I want to list a few of the innovations that I feel changed the way I see gaming now. Some of them are small, others larger in scope. All of them leave a very strong impression of what can become of gaming in the future.
Let me just say, forgive me for naming mostly Playstation games. I mostly play Playstation so if any of these showed up in games on other console's first my apologies. I can only speak from experience. Ok, to the list....
1. Persona 4 and Valkyria Chronicles/"Weaving Characterization with Gameplay"
I love the both of these games for varying reasons, yet there is one thing in particular that they both do that help cement them in my mind as innovative. They both, tho in different ways, make character personality and relationships apart of the action gameplay. Never have I seen them so perfecty woven together. In Persona 4, the bond you create with the Party members has a direct link to how they perform in battle and what skills they have available. This goes further than the A-Typical "Reach Level X, unlock move Z" approach most RPGs take. It actually makes you want to interact with them, and creates an actual sense of building friendship. Valkyria does the same but in an entirely different way. Playable Characters in VC all have Pros and Cons. Some of them are tiny inconveniences, some little perks, other very large road blocks. For Example, a chracter "A" likes to be in other groups with females, but hates all "Type 1" people. You can put A next to a girl, his stats go up tremendously, yet....if that female is a Type1 his stats plummet. These have a very strong effect on the outcome of battles. Its a war simulator at heart and any great leader knows each member's strengths and weaknesses. There are side story sections that can actually CHANGE how A feels about T1 people, making the relationship yet again feel like you've made progress. It is something no games before it (That I have played) have ever tried, and I demand that more do.
2. Killzone 2 and 3/ Dynamic or Revolving Objectives
Dynamic Objectives blew my mind, I love them. Usually in a FPS you are forced to choose between Deathmatch, Team DeathMatch,Capture the Flag, Base Defend, etc. Guerilla had the engenius idea to actually put them all together. Why this even matters you ask? Let me explain. When playing many shooters, the fanbase has a usual favorite, team deathmatch is usually it. While fun for some(maybe most) it can become tiring and boring for those who are not good at shooters or just find it bland. Dynamic Objectives keep you on your toes, and also gives every gamer type to show what they are made of. If head to head shoot outs are not your thing, but you are good at getting into any local and setting off detonators, A-OK, just wait out someplace safe until the objective changes. It creates a very interesting,fun,fast paced, and unique air about the multiplayer. I see many games adopting this mentality as well and I hope it becomes standard.
3. Uncharted 2:Among Theives / Cinimatic Gameplay Experience
At first glance, Uncharted just appears to be your typical AAA blockbuster action game, but underneath it is so much more. Many may not see it but U2 created something I never experienced before, Cinimatic Gameplay. I am not talking about the trend GoW started with within cutscenes you are cued to press a button at just the right moment to see a spectacle on screen. What I am referring to here is litterally bringing the background alive to be interacted with and become part of the action. In U2 there is the infamous train scene. The train is constantly moving in and out of a tunnel. During that time you must manuever your way to the front. There are many enemy obstacles to impede your path but the more interesting is what they do to the Train itself. You must quickly bob and weave from inside the train, outside the train, hanging off the side, all the while dodging sign posts. This gives a feeling that you are inside your favorite action flick. Then of course you have the helicopter that is out to destroy the whole damn train, blowing up sections as you go along in real time. Do not mistake these for typical cutscenes, you are playing all of this in HD. I see many games trying to imitate what Naughty Dog created with this, and I like it. Mass Effect 3 comes to mind of recent titles that have incorperated what they have done.
4.Call of Duty and Microsoft/ Perks and Leveling
I have to thank MS for coming up with the most ingenius concept, Achievements. I love collecting things, its the hoarder in me that demands I collect such trinkets otherwise I litterally cannot sleep at night. Many hate them do to gamer's like me's fascination with them but I feel they have a very strong purpose. Basically what it has created is a game within a game. Not only are you beating a game within itself, but onces you have completely mastered that game it builds "experience points" to your total level, which you want to stay above what your friends have. It also demands brand loyalty, because in order to keep your progrssion going forward you will need to stick with whom you started. I cannot tell you how many ppl told me when I worked at Gamestop that the only reason they picked up every MP game on 360 was simply for Achievements. Yes PS3 has Trophies, but the bulk of their virtual pride was held permanently on live.I cannot think of another word to describe this other than Genius. This actually goes into another great innovation. Call of Duty is the first of many that I saw do this. What I mean is Perks and Leveling. Basically every genre of gaming (Platformers/Shooters/Action/etc) are all incorperating the time ol RPG mechanic of allowing leveling progression. It drastically extends longevity of a game and creates a similar compulsion to advance farther than your friends, just like Trophies/Achievements. Perks are a short burst of this, allowing you to reap immediate benefits of your skill (a limit break if you will).
5. Batman:Arkham Asylum/ "Freeflow Combat"
I must say, Rocksteady has developed the most dynamic and pure fun combat system I could ever dream of. It was virtually flawless. So much versatility in what you can do, flashy but not overbearing, easy to do but hard to master. After I Plat'd B:AA I felt like a true badass, knowing I was able to pull off a Freeflow Perfection! Games in the same genre are all trying to incorperate a similar dynamic, U3 for instances uses a light version of it for its hand to hand combat.
