Underrated: Volition destroys all things while wearing a silly hat

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, I am going to take the time to name developers that could be considered underrated and tell you why they deserve your time.

Volition (FreeSpace, Red Faction, Saints Row)

When it comes to open-world action-adventure games, the first studio most will think of is Rockstar Games for its massively successful Grand Theft Auto franchise. While this isn’t a crime and is certainly understandable, there are a lot of other studios out there that have contributed massively to the open-world genre. Volition stands alongside Rockstar Games as one of the great pioneers of the open-world genre.

Born from the split of Parallax Software in 1996, Volition began working on its introductory title–Descent: FreeSpace — The Great War. Two years later, Descent: FreeSpace was released to critical acclaim, besting the previously well-established X-Wing franchise. The space-simulator gameplay was similar to X-Wing, but the story was considered to be much more epic by many game critics.

In less than one year’s time, FreeSpace 2 was released and it garnered even more support from critics than its predecessor. FreeSpace 2 had better space-simulator physics, much larger maps, and the narrative was once again better than any of its similarly designed competitors. Compared to the previous iteration, FreeSpace 2 also gave the player more mission freedom and added randomly generated dynamic mission objectives. Despite the success Volition managed to gather from these first two titles, it wasn’t until 2001, when Red Faction was released, that the studio truly came into its own and started charting a lot of new territory in the industry.

Red Faction was the first game to come out that incorporated truly destructible environments. As much as Red Faction was a mission-oriented first-person-shooter without an open-world, the destructible environment gave the player so much freedom to play missions that it could easily be lumped into the sandbox genre. The game even came with a special level in the extras menu called ‘Glass House’ that allowed players to destroy the environment at will and create their own world. This is a pretty impressive concept for 2001 and could even be considered impressive by today’s standards. Red Faction opened up the gaming industry to the fantastic possibilities of having a destructible environment and gaming hasn’t been the same since.

As a franchise, Red Faction has consistently evolved in terms of destruction with every iteration. Red Faction: Guerrilla, the first Red Faction to grace current generation consoles, came out in 2009 and allowed players to approach objectives with even more creativity than any game before it. Every building in the entire game was completely destructible–this was something that had yet to be done by any game at the time. Red Faction has inspired many game franchises in different genres to explore destructible environments–something that an equal number of gamers have distinct appreciation for! No other franchise by Volition (or really any other studio) is as ridiculously explosive as Red Faction, but when it comes to just being ridiculous, no other franchise can compare to Saints Row.

The first Saints Row released to critical acclaim in 2006 and featured similar open-world gameplay to that of Grand Theft Auto, leaving many to shrug it off as a GTA clone. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the first Saints Row being notably less ridiculous than later iterations, it still introduced an interesting empire building system that none of its competitors had. Sure, you hung around in the slums and stole cars at will, but the overall experience that Saints Row offered was something that only Volition could make.

With every iteration of the Saints Row franchise came more and more ridiculousness. Jump forward to 2011 and Saints Row: The Third was on a completely different level than anything else on the market. Suddenly, you could put on a pair of Apoca-Fists and pummel rival gang members into oblivion in the nude (if you so choose). Putting mods aside, what other game out there allows this amount of insanity? Before you waste your time on the internet, I’ll speak for PSU and answer my own question with a confident "there isn’t one."

[Editor’s note: There IS one. Stay tuned for our review of Saints Row IV on August 14. -Kyle]

Ridiculousness aside, Saints Row: The Third did make serious advancements in the level of customization you had access to in the open-world genre. You can completely customize your outfit, gang, cars, and even your headquarters (which is a huge skyscraper). Some of this customization had been seen already in other open-world games, but the degree of things you can customize in Saints Row: The Third is still unrivaled today. At least, it will be until Saints Row IV, which is set for release on August 20.

Volition has always managed to raise the bar higher for its own flavor of gameplay. As a studio, Volition deserves to sit alongside the best as one of the major driving forces in the industry. If you haven’t experienced one of Volition’s epic franchises, it’s time for you to pick up that Ostrich Hammer and declare allegiance to the Saints!

Check out our Saints Row IV game gallery for news, screenshots, and more.
Next week, I will talk about another developer that I 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!