I know there have been other posts about top games this year, or favorite games this generation, but I wanted to approach it from another angle.
What to you fellow polynauts is your list of most impactful games this generation? Not necessarily your favorite or best games, but simply what games had a big effect on you this gen? The game could've been mostly bad, but did one thing so well, did it so differently, or just overall made you feel differently than other games. It could be the experiences that felt truly "next-gen" in how they approached gameplay or narrative, games that successfully modernized an old concept, were a successful adaptation of something else, or just justified why you bought your new game hardware.
To provide some more context if you need it, I'll give some examples of games that effected me the most this gen (feel free to skip and list your own), and for my own organization I will do it by year starting with the 360 launch year:
F.E.A.R.: While I know many people liked this game for the horror aspect, or the slow-mo shooting ability, what impacted me the most from the experience was the AI. Jeff Orkin (who attended MIT) headed the development of the AI, built a planner system that would generate context-sensitive behaviors, alot of which directly react to what the player is doing. They'd react to what weapon you fired, your flashlight on them, and in return would duck to go under crawlspaces, shoot supression fire, grenades to flush the player out, flank, and use squad tactics. It was next-gen AI shift that I wanted.
Guild Wars: After years of WoW, this is the only not quite but still very MMOish game that pulled me back, due to its fantastic art direction, and mainly how it handled build customization. Instead of getting X skills at X level, you instead would gain most skill by acquiring them from enemies in the world, and each class would have so many that you really could craft a 8-skill deck of cards-like build. Also, any class could own another class.
Gears of War: The game that justified my 360 purchase, and completely revolutionized how cover would work in video games. Every game that used cover before was very limited, or controlled like crap until this game. The level design also took wise advantage of the system, along with many punchy weapons that allowed for diverse playstyles. A few solid scary or atmospheric moments in the campaign too.
Company of Heroes: This was a such a fresh experience to the RTS game type, with resource management being set to capture points that open up new tactics, more micro-management focus on smaller number of troops, buildings in levels the players could capture of attacks or unit-producing outposts, and just so much to consider. Infantry had certain skills, could take cover or get pinned down, and vehicles had weak points to get hit. Stealth and range played a factor with snipers, and morters. No RTS since Starcraft has grabbed me as much.
Portal: The dark humor little package bundled in the Orange box, which gave me a whole different perspective on the FPS. Instead of shooting to kill, you were shooting a transportation system to solve puzzles. It was the first short small game that really grabbed me, showed what students could do in the game field, and just the perfect paced length.
CoD4: I'm not really a fan of the series right now, because it hasn't evolved much past what this game added to the series. Instead of more basic twitch FPS in WW2, this game went modern day, showcasing the first real examples of set-piece events in single-player, and innovative RPG progression for multiplayer. Also added the kill-cam, perk setup, and killstreak rewards. The game is the one big mark of innovation in the series, which I still can't discount how it impacted me at the time.
Fallout 3: This was the game that showed me why Bethesda mattered to people, and that their strength was world design. Earlier Bethesda games and most open-world games always bored me because I felt bogged down by all the travel time to get to cool events. Fallout 3 fixed this by every 10 minutes having something interesting happen. It could be a new quest I happen upon, some interesting structure in the distance, a new fight, or just some emergent moment.
Persona 4: I hadn't played a Atlus game before this title, and since went back through their console catalog. It felt like such a fresh experience in the JRPG, because it really placed me as the protagonist, where I could effect who I really bonded with based on my choices, and had the pokemon-like Demon collection/fusing. Also, some of the best localization I've seen, with characters that made other JRPGs seem lame by comparison.
Far Cry 2: This choice I suspect many may disagree with me one, because the game does have issues, with overdone enemy spawns, and could do far better explaining basic systems and mechanics to the player. However, what this game does better than almost every shooter, and over Far Cry 3 is that sense of survival. So many games, especially open-world titles, choose to empower the player as means of entertainment, where this game makes navigating the world an always dangerous experience. The weapon degradation, malaria, health limitations, and certain randomness to encounters in the world make it a true survival situation where you have to deal with things going wrong, where most games present survival situations in rigidly scripted or full blown cutscene situations. It also an incredibly immersive game with dynamic weather, and contextualized UI.
