Editorial: The 7 Most Defining Current-Gen Franchises

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With each new generation of consoles, the favorites of our past are re-modeled into bigger and (sometimes) better things. Long-running brands like Mario, Zelda, Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, and even Mortal Kombat are some great examples of older brands that have shown up in top shape on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii.

Some of these games have been impressionable on the current generation, innovating other games and genres – but what are some of the new franchises that made a big impact on the industry? What games will we be talking about 20 years from now, when we reminisce about the games that really stood out on the 360, PS3, and Wii? I believe the following seven franchises truly define the generation, and tell us the most about how the industry has evolved:

#7: Dead Space

The Dead Space series is a testament to this generation’s abundance of titles that evolved their genre, and in the case of EA’s action/horror franchise, this was perhaps more impressive due to the response of the competition.

Capcom did a lot to change its Resident Evil franchise before the launch of Dead Space, but at this point it very clearly acknowledges the popularity of Dead Space and respects EA’s terrifying series for what it does better than its own. The Dead Space games also give us an idea of how “desensitized” the market has become – consider how the violence, gore, and explicit imagery (including suicide) is tolerated now, when Thrill Kill was canceled for being “too much” in the PlayStation era.

#6: Assassin’s Creed

Bethesda might have delievered the spectacularly massive Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to the Xbox 360 before the first Assassin’s Creed came out, but Ubisoft’s open-world franchise has consistently impressed gamers and critics over the years by being so expansive and making such great use of the current-gen hardware capabilities.

The Grand Theft Auto series made “sandbox” games a big deal in the last generation, but Assassin’s Creed took the idea and expanded it to a great deal. Each game is built on the player’s ability to smoothly run across the rooftops of the giant city environments, pass through the cluttered streets filled with enormous crowds of people, explore and assassinate at will. Take one look at any screenshot of Assassin’s Creed in action, and it is easy to see why the sheer scope of the game is such an impressive feat – one that we will always remember when we look back and think about this generation of consoles.

#5: Uncharted

The only PS3 exclusive on this list, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted trilogy is also one of this generation’s best and brightest at telling a great story and capturing the true meaning of the term “cinematic”. Each entry in the series delivers an adventure starring Nathan Drake and his crew – characters like Sully, Elena, and Chole. There are also some truly fantastic villains, perhaps none better than the last – Uncharted 3’s Marlowe.

The pacing? Brilliant. The drama? Hits like a train. The action? It is almost overwhelming at certain points. No franchise in this generation delievered such film-like quality with such incredible consistency. Naughty Dog proved it could do so much more than make platformers and anthropomorphic mascots – but along with Crash (PSX icon) and Jak and Daxter (PS2 icons), Nathan Drake serves as the perfect frontman for Sony and Naughty Dog’s efforts in the PS3 era.

#4: BioShock

Perhaps more than any other point in the history of video games, the current generation focused on what makes video games an “art form” – in fact, the idea has been one of the most commonly-debated topics amongst hardcore nerds for what seems like forever. BioShock is perhaps the boldest statement in favor of games being recognized with the same respect as any other created work; the world of Rapture that was introduced in the first game is easily one of the most memorable, unique, and surreal environments ever created in virtual form.

It wasn’t just the bizarre architecture or the crazed inhabitants of the utopia-gone-wrong at the bottom of the ocean – the fine details of Rapture went further, using the wild plot and cast of characters to deliver a thrilling story with a lot of depth and plenty of messages written between the lines. BioShock was one of this generation’s most defining titles, and the third entry in the series – BioShock: Infinite – looks to be one of 2012’s biggest releases, so it appears that the franchise is anything but finished with making its impression on the industry.

#3: Portal

Valve’s Portal series is the darling of game critics and super-nerds everywhere, but quite unlike many of the other franchises on this list, these tricky titles earned their dues with their brilliantly simplistic, clever design. Both Portal games made one simple concept – making and using portals with the portal gun – into one of this generation’s most intriguing and innovative mechanics. There were more creative challenges and brain-teasers opened up with this device than I ever thought would be possible when I first heard about “the little bonus game” (that’s what I called it at the time) included in The Orange Box.

In addition, both Portal games were great at keeping a steady pace and using an almost minimalist style for their exposition and storytelling. It turns out that Valve was really onto something with the Portal franchise…I would be stunned if the world has seen the last of GlaDOS, Chell, and the portal gun. It might sound cheesy, but if the third Portal game implemented 3D (“Portal 3D” just sounds perfect to me) into its gameplay mechanics, I would be even more impressed.

#2: Modern Warfare

Activision and Infinity Ward started pretty strong with Call of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360 launch in 2005, but Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the beginning of a new franchise that ultimately witnessed more of an impact (and more commercial success) than most of the franchises on this list combined. Love it or hate it, the Modern Warfare series (not including Treyarch’s Call of Duty titles) single-handedly redefined the traditional competitive online multiplayer setup, and it established many of the fundamentals we see in most modern shooters.

Furthermore, the whole “Call of Duty release schedule” may be a subject of heavy debate within the gaming community, but this pattern of launching a new game annually speaks volumes of what Activision has done to mold the industry. I know there are plenty of “hardcore gamers” out there that love to down-play the innovative aspects of this series, but to deny its tremendous impact would be foolish – Modern Warfare is no doubt one of the most important and defining brands of the entire generation.

#1: Gears of War

Even considering all of what I have said above, there remains one franchise that I feel reflects the current generation of consoles in nearly every aspect of its design – Epic Games’ Gears of War. By no means am I saying that I think Gears is the best series of them all, but I am convinced that it will be one of the first names that pops into my head when I reminisce about the Xbox 360. Think about it; so many games throughout this console era utilized ideas that were always pulled off best by Gears of War. Off the top of my head, I can think of several examples: the gritty art style, the earthy color palette and visual filters, the “Horde” mode (and the much-improved Horde 2.0), the cover-based action and “snap-to-cover” button, the regenerating health system, the over-the-shoulder third-person perspective…so many different games ended up using these ideas, from Halo: ODST’s Firefight Mode to Mass Effect’s similar cover system.

Finally, Gears serves as the only Xbox 360-exclusive on this list – this says something about the current generation, considering Microsoft’s second console drew a lot more third-party support than its first. There just were not as many “AAA” brands like Gears of War or Uncharted being created, and trilogies such as these were very rare. That’s what makes the epic final chapter of this one so special – and ultimatley what makes Gears of War the most defining series of the current generation.

Honorable mentions:

-Angry Birds

-Heavy Rain

-Left 4 Dead

-LittleBigPlanet

-Mass Effect

-Scribblenauts

-Skate

What are your thoughts? What were some of your favorite new franchises on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii? Let us know what you think in the comments section – we are always down for an old-fashioned nerd debate.