In case you hadn’t noticed, there are rather a lot of video games out there. We reckon you could take a year off work to play as much as you could and still end up meekly admitting defeat to your almighty backlog at the end of it.
We could wax lyrical for hours about the Zeldas, the Red Dead Redemptions and the God of Wars of this world, but not every game can be one of those.
- Vote for the best retro games of all time
Inevitably, countless games come and go without making much of a lasting impact. Sometimes it’s a case of not getting the critical recognition they deserve, or at all. Or perhaps broadly positive press isn’t reflected in sales figures, and we never hear from them again.
Many of these games earn themselves a passionate cult following, but are worthy of a much bigger audience that never turns up. You know what they say: for every Tetris, there’s an Urban Chaos: Riot Response.
Allow us, then, to celebrate 10 of the most underrated games ever, and if you spot one of your favourites in there, give it a vote. And if we've missed an underrated gem then let us know in the comments below...
Underrated video games
1. Batman: Arkham OriginsBuy now from Steam
Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy is rightly regarded as the gold standard of superhero games, but for some reason, the WB Games Montréal-developed prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins, never gets the same kind of love. While it never quite hits the heights of Rocksteady’s efforts at their best, the combat still feels great, the story is compelling and the Christmas Eve setting makes for a memorable Gotham City to explore.
2. Mad MaxBuy now from Steam
There are so many gigantic open-world games competing for our attention it’s no surprise a lot of people either missed or completely ignored the 2015 licensed Mad Max game - but that would be a mistake. It did a great job of capturing the bleak tone of the films, and really nailed vehicular combat in the desert, which made it easy to forgive the slightly bland environments. Luckily, this one is seemingly always on sale, and still worth revisiting in 2023.
3. Scarface: The World is YoursBuy now from Amazon
Released into the world at a time when shameless GTA clones were everywhere, it’s no surprise an open-world Scarface game was dismissed as just another one of those. But it’s better than that. For a start, the premise is great. The game picks up right at the end of the events of the film, but in this narrative remix, Tony Montana manages to escape the climatic assault on his mansion, and it’s up to the player to help rebuild his criminal empire. The soundtrack was on point, and while everything you were doing in this virtual Miami was undeniably GTA-like (and arguably even more violent), Scarface: The World is Yours had enough personality to stand on its own.
4. Immortals Fenyx RisingBuy now from Amazon
Widely dismissed as a Breath of the Wild ripoff at launch (the terrible name didn’t help either), Ubisoft’s colourful open world adventure might not have been particularly original. But it was actually pretty successful as a more humorous take on the well-worn Assassin’s Creed formula. Set on a large island inspired by Greek mythology, you fight deadly monsters, hang out with gods and explore puzzle-filled dungeons. All in all, a really good time.
5. Sunset OverdriveBuy now from Xbox
The California-based developer Insomniac Games has several big-hitting franchises to its name, such as Ratchet & Clank and more recently the Marvel’s Spider-Man games. But the latter owes a lot to one of the studio’s more overlooked titles, the still-exclusive-to-Microsoft Sunset Overdrive. Released when so many games were striving for drab realism, Sunset Overdrive’s vibrantly colourful urban playground, daft humour and kinetic combat made it a left field breath of fresh air on a struggling console. Then the series just kind of vanished. Shame.
6. TinykinBuy now from Nintendo
A 2022 hidden gem that didn’t get nearly enough attention, Tinykin is both a supremely polished and delightful love letter to platformers of the N64 era. It's also a smart riff on Nintendo’s Pikmin series that sees you recruiting an army of little alien creatures to help you solve puzzles in large open levels. That it entirely avoids combat of any kind is refreshing in today’s gaming landscape, and the controls are perfect. Absolutely worth six or seven hours of your time.
7. XIIIBuy now from GOG
The early noughties was an important era for the FPS genre. To make a mark you really had to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes, though, even that wasn’t enough. As a shooter that looked like a comic book come to life, cult classic XIII had a style all of its own, but never did big numbers. It placed you in the cel-shaded shoes of an amnesic man trying to rediscover his identity. He ends up embroiled in a conspiracy involving a ploy to overthrow the government. XIII wasn’t the best shooter ever made, but it had plenty of memorable moments, and still holds up visually now.
8. The Order: 1886Buy now from Amazon
This PS4 exclusive was undoubtedly a graphical showcase for the then still relatively new hardware that hosted it, but critics at the time weren’t all that taken by The Order: 1886. Some of that can be attributed to the game’s short length, but generic gameplay was also a recurring theme. While both of those criticisms have some merit, The Order: 1886’s 19th Century London setting and stunning production values made up for the fairly run-of-the-mill action, and these days many gamers would consider a brief campaign to be a selling point.
9. PsychonautsBuy now from GOG
Psychonauts is an endlessly imaginative PS2-era platformer, in which you play as a boy with psychic abilities who can hop into the minds of others. It was well received by reviewers, but was also possibly a bit too off-kilter for the mainstream, as it didn’t sell well at the time. Psychonauts fans never stopped singing its praises, though, and in 2021 the game finally got a sequel, which addressed the original’s sometimes wonky platforming and served up even more creative level design. Play Psychonauts 2 if you haven’t, but don’t overlook the charmingly weird first entry, even today.
10. Brütal LegendBuy now from Xbox
One of two Double Fine games featured in this list (the other being Psychonauts), Brütal Legend was a singular game that should have been a bigger hit. An action-adventure/real-time strategy mashup with a heavy metal guitarist voiced by a fully committed Jack Black (when is he anything else?) as the memorable lead, it’s still like nothing else out there, but the game's colliding genres made for a slightly awkward game to play on console. Still, more people should have tried.