With a business where so much money is at stake there is little room for surprises. And yet, game developers and publishers typically find a few ways to catch gamers off guard. In some cases that means creating a feature or announcing something gamers never knew they needed, while in others that means making a good game where there seemingly was none.
Whatever the case, 2013 had quite a few pleasant surprises, many of which centered on the next-gen consoles or "next-gen" experiences. Here are the 5 biggest surprises of the 2013.
After its showing at E3 2011, Crystal Dynamics' reboot of Tomb Raider left us less than impressed, and when we went hands on with the game in 2012 that apprehension soon turned into full-blown concern. Then, when the game finally shipped early this year, all of those questions and concerns quickly washed away. Not only was the new Tomb Raider an excellent reinvention for the character, it was an engaging experience from beginning to end.
Obviously, we should have trusted that the folks who have been making Tomb Raider games for more than a decade would do Lara Croft justice, but those early showings left a lot to be desired. And needless to say, playing the retail release was a very pleasant surprise.
The most impressive thing we saw at E3 2013 wasn't a next-gen console or a next-gen game, it was the Oculus Rift HD. This demo was a glimpse at the future of gaming and left all who participated stunned. Our editor-in-chief Rob Keyes, for example, couldn't stop talking about Oculus after his demo.
While the Oculus first gained notoriety from its Kickstarter campaign and an early showing at E3 2012, the VR headset came into its own this year. In fact, the Oculus Rift has prompted several companies, most notably Sony, to begin prototyping their own VR headsets. What once seemed like a gimmicky peripheral is now seemingly here to stay, with millions upon millions of dollars in investor support for an imminent consumer release.
Star Citizen Reaches $35 Million+
Star Citizen isn't just the poster child for crowdfunding success, it's now the benchmark. While many crowd-funding projects are fine hitting $1 million or maybe even $2 million, Chris Roberts' (Wing Commander) forthcoming project has been pulling in funds hand over fist.
Star Citizen basically created its own sub-culture, and proved that with the right talent any project can generate buzz. After a successful Kickstarter campaign ($2.1 million + $4.1M on their own site), Star Citizen continued to accept funds through its website and has earned a massive $35 million to-date, nearly doubling its massive budget. Forget video games, Star Citizen is the most successful crowd funding project ever, by a vast margin, and it's now the biggest bugget space sim ever.
Xbox One TV
"Xbox on." It's strange how right Microsoft was about the impact of that phrase.
With one simple command, the Xbox One creator has cemented the next-gen console's place at the center of any gamers' home entertainment system. And while the Xbox One and Kinect are not perfect, the console's TV functionality feels like the first true peek into the future. Being able to switch channels, mute the volume, and play/pause any media with your voice is not only a cool gimmick it's become essential.
Granted, Sony's PS4 can offer the same feature-set through the PlayStation Camera, but it doesn't have an HDMI input. That innocuous input has helped the Xbox One sets itself apart from the competition and make its case as an all-in-one entertainment device.
Sony's E3 Press Conference
Even if the Xbox One has some cool TV features, there's no denying Sony dominated the conversation in 2013, with things truly coming to a head at this year's E3 - it's even the most-searched-for tech item on Google for the year. After Microsoft's Xbox One unveiling press conference, there was an uncertainty regarding the future consoles, especially once we learned the Xbox One's $500 retail price this summer.
But then, Sony took the stage in Los Angeles mere hours after Microsoft and blew everyone in attendance and everyone watching at home away. They announced the PS4 would be cheaper and more gamer friendly than their competitor and tore the house down. Sony upset the status quo with their press conference, not only improving their console's profile but also forcing Microsoft to re-evaluate their policies.
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag — After AC3, we were ready to give up on Ubisoft's annual franchise, but this year's entry reinvigorated our interest with a new protagonist and an incredible open world.
DMC: Devil May Cry — Say what you will about Dante's look, Ninja Theory delivered a fun and inventive character action game that still adheres to the franchise canon.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon — We never expected Ubisoft to deliver something this crazy, but we're glad they did.
What were some your biggest surprises of the year? Let us know in the comments below.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina