5. Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War (Relic Entertainment, 2004)
After the success of their Homeworld series of RTS games, Relic took a crack at the Warhammer 40k franchise in 2004 with Dawn of War. The results were obviously excellent, with the game spawning multiple expansions and a full on sequel several years later. Dawn of War put a larger emphasis on combat rather than economy, meaning players were focused on tactics as opposed to management. Relic once again showed their aptitude for creating some of the best real time strategy games available, and things would only get better for them as time moved on. In the THQ auction Relic was purchased by Sega, however the status of the rights to the 40k franchise remain unclear, though it is likely they reverted back to Game Workshop (creators of the Warhammer and 40k table top games). Sega does own the rights to the fantasy Warhammer franchise, and could conceivably license 40k as well if they wanted Relic to work on a Dawn of War sequel.
4. Red Faction: Guerrilla (Volition Inc, 2009)
Volition revived the long forgotten Red Faction franchise in 2009, and it was better than it had ever been. Taking the concepts of destructible environments from the first game and cranking them up to 11, Red Faction Guerrilla presented a Mars that was more fragile than ever. Players could destroy nearly everything in the game’s open world, making Guerrilla one of the most enjoyable sandbox experiences of the current generation. The sequel may have been a disappointment, but Red Faction Guerrilla is just a plain fun game. Volition was purchased by Koch Media in the THQ auction, though the announcement mentioned only the Saints Row franchise (Volition is thought to be well into production on Saints Row 4), not Red Faction, so that may be one of the smaller properties still to be auctioned off by THQ at a later time.
3. Darksiders (Vigil Games, 2010)
For many years, there has been a subset of fans really clamoring for a darker Legend of Zelda game. The darkest Nintendo has gotten with the series is arguably Twilight Princess or Majora’s Mask, but that wasn’t anywhere near dark enough for these people. I can only assume the staff of Vigil Games got tired of waiting for Nintendo to make the Zelda game they wanted, so they decided to make it themselves. The design of Darksiders has so many direct influences from Zelda that at times it actually feels like a Zelda game. The combat however, is more God of War in nature, and there are even some cues taken from Portal of all places later in the game. As a huge Zelda fan and someone that enjoyed the God of War trilogy, Darksiders is absolutely right up my ally. While the THQ asset auction was full of a lot of good news in terms of most studios staying in operation and continuing to work on their current projects, albeit under new management, Vigil really got the short end of the stick. No one bid on either the Darksiders IP or Vigil Games, likely because their next project would be years off (Darksiders II just launched this past summer). Because of this, Vigil was forced to close it’s doors last week, which is a real shame. Fortunately the newly opened Crytek Austin and some other studios in the Austin area have been hiring many of the former Vigil staff, but as of now the status of the Darksiders license remains unclear, though some members of Platinum Games have expressed public interest (it’s unclear how serious these statements were).
2. Company of Heroes (Relic Entertainment, 2006)
With Company of Heroes, Relic’s World War II real time strategy game, they could have very easily just applied standard RTS genre tropes to the game, but they chose a much better route. Instead of just making a WWII RTS in the style of their past games, they sought to translate the type of warfare that was waged during WWII into a realistic real time strategy game. The result is a strategy game that ditches a lot of the more familiar elements of the genre in favor a more unique and realistic experience. Company of Heroes is in many aspects an entirely original experience, while in others it is very clearly an RTS, and it winds up working extremely well; there is a reason Company of Heroes is one of the highest rated RTS games of all time. Relic is currently working on Company of Heroes 2, and they are free to continue working on it because Sega purchased the Company of Heroes IP along with the studio.
1. Saints Row: The Third (Volition Inc, 2011)
When the original Saints Row came out in 2006, it was yet another Grand Theft Auto clone at a time when the market was flooded with them. However, it was the most successful GTA clone due to two main factors. For one, it was a relatively high quality game compared to other non GTA games in the genre, and secondly it was the first urban open world crime game to be released on the new consoles, serving as a preview of what fans might expect from a next gen GTA at a time when people were still wondering what the true potential of these new machines was. Saints Row didn’t do much original for the genre, but it didn’t have to at the time it was released. However, Saints Row 2 was in direct competition with GTA IV, so Volition had to do something to set it apart. Where as GTA IV took the grounded, gritty, realistic approach, Saints Row 2 leaned more towards the insane and over the top, carving out it’s own niche in the open world genre. With Saints Row: The Third, Volition took the insanity to new extremes, making Saints Row seem like a completely different kind of game than where Rockstar has taken Grand Theft Auto. Saints Row: The Third really upped the ante on the ridiculousness, but it was backed up by solid gameplay, exceptionally funny writing, and a supremely unique sense of style. Saints Row may have started out as nothing more than an HD GTA clone at a time when that distinction mattered, but it has since established itself as a top tier franchise that really shares little in common with Grand Theft Auto, and that is why I consider it the best game THQ published in its 20+ years in the industry.