15 Games That Were Considerably Better Than Expected
Against All Odds
Not all games receive positive fanfare upon their announcement or in the lead up to release. Heavy skepticism can follow a game for one reason or another. Sometimes it occurs due to a game being a drastic shift from past entries of a long-established franchise. Other times it’s a prolonged development cycle that colors our expectations, typically resulting in cynicism or apathy.
While there are games that ultimately fall in line with our worst expectations, there are plenty that manage to defy the odds. Everyone loves a good underdog success story, so we’ve compiled 15 of the most amazing games that defied widely held skepticisms and turned out to be great after all.
What are some of your favorite games that defied expectations? Let us know in the comments below. Otherwise, be sure to keep up on our upcoming E3 2018 coverage. With all the successes you read about here, be sure to keep an open mind to whatever this year’s big show might have in store. You can get up to speed on the big press conferences through our E3 2018 schedule.
DMC: Devil May Cry
When Ninja Theory’s Devil May Cry reboot DmC: Devil May Cry was first revealed in 2010, people were understandably skeptical. It drastically redesigned the look of the frontman Dante, ditching the brash demon hunter’s silver hair and red-leather in favor of a modern look and angsty demeanor.
The change in art direction was instantly polarizing, resulting in a devout group of hardcore fans boycotting the game before it even released. Others worried the combat system wouldn’t hold up to the high standard of quality set by past entries; Ninja Theory perceived lack of experience being the main culprit. While an early demo helped reassure some fans, expectations nevertheless remained low for others.
However, when DmC eventually released in January 2013, the game was welcomed with positive critical reception and solid sales. At the time GameSpot gave the game an 8/10, and said: “DmC pulls off that unlikely reboot trick of feeling fresh and inviting while still holding onto what made the original series so appealing and so special.”
Despite its quality, some fans still rallied against DmC, going as far as petitioning to President Obama to remove the game from store shelves. However, the game continued to receive praise well after its initial release, and it’s often cited now as one of the best entries in the franchise. DmC even received further acclaim with its subsequent remaster edition on PS4 and Xbox One. It just goes to show that looks can be deceiving.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
When Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was first leaked, nobody thought it was going to be an exceptional game–much less a good game. When Nintendo fans saw an arm cannon-touting Mario accompanied by Ubisoft’s polarizing Rabbids, they lamented the possibility. It seemed like another disastrous mini-game collection waiting to happen; people wished it wasn’t true.
Flash forward to E3 2017 and everything changed. When Shigeru Miyamoto took to the stage during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference brandishing an arm cannon, it seemed like everyone’s worst fears were about to come true. And then the game was shown: Rather than the mini-game collection that most people expected it be, Mario + Rabbids was in fact a turn-based tactical strategy experience. It was a shocking surprise that nobody saw coming.
Initial first impressions towards Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Rush were strong, and a positive reception followed into its release. GameSpot called it an “implausibly engrossing formula that is positively challenging and endlessly charming.” Mario + Rabbids is an undeniably compelling game, and one of the most shocking and surprising entries in this list.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
When Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance debuted at the Spike Video Game Awards in 2011, it was a bit of a shock. Formerly titled Metal Gear Solid: Rising, the spin-off looked far more over-the-top than the initial version shown at E3 2009, which featured a tone and style reminiscent to mainline Metal Gear games. This was because the game was now being developed by Platinum Games, a studio most known for its work on fast-paced character action games.
It turned out that the team at Kojima Productions weren’t able to design a game completely based around the initially proposed “cutting” mechanic, so Platinum Games stepped in to pick up the pieces. While the studio was well-regarded for its games, there was skepticism from hardcore MGS fans over whether or not the studio could meet the series’ standard of quality in both gameplay and narrative. Some fans felt its style sharply contrasted existing games in the series.
Despite these reservations, Rising managed to live up to the series’s legacy in all the right ways. Its stylish violence and hard rock soundtrack somehow seemed right at home in the occasionally ludicrous Metal Gear universe, proving that there was more to the franchise than Snakes and espionage. While Rising still has its detractors, it remains a substantial game well worth playing.
It’s all to easy for horror movies to unintentionally step into the realm of cheesy. Whether it’s poor acting, rough special effects, or sloppy editing, there’s so much that could potentially sap a scene. The same can be said of horror games, so the odds were stacked against Until Dawn from the start.
Making matters worse, the game was originally announced as a first-person PS3 game with Move controls. No one really cared when it blew past its release date, and when it was re-announced as a third-person PS4 game, most people shrugged. Such a turbulent development cycle almost always spells bad news for a finished game.
