"Game developers just play it safe and churn out sequels," whines the average forum goer. Looking back on the last ten years, though, it's clear that plenty of risks were taken. We saw the rise of many great new franchises that have altered the industry's landscape permanently. Here's a list of the ten game series that pushed boundaries and entertained the hell out of us in the process.
There are a few things to note before the list is revealed. First, only series with two or more released games were eligible. BioShock and Mass Effect's sequels will be released early next year and while they're probably going to be as fun as their predecessors, we can't pass judgment without having played them yet. The second rule is that only franchises whose first game debuted after January 1st, 2000 could make it onto the list. There's a lot of great stuff from the late nineties (1998 saw the release of Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid and Baldur's Gate) but those games have already gotten their fair share of praise. It's time to acknowledge the new classics.
Call of Duty didnít start the World War II shooter craze but it damn sure owned it from 2003 onward. With the success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, itís made the present day the new ďhotĒ setting for an FPS. Rather than falling back on the old formula of one super-soldier killing hordes of enemies single-handedly, COD placed players alongside squads of A.I. companions in some of the warís bloodiest battles. It made you feel like you were there, too, with ear-ringing explosions and other realistic effects. The level of immersion has increased steadily with each sequel, too. Over the years, the series has managed to establish itself as a must-own for online gamers thanks to its deep, smooth multiplayer experience.
Deus Ex is the least known game series on this list. Itís a shame, too, because the first game in the series, released in 2000, is one of the best single-player shooters of all time. The intriguing plot, which melds popular conspiracy theory with science fiction, is only part of the reason for the gameís appeal. Deus Exís real strength lay in its open-ended gameplay. The main character had a slew of upgradable skills Ė hacking, marksmanship, demolition, locks picking, etc. Ė and could use them to complete missions in different ways. The sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, was a bit less beloved because it scaled back the RPG elements of the previous game. The emphasis on player choice in both story and gameplay remained, though, and the series stands as a breath of fresh air in the shooter genre.
The word ďepicĒ gets tossed around a lot in gaming criticism. It might sound cheap, then, to call God of War epic but the term really sums up this series nicely. Everything about these third-person action games is over-the-top. Main character Kratos essentially rampages through Greek mythology, killing every hero, monster, and god that gets in his way. The gory finishing moves and the hidden sex minigames might make you think the gameís over-reliant on shock value but its appeal is actually rooted in its smooth blend of action, platforming, and puzzles. Many developers have tried to duplicate the formula but no one does it quite like Kratos.
Convincing someone to buy your game is hard enough. The task becomes a lot more difficult when you decide to bundle a pricey peripheral with it. However, Guitar Hero and its plastic guitar hooked players and launched the current music game craze. Thereís something strangely fun about tapping buttons in rhythm with notes played on screen. Developer Harmonix has since moved on to create the Rock Band series, which encouraged us to buy drum set and microphone peripherals as well. Guitar Hero gets the nod here, though, because itís the series that first taught us how much fun being a fake musician could be.
Itís been awhile since thereís been a really great Tomb Raider game, but PS3 owners arenít complaining. Theyíve got their own treasure hunter, thank you very much. Despite being a generic dude with a five oíclock shadow, Nathan Drakeís gone on some pretty amazing adventures. The Uncharted series fuses solid third-person shooter action with solid platforming mechanics and the occasional puzzle to create a fast-paced, Indiana Jones style adventures. Multiplayer and co-op modes, introduced with this yearís Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, keeps us playing even after the credits have rolled.
This first-person shooter franchise that changed the face of interactive gaming also ushered in the new icon for heroism. The hulking green hero, Master Chief, and his jabbering AI sidekick, Cortana, have become the new faces of hardcore gaming and represent the breach of video games into the mainstream. Haloís success is beyond argument. It has its own toy line, animes, spin-off fan movies, short movies, and a big-budget Hollywood flick thatís still in limbo. With all this spin-off material, you almost forget it started with the games - premier first-person shooter experiences with seamless on-foot and vehicular action and addictive multiplayer.
Nintendo pulled a fast one back in 2006 with the innovative (if slightly unspectacular) launch of the motion-driven title for the Nintendo Wii, aptly called Wii Sports. Utilizing the Wii-mote, this first-party multi-sports title came bundled with the Wii and let gamers participate in a number of mini-games like tennis and baseball. It even allowed gamers to use their Mii avatars within the game. Microsoft and Sony have since introduced player avatars in the New Xbox Live Experience and PlayStation Home, and are now scrambling to create their own motion control technology. Wii Sports will go down in history as the leader of the new wave of compilation party games and the intellectual property that popularized motion-driven interactivity.
With a movie in the works, a popular line of action figures and a loyal enough following to ensure that a third game was already planned before the second game went gold, Gears of War is a force to be reckoned with and for good reason. The character-driven combat and heavy-handed shootouts made gamers feel like they were part of a war where every dead locust seemed like it made a difference. The original game was criticized for gameplay repetition but the sequel offered up enough content to cement itself as a serious contender for game of the year back in 2008. This is one of the few action games that just about every other third-person shooter tries to emulate.
Electronic Arts once came under fire by the loved ones of employees who were working on The Sims because they felt like the company was over-working them. Itís true, it seems like the developers were (are) working on The Sims content night and day to pump out one expansion pack for one of the best selling PC games of all time. The Sims was the first ever life-simulator that allowed players to micro-manage families, and the series has radically evolved to incorporate all kinds of social quirks that range from setting life goals as a martial artist to becoming a world renown chef. The Sims 3 is the latest in the series and has been on the receiving end of lots of critical and fan praise. It allows players to freely explore the vast, continually evolving neighborhood outside their home. Will players ever leave their own homes, though?
Fanboys of the digital age will probably throw a hissy fit seeing this franchise on the list and not Metal Gear Solid, but letís remember that MGS started in 1998. The game made waves with the trademark three-eyed goggles that allowed protagonist Sam Fisher to scope out environments in night vision, thermal and light sensitive modes. Sam was also given a varied selection of high-tech gadgets like cameras that could spew out sleeping gas or the sticky-shockers that knocked out enemies without killing them. The over-the-shoulder shooting would also later be mirrored in a lot of stealth-action titles, including Metal Gear Solid 4, and the whole splinter cell agent storyline has been replicated in a number of movies. The franchiseís evolution from stiff, stealth action game, to a multiple-choice espionage thriller has continued to please fans of the genre.