A great video game is a rare thing, largely because there are so many ways a game can fail. Often during the development cycle, we’ll see hints that a game isn’t going to live up to its full potential. Some games have suspiciously long development times. Others are based on licensed properties that don’t seem very promising. All of the games below, for one reason or another, seemed doomed to mediocrity before they came out. Thankfully, we were wrong.
1. Until Dawn
You wouldn’t know it now, but Until Dawn was supposed to be a PlayStation 3 game that used Sony’s Move motion controllers. The development team ran into so many problems that the PlayStation 4 came out before they could finish it. To keep up with the times, they switched gears, scrapping the Move controller and rebuilding the game for PS4.
The result should have been a mishmash of bad game design, but it turned out to be one of the best narrative-based games in years. You get to play as each of the kids in turn, making decisions about where they hide and how they react when the killer comes hunting. Your choices determine who lives and who dies, so if you’re always yelling at horror movie characters for making dumb decisions, you’ll get a kick out of guiding the narrative here.
2. Wolfenstein: The New Order
The 1992 game Wolfenstein 3D is incredibly important to the history of first-person shooters — without it, there might be no Halo, Call of Duty, Bioshock, or many of best games of the past 15 years. Unfortunately, the game is pretty bland and repetitive, so it doesn’t hold up all that well today. Nor do any of the middling sequels and reboots that have come out over the years.
That’s why no one was expecting much from Wolfenstein: The New Order when it launched in 2014. We were in for a surprise, because this game was so good it made the campaigns of other shooters look downright lazy. This game tells a gripping story while still delivering exciting gameplay and tight shooting mechanics. Best of all, it centers around blasting your way through Nazi scum. What could be better?
3. Transformers: Devastation
Not only is Transformers: Devastation a licensed game — which often spells bad news — but it’s also based on a franchise that has been stinking up the multiplex since 2007. When it was announced, there was no reason to think a Transformers game could possibly be good. Then the game came out and proved us all wrong.
Developer Platinum games smartly skipped over the Transformers movie universe and went back to basics: the original ‘80s cartoon. The move paid off because this non-stop action game rocks. Not only does it look fantastic, but it has some of the most satisfying hack-and-slash gameplay we’ve seen in a long time. It even made it on Kotaku’s list of the best games of 2015.
4. Batman: Arkham Asylum
For the longest time, you could bank on a game being bad if it had anything to do with superheroes in general, and Batman in particular. Then along came Batman: Arkham Asylum, which not only kicked off a series of fantastic games, but also proved that the right development team with enough resources could do a Batman game justice.
Couple that with the game’s perfectly compact size and scope (compared to the later games in the series) and the excellent stealth mechanics, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Years later, this series is still going strong.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
If you were anywhere near the Internet when Nintendo debuted the art style of Wind Waker, you probably heard a collective gasp as fans clutched their pearls in horror. The cartoony style looked too childish to longtime Zelda fans, making just about everyone question whether Nintendo had gone mad.
History proved those fears unfounded. The game ended up looking like a living cartoon, far better than many of its contemporaries on GameCube. And thanks to the smartly designed dungeons, it turned out to be one of the best 3D installments of the franchise ever. Believe it or not, the Internet was wrong about this one.
6. Goldeneye 007
This game had two things going against it. First, it was a licensed game, which meant it would probably sell even if developer Rare put minimal effort into making it. Second, it was a first-person shooter, a genre that hadn’t been successful on consoles in the ‘90s. Thankfully, the stars aligned and Rare delivered by far the best console shooter of its era.
The campaign of this Nintendo 64 exclusive let you play as everyone’s favorite martini-drinking spy, but it was the multiplayer mode that kept fans coming back for years. A four-way split-screen let you and three buddies gather around the television and chase each other through a variety of environments, pumping bullets into one another with unhinged glee. With a variety of gameplay modes, a large cast of characters, and plenty of maps, GoldenEye 007 was the only first-person shooter you needed in the late ’90s.