And then Until Dawn launched–and it was fantastic. The setting was creepy, the characters were interesting, and the narrative twists kept on coming. It was like watching a really good horror movie, but with the outcome under your control. Not bad for a game that seemed doomed from the beginning.
The Doom franchise had been largely dormant for the better part of a decade when id Software and Bethesda revealed what their plans were for the newest entry, simply titled Doom. With Doom 4 having been in development hell for years, our first good look at the new game showed what appeared to be a gorgeous technical demonstration–but one that suggested the game might be nothing but a gratuitous gorefest.
While it’s certainly no less violent than we were led to believe, Doom offers a shockingly enjoyable campaign. Multiplayer feels like an afterthought, but that is really of no concern because the single-player side proved to be one of the best first-person shooter experiences in years. Doom embraces some classic elements of shooters while integrating more modern concepts, like a progression system that allows you to upgrade weapons and your Praetor suit.
Better yet, Doom offered what felt like a modernized version of classic FPS gameplay. Hiding behind cover for your shield to regenerate or relying on AI companions isn’t what Doom is about; it instead focuses heavily on its shooting and movement. In a refreshing take, it forces you to stay on the move at all times in combat, making use of the environment and risking close-range melee kills (which restore health and ammo) to stay alive. The game is at its best when played at a high difficulty, where the combination of deadly enemies and the fantastic, intense soundtrack create a sense of urgency that can make Doom feel almost like a hybrid of arcade-style shooters and horror games. Despite the early concerns, Doom turned out to be a special game after all.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Coming off of a console generation that was littered with cheap, cash-in superhero games, many of us weren’t expecting much from Rocksteady’s Batman game. Sure it looked pretty and hearing Kevin Conroy reprise his role as Bruce Wayne was a huge plus, but aside from the fantastic Sunsoft-made games, the caped crusader didn’t have the best track record when it came to video games. Boy, we couldn’t have been more wrong.
Borrowing design philosophies from Metroid, Arkham Asylum gave us a dark, detailed setting to explore, with certain pathways closed off until you acquired the proper gear to access them. The developers clearly understood Batman’s long and rich history, and it could be seen around every corner, as well as in the gadgets and abilities you gained along the way.
However, the best part of Arkham Asylum was that you truly felt like Batman. You would stalk criminals from the shadows, leap off tall buildings, disarm enemies with your batarang, and you were even able flex your muscles as a detective. Arkham Asylum wasn’t just one of the best games from the last generation, but one of the best games ever made.
Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs was a bit of a disappointment for those expecting it to be a revolutionary next-gen game. Its hacking premise captivated us, but in execution, it was fairly limited. The visually striking appearance of protagonist Aiden Pearce fascinated us. Beneath the vigilante’s gruff exterior were interesting motivations, but he ultimately failed to be memorable. That’s not to say that Watch Dogs was an awful game for these reasons; rather, it simply failed to live up to the promise of its initial reveal, managing to only be a decent open-world game and not the masterpiece that many had envisioned it in the lead up to its release.
Flash forward to its sequel. Announced shortly before E3 2016, Watch Dogs 2 spurred trepidation in those burned by its predecessor. But not all people were so incredulous; after all, the original did have its share of fans. However, it was difficult to ignore the air of skepticism surrounding Watch Dogs 2 pre-release. Certain aspects of it seemed promising: hacking would be expanded, its protagonist’s narrative background covered themes not seen in most action games, and its setting of San Francisco and Silicon valley was a perfect fit for the series.
And Watch Dogs 2 overcame the odds. Instead of trying to make good on the high expectations that plagued the original’s pre-release, the game focused on developing its own sense of style, while expanding upon the mechanics of its predecessor. GameSpot said the game “is a step up from the first game’s dreary rendition of Chicago, and even though Watch Dogs 2 can’t go toe-to-toe with genre heavyweights, it’s hard to walk away from its fun-loving attitude and exuberant cast.” The game didn’t reach the sales of the original, but it managed to firmly establish Watch Dogs as a promising and worthwhile franchise.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
After the critically acclaimed Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, Zelda fans were eager to see what the next game in the franchise would be. But when Nintendo inevitable showcased the next entry for GameCube, titled The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, fan response was deeply mixed. The vibrant cel-shaded visual style was a far cry from the more realistic style depicted in Ocarina of Time and the tech demo teased at the Space World 2000 event. Many had grown to accustomed to the visual precedent set by Ocarina of Time, so to not be able to see it displayed in a next-generation Zelda game disappointed many of series’ most ardent fans.
