It’s easy to buy into a video game’s hype. As gamers we all want to see crazy new experiences, feel the excitement of waiting for them, and hope with fingers crossed that they end up as good as our fantasies. Unfortunately, the industry’s hype machine is very good at building excitement for games that ultimately fall flat. Learning that a “gameplay” trailer featured no actual gameplay, or that a game’s graphics were downgraded for performance, can really put a damper on the fulfillment of years of hype and excitement. Yet some games manage to rise above, to not only meet the expectations born from legacy, marketing, and gamers’ fantasies but thoroughly exceed them. These are the kinds of games we considered when responding to the question:
There are very few games that I anticipated as much as Assassin’s Creed 2 and none for which I so voraciously consumed all pre-release content. Every day between the game’s showing at E3 and its eventual release I scoured the internet for any news or video preview. I marveled at the announcement of parkour-focused tombs and my mind buzzed with dreams of the new tools at assassin Ezio’s disposal. When I finally got my hands on the game, I shut myself in my room and just played for hours. The free-roaming mechanics were even more fun than I could have imagined, the revamped mission structure made the adventure an absolute thrill to play, and I loved spending hours just existing in the rich world of Renaissance Italy. It is the pinnacle of the franchise and thoroughly exceeded my expectations in every category. Assassin’s Creed II was not only my game of the year in 2009, but is one of my favorite games of all time.
Injustice 2 blew my expectations away. I am a casual fighting game player, so I’m a sucker for a good hook, and there are few hooks better than “X, but with superheroes”. I enjoyed the first game quite a bit, and the second looked to improve on it in every way. From the roster to the aesthetic to the addition of upgradable gear (visual customization is another easy way to reel me in!), my expectations were pretty high coming into it. And in every way, IJ2 exceeded them. The fighting was faster and deeper, but just as approachable as the first entry, the graphics and art direction were phenomenal, the gear was more varied and fun to play with than I hoped, the constantly-rotating single-player content kept an online-phobic noob like me engaged, and the story mode, with lengthy in-engine cutscenes, far outclasses anything the DCEU has put out to date. Then they went and added Hellboy and all 4 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the game, making an already great experience even more memorable.
I remember going to the now out of business GameCrazy on a school night. It was overflowing with teenage boys waiting for the midnight release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. I saw so many people there who I didn’t even know played video games. And we were all hyped beyond belief. I went home that night and played through the entire Subspace Emissary. Every cutscene was glorious and seeing each character get introduced was a young fanboy’s dream. To this day, I will say it’s the prettiest game on the Wii. They gave Mario actual denim for crying out loud! I played Brawl every day for years, attending tournaments and moderating Smash forums. It literally changed my life and I have a fondness for Brawl even though I don’t play it anymore.