Have you ever played a game and thought to yourself, “Damn. Where has this been all my life?” If so, then you know exactly what we are talking about when we say that there have been a select few games that really changed the way we not only viewed gaming, but how we played. Now I understand that there are literally a hundred games that I could post up here. But I had to look a lot of factors to come up with this list. Not only sales numbers, but how these games really ushered in something new and fresh. This list is comprised of new and old games that really brought something different to the table.
Until GT came along, racing games were mostly of the arcade variety. They were nothing more than a series of timed waypoint races that got you better cars as you progressed. But these games did little in the way of capturing the feel of driving a ridiculously expensive sports car around a track in some exotic corner of the world. Then came Gran Turismo . It simulated many of the factors of actual racing, right down to the way your tires gripped the track in different conditions, and it was hands-down the most realistic looking game that a 32-bit console could conjure. Even though the franchise has lost steam since GT 3 , it remains one of the defining entries the in driving games genre.
Two words that are very painful for true gamers to say: Sega Dreamcast. Anyone who owned one probably played the Shenmue titles and were incredibly sad to see the series unfinished. Shenmue showed the world two things. First, it showed us what action-adventure/RPG titles could be. By using the Virtua engine that fueled the Virtua Fighter games, Yu Suzuki created an amazing pair of titles that blew away every other game at the time in terms of size, scope and story. Sadly, it also showed us was how unsustainable the Dreamcast was. Every single gamer who played Shenmue would’ve had to buy two copies each just for Sega to break even on the production costs.
The first true, old-guard game on this list is Metroid . This game brought us a few different game changing elements. The first of which was breaking the mold of your average 2D platformer by allowing you to maneuver within any given level in any given direction. This allowed for you to go back to old areas and discover new things once you’d upgraded your abilities, something that was previously impossible in 2D scrollers. Secondly, there were no levels to speak of. Rather than moving through a series of separate levels, there was only one big world for you to explore. And lastly, the big one was that the protagonist of the game was a woman. That had rarely happened before Metroid , especially in console gaming. Women were classically portrayed as the “damsel in distress.” But not Samus. She was a pioneering powerful female character in video gaming.
Super Mario 64
In 1985, the first Super Mario game changed the way that we played side-scrolling platformers. Many tried to follow in the footsteps of Super Mario Bros. , but few matched its popularity. As time went on, the franchise continued to reinvent itself, with varying degrees of success. When the Nintendo 64 hit the scene, Mario again jumped into the forefront. Super Mario 64 was the first title to take 3D gaming seriously. Sony’s Playstation had been capable of it, but everyone was playing it safe and sticking to older formulas of success. When this game hit the shelves, it blew the doors off of the old traditions in gaming and paved the way for a new generation of story-based 3D platformers with deep and immersive worlds to explore at your leisure. For all intents and purposes, this game was the first true 3D action/adventure game to come to consoles.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
No other shooter franchise has enjoyed the success of Call of Duty , and none of the games in the series were as influential as the first Modern Warfare . Up until this game, we saw the gritty and fairly realistic side of combat during World War II . While that was awesome in its own right, playing through the intense modern combat scenario was exactly the kind of change shooter fans wanted. Then came the concept of Prestige. Yeah, it’s an all-too-familiar term these days, but at the time no one had done anything like it. It gave online gamers bragging rights that were previously unachievable. Modern Warfare has become a powerhouse in gaming, even invading pop culture worldwide.
Gears of War
Even though other games did it before Gears , it was undoubtedly the first cover-based shooter that actually worked the way it was supposed to. Even though it may be the main reason for gritty and drab-hued shooters pouring into the market, it is undeniable in what it brought to the third-person shooter genre. One of the main reasons for its success is the fact that Epic Games built the entire game around the cover system, rather than just including it as a control function. It proved that third-person shooters needed a functioning cover system in order for players to really get into the pacing of the action. It proved this point so much so that if you were to play a third-person game today without a cover system, you’d be playing Dark Souls .
As much as I hate to admit it, Minecraft has single-handedly turned the modern game market on its ear. In a world of polished hi-def graphics and long, drawn-out storylines as a marker for success, developer Notch stripped all that away. Instead, he gave players minimal story, sub-par graphics, and the ability to rearrange the entire play area to suit the needs or desires of the player. The overwhelming success of this title is attributed to a lot of gamers with entirely too much time on their hands that created entire worlds themed after their favorite movies, comics and even other games. But the funniest thing about this game is simply this: Minecraft is not only supremely successful for an indie game, it is one of the most successful games of any kind, ever.
Back in 1996, something big happened. A viral outbreak in a town called Raccoon City , and the events that followed, very nearly created the survival horror genre. Certainly, games like Alone In The Dark and Sweet Home did it first, but neither of those games met with the success and subsequent cult following that the Resident Evil series has had over the years. This series of games defined the genre and set the standard for all survival horror games that would follow. In the process, the setting became a fixture in pop culture, spawning movies, comics, and even novels. There have been tons of games that have done survival horror better than the original Resident Evil , but let’s face it. None of them would have even come into existence if it hadn’t been for this title and its insane popularity.
Metal Gear Solid
Prior to this game, action/adventure titles had to choose between either great gameplay mechanics or amazing storytelling to be successful. But once MGS hit, Hideo Kojima proved that there was room for both of those things and no need to sacrifice either in order to have a successful game. Not only that, it covered multiple gameplay genres. There were puzzles, third-person shooting scenarios, and multiple solutions to nearly every challenge offered to players. It was also one of the first action/adventure titles to employ full-on voice acting and dramatization of story elements to further the plot of the game. But as we all know, the coolest part of the game was the most insane boss battle of all time. The one against Psycho Mantis.
Grand Theft Auto III
You can argue all you want, but this one game has done more to revolutionize the video game industry than virtually any other title ever. Why, you ask? Because it gave us the freedom to do just about anything we wanted. We could do everything. Wander around aimlessly, wreaking havoc and destruction with little consequence. You could hire hookers and then kill them and get your money back. You could steal any vehicle in the gaming world and drive it like a bat out of hell, leading the cops on insane chases through the streets of a major city. It had it all. It had a full and rich story, with great voice acting for the time, and it had arguably the biggest scope of any console game in history. It would become the template for nearly every open-world game that would come after it, but most importantly, it taught us that a little controversy goes a long way at the cash register.