The Best Games You've Never Played

Written by Joe Martin

December 28, 2007 | 00:33

Tags: #abandonware #awards #best #beyond #black-isle #bloodlines #evil #good #list #loom #outcast #psychonauts #realms #rez #torment #vampire

Companies: #ico #indie

The Neverhood – 1996

Status: Abandonware, common.

From one point-and-click adventure game using claymation, to another. Obviously 1996 was the year of the Crazy Experimental Adventure Game Designer.

If The Dark Eye was claymation adventure taken to a bizarre and horrible conclusion then The Neverhood is claymation adventure taken to a bizarre and oddly joyful end. The whole game feels as if it was created by an infant Terry Pratchett and sculpted out of Play-Doh.

Developed by Doug TenNapel (yes, spelt with two capitals), The Neverhood is another game which is more about discovering the story and revelling in the overall design than it is about coming to a definite conclusion or solving complex puzzles. That’s not to say it doesn’t have puzzles though – one puzzle in particular had me stuck for about a year when I first played it. No, really.

The game casts players as The Klayman, a completely mute character who wakes up one day to an abandoned world. The world is startlingly stylised, full of TVs which grow out of the ground and buildings that, as you can see by the fingerprints pressed into the clay, are moulded by very careful hands. It is however, completely devoid of intelligent life and it falls on the player to direct Klayman through the various puzzles to find his friends, Big Robot Bil and Willie Trombone.

The Best Games You've Never Played Abandonware Classics
The Neverhood was created using clay models and stop motion animation

The gameplay can be frustrating and this is one of those games which is now infuriatingly hard to track down either on the net or in shops, but it’s very much worth the effort.

It’s clear from the start that the developers really didn’t pull any punches when they set out to make The Neverhood and the game doesn’t compromise with players at any point. When Doug TenNapel sat down and decided that the soundtrack should be a freeform experimental jazz affair full of rambling men and gargling sounds of someone swilling mouthwash around their gums, you can bet that somebody told him it would be a bad idea.

Thankfully though, Doug didn’t listen. He didn’t meet the marketing staff halfway. He just hired Terry Taylor to do the craziest music he could and flung it into the game regardless because he knew that that is what this story needed. The whole of the game is carried through on TenNapel’s uncompromising vision which, for better and worse, never let gameplay or marketing concerns stand between the idea and the reality.

Realms of the Haunting – 1997

Status: Abandonware, uncommon.

Before I start waxing on about how good Realms of the Haunting is, I should probably confess something. Realms of the Haunting is the only game in this entire list which I haven’t finished at least once. Don’t worry, there’s a reason for that though and it’s a very good one.

Realms of the Haunting gave me nightmares for months as a young lad and is still, to this day, far too scary for me to play. Honestly, that’s not hype or part of a desire to appear more human and sensitive – the game just honestly terrified me. I managed to get a good ten hours into the 40+ hour game when I first played it, but in the end I bolted like a horse in a burning stable.

Created by Gremlin Interactive to be the next level in horror FPS games, Realms of the Haunting starts off with the standard shtick – the player gets a letter from his presumed-dead father demanding he come to an isolated house in the Cornish countryside. Upon turning up at the massive mansion, the player discovers the house is filled with ghosts, demons and monsters and that it’s impossible to leave.

The Best Games You've Never Played Abandonware Classics
Realms of the Haunting may look dated, but it still scared us silly

From these humble beginnings though spews forth a massive four-CD epic which makes extensive use of FMV cut scenes in a way that harks back to Command and Conquer.

The game rapidly gains in complexity and by the end of the adventure you can expect to find yourself battling across different universes in an effort to prevent the apocalypse and stop Satan from returning to power. Realms was a first and a last in a number of ways – one of the first games to use a central hub element that allowed players the freedom to explore at leisure and one of the first games to blur the point and click genre with the FPS. At the same time though it was also one of the last successful games to use sprites in a 3D FPS environment.

The graphics are truly awful at times, but you soon find that that actually helps accentuate the atmosphere and make the game all the more chilling. By using limited resources and a deliberately clumsy interface in an FPS perspective, the developers managed to craft one of the most chilling games ever conceived even despite the technological limitations. A forgotten must for survival horror fans!
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