Slideshow

The 20 most innovative games ever made

20 titles that changed video gaming forever

  • From BioShock to World of Warcraft, see what games lead our list of ground-breaking titles that rocked the gaming world to its core.

    It's come down to this epic moment - in an industry that sometimes has more followers than leaders, these 20 titles changed video games forever.

  • #20: Portal | Half-Life 2: The Orange Box



    Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

    Year: 2007

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Few titles can claim to be as original, fresh, or memorable as Portal, a thinking-man's first-person shooter that had no guns at all.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Portal | Half-Life 2: The Orange Box]]'s perspective-warping gameplay had players creating wormholes in walls, floors, and ceilings in an effort to escape the bizarre prison of Aperture Science. The fictional research facility blended its architecture with dizzying heights and contorted spaces that showed no clear linear means of escape. Luckily, the Portal Gun gave gamers the ability to bypass the conventional laws of physics, making distance and gravity bend to their will with ease. When you're "thinking with portals," the possibilities are truly limitless. In another innovation, Portal's storytelling used subtle imagery and darkly comedic dialogue to advance the avant-garde plot; Fully half the fun of playing Portal comes from the haunting influence and dry wit of GLaDOS, the rogue A.I. that guides you through the puzzles. Though a short experience, Portal left a huge impression on the gaming industry, with several elements of the story deftly crossing into gaming pop culture, from the Companion Cube to the lo-fi cult song "Portal: Still Alive."
  • #19: Street Fighter



    Platform: Arcade

    Year: 1991

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Street Fighter II not only popularized one-on-one fighting games, it served as the bedrock for almost every fighting game since, from Mortal Kombat to Virtua Fighter to Tekken.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Before Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting's earth-shaking debut in 1991, the fighting game genre largely consisted of the mindless beat 'em up action of Double Dragon or the Zen-like simplicity of Kung-Fu. Street Fighter II shattered these expectations, effortlessly popularizing and pioneering the competitive fighting genre with concepts such as rapid combo attacks and over-the-top special moves. Even Street Fighter II's button layout and attack commands, such as Ryu and Ken's fireball motions, heavily inspired future fighting games whether they were 2D or 3D in design. But Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting's greatest assets remain its gameplay depth and overall character balance, two qualities that remain widely respected nearly 20 years later.
  • #18: Dance Dance Revolution



    Platform: Arcade

    Year: 1998

    Original review score: Not Reviewed

    Dance Dance Revolution was (and is) a massive hit in its own right. But the real innovation in DDR lies in one simple fact: it paved the way for the entire music game genre and, by extension, the world domination of Guitar Hero.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Before Dance Dance Revolution, music-based video games were a virtually unknown niche genre. But DDR changed all of that with its patented "dance platform" that enabled players to bust a move instead of busting their thumbs on a typical game pad. Part jukebox, part karaoke machine, DDR's gameplay consisted entirely of bouncing and stomping to a musical rhythm. Because the game didn't rely on twitchy gaming skills, DDR quietly opened videogames to an entirely new demographic: everyone. This approach was later refined and mastered by the Guitar Hero franchise, but Konami deserves the nod for originally pioneering and popularizing the concept.
  • #17: Resident Evil



    Platform: PlayStation

    Year: 1996

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Horror wasn't the genre of choice for many gamers until Capcom gave rise to the original Resident Evil, which proudly displayed its B-horror movie roots while quietly trailblazing a hugely popular game genre now called "survival horror." Alone in the Dark did it first, but Resident Evil made it iconic.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Instead of most games where your weapons and health were as numerous as the enemies themselves, Resident Evil put the squeeze on players by severely limiting the ammunition and items they could carry. Knowing that you couldn't afford to waste bullets or healing herbs made each enemy encounter far more dramatic, hammering home the "survival" elements of Resident Evil. After the original Resident Evil revolutionized the industry, every other horror game creator would meticulously recreate the trademarks of the originator: the cramped rooms, the claustrophobic camera angles, the undead enemies, and the bullet-counting tension. That is, until the series re-invented itself with the masterful Resident Evil 4, a game that set the stage for the modern third-person shooter genre and games such as Gears of War.
  • #16: BioShock



