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Our second Raptor Chat looks back at 2014 and the games that surprised us with how they came out and how popular some of them got. We had a larger cast for this chat, and a lot more talking going on in general with some of the games people were surprised over. Of course, just because one person was surprised doesn’t mean another wasn’t…. We hope you enjoy this look back at some of the games that caught people off guard last year — Don Parsons

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Marc Flink
I think an honorable mention should go out to Wolfenstein: The New Order as well. I was expecting a good shooter, but what I got was a great shooter with an engaging story and a fantastically crafted world (Who knew an FPS created in our day and age could even have that :D). There are a lot of details in that game, tons of fan service and Machine Games did an awesome job with it. I even doubt id Software could have done any better themselves.

Shaun Joy
Actually, I’m going to steal one from TB here. Wolfenstein: The New Order. I was really surprised on that one actually, mostly because of how it got so many elements right. FPS portions were good, but I did like how they tweaked the regenerating health element (I believe if I remember correctly it’s in elements of 20). I know some have done those tweaks recently, but combined with the gunplay with Wolfenstein and the different challenges (like dual wielding/etc), I felt it freshened up the FPS genre. In addition, the story actually got me to care about a Nazi story again. The characters were people I actually cared about, and the opening sequence with the hospital got me invested in the story.

Andrew Otton
Definitely going to have to agree with Wolfenstein: The New Order. I remember almost groaning hearing about it as I thought it was just going to be a game trying to cash in on an old gaming staple we hadn’t seen in a while. And we all can’t forget the massive “meh” that was the previous Wolfenstein game. Shaun said it all though, the gunplay was actually really fun and had a good amount of variety. The biggest surprise though was just how engaging the story was. And as Shaun said that it was a Nazi story that was sort of… refreshing? At least in a way it was, as we all know Nazi stories are a dime a dozen.

Perry Ruhland
On Wolf? Yeah, I gotta admit, I distinctly remember starting a couple of /v/ threads back in the day proclaiming that Wolfenstein is dead. I’m very happy I got proven wrong, as it’s a badass game. Dual wielding shotguns and ripping through Nazis was a total joy. Also, that laser gun. Awesome.

Divinity Original Sin

Perry Ruhland
I must admit, I had never heard of the Divinity series until the Steam Summer Sale. I ended up taking one look at the game and a thread on 4chan, and that was all I needed to be convinced. In just one week, I spent over thirty hours in Divinity, talking to every NPC and fighting enemies at every turn. It warms my heart knowing it won the PC game of 2014 award, because it completely deserved it.

Shaun Joy
I’ve honestly heard a lot of good things about Divinity and honestly questioning why I haven’t given it a chance yet.

Don Parsons
On Divinity: Original Sin, I wasn’t hugely surprised from it as I’ve played other Divinity games and enjoyed them – but this seemed like the game they really wanted to make. There were especially early on a lot of great moments though it has some issues later on in the game keeping nearly as content rich as it was at the start. The writing was Larian’s style – quirky and such with bits of pretension on the main plot. If you liked Divinity: Original Sin I suggest looking at the Dragon Knight Saga (Aka Divinity 2: The Developers Cut) by them which is more action rpg but also very good – especially the second part (Flames of Vengeance).

Andrew Otton
Divinity: Original Sin is my other big contender for now (Ed. The other being Wolfenstein). I have played previous Divinity games and found them to be just slightly better than okay. They always had a ton of issues and never got me nearly as engaged as Original Sin. The gameplay in Original Sin was expansive and interesting, taking enough skill/time to make it a reasonable challenge no matter the difficulty. Its biggest flaw was the overall story, but the little arcs here and there were entertaining at least – and the banter between your characters was one of the best parts.

What makes it a big surprise to most people is that they have not played the Divinity games, and that this came out of Kickstarter. Kickstarter has got a bad rap in the past year or so but now we have had a few great games come out of it like Divinity and Shovel Knight. But it is the unknown nature of the Divinity series and Larian that really makes this a huge surprise to many people. Playing through Dragon Commander I knew they had the ability to do something pretty neat storywise and had some unique ideas, but Original Sin still surprised me a whole lot. Just read my review of it and you’ll see.

Five Nights at Freddy’s

Perry Ruhland
I’d argue Five Nights at Freddy’s is a surprise Game of the Year, considering all the traction it picked up in just a week. It’s the very definition of a surprise hit, and spent way too much time near the top of Steam’s best sellers. Regardless of what you think of the game, there’s no denying it took the world by storm this spring.

Marc Flink
Hm, I disagree. I don’t think it’s a good game. It’s really not that good a horror game at all. It’s just a bunch of jumpscares and it really isn’t very clever. Look at some of the greatest horror games and movies of all time. They didn’t rely on jumpscares or cheap tricks. It’s a Youtuber’s dream, and while I wouldn’t go as far as calling it Youtube fodder, I just think there are way better “surprise games” in 2014..

