This Generation’s Best Original Properties

Creating new intellectual properties can be a tough business.  On one hand, new IPs breathe life into a system or genre, and can often become so much more than just a video game.  It can become a universe.  On the other hand, though, it is always a risk.  What if people don’t care for it?  Wouldn’t it be safer to stick with another iteration of a series fans already know and love?

This console generation has seen its far share of new installments of familiar IPs, but we have also had some fantastic properties introduced to us.  Let’s take a look at some of the best.

Gears of War:  Microsoft and Epic Games came out with a bang this generation with their 360 exclusive Gears of War.  The level of polish exhibited in Gears had rarely been seen before, and it showed many people what next-gen was truly capable of.  In addition to the flashy graphics and stellar gunplay, Marcus and crew also gave gamers their first real taste of the future of online gaming.  While the previous generation of consoles dabbled in online play, and LAN parties were nothing new to Halo fans, but the intensity and brutality of the Gears experience, and the novelty of playing it with people worldwide, was too much to pass up.

Thankfully, novelty wasn’t the only thing going for it.  Not everybody can handle the machismo factor of Gears of War, but people have become endeared to series mainstays Marcus, Dom, Cole and Baird, who is getting his own shot at stardom in the upcoming Gears of War: Judgment, and it has went on to become one of the most successful franchises in Microsoft’s stable.  Epic knows how to work a game engine (especially one that created), and it’s hard to find a series that can get more out of the Xbox 360.

Not content with resting on their laurels, Gears has managed to up the ante with every successful release.  Gears 2 changed the gaming landscape with its much copied Horde formula, and Gears 3 introduced the Locust as playable characters, while adding an excellent tower defense element to the Horde formula.  Despite giving some development duties to studio People Can Fly for Judgment, I have little doubt we are in for another stellar entry.

Deadrising:  Zombie games were certainly nothing new by the time the Xbox 360 hit stores, but the level of freedom and interactivity, not to mention the sheer scope, of Deadrising was something that we as gamers weren’t used to.  Zombies Ate My Neighbors was a great game and all, but watching a horde of zombies tear into an unsuspecting mall patron was beyond awesome, it was primal.

As fun as the first Deadrising was, it had its share of problems.  Working with new hardware is tough for any studio, especially considering the impressive zombie count, but you have to hand it to Capcom:  Those guys know how to handle new consoles.  Based on their history, it isn’t surprising they were able to create a quality new IP for this generation.

They haven’t always done the best job of maintaining quality with their IPs though, and the ones they do manage to handle well are often swamped down by multiple iterations or sequel-it is.  Capcom made the smart decision to hand the reins to Blue Castle Studios, proving their claim that they are going to utilize more Western studios.  Blue Castle delivered with Deadrising 2, so it looks like the series is in good hands.

Assassin’s Creed:  I honestly can’t understand why it took so long for us to get the Assassin’s Creed property.  Ninja Gaiden was a great introduction to awesome ninjas, but the difficulty bar was a little high for most people.  The PlayStation gave us Tenchu, and it was fun…for a product of its time.  However, no IP has mixed stealth, combat and story quite like Assassin’s Creed, and it really resonated with gamers in a strong way.

Playing as a sweet ninja assassin killer is great and all, but it’s the ancillary stuff that sets Assassin’s Creed apart.  The historical team has done a superb job of not only making mind-blowing recreations of cities such as Rome and Constantinople, but making the storylines feel as if they could have actually happened.  Successive entries have upped the stakes considerably, but Ubisoft keeps pulling it off, even incorporating an excellent multiplayer that plays into the fiction as well.

Based on everything I’ve seen of Assassin’s Creed III, it looks like they have no plans of letting the series grow stagnant.  Moving the setting to colonial America and introducing a new protagonist this late in the game are risky maneuvers, but I am not going to doubt them.  They have Nolan North.

Mass Effect:  BioWare almost makes it unfair to be another game maker.  It’s easy to forget how good the actual Mass Effect series is, because they make it look so effortless.  The original presented what was in my opinion the best video game story ever.  Bar none.  Mass Effect returned with one of the most improved sequels ever, while allowing arguably the most innovative feature to grace a video game.

Allowing the player to import their personal Commander Shepard into Mass Effect 2, along with all his or her decisions, was one of the most absolutely ingenious features ever implemented.  When I learned that my decision to save the Council, something I did in 2005, actually affected the world of Mass Effect 2, a game I played two years later.  Seriously?!  It never occurred to me that that was even possible, and now I think that every game with a sequel should feature it.

Despite the criticism of Mass Effect 3 (which will hopefully be put completely to rest with the new Extended Cut DLC), BioWare truly knocked the third installment out of the park.  It had an stellar story, some of the best sound design I’ve ever heard and added an addictive multiplayer that fits right in, which, by the way, has been augmented twice with large, and free, DLC.  No idea where the franchise goes from here, but there is no denying the impact Mass Effect has had on the industry.

Uncharted:  There are cinematic games, and there is Uncharted.  Naughty Dog had already proved themselves with Jak and Daxter, but they acted like they had something to prove when the PS3 was released, creating one of gaming’s most suave protagonists.  Uncharted had a somewhat rock start (after the first trailer Nathan Drake was dubbed “Dude Raider”), but Uncharted really hit its stride with the second entry, Among Thieves.

It all starts with the writing, and it is superb.  Nolan North is apparently like new IP fertilizer, but in all seriousness he makes Drake more than a collection of ones and zeroes; he makes him a character you want to root for.  Top-flight animation work and a penchant for outstanding set pieces make Uncharted the video game equivalent of a summer blockbuster, and the excellent controls and platforming elements, not to mention an underrated multiplayer component, elevate Uncharted above its cotemporaries.

I don’t think Uncharted 3 delivered quite the same level of thrills that Uncharted 2 did, but it is still heads-and-shoulders above most of the competition.  Drake’s other adventures, like his Vita spin-off and upcoming appearance in PlayStation All-Stars, are good signs that the IP is in a strong position moving forward.

What are some of your other favorite IPs from this console generation?  Perhaps more importantly, what franchises being developed now do you think could be the new torch bearer?  Spare a penny for your thoughts in the comment section below.