In these connected times, the year’s biggest game releases are often ones that fans look forward to months or even years in advance. With an abundance of trailers and gameplay walkthroughs released ahead of the game, it’s pretty rare that a game manages to come out of nowhere and be way better than it has any right to be.
Luckily for us, these 8 games managed to defy the odds, whether they be franchise fatigue, development woes, or publisher problems; and become some of 2014’s biggest surprises.
1. Wolfenstein: The New Order
The Wolfenstein name holds a lot of nostalgia value for many old-school shooter fans, but beyond that, it’s not known for much aside from producing a fairly decent Doom knock-off in the early 90s. The franchise as a whole has struggled to find a distinct identity over its roughly two and a half decade history, with the last two installments being a F2P multiplayer-only shooter in 2003, and a fairly forgettable reboot in 2009.
Sales on this latter entry were pretty poor, leading to widespread layoffs at developer Raven Software. Things were not looking too bright for Wolfenstein, until out of nowhere, Bethesda revealed that they would be releasing a straight sequel, one that seemed to be going against all of the trends in modern shooters.
The game ended up being a fantastic blast from the past, with a focus on the singleplayer experience, and an inspired old-school design with features such as health packs and an unlimited weapon inventory.
While sales weren’t strong enough to guarantee a sequel, at the very least, the critical and fan reception show that if there is a future for Wolfenstein, it’ll be pretty entertaining.
2. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
When Garden Warfare was announced at E3 2013, you could almost hear a collective groan emanating from the audience. After all, this is a spin-off of a mobile game, and in the hands of a publisher like EA, that sounds like a pretty shameless cash-in.
To make matters worse, it was originally priced at $40, despite looking like something you’d find in the $5 bargain bin at GameStop.
Against all odds, the game managed to be one of the most fun multiplayer experiences of 2014 though; and while it probably won’t be winning any GOTY awards, it’s easily some of the most fun you can have with friends this year.
3. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
Reinventing Super Smash Bros. in a way that would appeal to both casual fans and the hardcore players who were disappointed in Brawl was no easy task. Now, doing all of that and creating the first handheld version of the game? That seemed next to impossible.
Given how fast-paced and hectic matches of Smash can become, it seemed insane to think that the experience could be translated to the 3DS. The screen is too small! The controls aren’t responsive enough! The lag is going to make it impossible to play multiplayer!
With solid gameplay mechanics and some creative design though, Sakurai and his team managed to silence the naysayers and successfully bring the Smash experience to the 3DS. The game quickly became one of the handheld’s best selling titles, and proved without a doubt that big games can come in small packages.
4. South Park: The Stick of Truth
The fact that The Stick of Truth is a licensed game by a big publisher is enough to keep most people well-clear of a potential stinker. It certainly didn’t help that the game was delayed multiple times during its lengthy development, barely managed to survive the bankruptcy of THQ, and was eventually deemed too costly by its new publisher Ubisoft, and subsequently redesigned.
Despite having the decked so heavily stacked against them, developer Obsidian was able to put together a game that appealed to both fans of the show and fans of good games in general.