Perry Ruhland
Not arguing that it’s a great, or even a good game, but it certainly is a good example of how a game can come out of nowhere and be a huge hit.

Shovel Knight

Andrew Otton
I would like to nominate Shovel Knight. Who knew that an 8-bit side-scrolling 2D platformer would be that good. If you just read that description of Shovel Knight it sounds just like nearly every other indie game out there at the moment. Hyperbolic, but none of us can deny that the indie scene has become bloated recently with these types of games. Especially the “retro” 8-bit/16-bit games.

But, Shovel Knight did a great job at executing exactly what it wanted to do. The gameplay was fantastic. Simple enough to pick up quickly, but with enough variety and skill to be a challenge to those so inclined. Couple that with the amazing music and you have yourself something amazing.

Shovel Knight was something I was not excited to see/play at all when it was first making its rounds, but it even surprised jaded old me.

Perry Ruhland
I think it’s actually very easy to see Shovel Knight being a GOTY from the moment it got funded on Kickstarter, but I was surprised that it ended up being my second or third favorite game of the year.

Andrew Otton
That could totally be true, I didn’t follow it from Kickstarter though. I could have been out of the loop.

Shaun Joy
I think my question to counteract shovel knight: did we see signs of it being good in 2013? I can say yes on that one: Jontron/Egoraptor (game grumps at the time) did a video showing off the game in 2013, and the mechanics looked really similar to the release (the UI/map were different). For me it wasn’t a surprise at all.

Andrew Otton
Completely agree.

Marc Flink
Shovel Knight was a big surprise to me as well. I’m not a huge fan of platformers, though I really loved the recent Rayman games and have a long history with Super Mario World, which was the first video game I ever played… Shovel Knight came out of nowhere for me because I generally don’t play a lot of platformers and it blew me away. I gotta mention something TotalBiscuit said in one of his videos recently: If Shovel Knight had been released in the late eighties/early nineties, it would be regarded as one of the best games of all time, but this year, it’s just one of the best games of the year. I really love that statement, because I really believe it to be true. It’s a better game than a lot of the beloved platformers that are held in such eternally right regard (for good reason too). I don’t think anyone can say they expected it to be as good as it turned out to be, and I had no idea what I was in for when I first booted it up.

Ubisoft – Valiant Hearts (And Child of Light Cameo)

Don Parsons
Child of Light is another that surprised me with how it’s been received and in a year where Ubisoft had… issues, it was a good game to come from them.

Marc Flink
Speaking of Ubisoft and their Ubiart framework… Valiant Hearts was a really good title. I loved the story and the WWI setting could use some love. We really only have Verdun (which is still Early Access) and a handful of other WW1 games. And it took a very different point of view than the “You’re a soldier. Go kill those guys over there!”. It was a very welcome surprise and if you haven’t heard about it you readers should go check it out. It’s really good, and the story is brilliant! 😉

Shaun Joy
I just started playing Valiant Hearts today, mostly because I need footage on a video I was creating for my YT channel (indicating I hadn’t played it >.<),

Andrew Otton
As for Valiant Hearts, I may be the only one in that camp that did not find it to be all that moving or great. The puzzles were basic and kind of uninteresting for the most part and I found it really hard to enjoy the characters, all of which, at least to me, had really basic motivations. The only real glimpse into the characters came from the letters they wrote too, which were far too few in my opinion. The ending for most was what sealed it for them but it seemed fairly obvious to me. And if not for the fact that I feel the story was mishandled up till the end, the ending could have had a greater impact. I guess what I am saying is that there was no connection for me to the characters. Though the aesthetics of the game were fantastic.

Valiant Hearts, to me, was surprising because of what it is and the fact that it exists. It was not surprising in terms of gameplay and narrative.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Marc Flink
Another game that seemingly surprised some people was Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. It was really well received and I saw plenty of people on Reddit talking about how they were surprised it was any good. Personally, it was one of my most anticipated games of 2014 and with Monolith making it, I didn’t really think it could be anything but good (Especially after seeing that very first gameplay video). Turned out to be one of the best games of 2014. Maybe some of you were surprised?

Shaun Joy
I haven’t played Shadow of Mordor yet.

Marc Flink
You really should get around to playing Shadow of Mordor. It’s absolutely solid and the nemesis system is genuinely… well, surprising. 😀 The depth is quite astonishing. So many different lines for the randomly created warlords and orc scum, and the fact that your nemesis orcs actually change depending on what you put them through, like a bag over the head of an orc you burned, or arrows through their backs and such. The detail is quite stunning. That was somewhat unexpected. The sheer complexity of the Nemesis system….

