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Underrated: Digital Extremes proves its name with talent and versatility

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on 5 August 2013

In the gaming world, there is a lot of talk from gamers about game studios being “overrated.” Fans and haters of different critically-acclaimed studios battle it out on forums all across the internet in a never-ending flame war over which studio is overrated or why another studio isn't.

What about the other guys, though--the game developers that bring us great titles but don't necessarily get the appreciation or attention they deserve? There are some that bring up how underrated a developer may be, but, for every one of those, there are thousands of gamers saying a developer is overrated. Well, in these “Underrated" articles, we are going to take the time to name developers that could be considered underrated and tell you why they deserve your time.

Digital Extremes (Unreal, The Darkness II, Warframe)

In the 1980’s, a 12 year old Canadian boy developed and launched a video game—this boy was James Schmalz. The game James created was called Sorcery and was essentially a clone of the Ultima franchise. Clone or not, the creation of Sorcery at the young age of 12 is an incredible feat. As James grew older, he attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. After graduating, instead of following the path of a mechanical engineer, he chose to follow his dreams and began developing video games professionally.

James’ early days in the video game industry were mostly spent developing freeware pinball games for the PC. He met with his first hints of success in the video game industry after he created a 2D top-down pinball game titled quite simply Epic Pinball. After Epic Pinball, James Schmalz’ name was out there and, shortly after in 1993, Digital Extremes was born. 

In 1994, Digital Extremes formed a partnership with its publisher Epic MegaGames, which is now known as Epic Games. Digital Extremes got to work on its first game and chose to make its studio debut into the gaming industry with something James Schmalz knew all too well—a pinball game. The game was titled Extreme Pinball and it met with even more success than Epic Pinball. Extreme Pinball was also Digital Extremes’ first entry into the console space with its simultaneous release on both PC and PlayStation 1 in 1995. After Extreme Pinball, Digital Extremes chose to spread its wings and try something completely different, and the gaming industry has never been the same since.

Digital Extremes began the process of co-developing a first-person shooter game with Epic that could rival id Software's Quake franchise. The game was called Unreal and, upon its release on PC in 1998, it was considered technically superior than Quake II, which came out at relatively the same time. After the success of Unreal, Digital Extremes co-developed Unreal Tournament with Epic and continued working on the Unreal Franchise until 2004. After its long run with the Unreal franchise, Digital Extremes took its success and decided to try creating something new. 

The studio started small with Unreal Engine 2-based FPS titles Pariah and Warpath, but neither of these games were different enough from Digital Extremes’ previous work with the Unreal franchise to be successful. Digital Extremes continued experimenting in the video game industry and slowly managed to differentiate itself from its business partner Epic. After establishing itself as a studio of its own, Digital Extremes went on to develop The Darkness II—a return to the studios FPS roots, but this FPS was nothing like any of Unreal games the studio had previously developed. 

The gameplay in The Darkness II was far better than its predecessor, which was developed by Starbreeze Studios, and, most importantly, felt completely new. This was not a case of copy and paste game development. In the game, you are able to shoot guns while tearing enemies limb from limb with Dark tendrils. The gameplay was fast-paced and incredibly sinister; it was like nothing before it. Not many games have come out that make you feel truly powerful, but The Darkness II did and, despite the immense power you were given control of, Digital Extremes still managed to make it have just the right level of difficulty. The Darkness II was one of the smoothest FPS gaming experiences to come out this console generation, and it looks like Digital Extremes is going to be bringing that same smoothness to the next generation PlayStation as well with Warframe.

Released in the open beta phase on the PC earlier this March, Warframe is a free-to-play game that has already left an impression on the gaming industry and the gamers that support it. In Warframe, you take on the role of an ancient race of space ninjas that use powerful battle armor called Warframes that give the player incredible speed and strength in battle. The gameplay is a mix of parkour moves, sword play, and gun-filled mayhem. All these elements of gameplay mesh together flawlessly and the transitions from wall running to slicing someone’s head off are seamless. 

You can join up with up to three people online to assist you in the field. The assistance is much appreciated in Warframe because you are only given four self-revives every hour to play with. Fellow players can save you from dying when you are down on the ground which is important because it saves up those self-revives in case of emergencies. There is a wide variety of mission types that range from assassinations to search and rescues that you will encounter throughout the games campaign. This wide range of mission types really keeps the gameplay fresh and makes you have to adapt constantly. 

By now if you call yourself a gamer and have never heard the name Unreal, you should probably do some research. Having been one of the studios responsible for the success of Unreal, which is one of the most influential games in the industry, no one should ever underestimate the talent that exists within Digital Extremes. The history behind Digital Extremes is one that should be legend. This is a studio that has reinvented itself time and time again and has developed games in an incredibly wide range of genres, and Warframe looks like it could be its best accomplishment yet. It would be unreal if you didn't give this studio your time.

Check out our Warframe game gallery for news, screenshots, and more.


Next week, we will talk about another developer that we believe is considered underrated. If you missed out on last week's installment of Underrated, check it out right here. Do you think this studio could be considered underrated? What studios do you think are underrated? Let us know in the comments section below and be sure to come back for next week's installment!