CrunchArcade: A Few of the Best Games You’ve Never Heard of

With fall only a few weeks away (sadly), we’ll start to get towards the holiday rush for video games. There is no major hardware release this year, so it will be all about the games. In the next 16 weeks or so many of the year’s biggest titles will be released, with titles such as Madden NFL 08 and Halo III arriving. We have to take Grand Theft Auto IV off that list since it has been pushed back to spring, but there are still plenty of big titles. But what about the games you may not have heard? There are plenty of great games out there that aren’t being published by Electronic Arts, Take2 or Activision.

You might not be able to find these games in stores, simply because they’re not at your local GameStop or CompUSA. In fact many of these titles are only available as download. CrunchArcade offers a list of some of the best computer games you may have missed. And we ask readers to suggest other titles as well.

Galactic Civilizations II Gold Edition
Stardock Systems
Platform: PC
gc-box.jpgIf you remember the classic turn-based Master of Orion and the improved Master of Orion II then you might also remember the lackluster follow-up Master of Orion III, which essentially killed this “Civilization in space” series. But let’s remember the good times. MoO II was the perfect balance of the 4X design (exploring, expanding, exploiting, exterminating), where you could build an empire across the stars as one of a host of different life forms. And while MoO III was an over ambitious failure, this style of game lives on with the Galactic Civilizations series.

In fact, Galactic Civilizations II picks up practically where MoO left off. It manages to add more features and options, while keeping the gameplay from getting bogged down with simply too much to do. You can play as humans (the Terran Alliance) or as one of nine other races that each has the usual space opera stereotypes. Additionally, you can even craft your own race to manage, making a lifeform type and civilization from scratch. Along the way you can make/break treaties, set up trade routes and build up your empire.

You can design your starships or customize existing models with hundreds of parts. In fact the ship design mode could stand on its own as a full-fledged game, plus you get to really put your creations through the ringer and see how they do in the game’s 3D combat engine. Here you’re just as likely to realize forgetting something, or worse cutting corners on defensive shields was a bad decision. Don’t worry there will be no hearings to determine what you did wrong!

About the biggest downside to GC II is the lack of multiplayer options. It would be great to play a multiplayer version where you can interact with actual players. Fortunately the AI is very good in battles and over all strategy, and can give you a real challenge. The diplomacy aspect is still on par with most games, but the computer-controlled powers will make some strange (even stupid) decisions, such as canceling treaties when it least suits them. Just chalk up to them having dumb leaders.

But over all if you’re looking for a game that lets you expand, explore, exploit and even exterminate your rivals you can’t do better than taking to the stars where you can push around these galactic civilizations to your heart’s content.

SpaceStation Sim
Platform: PC
ESRB: Everyone
spacesimbox.jpgIf you’re one of those people who grew up and thought the movie Space Camp was as cool as it could get – well first, we won’t judge, but more importantly this could be the sim you’ve been waiting to play. In SpaceStation Sim (not the most original title, but again, we don’t judge), you get to play as an astronaut.

So essentially this is sort of “SpaceStation SIMS,” where you’re a “sim astronaut” as opposed to designing and building a space station. Not that most gamers would do worse than the International Space Station (there we will judge). So you don’t place habitat rings or anything like that, and you don’t have to worry about keeping the station running at a profit. Instead you need to just keep the station running!

And don’t let the lame box art fool you. This isn’t really a kiddie game. SpaceStation Sim was developed with collaboration from NASA, and players will find a station that is based on realistic conditions. To make sure the technobabble doesn’t get to you as you explore your new virtual home, there is even a basic walk through to help you understand things. And while the game has a few factual liberties to keep the gameplay still playable for the most part this is a game that is heavy on the simulation.

Campaign Chickamauga
HPS Sims
Platform: PC
chicka1cover.jpgBack in the 8-bit days of the Atari 2600 and Intelivision there were some early war games on the IBM PC that managed to stay true to the paper and cardboard war games of the 1960 and 1970s. Well, technology may have advanced but there is still something to be said for these simple 2D board games. They might lack the first-person perspective and the visual effects are far from special. But despite this wargamers can still appreciate a well-designed strategy game.

The latest in the Civil War Campaign series from designer John Tiller takes players to the decisive location of Chickamauga. While overshadowed by Gettysburg and other major players, it was here where the Confederacy had one final chance to win the American Civil War. John Tiller once again does a great job of crafting a simple turn-based strategy game into a true epic. By including period artwork, excellent sound effects and clear simple rules he manages to transform the good old-fashioned “beer and pretzel” wargame into a true 21st century experience.

Strategic Command 2: Blitzkrieg
Platform: PC
If the boardgame experience is intriguing but the flat artwork of John Tiller isn’t your speed, sc2_01.jpgStrategic Command 2: Blitzkrieg might be worth instead. Think of this as taking the simple gameplay of Axis & Allies and bringing it up a level. This turned-based strategy game features six full-length campaigns to let you replay World War II.

See if you can stop the German blitzkrieg of 1939/40, or if you can lead the Germans to victory against the Soviets in 1941. Of course you can liberate Europe as the Allies in both 1943 and 1944 campaigns too. In addition there are five mini-campaigns that let you play out the battles in Russia, North Africa, the D-Day invasion, Operation Market Garden and even the Battle of the Bulge.

Strategic Command 2 features dozens of units to command, where you can take to the skies over Europe, fight for control of the seas around Europe and of course mass your land units for the largest battles the world has ever seen. This game features a very competent AI to battle, while multiplayer modes let you play online or in the hotseat.

Feel free to share any games we’ve missed. We’d love to hear about new games that are off the grid.


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