    Platform: Xbox 360

    Year: 2007

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    A sleeper hit with brains and ideas to spare, BioShock was a frightening, action-packed, and gorgeous first-person shooter. But the most important thing about this best-selling Xbox 360 title was that it gave you the choice of being a survivor, a Samaritan, or a malevolent menace.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Morality and free will played major roles in BioShock, with the fate of a damned world resting on your feeble shoulders. Would you take the easy path to power and harvest the Little Sisters who fed off the dying world of Rapture? Or would you strive to be Mr. Nice Guy and save them instead? Beyond being a kind of virtual Watchmen: The End is Nigh test, BioShock is also enormously influential for advancing steampunk chic in the form of its beautiful but decaying Art Deco environments, as well as for condensing highbrow philosophical concepts (particularly Ayn Rand's Objectivism) into a gripping, digestible game experience. But the real spark in the BioShock experience was the realization that you could choose to be the hero or the villain, and that killing the protective Big Daddies would leave you face-to-face with a helpless Little Sister who could do nothing but shiver at you in fear. Rescue or harvest: What would you do?
  • #15: Warcraft: Orcs & Humans



    Platform: PC

    Year: 1994

    Original review score: Not Reviewed

    Though Dune II technically set the modern real-time strategy (RTS) genre into motion, it was Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft: Orcs & Humans that turned a fringe game style into an international sensation.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Warcraft's original website says it best: "Set in the mythic kingdom of Azeroth, players are given the task of maintaining a thriving economy while building a war machine with which to destroy the enemy." Warcraft built upon this simple premise by embracing use of the mouse with an intuitive graphical user interface. Warcraft played a key role in popularizing the mouse, which was soon to become the signature controller of all PC games to come. Blizzard Entertainment capitalized on Warcraft's success with more trend-setting and spinoffs, most notably 1998's seminal Starcraft. Though RTS games aren't quite a mainstream phenomenon in the West, they enjoy an enormous international following, particularly in the Far East.
  • |#14: Final Fantasy VII



    Platform: PlayStation

    Year: 1997

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Always a trailblazing series, Final Fantasy hit its creative and cultural peak with the deeply emotional, hugely popular Final Fantasy VII. FFVII is so influential that its name alone is instantly synonymous with the RPG genre, while its characters and gameplay set the standards and stereotypes for countless future games in the role-playing genre.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    It's more than just big swords and spiky hair. Final Fantasy VII was a rare game that pushed each of its separate components - music, story, graphics, and character building - to soaring new heights. The story was a multi-disc novel that touched on serious concepts such as death and rebirth, while the graphics stunned players with an elegant combination of 3D action and steampunk-inspired cityscapes. Top all that off with an unforgettable cast of characters, including one of the most famous villains in video game history, and you've got a classic that touched an entire genre of gaming....and an entire generation of gamers. Furthermore, there's a fair argument that Final Fantasy VII's status as an early PlayStation One exclusive gave Sony the edge it needed to compete in and eventually dominate the video game industry.
  • #13: The Sims



    Platform: PC

    Year: 2000

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    In The Sims, players ruled. More of an interactive dollhouse than a literal "game," The Sims tasked players with managing a virtual family. What you actually did with them, though, was completely up to you.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    In The Sims, you won't find a storyline, a goal, or a cast of characters. Instead, you'll find a landmark game that allows you to build a virtual world from the ground up and tend to (or torture, or misdirect, or ignore) the denizens living inside it. You could order your Sim to eat, exercise, and pay his bills in order to be happy and popular; conversely, you could simply let him rot in his own excrement and gleefully take screengrabs. This open-ended quality of the game transformed The Sims into a monstrous mainstream hit, partly driven by its success with female players - something almost unheard of in 2000. There was no real way to win at The Sims, but the satisfaction of being an omnipotent voyeur watching over a completely customized simulated life was yet another fascinating innovation from the mind of designer Will Wright.
  • #12: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved



    Platform: Xbox 360

    Year: 2005

    Original review score: Not Reviewed

    Sometimes the biggest movements begin in the smallest of ways. While a terrific retro-styled arcade shooter, Geometry Wars' gameplay itself isn't revolutionary. Its distribution method, however, is another story entirely.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Originally released as a minigame in the Xbox 1 title Project Gotham Racing 2 developer, Bizarre Creations, later remade this spacey arcade shooter for the new Xbox 360 as Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. The catch: the game was only available as a downloadable title through Microsoft's new Xbox Live Arcade service. With its low price and instantly gratifying gameplay, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved became one of the most-played games in Xbox history despite never showing up as a boxed game on store shelves. By eschewing a traditional retail sales strategy and delivering an addictive package at a tiny price, Geometry Wars was the first tentative step in a movement that will end in the eventual retirement of physical discs in favor of efficient, affordable, and accessible game downloads.
  • #11: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare



    Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

    Year: 2007

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Finally taking the series out of World War II-era Europe, Call of Duty 4 went for the throat with the most realistic combat situations possible in Modern Warfare. Immersive and intense, COD4 went on to become one of the best-selling and most respected shooters of all time, rivaling even Halo's earth-shaking impact.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    After countless invasions of Normandy, developer Infinity Ward finally brought Call of Duty to the modern era - a decision that was controversial at first. Modern Warfare fine-tuned the gameplay of the Call of Duty series to achieve near-perfection while simultaneously popularizing RPG elements (selectable skills, an experience meter) in its trend-setting online multiplayer mode. Even the single-player campaign stands out as a classic, with its genuinely surprising plot twists (yep, the A-bomb goes off) and subversive themes (the AC-130 gunship scenario remains a darkly humorous genre high point). Call of Duty 4's innovations are less splashy than other games on this list, but no less deserving of recognition. This is a damned fine game.
  • #10: Super Mario 64



    Platform: Nintendo 64

    Year: 1996

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Super Mario 64 literally invented the 3D platformer genre, setting the foundation for a hundred games after it, including the use of the analog stick and camera controls.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Before Mario 64, Nintendo's mascot remained trapped in the confines of the side-scrolling genre. In 1996, Nintendo pulled off the impossible by successfully having their mascot make the massive leap to a fully 3D game for the first time. With the use of the Nintendo 64's new analog stick, players could make Mario jump, flip, and run like an Olympic gymnast, or move the camera view for a better angle. While Super Mario 64 didn't try a lot of "new" things that players hadn't already seen in a Mario game, what it did do was recreate key features and blow them up to gigantic, larger-than-life proportions. Levels were no long flat, cardboard cutouts littered with power-ups and Goombas, but colossal worlds honeycombed with secrets and collectible items, which added huge incentive to replay levels again and again.
  • #9: Half-Life



    Platform: PC

    Year: 1998

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    There's never been anything quite like the original Half-Life, a PC shooter that revolutionized video game storytelling by abandoning the popular concepts of story cinemas and wisecracking one-liners in favor of seamless real-time immersion and a faceless (and therefore universal) protagonist.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Rather than making the player a joke-cracking personality a la Duke Nukem 3D, Half-Life developer Valve Software inverted the formula with powerful, genre-rippling results that still thrive over ten years later. The central "hero," Gordon Freeman, has no voice and no personality. Therein lies the genius: Freeman was nothing more than an empty vessel for the player's ego. Wisely, Valve Software then amplified this design decision by eschewing any game element that would shatter their carefully constructed alternate reality. That meant all storytelling and plot developments were seamlessly delivered in real time to the player via survivors of the Black Mesa alien invasion. To this day, Half-Life 's vision of the faceless, often voiceless hero is the de facto standard for much of the action genre, and organic real-time narratives have largely replaced mood-breaking cinematic cut scenes.
  • #8: Wii Sports


    Platform: Nintendo Wii

    Year: 2006

    Original review score: 4 out of 5 Stars

    If Super Mario Bros. helped Nintendo patent the "killer app," then Wii Sports redefined the idea, steamrolling over the 2006 holiday season to become the best-selling game of all time despite being a simple pack-in game for the Nintendo Wii.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    With Wii Sports, video games had broken the confines of the television set, as the world exploded over the video game accompanying Nintendo's newest console. The Wii's motion controls alone were a huge selling point for the system, but the ease and accessibility of Wii Sports made it a title that literally anyone could pick up and play instantly, even parents and grandparents who had never played a video game in their lives. Surprisingly enough, Wii Sports still outclasses many newer Wii games in raw gameplay value, with responsive motion gestures and appealing gamplay that has propelled the Wii as a sought-after gadget for families, roommates, and couples.
  • #7: Halo: Combat Evolved