Batman Arkham Asylum: It was the game that proved again that good adaptations could be made, both in gameplay and narrative. The innovative melee system and metroidvania setup were nice touches, but what impacted me was how it made stealth feel like a predatory act than me having to always get around danger. I was the god damn Batman, and no other game but this series has simulated that!
Mirror's Edge: An amazing soundtrack that propels you into an amazing looking world, and shatters my expectations of first-person traversal. There is a real sense of momentum and immersion in the game, and I love how I could move through the game without killing anyone. During school, it was inspiration for how games could stylize themselves in 3d.
Red Faction: Guerrilla: This game satisfied a fantasy I'd always wanted in video games, where destruction would be truly physics based. Buildings crumbled when you blew out specific foundations, bridges blew apart to block paths, and it was just fantastic to set up multiple mines for a planned explosion. The multiplayer also had a huge impact with the backpack abilities that let me cause earthquakes, shoot up out of buildings, charge like a rhino through objects, and go invisible with a hammer.
Assassin's Creed 2: This game impacted me for how well it realized a historical time period and location, and solved my pet peeve with open world games by making the act of travel fun. The series itself screamed next-gen for how it just let you climb pretty much anything, something you'd never expect to see anywhere else.
Amnesia: Dark Descent: Never been a fan of Resident Evil or most other horror games outside Silent Hill 2. This game though was the most effective at scaring me, through how it handled the first-person perspective with lighting and your characters sanity. The lack of fuel was something I had to use carefully, but what really sold it was how I didn't have tools to defend myself. All I could do was hide, or open door cracks up oh so slowly.
The Witcher 2: Rekindled my love of what older RPGs provided better: player choice. The game presented more than just 2 bi-polar choices, instead opting for gray area morality, where I actually didn't hate the villain the game marketed. The potion preparation offered a new dynamic to gameplay, and the choice at the end of act 1 altered an entire 1/3 of the next part of the game fundamentally. Also, this game marked to me the next big shift in graphical fidelity, boosted by its fantastic art direction.
Bastion: This was the first game to really suck me into the indie market, and view it as a serious way to spend my time. Bastion was just a great looking game, had fantastic music, with solid mechanics and controls, and innovated through an interactive narrator and tonic-based progression. The Giant Bomb coverage of its development was inspiring as well.
Bulletstorm: The shooter that is everything CoD isn't, which sadly is what so many others are like now. Instead of being serious, it was zany to the point of dumb made up profanity, and reveled in violence rather than any pretense it was bad. What really impacted me though was its score system, because of how it influenced better player behavior. Many players often fall on just using the same tactics over and over again if they work, but this game's progression forces you to kill creatively to get more points, which gets you more weapons and secondary fire shots, which then enables more creative kill options...it's just an elegant loop that gets the players to have the most fun they can with the game.
Dishonored: Well I've parroted this game as my favorite of this generation, because it does so much right. Evocative world to explore, best non-linear level design I've seen, huge degree of player choice in narrative through player controlled actions over just dialog, and the best feeling of control I've ever had in first-person bar none. Its only weakness is its strength, choice, where players can choose to just go towards the objective marker killing everything, or reload saves to perfectly ghost the game...when really the game is most fun when you just react to the situation, because the game gives you such a flexible ability set.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown: A game that harkened back to an older series, and so incredibly made it work in the modern day. The game is the good example of streamlining, where it took out alot of the jank, and made what worked, work better. Tactics truly mattered due to how fragile my guys were, and how random each encounter could be. The base management was addictive, and I dumped more time than needed to complete the game. It also shows the strength of turn-based menu gameplay, made more dynamic through their camera system.
Mark of the Ninja: Another downloadable game that didn't just stick out, but was a far better experience than the majority of $60 AAA games I played last year. The game impacted me on how incredible polished it was, with buttery smooth controls, well designed mechanics, great non-linear level design and in 2d, solid AI, and incredible innovation in situational awareness through visualized sound.
So again, what games impacted you the most this gen?