It’s either strange or desperate days when the two biggest original IPs are being launched in October and November by a publisher as risk-adverse as EA. Amid a sea of sequels, it’s encouraging to see chances, however small, being taken with these titles in a period that is usually considered a graveyard for new IPs.

I’m only halfway through the entertaining Dead Space, and still on the fence about how well Mirror’s Edge‘s compelling demo will translate into a $60 experience, but both earn points for not only creating new universes that are only mildly derivative, but also for how they are subtly shaking up the boundaries of their respective genres. While neither are world-shattering experiences, in a medium in which fan expectations bind developers’ creativity, and where being “formulaic” often seems to be praise, they have at least gone so far as to think about stepping outside the box.

As the Escapist’s own review pointed out, Dead Space is one part Doom 3 with two parts BioShock, and pleasing mixture at that. But is it, fans ask, survival horror? The existence of games like Dead Space led


This kind of thinking has limited the growth of genres for years, leading to the current market status quo where developers are locked in a “cold war” with one another, to borrow a phrase from Rare’s Mark Betteridge, fighting to have the experience most similar to their rivals’ as possible. The slightest deviation from this formula seems impermissible, until one slips through the pitch review net and – shock, gasp – customers actually like it. Thus we get games like Resident Evil 4 destroying the survival horror genre and later bringing us Gears of War, or BioShock daring to introduce an interesting narrative into a shooter, and thus giving birth to Dead Space a year later.

EA’s other title seems like it may also shake things up. The reason Mirror’s Edge struck me as being one to watch was not its “realistic” Asian protagonist or its Neal Stephenson-echoing storyline, but that it’s one of the very few first-person games that it is not a shooter. I would have thought that the seminal Metroid Prime‘s influence would have reached more designers by now, but the grip of Wolfenstein 3D and its stablemates is strong. To this day, it’s still necessary to explain to people that yes, Metroid Prime is first person but no, it’s not a shooter, and the diminishing sales of the series, in spite of its continued high quality, suggest that the message never really got through. If Zelda: Ocarina of Time had been made in first-person as originally conceived , would the FPS now be a sub-genre of first-person adventures, and not the other way around?

Overlooking how desperately it wants to be thought of as cool (and the off-kilter button-mapping), the Mirror’s Edge demo was great fun – unique in both its visuals and its gameplay. Whether it will make a great title remains to be seen (by the time this article is published many of you will know), but I wish it every success, and hope that in two years’ time we are seeing a raft of first person adventures. There are a million things that could be done with a first person game if only we had the guts and the freedom to try.

The innovation of Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge are baby-steps – nothing compared to the heady days of yesterdays where little thought seemed to be put into making games about a little man rolling universes into balls or an almost-silent adventure made of nothing but boss battles. But after a few years of increasingly similar looking and feeling next-gen games, they offer a little ray of light, a suggestion that perhaps large publishers can also offer some new ideas while working within established genres.

And God knows there are some genres out there that need not just to be shaken up, but grabbed by the ankles and rattled until loose change falls from the pockets. If we can accept the idea that a first person game can involve something other than shooting, could we accept the idea that you can have an RPG without resource management? Or how about a fighting game that actually tries to replicate fighting and isn’t just another play on the 15-year-oldStreet Fighter template?

Risk exists not only in trying new things, but also in not trying enough. One only needs to look at the litany of games that have played it too safe in this insane, cutthroat time of year and been overlooked. Perhaps it’s not too late to make innovation and originality, however slight, the things we demand from our holiday rush.

Christian Ward works for a major publisher, and demands more games in the actioventure genre.

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