The most expensive demos ever
Everyone knows that one surefire way to get people to buy something that is either doomed to fail or otherwise terrible is to bundle it with something people actually want. It's how Hollywood got millions of people (including yours truly) to go see trash like Wing Commander in theaters. No one's going to shell out hard-earned cash to watch a garbage sci-fi movie featuring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard, but when it's the only way to watch a trailer for the hotly-anticipated Star Wars prequel? They'll come in droves.
It happens with games, too. Most recently, Square Enix proved that people are willing to drop money on a game they don't really want (opens in new tab) just to play a few hours of the next Final Fantasy (opens in new tab). It got me thinking about all the times I bought a game solely so I could get my hands on the accompanying demo, and I realized that many of those so-called 'throwaways' have become my favorite games. And so, I've written this celebration of the best free games that came with the $60 demo we really wanted.
Brave Fencer Musashi (with Final Fantasy 8 demo)
The demo: Squaresoft (before it merged with Enix) did this a lot during the original PlayStation era, bundling demos for anticipated games with lesser-known properties. The Final Fantasy 8 demo was probably the most popular one, since it came off of the white-hot popularity of 7, and everyone wanted to see what was up. In the demo, you control Squall and friends as they make their way through their final exam which just so happens to be the invasion of a neighboring country.
The game: Click on my name up at the top of this article and glance at the right of the screen where my Gamertag is posted. Yeah, this game is rad. It's Square's take on the The Legend of Zelda, featuring the titular samurai as he finds himself in a strange fantasy world filled with magical talking swords and food puns. It's a bit rough around the edges, but it's still totally worth checking out, and it's far cry from the brooding melodrama found in the demo that comes with it.
Crackdown (with Halo 3 beta)
The demo: Publishers have shied away from releasing demos, instead relying on timed multiplayer 'betas' to draw in pre-orders for less-popular franchises. One of the only ways to get into the Halo 3 beta back in 2007 was to pick up a copy of Crackdown in February and hold onto it until the beta went live three months later.
The game: I mean, sure, you could play the Halo 3 beta if you had the willpower to stop playing Crackdown. Right from the start, the world of Crackdown is your playground, filled with gangs to overthrow, stuff to blow up, and buildings to leap over. Not only was it a sprawling open-world game, but you also have superhero-like powers, and you only get more powerful as you play. Anyone who's heard the low hum of a hidden ability orb knows the alluring pull of Crackdown's gameplay.
Bulletstorm (with Gears of War 3 beta)
The demo: While Epic Games was working on Gears of War 3 for Microsoft, they were also collaborating with Painkiller devs People Can Fly on a new title called Bulletstorm. Originally, the only way to test out the chainsaw-filled waters of Gears 3 was to pick up a launch edition of Bulletstorm on Xbox 360, but that was quickly expanded to anyone who had preordered Gears before the beta started.
The game: Bulletstorm is Tony Hawk's Pro Skater with guns, and it's a spectacular ballet of carnage. Moving through each stage is like running through the world's most complex and creative shooting gallery, only this time, the animatronic ducks shoot back. There are tons of ways to take out each of the mooks you face, from kicking them into cacti, to whipping them off of ledges with your energy leash. Doing so earns you points that you can use to unlock new weapons and abilities, which in turn, let you pull off even zanier kills. It's a shame that even the inclusion of the Gears of War 3 beta didn't improve Bulletstorm's sales, because there are few games like it.
Dino Crisis (with Resident Evil 3: Nemesis demo)
The demo: By the time Nemesis came out, Resident Evil was a household name, so Capcom could have released a demo with sardines on toast and it would have sold. This one follows Jill Valentine as she attempts to escape from Raccoon City, eventually coming across (and running away from) the incredibly persistent undead Nemesis.
The game: Dino Crisis feels a lot like Resident Evil at first glance. It's got the tank controls, the hacky voice acting, and even the same asinine key puzzles of its predecessor. But instead of fending off zombies, you're watching out for (duh) dinosaurs. Only here, bullets are much harder to come by. Now you've got tranquilizer darts, meaning that the reptiles will only stay asleep for a few minutes. And if you don't treat your wounds, the dinos will smell your blood trail and hunt you down. At least you can finally move and shoot at the same time.
Infamous (with Uncharted 2 multiplayer beta)
The demo: Uncharted getting multiplayer was a pretty big deal when it was announced back in 2009, and the only way to get an early hands-on was to pick up a copy of Sucker Punch's latest game, Infamous. So yeah, part of Infamous' lasting success likely hinged on the curiosity of Naughty Dog fans.
The game: Infamous is a solid superhero comic book-inspired open-world game that has gone on to see quite a bit of success. Play as a good guy and help out the citizens of Empire City, or be evil and blast them away with your electricity powers. Either way you play, you still sound like a gruff asshole. Luckily, that issue was remedied a bit (opens in new tab) in the sequel. And hey, that one came with early access to the Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta, though by that point people were legitimately excited about an Infamous 2.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (with Doom 4 beta)
The demo: This beta doesn't even exist yet. Doom 4 is still deep in development, and the only footage available was privately revealed to QuakeCon attendees. Inputting the code you get with the game will qualify you for the beta, though when that will actually happen is anyone's guess, despite being emblazoned (opens in new tab) on the game's cover.
The game: Wolfenstein: The New Order had a lot to prove. Coming off a decently received, if forgettable, reboot in 2009, the latest adventures of B.J. Blazkowicz left a poor first impression during its E3 reveal. Luckily, the finished product (opens in new tab) turned out to be something truly special.. Yes, Wolfenstein is still all about killing Nazis (this time, on the moon!), but The New Order injects a strong dose of humanity into all of the violence, not only showing the evils men are capable against each other, but also the bonds that are formed during those trying times. It's one hell of a shooter, too.
Zone of the Enders (with Metal Gear Solid 2 demo)
The demo: The most anticipated demo for one of the most anticipated games of all time, the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo featured pretty much everything in the Tanker chapter up to and including the fight against Olga Gurlukovich. It was a tiny slice of the full Metal Gear Solid 2 experience (without a single hint of Raiden's presence), but it was dense, filled with secrets and Easter eggs galore. You played it once to finish the story bits; you played it dozens more just to shoot pots and pans in the kitchen.
The game: The actual game that came with the demo is a brilliant mecha melodrama filled with fast-paced battles and heady themes. Zone of the Enders follows young Leo Stenbuck as he literally stumbles across a powerful weapon, and attempts to use it to defeat an invading rebellion. It's a bit pretentious, and filled with way too many overly-long cutscenes, but it's also produced by Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, so thats to be expected. Interestingly enough, when both Zone of the Enders titles were HD-ified for PS3 and Xbox 360, they came with a demo for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Guess they'll never quite escape the shadow of that original demo.
Get your free game with purchase of demo
You might have bought the game just for those few brief moments of what's to come, but take some time to explore the thing you actually bought. You might be surprised. Did you buy any games just for the juicy demo packed in alongside it? How are you enjoying Type-0 (after spending 30 hours inside the Final Fantasy 15 demo, of course)? Let me know in the comments!
Looking for more? Check out why Batman's T-rating has been holding him back (opens in new tab), and why cheesing Destiny is big, clever, and something you really should do (opens in new tab).