6. Metal Gear Solid 4/ The "Sound" Ring
Its something so simple......yet so useful. Many might not have even realized it was there. You ever play a game and they ask you to listen and hear something that is going on around you? The game assumes everyone has surround sound. What the mastermind behind MGS4 did was he created another alternative. The Sound Ring. The sound ring was a light smokey ring that appears around Snake when standing perfectly still, it acts as his in game ears. When someone or thing moves, ripples appear in the ring in the sound's direction. This became super handy for me throughout the entire game, I couldn't imagine playing without it. I realized that many games could benefit from a similar addition.
7. Demon's Souls/ Crafting a Reality Where Death is a Part of Life, Merging Multiplayer with Single Player
Demon's Souls.....words cannot describe how much I love thee. The game blew everyone's mind upon release, as no one was truely expecting it to be good. I am happy to say I was an early adopter with this one.What demon's souls just does SO right is that it melds all gaming norms into the gameplay, without breaking suspension. By now the infamous Infinite Deaths in DS are well known, but what makes it so interesting is that.....death is good. From Software knows that Death is always apart of any action game, yet no one said it had to e a punishment per-say. What they developed is a key component to the game. Death is expected, and if you master the game you can use it to your benefit. The fact the monsters are always in the same spot, something that could be seen as a detriment in any other game, has been repurposed for the game's theme of learning from your mistakes. Something needs to be said about how crafty this was. Then there is the online, which players have very little control of. You cannot choose who to party up with, or actually give any direct contact with other players such as speach. It is all random. Yet don't be scared away, this actually helps create the atmosphere From wanted for the game. Despair and lonliness, futility, and iminant danger oozes from every orifice of this game and it does it so well. We are starting to see more games do similar things. El Shadaih(Sp?) is a unique action game that embodies death, making it just another facet of the gameplay instead of an end. You will be taken to an alternate space and then fight your way back to reality, each time becoming more difficult to do. Journey, an artsy game made by "That Game Company" actually utilizes the secluded multiplayer adopted from Demon's Souls. No contact, it forces you to use imagination to cooperate, and also exists as a second layer of story telling. Demon's Souls will be a game for the history books.
8. Assassin's Creed and Uncharted/"Going Vertical"
Has no one else noticed how so many games emphasize climbing this gen? AC and Uncharted have made a strong impression. AC started the uprise of the "thinking Vertical" movement. For so long games have been about traveling from left to right, backwards and forwards, but....what about up? AC boasts some very indepth climbing mechanics where every petruding bring is tangible object. This is simply taking the Open World trend that GTA started to the next level. Its not just about the fancy and flashy turain, its about walking up to that building and exploring it inside and out. Uncharted added a new dynamic to multiplayer with this as well. In U2/3 you can travel upwards to gain a sniper advantage, or simply use it as a way to evade the enemy. You see most people never look up, its ingrained in us to look forward. Its just refreshing to see a new take on exploration.
9. Little Big Planet/ "Play Create Share"
Sony stumbled onto gold when they recruited Media Molecule for making them an exclusive title. LBP represents the next step in the versatility of gaming. It may appear to be a platformer but it is no longer defined by genre, but by the distance of your imagination. LBP creates countless possibilities that range from artsy showpeices, captivating stories, and whimiscal adventures. If a game is going to prove that it can be seen as art, it would be THIS game (along with SOTC,Journey). Every time I turn on the game I have to watch the intro. Listening to the narrator describe LBP's premise gives me goosebumps everytime. The game invokes the toybox nostalgia of your childhood, something we all probably miss but struggled to recapture. Since the first LBP's release we have seen 3 sequels and a few copy cats, inspired by what MM started.
10. Mass Effect,Elder Scrolls, Fallout, InFamous/ "Choices"
Now I name all of these games simply because all of them expound on the idea of "choice" differently than each other but similar ideals apply. I don't think any of them mastered it but they all give glimmers of brilliance. We all have longed for the day we could choose our own path as a hero/villain in a game. These games gave us that option. Where a few of them trip up is the fact they try to cornhole the choices given as either good or evil, when in all honesty they are restrictive and trivial. Choices are simply choices. I can say with assurance that anyone who was ever deemed a villain in real life.....probably did not think of themselves as such. Many believe the ends justify the means, and I love a game that forces you to come to grips with that reality. The "good" option is not always the "right" option for you. I will use an example from InFamous 2 for its the freshest in my mind. WHen I was put on the spot to make this choice it tore me to peices. Warning, SPOILERS!!!! in InFamous 2 Cole is positioned with the tough decision at the very end. Cole spent the entire game trying to keep The Beast from killing all of man, but he learned that The Beast's intentions are to simply turn all conduits into superbeings like Cole and him. Unfortunately, the process requires a nuclear explosion of power that will kill those who are not conduits. Cole thought it would be simple to take The Beast down by using a certain device.....yet what he learns is that the device would kill him, the Beast, and every other conduit in the world! Basically he has a choice....does he kill the majority to save the minority, or does he sacrifice the minority to save all of the majority, mind you that would mean killing himself as well. Good and Evil do not correctly capture this dilimma. This was DEEP! and took me hours of reflexion to really come up with a formulated answer. Even if none of these games go this dynamic perfect, they started us onto something revolutionary.
11. This Generation / Blurring Genre Lines,Melding RPG Elements
I can't say exactly who started it but I have seen quite a lot of it since this gen started. As many have noticed, there has been a sharp decline in the shear number of RPGs made these days. Yet what I have noticed is pretty much every other genre taking what usually made RPGs so unique. Shooters with Leveling systems, Action games with Loot Economics, even actual RPGs becoming far more action oriented. The RPG does not exist as it's own genre anymore, rather it has found ways to better every genre.