For our first end of the year award, we’ll be looking at the things that blew our minds this year – that’s right, it’s the Biggest Surprise of 2015. Be it a game or an announcement or something else entirely, we’re going to discuss those things that we never expected, things that made us double take and excitedly jump up and down for joy.
If it made us say “holy crap!” (in a good way), it’s fair game.
Here are our nominations (as well as some surreptitiously-placed honorable mentions because we’re nothing if not horrible wafflers) for this year’s biggest gaming surprise. Be sure to sound off in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter (@Official_OnlySP) with what you think was this year’s biggest surprise, either something we’ve already mentioned here or one of your own.
Please note, we decided to do this category first despite the fact that the Game Awards and Playstation Experience are coming up this week and weekend. We are, in fact, fully prepared to be surprised if Valve announces Halflife 3 or some similar insanity occurs.
Nick Calandra, Owner (@OnlySP_Nick) – There weren’t a whole lot of surprises for me in 2015, but there was one, and it was a big one: Until Dawn. I really hadn’t followed the development of Until Dawn too closely leading up to its release. I wasn’t super interested in the game as a PlayStation Move title and after that, it never really jumped back up onto my radar. I knew what it was and saw the trailers for it at E3, but it never really piqued my interest.
Fast forward to the game’s release and it ended up being one of the best games I played this year. Until Dawn completely blew my expectations away when I played and reviewed it. The story was good, the characters great, the twists and turns unexpected, and of course, the Butterfly Effect system had me questioning every choice I made every step of the way. If you want to read more about my thoughts on the game, check out my review. If you own a PS4 and haven’t put the game on your Christmas list yet, you ought to do that.
Reid A Gacke, Editor in Chief (@OnlySP_Reid) – I’m gonna have to disagree with the big boss man on this one. While I think this year was kinda slow game-wise (there were a few high-profile projects but for some reason they didn’t seem that big of a deal to me outside of a few noteworthy exceptions), there have been so many surprises, from the announcement of Shenmue 3 – a game more than a decade in the making – to Bethesda’s surprising Fallout 4 announcement and release within five months, the Last Guardian rising from the grave, the Final Fantasy VII remake everyone but me wanted, to say nothing of old blonde spikeyhair himself hitting the Smash arena….the list goes on and on and honestly, you could just nominate E3 2015 for not being a humdrum, over-hyped disappointment and not be too far off the mark.
But I think if I had to nominate one surprise, it’d have to be Undertale and you will all get very sick of me talking about Undertale this month. Maybe I see it as penance for me completely disregarding it for two months because it appears, on the surface, to be a shoddy game visually. But I think that’s what makes it such a surprise. For the most part, indie Steam games that look like Undertale in the screenshots are usually cheap cash grabs from someone who bought RPG Maker and wants to justify the expense, but I think Undertale’s narrative alone blows so many big-budget RPGs out of the water. I knew I was getting into a quirky RPG(ish) game…but I definitely didn’t expect the extremely meta and sometimes mind-blowing narrative and the lovable characters to draw me in as much as they did. It was the textbook definition of a pleasant surprise and I’d be remiss not to mention it here.
Check out my review of the game here.
Kayvon Ghoreshi, News Writer (@kayvonghoreshi) – For me, the biggest surprise had to be the Last Guardian announcement at E3. After the game disappeared from previous Sony showings, I thought it was headed down a path similar to Agent, destined to be in development limbo until the end of time. Or that it was going to reach Half Life 3’s status where questions about the game’s development were almost comical. I still remember texting a friend right before Sony’s press conference, joking about them re-revealing the Last Guardian and, lo and behold, they open their show with it.
The game itself looks just like it did when Sony first announced it with a core of platforming puzzles and a focus on the relationship between a boy and his winged dog creature thing. And if it follows in the footsteps of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, I have no doubt it will become a classic for this generation of consoles. There is still plenty of time for Sony to rip my heart out again with indefinite delays and potential cancellation, but I’m foolishly optimistic and still shocked that we even got to see the game in action in 2015.
Rhys Cooper, News and Editorial Writer (@dizzee_rhyscal) – Nothing surprised me more this year in the video game world than the announcement of a Final Fantasy VII remake. Despite the clamour for the JRPG classic to receive a modern-day overhaul stretching right across the globe for years, it seemed destined that these dreams would die a heart-breaking death (much like a certain someone!). As a Final Fantasy fan, any new game in the enormous franchise is a highlight and despite the seventh flagship entry not being my favourite (or second….or third), it was admittedly this entry that truly thrust the series into the lives of many, despite the exceptional entries before and after it.
The announcement came at E3 back in June during Square Enix’s press conference, the evening of the 15th in Los Angeles (which just happens to be my birthday), the middle of the night for me. The next morning, I was awoken by my brother, who was living with me at the time, as he shoved his iPad in front of my face and simply said “Watch this.” Dreary-eyed and half asleep, I gazed at the screen, wondering what the hell was so important. I didn’t even notice the swords the children were playing with at first but as soon as the name Tetsuya Nomura came up, I was suddenly much wider awake. As the Clooney-esque voice carried on, the tingles down my spine arrived, and as Cloud strolled onto the screen before disappearing into the white light, myself and many others went into hysteria. The final word was the most important, though: “Remake.” Not a remaster, a remake. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is yet to be seen, but I can’t wait to find out.
