Innovation takes many forms when it comes to video games. This year, my round-up of the most innovative video games includes a few that combine the real-world with a screen, and a few that take a well-known franchise and add true narrative depth.

Winner: Red Dead Redemption 2

Platform tested: Xbox One

There's no question Red Dead Redemption 2 is a landmark achievement for video games. The question is whether it is a landmark in all entertainment media. The AI is astounding--your main character grows a beard and you have to go to a barber. Your horse can grow tired over time, and you have to clean your guns. It's the first time a video game felt exactly like a movie, but even better because you are in charge of the outcome.

Florence

Platform tested: iOS

For anyone who doesn't think video games have power to influence us, they haven't played Florence. Told through a unique storybook format, where the "game" often lives inside the book, the real charm is in how the narrative unfolds. Somehow, you are pulled into the relationship and feel like a third-party observer, which is the ultimate goal of any game.

God of War

Platform tested: Sony PlayStation

The most brilliant innovation in God of War is that it took a long-established franchise and eradicated all assumptions about it. No longer merely a brutal killing game, God of War is about the hero Kratos and his son Atreus. What I liked so much is that you are drawn into the relationship and story between the two, not just the graphics and gameplay.

Fe

Platform tested: Xbox One

Games have incorporated musical elements before, but not quite like Fe. The innovation here is that the character uses singing as a way to unlock parts of the game, control other characters, and make progress rather than the typical hack-and-slash gameplay. The graphics are otherworldly as well, using a stark color palette to draw you in.

Super Mario Party Toad's Rec Room

Platform tested: Nintendo Switch

A truly innovative game makes you do a double-take. Toad's Rec Room uses two Nintendo Switch consoles at the same time, synced together on a table. Each player uses their own controller, but the two Switch screens combine into one big interactive game board. It's a true party game in that everyone is focused on the same dual screens.

Nintendo Labo​

Platform tested: Nintendo Switch

Another Nintendo game that breaks all norms, Labo is part real-world construction lab and part video game. Kids can construct a fishing rod, for example, and then play a fishing game. One of the kits involves a racing wheel you build and then use to control a racing game. Oh, and we'll state for the record--adults will also love the innovative play mechanics.

FIFA 19

Platform tested: Xbox One

This soccer game just feels different this time. Even long-time players notice there's something more realistic about the way players kick the ball, the way you can tap twice to adjust the precision on the ball, and how the AI tends to change the flow of every game. To say it feels more like soccer this time is an understatement.

Forza Horizon 4

Platform tested: Xbox One

https://forzamotorsport.net/en-us/games/fh4

Diehard gamers sometimes scoff at the big name Xbox titles like Forza Horizon 4. They prefer weird indie games, and maybe that's valid. Yet, there's no denying the dynamic weather changes in this racing sim--how you can drive in a snow-packed mountain and then descend into a valley and get pelted by constant rain. It's super realistic.

Deracine

Platform tested: PlayStation VR

The only virtual reality game on my list this year (which is surprising), Deracine does away with the frantic action of half-baked shooters and boring puzzle titles by drawing you into a detailed story and keeping you firmly rooted there. You play as a ghost that can draw life from other objects and characters. It's transportative in the best sense.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Platform tested: Xbox One

Gameplay is usually one of the reasons a game seems innovative. With Assassin's Creed Odyssey, it's because everything feels so epic. You're galloping across one remote area, then jumping into a battle at sea the next. Assassin's Creed games have done that before, but not as this massive scale and not with such a deeply intertwined storyline.

Published on: Dec 14, 2018