    Platform: Xbox

    Year: 2001

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Halo forever changed the first-person shooter genre, but it did so quietly with a host of small, brilliant innovations. Halo proved that hardcore FPS games could not only work, but thrive on home game consoles.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Before Halo, console first-person shooters were a dismal affair: the horrid console-based control schemes made the PC the only place to play serious FPS games. Halo changed that attitude almost overnight through a host of subtle gameplay tweaks that are now so popular they're practically universal in the action genre. Halo's recharging shield meter, for instance, allowed players to hang back from the action to restore lost health - a landmark design decision that reduced player deaths and, by extension, frustration. Other trend-setting gameplay elements included the two-weapon carry limit, the emphasis on melee strikes and grenade throwing, and the introduction of drivable vehicles. Throw in a legendary multiplayer mode and dazzlingly colorful visuals and you've got the recipe for an FPS revolution.
  • #6: LittleBigPlanet



    Platform: PlayStation 3

    Year: 2008

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    LittleBigPlanet's promise of "user-created content" ushered in a new way of thinking about video games, giving players the tools they needed to easily construct their own playgrounds.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Whether you played the excellent pre-built levels or delved straight into the PlayStation Network's populous vault of community-built areas, Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet oozes creativity. A simple Mario-style platformer on the surface, LittleBigPlanet was in actuality a game construction set for the masses. Using a simple pointer-based interface, players could dramatically alter the physics and geometry of any given level quickly and in real-time, even when playing with others. This gave players free reign to build pretty much anything, from an original masterpiece to a tribute to another game. Though the noise far outweighs the signal in terms of downloadable level offerings, LittleBigPlanet's community-centric approach and adorable characters have brought more innovation to the platformer genre than any game since Super Mario Bros 3.
  • #5: Metal Gear Solid



    Platform: PlayStation

    Year: 1998

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Metal Gear Solid set a new bar for cinematic storytelling in games, creating a shadowy world of intrigue and deception amidst an environment where stealth was the only winning strategy.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    In Metal Gear Solid, players took control of rogue operative Solid Snake and quietly sneak past enemy guards rather than kill them and risk alerting reinforcements. Though the stealth gameplay was itself revolutionary in its depth and accessibility, Metal Gear Solid's found even bigger success in its intricate and surprisingly dramatic storyline, which was told through a series of letterboxed short films that touched on topical themes from the psychology of war to cutting-edge technology. And despite the crude graphics and occasionally stilted dialogue, creator Hideo Kojima's vision of a playable action film shined through, thanks in part to stellar voice casting as well as clever art direction and cinematography. Metal Gear Solid was a cultural milestone for videogames, providing more proof of the medium's potential to move hearts and minds, not just fingertips.
  • #4: Shadow of the Colossus



    Platform: PlayStation 2

    Year: 2005

    Original review score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

    Shadow of the Colossus sold fewer copies than nearly any other game on this list, but its ability to stir up emotion and wonder elevates it to the status of art.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Many video games include enemy bosses that dwarf the main character, but Shadow of the Colossus took that unappreciated sense of scale and expanded it as far as it could go. Even on the outdated PlayStation 2 hardware, gamers still marvel at the sheer size of the Colossi, the titular race of creatures that make up the entirety of the gameplay experience. There are no rank-and-file enemies, just the Colossi. In order to kill a Colossus, you have to cling to its enormous body and crawl, shimmy, and tumble to one of its weak points where you can stab it with your tiny sword. It's here, with your sword poised for the killing thrust, that the game begins to work its magic. Why, exactly, are you killing these giants? Some of the Colossi even appear downright docile, attacking only when provoked by your actions. This moment can inspire sympathy and even a twinge of...is that doubt? Or regret? But then the moment passes, you slay the beast, and all 5000 tons of the Colossus comes crashing to the ground in a scene of jaw-dropping majesty and exuberance. Shadow of the Colossus is a work of brilliance that represents an emotional high point for the video game medium.
  • #3: World of Warcraft