Unfortunately, this widespread skepticism followed Wind Waker to its release, affecting its sales. Despite receiving glowing critical reception, it sold much less than previous Zelda games. The poor sales can likely be attributed to anxiety among fans that Nintendo was losing its edge by focusing on games for children, as opposed to the more mature-rated games developed by its competitors.
However, Wind Waker has since garnered acclaim among fans, often cited as not only one of the best Zeldas, but one of the best Nintendo games of all time. Time often heals the deepest of wounds, and Wind Waker is no exception.
For fans of the Hitman franchise, little faith was left after Hitman: Absolution. A series known for exercising your creativity with a limited toolset in cleverly designed levels resorted to a simpler stealth-action template when Absolution hit in 2012. Hitman: Blood Money, which came out in 2006 had been hailed is the best example of what a Hitman game should be, until we got the full picture of 2016’s entry.
It’s a bit tricky to talk about 2016’s Hitman game due to its episodic rollout. Even after the first episode, some fans remained suspicious, but once we had the chance to play through the second episode, Sapienza, we started to unpack the game’s full potential. Each level was a huge playground where permutations of in-mission events unraveled and prompted players to adapt to emergent conditions to assassinate the necessary targets. The additions of challenges, escalation missions, elusive targets, and seasonal events uplifted the already great foundation. Replayability was at the heart of Hitman’s lasting appeal and IO Interactive fostered that by continually supporting the game and giving you new reasons to jump back into missions you already finished.
When a beloved franchise makes a dramatic shift from its original style, it’s natural for it to be met with skepticism and worry. This appeared to be the case leading up to the release of Metroid Prime for the Gamecube back in 2002. We had become so attached to the side-scrolling exploration that the change to a first-person adventure-shooter hybrid seemed to be a decision made to chase trends, rather than to benefit Metroid as we knew it. However, developer Retro Studios, in collaboration with Nintendo, captured the essence Metroid by creating a 3D world full of wondrous secrets, intense boss fights, and foreboding atmosphere.
Metroid Prime retained the core conceit of the franchise by gating sections of the game behind the requirement of certain powers and upgrades. But what Prime really nailed down was the environmental puzzles and uniquely challenging enemies that filled each region. Chozo lore was scattered across Tallon IV, the planet Prime takes place on, which gave a rich sense of world-building without being too in-your-face about it, and the light ambient electronica soundtrack set the tone for wandering a hostile planet alone.
In 2018, the control scheme of Metroid Prime is the probably the only aspect that hasn’t aged well. A remaster of the Prime trilogy came out for the Wii and implemented the motion controls from Corruption which are much more fluid, but still aren’t ideal today. Regardless, Metroid Prime represents an evolution of one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises that stayed true to its retro roots while taking a step forward into the modern era.
Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV had a lot going against it well before release: major delays–the game was originally slated to release on PlayStation 3 back in 2006; changing directors–Tetsuya Nomura was swapped out for Hajime Tabata after several years of development; and, most alarmingly, the game started out as an offshoot title to Final Fantasy XIII’s world. Originally titled Final Fantasy Versus XIII, the rebranding to a mainline Final Fantasy titled involved significant reworking of the plot, characters, and the game’s mythos to take on its new identity.
Yet FFXV’s eventual release was an open-world triumph. GameSpot’s Peter Brown praised the “impressive open-world that’s equally beautiful and haunting.” And the PC version of the game specifically made a stunning game look even better.
While FFXV seemed like a game destined for either vaporware status or just flat out cancellation, the game continues to get new content and expansions even in 2018. And with the continual updates and content additions, FFXV is not just a game that surpassed our expectations, it’s a better experience today than when it originally launched.
The Last Guardian
Having the well-known creator leave their parent company halfway through a project is generally not a great sign. So it seemed when, after five years of development on The Last Guardian, director Fumito Ueda left Sony and founded his own company. However, Ueda stayed on as a creative consultant for the game, leaving the technical aspects of The Last Guardian’s development to Sony.
Some delays are due to a team taking more time with a project and adding necessary refinements, and while those postponements often lead to immediate disappointment, they’re generally considered an overall positive. But when a project’s delays stretch for years and is punctuated with drama behind-the-scenes, the game that comes out is all too frequently a disappointment (see high-profile flops like Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana). Add in The Last Guardian’s shift from PlayStation 3 development to PlayStation 4, and it seemed unlikely that the game would even be released much less be any good. But Ueda’s vision ultimately shone through the fog of negativity, providing players with a gorgeous, mysterious world to explore and a heartfelt narrative between the young, helpless protagonist and a cat-like, winged beast.
