Earlier today, we posted early impressions of one of the most talked-about games on the next generation horizon. Ubisoft's Watch Dogs promises to give players more control over a virtual world than ever seen before, as protagonist Aiden Pearce can manipulate the environment thanks to his hacking skills. If done right, it could be an exciting new feature the likes of which we haven't seen before. It also got us thinking about some of the biggest advances in the open world genre.

We'll kick things off with three advances brought to us by the father of the modern open world genre.

Grand Theft Auto - Birth of a genre

While GTA wasn't the first game to introduce elements of player freedom, it laid the blueprint for the modern open world genre. Selecting between various story missions, completing side activities, or simply going on murderous rampages were all elements that were present in the 1997 original. Its top-down view made high-speed pursuits frustrating, but the game has clearly earned its place in the history books thanks to its structural innovations.

Grand Theft Auto III - Open world moves to 3D

Gamers were able to rampage around the city in the previous two GTA games (as well as the London expansion), but it was always seen from a detached, top-down camera. Thanks to the advances made in the PlayStation 2 era, Rockstar's baby could finally be the more immersive affair that it deserved to be. Tiny assortments of pixels were now fully-animated models. Squares that used to represent rooftops were replaced with towering skyscrapers. Slivers of story told by text were now cutscenes with high production value. If the first GTA laid the foundation of what the genre could offer, GTA III was the first to present the type of 3D gameplay we know and love in 2013.

Grand Theft Auto series - Use of licensed music

Anything I say here would pale in comparison to the great piece that Matt Helgeson recently put together about how Grand Theft Auto revolutionized gaming soundtracks. Put simply, Rockstar and their team of audio masterminds have put together some of gaming's greatest soundtracks, time and time again. From the 80s-drenched Vice City to the hip hop sounds of early 90s Los Angeles, the studio always knocks it out the park when it's time to assemble some great tunes to commit drive-bys to.

Check out the next page to see how some other series helped push the genre forward.