I sold my copy, but I’m going to buy it again once we get a complete edition with all the DLC (at a discount), depending on the quality.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Marc Flink
So, how about CoD: AW? Finally breathed some life into a stale franchise, adding some new tricks. I’m not a big fan of the series, and I mostly play for the singleplayer (Yeah, I’m weird like that) but the multiplayer is different and it’s for the best.

The amount of changes that they made to the formula was a bit of a surprise, so i think it’s worth mentioning.

Andrew Otton
I can’t really speak to CoD: AW because I haven’t played it. But reading up on it from some people it did seem surprising for a lot of people as a bit more refreshing.

Shaun Joy
To me, CoD was a situation where it was evolve or die. The franchise was stagnating, and while it may be better than the last few of them, I saw it as an evolution out of necessity.

Amplitude Studios – Endless Legend and Dungeon of the Endless

Don Parsons
One big surprise for me this year I think was Amplitude Studios in general and while I liked Endless Legend – I think Dungeon of the Endless was the one that really stood out. A rogue-like game with tower defense and management elements to some degree seems like it shouldn’t work with character progression and such but Dungeon of the Endless is a wonderfully designed game. It’s got good pacing, the Tower Defense element makes sense and works with it well and there is genuine tension on every level all the time as you deal with the enemies. The multiple maps add a lot of variety and while there are some issues with multiplayer, it’s still getting more patches and updates.

Marc Flink
I got Endless Legend when it was still in Early Access. I felt pretty confident that they’d make it better with Early Access because of Endless Space (which I also really liked). Endless Legend turned out great and I really like it. It’s a great 4x and the fantasy setting is pretty cool. The asymmetry in the different races are cool as well and add some interesting mechanics to what could have been an otherwise standard strategy game.

Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Perry Ruhland
How about The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth? I’m sure none of us expected a remake to be a GOTY contender!

Shaun Joy
BoI: Rebirth for me is weird. I expected it to be good, I expected it to be my favourite roguelike of the year….I just didn’t expect it to be that much better than the original.

Quick hits

Shaun Joy
Rollers of the Realm really surprised me. I like pinball, and when I saw it I was like “alright another pinball game, RPG elements and what not, but ok, I’ll give it a try”. I didn’t expect them to do it that well. The RPG elements are really well thought out: each character being their own ball with size/speed/strength abilities makes each game feel like you’re really managing a party, a lot more than some RPGs lately. Having to counteract the attacks on your main flippers by healing was ingenious, as letting them go too long will mean that you’re timing has to be much more precise if they are damaged, and that makes you keep track of your health constantly. The ability to move the ball with the left control stick just enough to make a difference in hitting an enemy or not took out some of the frustration a pinball game could have, while not making it too easy to beat a level.

Honestly, I’d give it a try.  (I have bought it to do a video on my own channel when it launched, and then got hooked).

There’s also This War of Mine. For me, it made me relate to the characters more than any game this year. I sat there and watched them struggle to survive. I felt really guilty when I made a mistake of not putting wood in the heater, and then a character dying because he was sick, and died from the cold. That games ability to make you make difficult decisions is unbelievable: at no point do you feel comfortable, but it always felt like you were doing something to help. Honestly, it’s not a “fun” game; it’s entertaining in terms of doing what you need to do to survive. And it gave a part of the war that is rarely talked about, and did it magnificently.

Marc Flink
A game which I picked up on steam for the heck of it, Depth, is really really good. It’s an asymmetric Sharks vs Divers game. It’s tense, it’s really good mechanically, it’s fair and balanced, and the only problem I had with it when I picked it up around launch, was that it was light on content. The developers have added more maps, new shark classes, a new diver item and a new mode. It’s a lot of fun, though the matchmaking is a bit dodgy at times. 30 hours clocked so that was €20 well spent for me. Surprised me a lot.

Perry Ruhland
How about Mercenary Kings? That title was a ton of fun! I hadn’t actually had that much fun with a 2D shooter since… Well, this year’s very own Broforce, an awesome callback to explosion-filled action flick. What other game lets you play as The Bride, Machete, Robocop, The Terminator, Neo, and Ash Williams all in less than five minutes?

Don Parsons

Actually in crowdfunding I was more surprised by Wasteland 2. My expectations from the beta were low and the game had a lot of issues there and its focus seemed in talk a lot on the combat and such. While there is a lot of combat – there is a lot of other things going on as well in it that surprised me positively. It was well written, intelligent and in general had some pretty good situations. There are some flaws to be sure like artificial dilemmas in a couple spots and energy weapon insanity in the last part but it was better than I expected.

 


Don Parsons

News Editor

I've been a gamer for years of various types starting with the Sega Genesis and Shining Force when I was young. If I'm not playing video games, I'm often roleplaying, reading, writing, or pondering things brought up by speculative fiction.