God of War, Gran Turismo, Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption, Mario Galaxy—2010 had a lot of really big titles, inevitably leaving some of the smaller games released overshadowed, swept under the rug or just forgotten about. Here's a look at a few worthwhile games you didn't play that you probably should.
1. Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage (PS3, Xbox 360)
Though starting out a list like this with a game like Ken's Rage may seem somewhat questionable, there's an allure to this game that is hard to deny. With a feel that's slightly like God Hand (but far, far worse), Ken's Rage throws you into a bunch of near-identical, great-looking-yet-sparse Mad Max-style environs with a horde of bike punks and other freaks and tells you to get…exploding. Yes, in Ken's Rage, you're armed with all of four moves in protagonist Kenshiro's decidedly limited repertoire, whose end result is the bodily explosion of your enemies. As you might imagine, this is as entertaining as the Dreamcast's Sword of the Beserk. And about as fun. (There's also a crappy heavy metal soundtrack.) In short, Ken's Rage is a terrible game. And because it's that bad, it's actually kind of good.
2. Nier (PS3, Xbox 360)
Nier is a game that virtually no one gave any chance. And makes sense if you play the beginning: it opens in a semi-typical post-apocalyptic future wasteland, after which you're ripped away from desolation and into the somewhat primitive workings (it feels a bit like medieval times) of an obliterated world picking up the pieces. Playing as the brutish, titular Nier, an aged, single father taking care of his sick daughter, the game initially feels falls into the set patterns of a typical action-JRPG. However, once you get past the first few hours of the game, Nier starts to throw curve balls: not only are the developers completely of the kinds of tropes that litter JRPGs (a subject of frequent poking fun in the narrative and design) but it soon becomes clear that Nier's disparate cast of characters is hardly the set of stereotypes usually associated with typical contemporary Japanese games. Without giving too much away, gameplay follows suit, resulting several highly unique hybrids designs that make this much more than just a run-of-the-mill RPG.
3. Alpha Protocol (PS3, Xbox 360)
Say what you want about Alpha Protocol's buggy combat, questionable action mechanics and downright goofy stealth (certain abilities basically make you completely invisible even in well-lit areas until you raise a firearm); Obsidian was on to something with the way it handled their Mass Effect-esque dialogue system, interpersonal relationships among characters and consequences of behavior. Rather than just doing a sloppy cut-and-paste job with ethics-based conversation trees, Alpha Protocol let players choose exactly how you wanted to interact with any given character, whether that meant being a by-the-book straight man, a cocky 007-type, a smartass and so on. The genius of Obsidian's design here lay in that the game let you choose the tone of your responses, but not the actual response itself—essentially you never quite knew what your character would say. Given that every character, from agency contacts to arms smugglers, had a certain personality or demeanor, you were taking a calculated risk every time you talked to someone, and if you screwed up, it could change how that character felt about you, how much they trust you, and most importantly what information they might be willing to share. The pièce de résistance? If you didn't pick a response in the approximate five-second window Obsidian provided, the resultant flat or mechanical answer would usually have unfavorable consequences. The social system alone is worth giving this one a look.
4. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days (PS3, Xbox 360)
When Kane & Lynch 2 came out over the summer, it got a lot of flack for being an a run-of-the-mill third-person cover shooter. What gamers and reviewers alike both seemed to miss is that underneath its surface-level tone, Dog Days is actually a pretty fascinating and sophisticated genre case study. Yes, at a glance it's a typical run-and-gun scenario starring two gruff men with a lot of guns. But ignoring the immediately apparent aesthetic presentation around which IO crafted their gritty crime drama—an intentionally low-res look with artifacting, lens flare, pixelated explosions and other imperfections that make the game look as it was shot on an severely underpowered digital camcorder—is missing the point. Taking hits in Dog Days means your sense of vision is drastically impaired with this kind of visual refuse, and its nauseating shaky-cam, reminiscent of Paul Greengrass' violent lenswork in The Bourne Ultimatum, only furthers your sense of complete disorientation during the game's intense shootouts. Needless to say, when the bullets start flying, Dog Days so accurately captures the bewildering chaos of battle that grounding yourself in the reality of the situation (much less shooting anyone) can be very challenging. And that's not even accounting for the game's decidedly adult-oriented narrative.
5. Deadly Premonition (Xbox 360)
Deadly Premonition is a game that no one saw coming. From its earliest trailer, which more or less pigeonholed the game as a surreal-if-ho-hum House of the Dead-caliber B-movie horror game circa 1999, few people took any stock in it. Not even Ignition Entertainment, the game's publisher, seemed to have any faith in the title, releasing it at a budget price ($20) with zero publicity. However, the chronicles of FBI agent Francis York and his murder investigation in the rural American anytown of Greenvale are in reality anything but average. York holds out loud conversations with his invisible alter ego, Zach, throughout the game (while whoever York is with awkwardly endures his performance in silence), and Deadly Premonition's bizarre narrative often jumps back and forth from intentionally ridiculous, Suda 51-style humor to genuine horror, with a tone that's reminiscent of a Japanese David Lynch film, if the director wasn't such a pretentious bastard. The Resident Evil 4-style gameplay isn't always especially polished, but the script here is worth the cost of admission alone, and the open world of Greenvale is filled with events that you will never see if you don't know to seek them out. Far more than the seeming sum of its parts, Deadly Premonition is easily one of the most interestingly designed games of this console generation, and it's really entertaining, as well. This is a no-brainer.