Games I wasn’t Expecting to Love

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As an avid consumer of games media and someone who checks three or four games news sites a day I rarely come across a game I don’t know anything about. So it’s very special when I do hop into a game with no idea of what I’m about to play and end up absolutely loving it. It’s something that rarely happens nowadays with leaks and spoilers plaguing every part of the internet waiting to ruin an experience for you. So I decided to make a list of the games that weren’t spoiled for me or I didn’t go into with expectations of loving them. (Minor spoilers so read at your own risk!)

Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games)

hotline-miamiAs I was listening to an episode of Podcast Beyond! I heard Greg Miller mention a game he’d been playing a bunch on his Vita lately called Hotline
Miami. 
I had never heard of this game before but trusted Greg and his high praise of the game was all I needed to check it out when it came to PlayStation Plus. I’m really glad I did. From the first level this insane, high-octane brawler completely delighted me. Switching between weapons and smashing down doors to brutally murder thugs with a crowbar is something else. There is never a feeling of frustration when dying over and over again as the fault of the death is never on the mechanics or the camera it is always on the player. This creates a driving desire to master the controls and beat the level, only to move on to the next level and rediscover that drive again.

Aside from nailing gameplay, Hotline Miami also has one of the greatest soundtracks in any game. Wonderful, electronic beats proliferate every level. Made by various artists every track feels unique and fresh. The soundtrack makes spending an hour on a level because I keep dying not annoying but rather adds to the enjoyment. The soundtrack in Hotline Miami is one of its greatest features. It compliments the gameplay and art style so well. This is probably the best pairing of music and game you will see. Whereas most pixel art games go for a soundtrack reminiscent of 8 bit and 16 bit games Hotline Miami goes for a soundtrack that is very stylized and modern it makes the game that much more special.

The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)

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All I had heard about The Walking Dead before I played it was that it was made by the studio that made the lackluster Back to the Future and Jurassic Park adventure games on the PS2. So needless to say I went into their next title with little to no expectations. But after downloading the first episode for free off the Xbox Store and beating it in one sitting I was hooked. TellTale had crafted a world where I was more attached to the characters and the story than any other game I had played. I came to love Lee, Kenny, Doug and most importantly of all, Clementine. Clementine is the most endearing, most lovable character I’ve ever encountered in a game, book, or movie. By the time we made it to Savannah I would do anything for Clementine. I WAS Lee Everett and my sole purpose was to protect this girl from the cruel, unforgiving world around her.

The last act of The Walking Dead is where the game really shines. I chose not to cut Lee’s arm off so when I got to the street in front of the Marsh House I had a piece of glass in one hand and my hatchet in the other. Walking down that street dismembering walkers and being a general bad ass is one of the coolest scenes in any zombie themed anything. That followed up by the super tense hotel room scene and then followed up by the gut wrenching ending makes The Walking Dead one of the most memorable games in recent memory. The Walking Dead is a special game. Lee and Clementine are amazing characters. Everyone should play this game whether they care about zombies or not.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (Naughty Dog)

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Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was recommended to me by my good friend Noah. I hadn’t played Jak and Daxter or Crash Bandicoot. I had never even heard of Naughty Dog before I played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. So I borrowed my friend’s copy and gave it a shot. I was struck right away by how much this game felt like I was playing an Indiana Jones movie. From the very first scene being attacked by pirates on the boat this game is a series of awesome set pieces. Having seen nothing about this game previously every part of the game was new to me and that made it all the more awesome.

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At first glance Nathan Drake seems like another stereotypical white-guy-with-some-stubble protagonist that every other game stars. But as the story progresses Drake becomes a fleshed out character with a personality. The relationships he has are also wonderfully realized. No other game has ever beat the buddy cop feel of Drake and Sully. They are one of my favourite duos in any game, movie or book. If Drake and Sully wasn’t enough the relationship Drake has with Elena is another master class in writing. I was delighted that Elena wasn’t another damsel in distress that action and adventure games have beaten us over the heads with for so long. Elena, Sully and Drake are the perfect cast to take the player through a wonderful action/adventure game that kicked off the PS3’s greatest franchise.

Nintendo Land (Nintendo)

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I originally wrote off Nintendo Land as the Wii U’s Wii Sports. It was just a gimmicky showcase for the gamepad and nothing more. But once I gathered my friends on launch day and started it up for the first time I found out I was very wrong. Nintendo Land is still a showcase for the gamepad and the Wii U’s new features. But it is also a thoughtful and entertaining party game. It has the wherewithal to draw from Nintendo’s most beloved franchises instead of making another series of generic sports games.  It creates a series of interesting and engaging payer interaction patterns. Using the gamepad in a four versus one model in a way that could never be done through other party games like Mario Party is what makes Nintendo Land special.

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Gone Home (Fullbright)

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I knew more about Gone Home than I would’ve liked before playing it. I knew it was gaining a lot of critical acclaim and becoming one of those games like Journey that people were saying “you just HAVE to play.” But I still knew nothing of the content of the game. I didn’t know I would be playing the whole game without ever fighting an enemy or interacting with another character. This sole purpose of the main character was to be a vessel through which to learn about what happened to her sister and to her family over the past couple weeks.

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Gone Home is an experience. It’s a story of forbidden love and prejudice and a girl’s struggle with her feelings and with her family. It’s a very special story. It’s wonderfully written and the voice acting is exceptional. It is only one voice but it’s one voice that carries the narrative better than some games with multiple voices ever could. The way the player is introduced to pieces of the story is like a puzzle. All of these scraps of paper and journal entries and voice recordings are scattered throughout the house and the player needs to put them all together themselves. I had no idea the direction the story would go and was on the edge of my computer chair the entire time. The game made me care about this girl and her story in a way not many games can. It is absolutely a game better experienced knowing nothing about it beforehand.

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Do you have any games that caught you off guard? A game that you started with no expectations but became one of your most memorable gaming experiences? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

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