    Platform: PC

    Year: 2004

    Original review score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

    Blizzard Entertainment created an entire planet inside of a video game, and the result was a revolution. This online game was so game-changing that it instantly legitimized the entire genre of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games and, ultimately, earned a subscriber roster that outnumbers some European countries.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    How many games have been so addictive and engaging that entire subcultures are created around it? World of Warcraft was by no means the first MMO, but it was the game that perfected the rules and the experience, with a richly detailed, persistent universe for players to explore, and constant expansions ensuring that their characters would continue to grow and change as the game aged. Since the game's best treasures and biggest quests often required dozens of players to band together, WoW encouraged people to communicate both inside and outside the world of Azeroth, making the human element the secret heart of World of Warcraft.
  • #2: Grand Theft Auto III



    Platform: PlayStation 2

    Year: 2001

    Original review score: 5 out of 5 Stars

    Rockstar's smash-hit Grand Theft Auto III blindsided the world in 2001, selling so many copies that it almost single-handedly propelled the PlayStation 2 to hardware dominance. Its chief contributions were that it granted the player almost unlimited freedom and instantly popularized non-linear "sandbox" gameplay.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    "Go anywhere and do anything." That wasn't a familiar concept to gamers in 2001, who were usually given a clear starting point and finish line in their games, be it a checkered flag or a "Level Complete" message. Grand Theft Auto III hit players with a one-two punch, dropping gamers into a huge virtual city that completely abandoned the concept of levels and rules. With a sprawling 3D Liberty City sitting at their fingertips, players were suddenly free to explore at their own pace, take on amusing side quests, look for Hidden Packages...or if, they wanted, beat up civilians and blow up the cops. For the first time, anything was possible.

    As it turned out, the idea of doing anything proved irresistible to players, who oftentimes ignored GTAIII's central storyline missions in favor of simply goofing around. GamePro senior editor Sid Shuman remembers his first experience with Grand Theft Auto III: "I remember playing GTAIII for the first time and feeling like I had been struck by lightning. I knew right away that I was seeing a revolution, and that the effects would be huge for the industry." Revolutionary, but also influential: for years following GTAIII's release, dozens of new games adopted the same sandbox play style that GTAIII had perfected. But it was a testament to Rockstar North's talent that virtually all of these games were revealed to be shallow clones that lacked the wit and vision of the originator.
  • #1: Doom



    Platform: PC

    Year: 1993 Original review score: Not Reviewed

    Doom was the "it" moment for video games, a perfect convergence of technological and gameplay innovation that blew the doors wide open on the embryonic medium of video games. Doom was final, undeniable proof that video games were the future of state-of-the-art entertainment. Over the last 15 years, Doom's influence on the industry - and on modern video gaming - has been nothing short of seismic.

    Why It Was Innovative:

    Doom's key revelation was to place a player inside of the game's world, transforming him from a detached observer to a real-time participant surrounded by 360 degrees of danger and menace. Playing Doom on your PC screen was like living another life, like being the hero instead of awkwardly controlling his actions. Doom's predecessor Wolfenstein 3D had employed a similar first-person perspective to groundbreaking effect, but Doom was light years ahead because it wove a tapestry of art and sound, light and darkness, color and texture in a way best compared to film and television.

    In this era, the concept of "gameplay" mostly consisted of bombarding the player with robotic enemy patterns to be memorized and exploited. But with Doom, for the first time players had to adapt and predict in order to survive as Doom's demonic cast prowled and attacked with malevolent intelligence (intelligent for the time, anyway). Another innovation: Doom's environments were practically characters onto themselves, reacting to the player's presence by cutting the lights or opening a hidden door to trigger unease or panic in the player. Doom was alive, and it was dangerous, and the result was the most realistic and compelling virtual world ever created. And though countless games have vastly improved on Doom's graphics and gameplay, Doom was the wellspring that shaped the industry.

    Doom's unprecedented immersion was only the beginning of its contributions to videogaming. Doom also introduced the world to the concept of online multiplayer gaming by enabling players to connect remotely over phone lines and play cooperatively or competitively (coining the term "deathmatch"). Then there was the popularization of the "shareware model" of game distribution, which gave away the first chapter of Doom for free and encouraged players to pony up to buy the rest of the game. Sound familiar? It should -- that "try before you buy" spirit lives on in downloadable game demos on services such as Xbox Live and PSN. Finally, even Doom's creators, Texas-based independent developer id Software, set an important precedent by embodying the indie game development movement that is still so vital to the creativity of the industry.

    For these reasons, and many, many more, GamePro is proud to name Doom as the most innovative game in the history of GamePro. We salute you, Oh Dark One.
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