What makes a game good? Truly a question of opinion if there ever was one, however the only ones that ever seem to be considered are those that meet the quota in terms of faster than light frame rate, big budget voice actors, hard drive frying graphics and all that other stuff that doesn’t really apply to what gives the game its sense of experience. Argue all you want that a games graphics being real makes you feel like you are there, but true immersion comes from the story and how it is conveyed, not pretty pictures. At least, this is what came to mind as I finally figured out the computing capabilities, or lack there of, of my laptop.
I am a console gamer, but my Xbox was left at home to keep me focused on my schoolwork (ironically I needed it this semester for this very class), but being the gamer I am I had to get my fix. I started with buying cheap used games at Gamestops and Pawn Shops to play over the break, but would end up going home with too many games and too little time to actually enjoy them. Then I remembered Steam. Long forgotten when I gave up my laptop for lost in the gaming realm, I decided to give it another go and started running updates and diagnostics, defragmentations and hard drive backups, deleting and condensing, and checking up my computers abilities using a “can you run it?” online web service. To no surprise whatsoever, nothing new passed the minimum threshold. In fact, nothing at all passed except The Orange Box, released six years ago… But I had played it on the Xbox and always heard that Half-Life 2 HAD to be played on the computer so I went for it. Needless to say, a new world has opened up to me; the world of PC gaming; particularly Steam. But as seen with the abysmal results on the “can you run it?” web service regarding my computers capabilities, I am limited to a much older generation of games.
By today’s standards these games I can play are old, but not old enough to be “classic” games. They aren’t old enough for me to be able to get them for free on a web browser (unless you want to risk viruses torrenting them) like you can with Space Invaders and Donkey Kong, but they are still old. They very much seem to be the forgotten generation of games, an era where only the greats like Half-Life 2 escaped, but just barely. But this doesn’t make them any less good. In fact, too me, they are better.
First and foremost, as a broke-ass college kid, they are cheap as fuck. This kind of cheap isn’t like used car cheap where you’re happy to have it but you still wonder what it was used for in its past life, this is the kind of rare occasion where the exact same item, same as the day it was released, is now a sixth of the original cost just because it is a few years old and not as pretty as the current generation. For me that is perfect, because if you tell me something that I want costs $60 but in a month will be $40 and a year will be $10, then I am gonna wait a year and buy it then. I’m still going to buy it no doubt, but why would I spend that much on something when I can get the exact same thing, still new, for a fraction of the cost. I know this doesn’t apply to those who like to play multiplayer, but it works for me.
On top of that, I personally get the sense that games of the current generation have lost what it is to be a game. Quick time events and a ramped up focus on the graphics leave us blinded by the shiny and not-so-interactive games. Stories seem to be a side note for multiplayer and those that do have a story have you setting aside reality in even the most realistic of games. Really Call of Duty? I killed 600 enemies in a single level, one of eight (a short fucking campaign mind you). So you mean to say that I am going to not only single handedly hold off an entire invading army myself, but, should it be a smaller country being used as the antagonist, pretty much kill their entire population? These now common gaming antics are ridiculous and redundant, and to be honest, always stood in the way of making the game more realistic for me, quiet the paradox for a game that is attempting to make you feel like a real soldier. I mean, I get that the game has this awesome engine that allows for that many enemies to be on screen at once, but that doesn’t mean there should be. We seem to be getting a little ahead of ourselves as we “Michael Bay” the shit out of everything we can (yeah you know what that means, excessive explosions, excessive action, excessive excessiveness…). What ever happened to games that actually immersed you in a realistic and believable experience?
I mean yea, the older games I am praising lack the soft flow to their blocky characters. They lack the fluid movements too. Sure. I’ll give you that. But like I said before, the look is such a materialistic thing to focus on in comparison to what a game actually has to offer. Take gameplay for example. Games back in the lost generation focused on an advancement of the technology in realistic ways. Half-Life 2, most notably, altered the way game physics were handled as well as environment interact-ability. Fallout 3 gave us V.A.T.S., allowing us to target specific body parts or even the weapons of our enemies. Portal created a new way to go about puzzle gaming. Condemned: Criminal Origins showed us how terrifying it would be if you almost NEVER had a firearm to defend yourself and instead had to beat your opponents to death using items in the environment. Gears of War perfected the cover system based tactical shooter. Halo Combat Evolved gave us a more serious look at the fast passed and jumpy action characterized by Quake as well as changed how we planned for a fight through how many weapons we could carry. F.E.A.R. utilized bullet time, pulling in a relatively new idea from the movies, ala the Matrix, and making it a playable, doable thing. Amnesia strait up threw us into a world where we knew nothing and had now way of fighting any of the enemies, leaving us only to run. All of these games brought new and fresh concepts to the table. But nowadays every year we get a rehashed and slightly polished COD with a new throwaway campaign and basically just new maps for the same old multiplayer while every other company tries to be COD. Those that aren’t are doing little better to advance the gaming landscape the way the lost generation did as the last truly innovative invention brought to gaming were the agility and maneuverability brought on by Hulk Ultimate Destruction and the original Assassin’s Creed, which themselves are now being copied to death with the Prototype and Infamous series and the seemingly unending AC plot, respectively.
Just look at the advertisements for games today compared to how they were before. The lost generation saw games winning awards for their story telling as well as showing demonstrations of new lighting techniques, sound designs, physics engines, game genres, and other things that made the world real in how it felt, not just how it looked; but today’s commercials boast… what? Prettier graphics? Massive multiplayer? You can’t tell me that a game you already have to fork over $60 for needs the luck of being popular enough for others to want to play it too, and play it correctly, to make the multiplayer worth while is really a game that has a lot going for it. And graphics? Yeah they are cool but… I ain’t just here to look at things. Halo 4 was gorgeous. But it was also… boring.
Maybe I am just cynical. Maybe I am just finding flaws with the new since I am currently unable to play them. Or maybe, just maybe, games back in the day had a little more to offer in terms of progressing the art form whereas right now everything feels stagnant and gimmicky. The only true innovation to the realm as of late is the motion based gaming with the Wii, Kinect and whatever the hell Sony calls its motion capture devices, and those are the most gimmicky things of all, introduced solely to combat the notion that video games promote poor fitness habits. I guess for now though, I just have to wait till something new comes along, something that will put an end to all the copies of copies of copies being made today. Fingers crossed for Bioshock Infinite being that game.