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10 Video Games That Were Ahead of Their Time

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Image credit: Clay Banks/Unsplash

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It’s easy to play modern games and forget where it all came from. While there have been some truly ground breaking games in recent years, most ideas we see now have been around longer than we really noticed. Usually the first game to use an idea isn’t remembered as the best game to use that idea.

You’re probably familiar with some or even all of the games on this list. Even if you are, you might have forgotten about features that we take for granted now that were on display much earlier than you remember.

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1. Phantasy Star Online

Playing games online is something we do without a second thought these days, but it wasn’t always this easy. When the Dreamcast was released in 1998 (1999 in the west), it was the first game console to heavily focus on online play. Phantasy Star Online was an online action RPG that owed as much to Diablo as it did previous entries in the Phantasy Star series, and it influenced games like Monster Hunter that continue to prove massively popular to this day.

2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3

Though it launched after the Dreamcast, Sony’s PlayStation 2 wasn’t internet-enabled at launch. Instead, it later got support for online gaming via a broadband adapter peripheral. That didn’t stop Neversoft from adding online play to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 before Sony’s broadband adapter was even released. Instead it supported multiple third-party adapters (as well as Sony’s) and was the first online game to launch on the PS2.

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3. System Shock

System Shock was released in 1994, the same year as Doom II. While the latter retained the same simple action-focused gameplay as the first Doom game, System Shock was a massive step forward. The game had you reading emails to figure out what had happened, taking cover during combat, and managing inventory. These are all fairly common in shooters now, but they certainly weren’t in 1994.

4. Metal Gear Solid

There were story-focused games before Metal Gear Solid, but the vast majority of them were RPGs. This was one of the first games to take that type of storytelling and blend it into an action game. You could argue that this was a bad thing, considering the number of games that spend a large amount of time telling a story that doesn’t really need telling, but Metal Gear Solid still deserves credit where it’s due.

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5. Ultima VII

Ultima VII was released in 1992 and is still hailed by many as one of the best RPGs ever made. The earlier Ultima games were equally important in many ways, but the seventh installment is the first in the series that wouldn’t feel seriously unwieldy to play for first-timers right now. The series is especially known for its NPCs, which have their own schedules and will even react to you killing other characters. Remember, this was 1992.

6. Shenmue

Open world games sort of existed before Shenmue, but the world had never seen anything quite like it. Plenty of games that have come since from the Grand Theft Auto games to the more similar Yakuza series owe Shenmue a major debt. Maybe it even inspired you to want to go to Japan.

7. Dune II

When you think of seminal real-time strategy games, you probably think of Warcraft, Starcraft, or Command &Conquer. Before all of those came Dune II. Developed by Westwood, who would later develop the Command & Conquer series, Dune II was essentially the game that created the RTS genre.

8. Perfect Dark

Yes, Rare’s Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64 was the game that nearly single-handedly popularized the console first-person shooter, but its follow-up was an even bigger step forward. This was one of the most technologically advanced Nintendo 64 games, but its sheer variety of multiplayer modes and settings were what made it so ahead of its time. And unlike Goldeneye, it had bots, so you could still play the multiplayer modes, even if your friends were busy.

9. Eternal Darkness

Sure, Metal Gear Solid had a character that could move your Dual Shock controller and tell what other Konami games you were playing, but Eternal Darkness took this idea and ran with it. This is a game that would convince you it was deleting your save or that the game was crashing. In 2002, that was mind blowing stuff, and it’s something that we haven’t seen used much since, which raises the question: Why not?

10. Kill.Switch

When Gears of War came along for the Xbox 360, it seemed to do things no third-person shooter had never done before. This was largely true, except in the case of Kill.Switch. This was a cover-based shooter that even included blind firing, released for the PlayStation 2 in 2003, three years before Gears of War. Designer Cliff Bleszinski even named Kill.Switch directly as inspiration for Epic’s massively popular series.

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That Guy

There’s also:
Midi Maze (1987), a first person death match style game using networked computers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI_Maze)
Wayout (1982), a first person maze game using full 360 degree rotation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayout)
Mercenary (1985), which had an open world, ‘3D’ graphics using wire frames, and an expansion pack ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercenary_(video_game) )
Alternate Reality: The City (1985), which… had a lot of things going for it, including raycasting ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternate_Reality_(series)#Technology )

Peter Schott
Peter Schott

So many of those Origin games were ahead of their time – if nothing else because they needed specs for the PCs that wouldn’t be common for another couple of years. System Shock was pretty cool for the time. In an era when FPS games were just becoming popular, this one had a plot, better controls, and some RPG aspects. While I’m not a fan of FPS or zombie games overall, I enjoyed this one overall.

Brian Boru
Brian Boru

A few others:
Prince of Persia 1989 first decent attempt at human motion I saw.
Populous 1989 which defined the God Game.
Civilization 1991 put the 4X genre on the map.
Wolfenstein 3D 1992 first decent attempt at 3D I saw—forerunner of Doom etc.
Thief 1998 first to use sound—and light—as a major gameplay item.
Deus Ex 2000 mixed up FPS with RPG & stealth—and style!
Far Cry 2004 the first ‘real’ open-world FPS.
Crysis 2007 about a decade ahead of PCs able to run it ☺

That Guy

You should check out Karateka, which came out in 1984 for the Apple ][, Atari 8-bit line, and Commodore 64. It was also by Jordan Mechnar and had fairly good motion, considering the hardware it had to work with.

Brian Boru
Brian Boru

Hey thanks That Guy, hadn’t heard of Karateka before. Fyi there’s a 2012 remake by Mechner for consoles & PC @ 1080p on Steam for $4 with ‘very positive’ user rating.

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