20: Halo (Xbox, 2001)
As a lifelong Mac owner, I’ll probably never get over my bitterness about Halo. Originally conceived by Bungie as a followup to their superb (Apple-centric) Marathon trilogy, Halo – and the studio that created it – was bought up by Microsoft as part of their launch strategy for the Xbox. It was a master-stroke. Retooled as a console shooter, Halo benefitted from a simplified control set, enhanced by subtle auto-aiming, that give it instant playability.
Add in the recharging shield, now effectively standard in shooters, and a restricted weapon carry limit and you have a formula for success. The shield reduced the amount of times a player would need to respawn and start again, and the two-weapon limit encouraged strategic thinking and lent the game more replayability as armchair Spartans tried levels again and again with different loadouts. Those ideas that Bungie introduced are still with us today. Not only did the game sell in the millions and launch a huge franchise, it helped sell Xboxes too. I called my original Xbox ‘the Halo player’ and I suspect I’m not alone.
19: Road Rash (Mega Drive, 1991)
One of the first racing games to introduce roaming livestock and civilian traffic as a hazard, and the first to implement in-race combat as an added attraction, Road Rash was much more than just another racing game. The superbike racer’s crude graphics look almost comical by today’s 3D modelled, ray-traced standards: but that bland green vista, with a two-lane blacktop snaking away into the distance, somehow provided enough adrenaline for a whole generation of would be street racers.
18: Kinect Adventures (X360, 2010)
Microsoft’s Kinect takes the Nintendo Wii’s migration of gaming into the real world one step further by dispensing with a physical controller altogether. The 24-million selling Kinect Adventures is a pathfinder for this Brave New World of capering like a maniac between your sofa and your telly and hoping that the neighbours aren’t looking.
Kinect Disneyland Adventures pleased the critics more, but Adventures ended up in more homes. The suite of mini-games that make up Kinect Adventures aren’t especially innovative in themselves. Rally Ball is essentially the 1976 videogame standard Breakout retooled for the new technology. What’s special about Kinect Aventures is its integration with the hardware, and the auguries of where gaming is headed.
17: Metal Gear Solid (PS1, 1998)
As far as you can get from the early days of blast ‘em ups such as Space Invaders, Metal Gear Solid was all about silence, stealth and subtlety. Protagonist Snake might carry a pistol and a variety of grenades, but his real weapons were patience and the 3D radar that betrayed his enemies’ fields of vision.
Practically every first- or third-person action game now features a level where stealthiness is the secret of success. That’s directly traceable to Hideo Kojima’s reinvention of the genre, with its compelling storyline and addictive, often infuriatingly frustrating gameplay.
16: The Sims (PC, 2000)
The Tamagotchi craze, SimCity and (especially) Sim Tower showed the way, but Will Wright’s The Sims crystallised the ‘digital dollhouse’ formula. Arguably The Sims isn’t a game at all. There are no objectives as such, you can’t ‘win'. But millions were soon hooked by the antics of the tiny jabbering community inside their PC.
Like a lot of games on our list, The Sims wasn’t the first of its kind. For that you’d probably have to go back to 1985’s Little Computer People, but the synthesis of creativity and design made The Sims the most popular game of its type. And while today’s game designers have a long history of ‘God Games’ to draw on, it’s the enduring success of The Sims that they most want to emulate.