A while ago, Matt Matthews from Curmudgeon Gamer wrote a review of an old Activision game for the PS1 called One. I remember looking at it when it came out, because it made good use of the hardware and I was working on a PS1 title at the time.
What I remember is a game with a very cinematic level design style. The first level was quite heterogenous, with big events happening one after the other. You basically start with being attacked by a boss. No running around identical rooms with generic baddies here. It’s not a breakthrough in game design but it’s not bad.
I also liked the game’s rage mechanism. The more hits you score, the more your rage meter goes up. If it reaches a certain level, you basically go berserk and are able to kill more enemies more rapidly. (Unlike Matt, this never felt counter-intuitive to me, but I can see his point of view.)
I consider this technique – using rules push the player towards a certain kind of behavior – to be essential to interactive entertainment. Many good games do this, but often the effect is not designed to integrate well with the fictional aspects of the game. This is a general problem: many games fail to exploit the emotional effects of the synergy of game rules and fiction. One actually did a good job here: you play the role of a homocidal maniac, and the game rules reward you for playing your role.
However, pen and paper role-playing games, such as Unknown Armies or any one designed by Robin D. Laws, take this a lot further. They cover a broader range of themes, and with more subtlety.
One was a flawed game. I remember it being difficult and unforgiving: you make a mistake, you die. Matt got a lot further than I did – my frustration threshold is quite low. But the rage mechanism and it’s high production values left a positive impression.