I had a tough time with this one. I could name any number of just obscure titles that I think deserve more attention, but honestly when I think “underrated,” I think of titles that maybe were unfairly rated by critics and community, leading to a cascade effect of new players not even trying the game because of popular opinion. For this entry I’m going to pick No Man’s Sky, which I’m sure will peeve some people, but I think was deserving of more praise as a game than it received. There is a definite swirl of controversy around the game’s developers and marketing that I won’t even begin to address here, because it’s honestly secondary to talking about the game itself.
©2016 Hello Games
When you shed all the overblown expectations of what the game ultimately did not do, when you take a look at what it does do, there is a nice kernel of great ideas to be found. Sure, it’s not going to be the last game you ever play (I’ve moved on since release, to be honest), but for a while this was my zen game. I could sit down with No Man’s Sky for a couple of hours and just relax. The game creates the kind of never-ending core loop of micro-activities that allows me to go into a flow state and just forget about the real world for a while. I think it’s this same flow state and infinitely repeatable core loop that draws me to games like Diablo III and Destiny as well.
In addition to having good gameplay, I found the game a technical marvel as well. As a developer myself, it’s possible some of my fascination with the game may be something that a lot of players would miss.
Sadly, whether you agree with it or not, the hype was overblown on this game and a lot of people felt personally wronged. I won’t make any judgment as to whether or not those feelings are justified, but the result is that a really good game got buried under an avalanche of criticism that wasn’t really about what the game was, but what people wanted it to be. It’s heartbreaking, because I think if Hello Games had let the game sneak in under the radar of the gaming community, it might have had a chance at being a sleeper hit instead of the year’s biggest disappointment.
Despite all that, No Man’s Sky still made it in the platinum category of Steam’s top 100 sellers of 2016, so maybe I’m wrong and a lot of people bought and enjoyed the game anyways.