Each year, there are certain video games that players just know will be awesome. On the other hand, there are video games that look like they’re not going to be any good. Maybe it’s because the developers aren’t exactly renowned for making quality titles, or maybe it’s just because the graphics don’t look up to par. Maybe the gameplay appears to be bland and derivative. For whatever reasons, these games looked simply unappealing.
Early impressions, though, can be entirely wrong, as the following five titles clearly indicate. Despite not looking particularly stellar at first, these video games defied all expectations by being pretty awesome instead of being terribly mediocre.
Alien vs Predator (Rebellion Developments)
Though the “Alien vs Predator” (AvP) franchise has always enjoyed a considerable degree of success in the past, the big question was whether Rebellion Developments, who had most recently developed two absolute train wrecks – “Shellshock 2” and “Rogue Warrior” – actually had the necessary skills to get the job done.
The end result was a fairly competent shooter that did a surprisingly decent job of recreating the intensity and horror of the original AvP games on the PC. It wasn't perfect, but between the thrills of gunning down aliens using pulse rifles and decapitating marines using hideously gory executions, it clearly proved to be one of Rebellion's best games in the last five years and a worthy purchase for fans of either the “Aliens” and “Predators” franchise.
Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream)
“Heavy Rain” challenged the conventional definition of video games and delivered an experience that was more interactive cinema than actual gaming. You could control your character's actions to a certain extent, but the majority of the game was spent watching events unfold. Whether or not Quantum Dream (who had also developed “Indigo Prophecy” several years prior) would actually be able to pull this off and create a narrative that was compelling enough to keep gamers hooked without being able to shoot something in the head every five seconds was the big question.
The trailers leading up to its release made it look doubtful (particularly due to the hideous voice acting –a problem that still existed in the final version of the game), but “Heavy Rain” managed to not only enthrall gamers with its murder mystery storyline, but also reinforced the notion that video games and movies are hardly incompatible forms of media.
Final Fantasy XIII (Square Enix)
While hardly the best “Final Fantasy” game ever made (an honor still reserved for “Final Fantasy X” or “Final Fantasy Tactics” in my book), “Final Fantasy XIII” was still an incredibly solid addition tp Square Enix's long running, role-playing franchise. The thing is, prior to its release, a number of gamers were already counting it out, citing “Final Fantasy XII's” lackluster offerings and the fact that “Final Fantasy XIII” was not a multiplatform title. Their worries weren't unwarranted –no “Final Fantasy” game had gone multiplatform like this before, and it seemed entirely possible that by not focusing their development on one platform like prior “Final Fantasy” titles, Square Enix would not be able to meet the lofty expectations that come attached with each numbered installment in the “Final Fantasy” family.
Just Cause 2 (Avalanche Studios)
The first “Just Cause” was a fun game, but it was also incredibly shallow and pretty pointless once the novelty of sky diving and parachuting wore off after a couple hours of running around and blowing stuff up. However, even though expectations for the sequel weren't particularly high, “Just Cause 2”, however, did a fantastic job of rectifying most of the problems of the first “Just Cause” and expanding massively on its original premise. With a bigger playground to explore and more weapons and vehicles to commandeer, “Just Cause 2” finally lived up to its potential by giving gamers a humongous sandbox to explore and wreck complete havoc in. It still has one of the dumbest storylines ever written for a video game, but a few minutes of crashing helicopters into buildings and base jumping off of canyons more than makes up for atrocious voice acting and laughably bad writing.
Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment)
“Fallout 3” was one of the best games released in 2008, so it stood to reason that any subsequent “Fallout” games would be just as good if not better. Then it was announced that Bethesda Softworks wouldn't be developing the follow up, titled “Fallout: New Vegas”, and that Obsidian Entertainment was now in charge. This was bad news for a number of reasons. The first is because even though Obsdian is staffed by some of the team members of the original “Fallout”, they were coming off a well meaning but absolute flop in “Alpha Protocol.” Second, Obsidian was infamous for being a sloppy seconds sort of developer. With games like “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II” and “Neverwinter Nights 2”, they had a reputation for making inferior sequels to awesome games developed by more reputable studios. “Fallout: New Vegas” didn't look to be any exception.
Except it was. “Fallout: New Vegas” is absolutely badass and it actually manages to top its predecessor in virtually every conceivable facet (except for periodic glitches. I guess “Fallout: New Vegas” and “Fallout 3” tied in that department). Considering “Fallout 3” walked off with Game of the Year awards from a number of prestigious outlets, it's hard to thinking of any higher praise than that.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (Treyarch)
Like Obsidian Entertainment and “Fallout: New Vegas,” there was a significant amount of doubt that Treyarch would be follow in Infinity Ward's footsteps with “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” After all, it's undeniable that Infinity Ward's games (“Call of Duty 2”, “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2) have consistently receiving higher scores and sold better than Treyarch's (“Call of Duty 2: Big Red One”, “Call of Duty 3” and “Call of Duty: World at War”). With Infinity Ward completely out of the picture, it seemed very likely that “Call of Duty: Black Ops” would be a pale shadow of “Modern Warfare 2”, a a by-the-numbers experience that only survived by being a shameless imitator rather than thriving on originality and inspiration.
Boy, was I wrong about that one. “Call of Duty: Black Ops” not only managed to sell better than “Modern Warfare 2”, but it's also loads better. The storyline was still an incoherent wreck, but the amount of time and effort that clearly went into developing “Black Ops'” multiplayer easily made Treyarch's latest one of the best installments in the Call of Duty” franchise. With tons of customization, mulitplayer modes and even the return of Nazi Zombies, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” proved skeptics wrong and helped Treyarch define their own legacy.
GoldenEye 007 (Eurocom)
One doesn't just remake “Goldeneye 007”, one of the most celebrated first-person shooters of all time, on a whim and yet that was exactly what it appeared Activision was doing with their rendition of “GoldenEye 007” for Nintendo Wii. Even worse was the fact that they not only had the audacity to recreate a game that many gamers consider to be the pinnacle of the FPS genre, but they also intended to re-imagine several integral components of the game in order to set it apart from its prestigious predecessor. Gamers had already seen the “Goldeneye” name get dragged through the mud by Electronic Arts with the abysmal “GoldenEye: Rogue Agent”, so it seemed perfectly logical to think that Activision was remaking “GoldenEye 007” for a quick buck and little else.
While Eurocom's version of “GoldenEye 007” still doesn't come anywhere close to rivaling the monumental impact of the Nintendo 64 original, it's still a very solid FPS for the Nintendo Wii. The single-player mode does a decent job of modernizing the “GoldenEye” storyline, and the multiplayer (which includes online gameplay) is a rare treat for Nintendo Wii owners. It might not hold a candle to some of the other shooters being released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but if you own a Nintendo Wii, “GoldenEye 007” isn't nearly as bad as “GoldenEye” purists might have initially feared.