Every video game genre has its classics, but games that reinvent the very nature of the genre are rare. These are the games that take big risks and blaze new trails. Every game on this list broke the mold in such smart and interesting ways that everyone took notice, and the genres were never the same again.
1. Halo: Combat Evolved
Prior to Halo, first-person shooters on consoles were generally considered a bad idea. Sure, some had found success, including Medal of Honor and GoldenEye 007. But if you go back and play those pre-Halo games now, you’ll probably wish you hadn’t. Before Halo, the only shooters that felt good to play were on PC.
Halo changed all that. It provided a blueprint for console shooters that’s still in use today. With its innovative multiplayer mode and rock-solid control scheme, Halo proved that first-person shooters could play just as well on consoles as they did on PCs. This game spawned a revolution.
Also try: Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Bioshock Infinite
2. The Walking Dead
Most people thought adventure games had run their course in the 1990s. The games back then were great for the time; titles like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Beneath a Steel Sky, The Secret of Monkey Island, and even Myst were popular for a reason.
But they felt undeniably clunky, and developers gradually stopped making them. One of the only companies still making them by 2011 was Telltale, whose Back to the Future and Jurassic Park games hardly gave gamers faith in the future of the genre.
Then Telltale released The Walking Dead in 2012 and blew everyone away. Here was a game with interesting characters, perilous decisions, unexpected plot twists, and a whole new way of presenting the action. It all boiled down to a combination of smart game design and good storytelling. Since then, other companies have taken Telltale’s cue and started making exciting adventure games again. Not bad for a little game based on a TV show that’s based on a comic book.
Also try: The Wolf Among Us, Life is Strange, Broken Age
3. Super Mario Bros. 3
No company has done more for the platformer genre over the years than Nintendo. The company has spearheaded virtually every revolution that has occurred in the genre’s long history. But the biggest innovation probably came with Super Mario Bros. 3, a game whose design fingerprints can still be found in the majority of platformers today, a quarter of a century later.
Nintendo took what it had done with the first two Mario games and cranked everything up to 11. The game had more worlds, more power-ups, more creative ideas, and more smart level design than any platformer that came before it (and most after it). You can still buy the game through Nintendo’s eShop on Wii U and 3DS. If you haven’t played this masterpiece yet, it’s never too late.
Also try: New Super Mario 3D World, Super Meat Boy, Rayman Legends
4. Gears of War
One of the first major shooters on the Xbox 360, Gears of War brought many innovations to the third-person shooter genre, but the main one was a “snap-to” cover mechanic that worked every time you tried it, no worry, no fuss.
The game is littered with waist-high walls perfect for providing cover and is populated with hundreds of well-armed enemies ready to pump you full of lead the moment you step into the open. Bottom line: You either find cover or you die. Many other games, including Grand Theft Auto and Uncharted, would make use of the cover mechanic in the following years. But Gears of War perfected it.
Also try: Uncharted 2, Tomb Raider (2012), Mass Effect 2
5. Grand Theft Auto 3
Grand Theft Auto 3 was a watershed moment for open world games. We’d had semi-open world titles before it, like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but nothing compared to the vast freedom provided by GTA 3’s Liberty City. This was a modern metropolis full of people and automobiles you could interact with (and steal).
By today’s standards, there’s little to do in Grand Theft Auto 3. But for the time, it felt like the first game to simulate reality on that big of a scale. All open world games since then owe GTA 3 a debt.
Also try: Saints Row IV, Watch_Dogs, Red Dead Redemption
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