Contributors: Chris Antista, Charlie Barratt, Brett Elston, Matthew Keast, Shane Patterson, Mikel Reparaz
Hundreds of games are released every year, then played and forgotten by the next. Only a dozen or so will be remembered a decade from now, and only a few of those will have any lasting impact on the medium as a whole.
Which upcoming titles stand the best chance of leaving that meaningful mark? Which will be remembered, studied and mimicked endlessly? Which will inspire new subgenres or introduce groundbreaking new features? We know the games that have done so in the past, of course – names like Mario, GTA, Sims and Warcraft – but predicting the trendsetters of the future is a much more difficult task.
Here are 20 with the most potential. If change is inevitable, these are the ones that will bring it to us.
Mass Effect 2
What’s the game? Sequel to one of our favorite RPGs of the modern era, packed to capacity with palpable atmosphere, quality voice work and show-stopping visuals.
What’s so revolutionary? Dialog-rich cutscenes that unfold like a genuine film, with lifelike characters that move and animate like real people and not stiff-armed mannequins waving their arms at each other. The scenes we saw were so engrossing that we actually wanted to watch more and play less. Camera placement was spot on, the lighting was top notch and the “actors” were never just standing around like so many bland RPG exchanges we’ve all suffered through. Simply put, any RPG released after this, hell any game with characters interacting at all, has to take some cues or risk looking outdated and downright mechanical by comparison. Mass Effect 2 has a lot more going for it (carrying over save data, a potentially unwinnable finale) but at this juncture we’re most excited by the way it accurately portrays the characters we’re going to be playing as for the next 60 hours.
When’s it coming? First half of next year.
The Last Guardian
What’s the game? The spiritual follow-up, or possible prequel, to Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. In other words, another guaranteed selling point for the “games are art” theory.
What’s so revolutionary? The utterly convincing connection between boy and monster… and just as likely, the real emotional bond that will form between the player and that creature. It may be ugly, but it seems capable of expressing love, devotion, worry, fear, loneliness and protectiveness with a simple flicker of its eyes or a subtle shift in its body language. We can’t watch the trailer without sniffling – how deeply will the entire game affect us?
When’s it coming? 2010, hopefully. Maybe 2011.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online
What’s the game? The latest Tiger Woods is already out on consoles, but PC versions have been conspicuously missing for years now. Why? Because EA is carefully planning the next iteration of the series as a grand – and possibly industry-changing – experiment in online gaming.
What’s so revolutionary? You won’t buy Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online in stores. You won’t even download it on the official website. What you will be able to do, however, is play the game instantly and supposedly effortlessly inside your PC or Mac’s internet browser. No installation, no minimum system requirements and – at first – no subscription fees. EA’s servers will customize the graphics to your computer’s capabilities, and you can close the window and then pick up where you left off on a different machine later. If this casual convenience approach works, expect Madden, NBA Live – as well as other publishers – to try it out next.
When’s it coming? The betas are already happening, the next starts on July 7th and you can sign up here.
What’s the game? Yet another DS puzzler, complete with adorable hero, cutesy title and whimsical animated visuals. Pint-sized Maxwell is on a search for treasure… and adventure! The game’s tagline, though – “Write Anything, Solve Everything” – hints at how Scribblenauts could be anything but predictable.
What’s so revolutionary? In order to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles, players usually require tools. Rather than find and use a predetermined set, however, Scribblenauts asks you to create your own. Think a ladder might be handy? Write “ladder” on the touch screen and summon it into being. Or maybe a balloon, sword or keyboard cat could do the trick? The game is said to recognize tens of thousands of words. The designers hope your imagination will dictate the experience, not theirs.
When’s it coming? Fall of this year… most likely September.
Toy Story Mania!
(Every platform imaginable)
What’re the games? According to a breathless press release we received earlier this week, both G-Force (based on a movie about guinea pigs) and Toy Story Mania! (based on a two-minute amusement park ride) are “revolutionary innovative experiences using 3-D technology,” and with the enclosed glasses, will be the first games to fully feature “stereoscopic technology.” Wowza!
What’s so revolutionary? We hate including these, if only because the PR folks are already using the word “revolutionary” themselves. Ugh. Plus, they’re likely nothing more than cash-in kiddie krap beneath that intriguing technological bullet point. Still, 3D is 3D… and 3D in a pair of multi-platform games bound to sell millions of copies to a fad-crazy mainstream audience? That could definitely cause a stir.
When’s it coming? The guinea pig game is available July 21. The amusement attraction adaptation is releasing Fall 2009.
What’s the game? A quicktime event-filled murder mystery, by the minds behind Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit, in which four characters must track down a serial killer or die trying.
What’s so revolutionary? While it’s easy to dismiss Heavy Rain as just an endless series of timed button-taps, it in fact has the potential to elevate quicktime events to something more than cinematic, pseudo-playable filler. Moments in which you have a split-second to hit a flashing onscreen button are plentiful, sure, but failure doesn’t necessarily mean death; instead, the action will branch in different directions, opening up new avenues of fighting, exploration and/or investigation.
Also, Heavy Rain will often fill its edge-of-your-seat moments with multiple onscreen options, which can be activated with a corresponding button. Pressing one button while handcuffed to the steering wheel of a car that’s being fed into an industrial crusher, for example, will make you try to wriggle free of the cuffs, while another will kick open the glove compartment in hopes of finding something helpful. And once a character is dead, their role in the story is over, and all the possibilities their involvement would have opened are extinguished. It’s then on to the next hapless protagonist, and hopefully a better fate.
When’s it coming? First few months of 2010.