Hype sells millions of games every year. Hype builds anticipation for gamers around the world, in tens of different languages who live completely different lifestyles both culturally and financially. Hype can disappoint, as well as help deliver on an incredible experience.
The following games, despite their incredible marketing campaigns, trailers and cultural excitement, still delivered on being some of the best games ever made. They exceeded the highest levels of hype possible and lived to tell the tale.
Red Dead Redemption II
It’s easy to look back on recently released games and disregard the value they had before launch. Trust me, Red Dead Redemption II was the only game open-world players and Rockstar fans wanted to play last year. The anticipation for this game, as I have explained many times, was unmeasurable.
The trailers had tens of millions of views, and we had been waiting to see what Rockstar had been making since their last release in 2013, GTA V – but more on that later.
Red Dead Redemption was held as one of Rockstar’s greatest, if not the greatest, achievement of a game it had ever made. And considering their back-catalogue, that’s an incredible feat. Red Dead Redemption II didn’t just beat our wildest imagination of how good it was going to be, it destroyed the concept of how immersive an open-world game could be. And furthermore, it made the original game even better.
It’s breathtaking work from a once in a generation game.
Gears of War 3
Ending a trilogy is very difficult. Ending a trilogy with the best instalment yet is even harder. Look at Fable 3, Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed III, as examples of games which didn’t perhaps live up to their expectations. At least for some of us.
Yet Epic Games had the knowledge and effort to almost perfect what Gears fans wanted at the time of Gears of War 3’s launch back in 2011: a campaign which mixed the fear factor of the first game with the action of the second, a horde mode and multiplayer which included extended and more customizable systems and maps, and some of the best maps at that. And polished gameplay which felt extremely reliable, consistent and reactive.
Gears of War 3 was the peak for the franchise. And this was after two games which blew most fans away. What a time to be a gamer.
What can I say about Halo that likely already hasn’t been said and written about? Halo 1, 2 and 3 are all phenomenal games. Some of the best.
Launching two years after the console, Halo 3 delivered on what Halo 2 couldn’t. An excellently-paced story with a satisfying ending gave the franchise room to explore future avenues of the Master-Chief story. It also featured literally one of the best multiplayer experiences ever created.
You could play normal ranked matches if you wish – but you could also play the irresistible custom games: Jenga, zombie, ghost town, battle royale with warthogs and much, much more.
Halo 3 is still a feat in gaming which Bungie is yet to surmount.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The fact that Bethesda has their own IP which has got a name as long as the Elder Scrolls is a testament to the quality of this series. We all have our favourite Elder Scrolls, and for the most part, it seems that our favourite is likely the one we played first.
But Skyrim delivered again on a series-high. It is still immensely popular eight years after first releasing, with multiple editions and mods keeping the game relevant.
Skyrim isn’t my favourite Elder Scrolls. But it is ridiculously huge and a game ready for you to make memories playing. Being the fifth in one of the best-selling franchises and still being this big is really quite remarkable.
Spyro: Reignited Trilogy/Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy
You might be surprised that I have included Spyro: Reignited Trilogy and Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy on this list. However, I stand by my decision. For those of you who love the original Crash or Spyro games, or both as many of us did, you know that these had a lot riding on them.
They could have been awful remakes which felt completely different from the originals without leaving any flavour of nostalgia. Thankfully though, Vicarious Visions and Toys for Bob nailed these remakes. With new soundtracks, beautiful visuals, and the most important part, better gameplay.
They might not be on your GOTY lists, but they should be for they definitely exceeded their hype.
Portal gained a hardcore cult following post its release on Xbox Live Arcade and bundled within The Orange Box package which included Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2.
Portal 2 therefore had a lot to live up to. Balancing the line between clever and frustrating is difficult when designing a puzzle game. Oh, and it had to live up to GLADoS’ amazing voice acting.
To cut this entry short, it did all of those things and became a favourite game of all-time for many along the way.
Hopefully you’ve heard and/or played LIMBO. A monochromatic 2D puzzle-platformer which was another highlight of the Xbox Live Arcade reign. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s excellent. You really should go play it.
Or you could play its spiritual sequel: a 2D puzzle-platformer masterpiece which has animations more realistic than real life. Its predecessor is fantastic yet INSIDE is even more fantastic.
Nobody expected this to be as ideologically experimental, nor to balance puzzles almost perfectly with the right amount of mental exercise before frustration begins to set it. But it does that. And much more.
I love Bethesda Softworks’ games. Like, really love them. Like, they’re my favourite games ever made. Fallout 3 is, and always will be, a very special game to me.
It’s a game which I showed my brother the Todd Howard gameplay walkthroughs which captured both of our imaginations. I must have replayed the opening section of this game five times before I ventured out into the wasteland because of my desire to see the different outcomes from different decisions, and finally, get the character background I wanted.
Fallout 3 superseded any and all expectation it had with its unique and memorable locations to visit, including a town built around a nuclear bomb, a land carrier turned into a city, and the Jefferson memorial transformed into a water purifier – if that is the choice you make, rather than turning the memorial into a weapon of mass destruction.
I have such a memory of every place I have visited in Fallout 3. Joined together my playthroughs likely add up to over 500 hours of playtime. And I can assure you, I wouldn’t have played this game that much if it wasn’t short of outstanding.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed FPSs forever. It changed our expectation of the campaigns; it changed our understanding of what a multiplayer mode could do in terms of progression systems. Yet one of the truly greatest video games ever released, especially when discussing games which exceeded their hype levels, was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
The campaign was more unbelievable than the first one in all the right ways. Russia launching a full-scale invasion of the USA, we finally got to see Soap and his development with Captain Price, and perhaps most notably, we got to play ‘No Russian’. A level which speaks for itself.
Modern Warfare didn’t just build on what came before – it mastered it. It was the right game at the right time, and anybody who remembers playing through this peak knows that in many ways, it’s similar to the Battle Royale trends we have in our gaming communities today.
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 wasn’t the Mass Effect game I wanted at the time, but it was the one we all deserved, as it introduced more factions and characters with interesting philosophies and outlooks, and incredible worlds to explore which gave us an experience which stayed in many of our minds for years after we finished it.
A very impressive aspect of this game was the fact your decisions carried over from the first game into the second, meaning a completely different playthrough for different players depending on the choices they made in Mass Effect 1.
It wasn’t the Mass Effect game I wanted because I wanted to have the sense of discovery once more as I did playing through Mass Effect 1. But looking back and understanding the expectations it had, there’s no doubt that it blew everyone’s hype out of this world.
We finish with a game which I never thought would have been possible to make, or then be as successful as it has been, mainly because GTA has such a grand history as a video game series.
GTA III became the 3D open-world game to try and re-create; and experience which games still take inspiration from this very day. GTA: Vice City made thousands of players nostalgic about a time era which they never lived through. GTA: San Andreas was the biggest game attempted at its time, and GTA IV, well, has its fans. Myself not included.
But GTA V isn’t just a critical darling and one of the best-written games ever made – it’s one of the most popular games in history. Talk about the right games releasing at the right time, it seems that the stars aligned when this released. At a convenient time when Rockstar could launch on the previous generation and port it to the current with gameplay-changing features such as FPS mode.
And GTA V was only released 6 years ago. Who would’ve thought that such a culture-defining game would have been released so recently? Everyone apparently.
What do you think of this list of Xbox games that surpassed even the highest of expectations? Is there a game that stands out for you? Is GTA V really that good? Let us know in the comments!