Lance Roth, Editorial Writer (@RPGameX) – The biggest surprise of 2015, to me, was Microsoft’s announcement that backwards compatibility was coming to the Xbox One. Besides the Fallout 4 announcement that was somewhat telegraphed, leading up to it, it was the biggest industry news of the E3 Expo. Falling further and further behind in their race with Sony, Microsoft had to do something, and do something they did. Phil Spencer’s Xbox One backwards compatibility announcement was a rare, legitimate drop-the-mic moment.
Now, six months later, the first hundred or so Xbox 360 games are playable on the Xbox One. The move allowed Bethesda to bundle digital copies of Fallout 3 with Xbox One versions of Fallout 4, and Microsoft to bundle all of the Xbox 360 Gears of War games with the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition remake. This was a surprisingly customer-focused move on Microsoft’s part considering their previous missteps and the price-gouging PlayStation Now offering from Sony. To be fair, Nintendo and Sony had a few surprise game announcements, but they were supposed to. That’s what an E3 press conference is for. As it turns out, none of Sony’s big games were due for a 2015 release, and the only “real” game for Nintendo was StarFox with Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Animal Crossing still waiting for a proper home console treatment.
As for games that actually surprised me, Square Enix and DontNod’s Life is Strange has to be at the top of that list. The Life is Strange developers went with the Unreal Engine to build the game, which automatically gave it an edge over the similar games that TellTale has been putting out. Add an unusual game mechanic (at least for the genre), a unique point of view, a genuine indie soundtrack, and some brilliant art direction, and what you get is pretty close to a masterpiece.
Andrea Giargiari, Features Writer (@UndineAndrea) – This was a big year for surprise announcements, especially at E3. I’ll never forget the raw energy and emotion in the room as PlayStation announced The Last Guardian, Shenmue 3, and the Final Fantasy VII remake, all of which we hadn’t dared to believe were still in the works. But to me, I think the biggest surprise was the one leading up to E3: the announcement that Fallout 4 was not only happening, but that it would indeed take place in Boston and that all of the leaks had been 100% true. When those leaks had been previously declared false, it turned the already very appealing narrative of a Commonwealth-based Fallout game into an attractive myth – one that we all really wanted but acknowledged that it was a lie. And then, suddenly, it was real.
But it wasn’t just the announcement itself that made this my biggest surprise of the year; it was also Bethesda’s masterful delivery at their first ever E3 showcase only a few days later. Todd Howard’s enthusiastic presentation of many of the game’s features, especially the extensive crafting systems, made it very clear that he and his team were as excited about this game as we were, creating a breath of fresh air compared to the robotic and business-like presentations of companies like EA. They had done everything in their power to identify what the players would want and then they delivered it, be it settlement building, mod accessibility, or “as far as stupid gimmicks go, this is the best f***ink one I have ever seen.” That day reaffirmed to me that Bethesda is one of the most genuine gaming companies out there today. Thankfully, Fallout 4 lived up to all the hype with its subsequent release and became one of the most immersive gaming experiences I’ve had.
James Schumacher, Lead Reviewer (@JamesInDigital) – There were quite a few surprises this year. Fallout 4 was something everyone assumed was incoming, but the announce and release happening within a short window was big. A lot of people think of the Last Guardian and Final Fantasy VII Remake reveals during Sony’s press conference. It’s hard to deny either of those. Both were a long time coming and that FFVII tease – oh man. It’s not even my favorite of the series, but wow! However, if I’m going to give a nod to anything during that presser it has to be Shenmue III kickstarted while fans were still reeling from the other announcements. Shenmue III is something that has a few rumors every year, but with the way SEGA treats its most classic and niche franchises, who could blame fans for thinking it would never happen?
All of that said, in terms of end-product quality, little in the way of promotion, and now definite franchise possibility, Until Dawn is probably my surprise of 2015. Sure there was some buzz about this “PS3” title a few years back, but then the game disappeared. Jump to 2015 and the title has moved to PS4 and is ready for release, and you’d have to guess from the lack of advertising and promotion that Sony had little faith in the title. You have a game that successfully toes the line between homage and parody and is ripe for a sequel. If you have any doubts of the game’s success, the quick, “cash-in” on-rails prequel should be a good indicator.
Carlo Thomas, Features Writer (@CarloT3Content) – I’m a pretty skeptical guy, particularly when it comes to conferences like E3. Hype is built. Rumors are spread. That’s why I agree with my colleague Andrea that once the reality of Fallout 4 hit, it hit hard. I re-watched Todd Howard’s announcement at E3 recently; his demonstration was easily one of the best at the conference. Yes, any gifted presenter can express enthusiasm, but Howard’s presentation expressed a genuineness that made all of us excited. That’s the real reason why the crowd, and those of us watching at home, lost it when Howard unveiled the game’s release for November of this year.
And what about the game itself? I only just played Fallout 4 for the first time last week. Again, after witnessing its overwhelming praise on social media (a praise that still continues, by the way), I knew this was a game I had to experience for myself. And you know what? It delivered. Sure, the sophisticated character creation is fun, but this is only one example of the enthralling gameplay that sucked me into this horrid vision of post-apocalyptic Boston. An unexpected announcement coupled with an exceptional game; you really can’t ask for anything better.