother”, Skyrim. Both are open world RPG’s with an emphasis on side questing and world exploration.

The difference is that Skyrim is part of the well known and loved Elder Scrolls franchise; one that’s been with us for some time now and it definitely has its support from the gaming community. Chances are if you say anything bad about it you will get knocked down in a fire of heavy criticism. But that’s not the point here.

I wanted to bring up the subject of Dragon’s Dogma because it is an RPG that was just as great, but didn’t receive the same treatment. I remember comments from developers that said Capcom was expecting sales to reach 10 million units. That sounded like an overstatement, and in fact, it was. So how is it that the end result was just a TENTH of what is should be?

For one, it’s extremely hard to sell anything in tens of millions unless you wear a badge with “CoD” initials on it. The second thing is, Dragon’s Dogma wasn’t good enough to sell that much. Throughout the game you get the feeling that lots of content was taken out or not finished properly. Some concepts felt like just that – concepts, not tested and polished enough. But despite that, it still managed to be one of the best RPG’s this generation I have seen and one that could easily take on Skyrim.

It didn’t have its “fast travel system”, and some of the quests were probably put together during tea break time. Technical problems were bit of an annoyance. Occasional freezes and frame rate drops felt very much unlike Capcom.

However, it’s still a game that offers so much content with tons of side quests. Great main plot and who cares if dragons played a major part in it? Skyrim wasn’t the first to introduce that and won’t be the last. Although, if it was APPLE behind The Elder Scrolls, we probably would have seen them pulling out another law suit against Capcom.

What has really been captured in Dragon’s Dogma is a sense of integrity. You’re left to wonder a big open world, but you don’t feel lost in it. The main plot manages to stay on top, and side questing doesn’t become an annoyance but merely supports the main story. The visuals are great too, with a nice mixture of a European medieval style and a Japanese take on it. The combat stays engaging from start to end. Character building and gear collecting is rewarding and satisfying. There is a set of interesting and memorable characters and the game takes a step forward in the music department.

Dragon’s Dogma is a gaming gem because it is a brave step forward in open world RPG’s, but because it experiments with ideas and stays in the shadow of its big brother it didn’t get the attention and sales it definitely deserved.

If you take the risk and pick up Dragon’s Dogma, you will finish it from start to end in one go. It is a solid game, and it is also overwhelming – not because you feel lost in its ocean of content, but because despite everything that the game tries it all comes together in the end and it’s hell of a journey.

Gothic 1

When it comes to Role Playing Games, especially those ones which emphasise open world structures, we tend to look at a few particular franchises or IP’s. Without naming any of them, it is the general rule that we tend to set standards by which any other games are judged. Now here is an interesting fact: Just like the iPhone wasn’t the first phone (which might be hard to believe), these games weren’t the first to experiment with the idea of an open world and a less linear approach to gameplay.

There are a few titles that come into my head. There is the famous Ultima series, the Might and Magic series and half a dozen games from late 80’s and early 90’s with the likes of Ishar, Dungeon Master, or Eye of the Beholder (although you could question the “open-ness” here).

And then there is Gothic 1. It is in its own category – in its own league, if you like. The reason behind that is because it sets out to do what has never been truly done, and succeeds. Creating a believable and fully interactive world, all realised with outstanding visuals and what has to be one of the greatest and most fitting gaming soundtracks ever.

So what is Gothic 1 all about? You’re a sentenced prisoner who’s being thrown into an area covered in a magical barrier to prevent escape and you have to live the rest of your life there without any hope of ever getting out. That area is a host to 3 different camps and every person living there is also a sentenced prisoner, so you’re not getting a warm welcoming party.

Instead you’re being thrown into an unforgiving world, where if you make any mistake you will pay for it – with your life, most likely. And don’t expect much help – Survival and hierarchy are the main themes here.

The world you’re now a part of is also home to a few dozen hostile creatures and orcs – not to mention a “cold war” between all the three camps. You being a new guy doesn’t make your life any easier. You will start with nothing and will have to build yourself up into a powerful warrior able to take on any danger, and you will have to find some unlikely allies to aid you.

What really shines about Gothic is how everything comes together. Every decision the developing team made fits right in. From the fact that you’re in an open world, not limited by invisible walls to further explore but instead the magical barrier which helps to emphasis the struggle of your will to get out, to how NPC’s treat you – the pacing of the story, the battle system and the music highlights all of that. Your decisions impact your surroundings, you will feel the bond you have with the few people who will join your cause. You will see how along with the story, everything else develops.

And part of the magic of Gothic 1 was how despite the graphical limitations of PC’s in the year 2001, you could feel the world you were in. When you find yourself in the swamp camp, you could almost sense the dirt and weed smoke – the atmosphere was always top notch. That is unfound in today’s games.

Gothic wasn’t without its errors, however. Some technical issues, chunky controls, unpolished gameplay, dreadful localisation and voice acting – but you just didn’t care. It really was a simple concept, but one with so much depth to it. It simply had soul.
It was one of the greatest RPG’s and what makes it even more special is how it was all accomplished so many years back. Looking at it now and seeing today’s market feels like a step backwards. Gothic 1 set up standards that most won’t be ever able to achieve. It really is the Nokia 3300 of Video Games. Go and learn, Apple.

It is a shame that with such a great creation, success didn’t follow as it should and the franchise spawned sequels that tainted its name. There may be never another Gothic.

Those are but just a few of many. If you have your own personal gaming gems you’d like to share, feel free to contribute. Sometimes it’s word of mouth that helps spread the good news.

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