Polygon Gift Guide: The Lost Classics

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It's a great time to play games.

Sure, we stand at the dawn of next-gen consoles, but the last generation was good to us, too. During the last eight years, machines that launched with barebones interfaces evolved to become entertainment hubs. Many games grew bigger, more ambitious. The consoles ushered in the downloadable games revolution.

With so many games released, it's easy to forget some of the sparkling gems that, for whatever reasons, got lost along the way. They are games big and small — games produced by teams of dozens or hundreds and games created by small teams of just a few.

They hold up. And as the years have gone by, they've remained just as fun. If you're looking for some deals on holiday gifts, here are some safe bets. These are our lost classics.

The lost classics

Alan Wake


Alan Wake is a triumph of narrative storytelling in a medium that often struggles to balance story and gameplay. Remedy Entertainment's tale of a novelist struggling with writer's block doles out its tale of love, loss and black magic in a series of hour-long narrative chunks. With little more than a flashlight, a cast of memorable characters and an eerie soundtrack from the likes of Roy Orbison, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and David Bowie, Alan Wake marks a high point of the last several years.

Darksiders 2

Darksiders 2

Darksiders 2 is proof that sequels have merit. Released in mid-2012, it tells a story of the second of four horsemen of the apocalypse, Death. The first took Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series as its chief inspiration. The second took the basic premise established in Darksiders and layered on loot drops, crafting and more to create a game that was familiar but expansive. Vigil Games got a second chance and made a better game.

Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge was different. It looked like an ultra stylized first-person shooter, but it refused to behave like one. It substituted guns with parkour and the traditional, macho space marine a female protagonist named Faith. Speaking as a guy who enjoys his time with space marines, Mirror's Edge was a welcome change of pace. It took familiar mechanics and turned them just enough to make the experience feel comfortable and challenging. It was a risk, as these things go, and it paid off handsomely.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

Red faction: Guerrilla

Red Faction: Guerrilla was the first open-world game I ever finished. And I played so much that I might as well have sucked the marrow out of its bones. I've long thought its success was due to three ingredients: It made just about everything destructible, it gave you a sledgehammer and it let you do pretty much whatever you wanted in the meantime. Also, at any point, you could just start shooting, and enemies will rush you forever. Red Faction: Guerrilla is a sandbox in the best sense of the word, and it's a heck of a lot of fun to sit in and play.



Black Rock Studio's arcade-style racing is what I think of when I think of the genre. Part sim, part kart-racer, it's got all the best stuff: power plays to waste your opponents, hidden paths and, of course, a race down an airport landing strip, head-to-head with a jetliner. What it doesn't have is a speedometer. Because it doesn't matter. Split/Second just about racing and being kind of nuts. And that's a lot of fun.

The lost downloadable classics

The Last Guy

The Last Guy is kind of the perfect downloadable game. It's easy to pick up, difficult to master and charmingly presented. You play the titular Last Guy, a little dot on the screen who herds sheeple out of buildings and into Safe Zones in the wake of a "zombie" invasion. I say "zombie" because The Last Guy plays fast and loose with the term, using it for every monster. Making your way around the maze of actual cities presented from satellite photos requires a succession of quick decisions, gut instincts and planning ahead — at least until those later levels when the zombies start moving and spraying and reeking more havoc.

The Last Guy

Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX

Pac-Man has been one of my favorite games since the early 1980s. It never gets old. So I was excited when I heard that the original designer, Tōru Iwatani, was returning to make a new version of the game for consoles. I had absolutely no expectation that the game he'd produce, Pac-Man: Championship Edition would, in many ways, improve on the original. Then came Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX, which was even better. These games took my one of my favorites and made it better. This is what happens when you weaponize Pac-Man Fever.


Shadow Complex

Shadow Complex is the answer to what a 16-bit-era platformer would look like on modern hardware. It stands on the shoulder of giants, wrapping the level gating and hidden item-filled, labyrinthine maps from genre-defining franchises like Castlevania and Metroid in the power of Unreal Engine. The downloadable title adds half a dimension to the 2D platforner formula to update the combat (with sometimes mixed results), and it folds in the connected nature of modern consoles, so you're constantly aware of how your performance stacks up against your friends list. It proves that a genre of games many of us played as kids remains viable. Now where's that sequel?

Shadow Complex