Hidden gems

If your video game tastes skew mainstream, you'll probably recognize titles like "Mass Effect 3," "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" and "Halo 4" immediately. While there's nothing wrong with buying the big hits in droves, there are tons of games from mid-size or independent developers that are just as worthy of your attention. No matter what system you like, there's a good chance you missed a memorable title or two in recent months, but it's not too late to pick them up!

"Hotline Miami"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/DqpZMsZBdNQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> "Hotline Miami" channels a story and setting from the '80s and a visual style from the '90s, but feels distinctly modern. This bizarre action game plays from a 2D, top-down perspective and tells the story of a potentially insane hitman who takes orders from a bunch of men in animal masks on his answering machine. The fast-paced, ultraviolent gameplay is ludicrously over the top, and the psychedelic color palette makes you feel as immersed in the zany bloodbath as the game's protagonist.</p>

"Spec Ops: The Line"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/-7Usy6zFA7Q" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> If you're familiar with the "Spec Ops" series, you could be forgiven for thinking that "The Line" would be just another humdrum entry in the workmanlike series. Instead, 2K Games put out one of the most damning critiques of warfare since "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad. The gameplay is functional, but the narrative and themes raise a number of uncomfortable moral issues about the military industrial complex, war crimes and one man's complicity. Playing this game is comparable to reading a great novel.</p>

"Super Hexagon"

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/2sz0mI_6tLQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> If story-driven games with more production value than a major Hollywood movie make you yearn for the simple days of arcades, try Terry Cavanagh's take on the genre. His game "Super Hexagon" is about as simple as it gets. Guide a small triangle through a series of increasingly elaborate hexagons, and survive for as long as you can. That's it. The game's entrancing score matches the beat of the in-game action, making "Super Hexagon" a polished, old-school experience that's both hypnotic and rewarding.

"The Walking Dead"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/fhL776xz9YU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> Zombies are now such a part of the zeitgeist that they have shambled into almost every entertainment medium. "The Walking Dead" (based on the comic series) pulls a neat trick and actually makes zombies scary again. The game is a traditional point-and-click adventure, although its puzzles are simple and straightforward. Instead of employing opaque brain teasers, the game builds massive amounts of tension and drama by allowing you to make meaningful choices about the game's characters: who lives, who dies and even how the entire five-part narrative ends.</p>

"The Unfinished Swan"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/VA6KMMhnJCQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> On paper, "The Unfinished Swan" might not sound like much: You splatter black paint against a white canvas, which slowly unearths a 3D level to explore. It includes predictable puzzles and a very minimalistic story, but these are not the game's main draw. So many games rely on visceral combat or bombastic plots to retain player attention, whereas "The Unfinished Swan" is quiet, offbeat and consistently engaging. It's not always fun in a traditional sense, but there's nothing else quite like it.</p>

"Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/_xEr5HBoKhA" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning," an enormous, open-world fantasy role-playing game, managed to stand out in its niche. With one of the best combat systems in recent gaming memory, as well as a truly staggering amount of unique content, "Amalur" excels at giving gamers a large, beautiful world in which to play. Doing battle with clever bandits and fierce giants feels both satisfying and varied. You can choose to wield a sword, hang back with a bow or sling fireballs, all with very different mechanics. With over 100 hours of content, "Amalur" could keep you engrossed for a long time.</p>

"Gravity Rush"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Ecp-RTtmtX8" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> The PlayStation Vita handheld is not exactly overflowing with quality games, but look closely and you'll find some. Take "Gravity Rush," for example. This 3D action game lets players take control of Kat, a girl who can control gravity. Kat uses her powers to fly, do battle with a number of shadowy foes and even take on optional quests to advance her skills. Add attractive, anime-style graphics and a pulsing soundtrack, and "Gravity Rush" might just be enough to make gamers without a Vita jealous of your powerful little system. </p>

"Lollipop Chainsaw"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/PGyAXmf77ok" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> Video games, in general, have been trending toward hyperrealism and serious themes. Not "Lollipop Chainsaw," though, which takes the absurd violence, gratuitous sex and bizarre humor of Japanese gaming, then dials everything up to 11. Starring a short-skirted, chainsaw-wielding, "Lollipop Chainsaw" weaves a tale of teenage romance during a nascent zombie apocalypse. Half fast-paced action game, half satire of fast-paced action games, "Lollipop Chainsaw" still asks a deep question: Do you want to see a leggy teenager tear through a zombie's face while Toni Basil's "Hey Mickey" blares in the background? Here's your chance.</p>

"FTL: Faster Than Light"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Q4imWvoqxmc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> "FTL: Faster than Light" hits a lot of sweet spots for sci-fi fans. This strategy game channels "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Battlestar Galactica" and "Firefly," putting players in control of a customizable spaceship. While navigating across hazardous regions of space, would-be captains must assemble a crew and deal with randomized threats, from fuel shortages to rebel ship battles. The game itself is quite short, but no two playthroughs are alike. A steep learning curve and eight different ships to control help keep things fresh and provide a stiff challenge.</p>

"The Last Story"

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/i67nTaFh2P4" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p> The last few years have not been kind to either the Nintendo Wii or the Japanese role-playing game, but when Western fans got wind of "The Last Story," they badgered Nintendo to bring it over from Japan, and eventually got their way. "The Last Story" comes from some of the original creators of the "Final Fantasy" series, and it shows. With fast-paced combat, a diverse cast of memorable characters and a story replete with twists and turns, the game delivers old-school charm wrapped in modern game-design sensibilities.</p>

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