The Last Guardian went on to earn a 9/10 score in our review with Peter Brown writing, “Your affection for Trico and sympathy for both characters blossom nonetheless, culminating in an enrapturing series of revelations that cements your attachment to their personalities.”
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Before Wolfenstein: The New Order, it seemed like the World-War II-set shooter series had a difficult time trying to justify itself. With its predecessor Wolfenstein (2009) receiving mixed reviews and lackluster sales, enthusiasm for a follow-up was a low. Because of this, developer Machine Games (made up of ex-Starbreeze devs) wanted to switch things up by offering a more story-driven shooter set in an alternate-1960s under the rule of The Third Reich.
In the reveal trailer for The New Order, an older Blazkowicz wielding two shotguns faces off against a squad of nazi-robots–complete with Jimmy Hendrix’s cover of “All Along The Watchtower” blaring in the background to set the tone. Now an alternate-history narrative, there was a general worry that Wolfenstein would be moving to a setting that films and other games have ventured out to countless times. Moveover, Machine Games’ focus on having a more relatable and nuanced Blazkowicz in the midst of his Nazi-killing rampage seemed almost counter to the series’ pulpy action and set-piece moments–like facing-off against a gun-toting mecha-Hitler.
But as it turned out, The New Order had a certain level of self-awareness when it came to managing its action and its story’s tone. In keeping with tradition, the reboot was still an immensely satisfying run-and-gun shooter focusing on taking out Nazis in gruesome fashion. But underneath all that was a surprisingly earnest narrative about B.J. Blazkowicz and his reflections of a life in wartime–and what it said about his own mental well-being. Along with a set of memorable side-characters, The New Order features plenty of moments that channel Tarrantino-esque flair and moments of action–most of which were played to the tune of German covers of famous Rock-n-Roll songs. And all this happened while still showing an incredible amount of humanity and thoughtfulness to B.J.
Machine Games’ reboot turned out to be a pleasant surprise that showed the potential of what a new setting could offer, and how an old-school shooter can still feel fresh when given the right chance.
For years the Sonic series chased the legacy of its early games, often delivering experiences that failed to capture the spirit that made the 16-bit originals classics. Whether it was by getting wrapped up in story or putting too much emphasis on speed instead of level design, the newer games felt lost. However, this all changed with Sonic Mania, a sequel designed to be a throwback to Sonic’s first few games, created by people who knew exactly what that ought to look like.
Designed and developed by members of the Sonic fan-hack community, Sonic Mania exudes passion and reverence in its recreation of nostalgic visuals, sounds, and levels. But the game isn’t content with senselessly regurgitating the past; rather, it expands upon the familiar with new ideas of its own and delivers plenty of inventive concepts that diversify and build upon the series’ fast-paced level design. Sonic Mania is smart and interpretive in its approach, leveraging the strengths of its design and visuals to craft not only the best Sonic game ever made, but an amazing platforming experience overall.
Sonic Mania turned out to be a huge success, managing to sell over one million copies across all platforms. Its success has even paved way for an enhanced version of the game featuring additional characters and modes, which is slated for release this July.
United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs experienced a prolonged and difficult development, which began in early 2008. The title was pitched as an open-world game incorporating dark tones with elements of comedy, similar to an HBO crime drama. However, publisher Activision felt it could be made part of its True Crime franchise. As a result, the game was revealed as True Crime: Hong Kong in November 2009, but due to issues in development, it was delayed.
The extended development negatively impacted the project. Stiff competition from contemporary open-world franchises, like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, reduced hopes of the game’s success based on the investment Activision was already putting into it. This inevitably lead to the game’s cancellation in 2011 and massive layoffs at United Front Games.
Despite its cancellation, the project didn’t meet its end. Rather, publisher Square Enix stepped in to purchase the rights to the game, allowing the project to finally reach people’s hands. Renamed Sleeping Dogs, the game released in 2012 to positive reviews. GameSpot’s Carolyn Petit gave the game an 8/10 and praised its melee combat, varied mission design, and alluring atmosphere. While Sleeping Dogs’ sales didn’t meet Square Enix’s expectations, it remains a fantastic open-world action-adventure in its own right that defied the odds and survived what seemed an inevitable cancellation.