Before I begin discussing what I want I’m going to need you to sit down for a minute.
Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Now, I need you to take a deep breath. Nice and calm? Ok, now I can confess. I’ve never completed Half-Life 2 before. While that might be considered a crime in and of itself, I also only completed the first Half-Life very recently.
Now, don’t judge me too harshly; I don’t even know how it happened. I must have blacked out between 1998 and 2007 to have missed Valve’s seminal series. People always told me how great it was, and I kept promising I’d get round to playing I – and now here I am. I feel like once I’ve completed this Odyssey, I can join the elite ranks of tormented souls who are praying to Gabe for Half-Life 3.
Now it goes without saying, Half-Life was amazing, and Half-Life 2 is even better. I’m totally immersed in the world that Valve created. But I don’t want to get into discussing Half-Life too much here – I really only mentioned it to give an example of how older games can still be some of the best, even when they’re measured up against modern, beautifully polished AAA titles.
Thinking more into this made me realize how many times I hear people talk about a great old game, only to be met with responses such as “But the graphics suck!”, or “The gameplay’s too dated!”; or even “But that isn’t Call of Duty”, from charlatans who think that the world begins and ends with Activision’s phenomenally successful series. Well, maybe not so much the last one, but you get the point. There are people who will write off a whole generation of games for what seems like fairly superficial reasons.
I tell everybody I can about the greatness of Black Isle RPG titles such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment. When they go away and check them out, they come back to me and say they couldn’t ever play it because the graphics are too old, or the gameplay looks dated, or some other equally silly reason.
The problem is that I feel these old games have to be played; no amount of videos can do them justice. When you’re actually playing one of these old school RPGs you become totally immersed in the setting, the story and the character development in the game. This feeling can’t be replicated by watching others play it; you have to be emotionally involved with your character and party. This is a feeling that I’ve very rarely felt with more modern games, as the formula for many AAA titles has changed to being more style over substance.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still love many modern games, whether they be AAA or indie. And I’m not saying that older games are better than modern games – they’re just good in a very different way. Back when these games were made, they were developed for a more niche gaming market. This smaller demographic allowed them to create games that didn’t have to please a vast audience of gamers young and old. Therefore, they tended to be more challenging, have more depth of story, greater character development and they held you by the hand less. These days, since the popularity and social acceptability of our favorite hobby exploded into the global sales juggernaut it is now, some of that magic has been lost along the way.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand why publishers feel the need to make their games easier: less than 10% of players will ever complete their game, which is also why the best bits tend to be front-loaded. And with the second-hand market being what it is, I also understand why they’re trying to keep that disc firmly in your drive with multiplayer, DLC, and all that other stuff. Gaming isn’t a passion anymore, obsessed over and furthered by men hunched over keyboards and punching out endless reams of C# in the middle of the night; it’s business.
I know I sound like a grumpy old man saying “Back in my day games were hard! Games were for nerds! Tutorials are for wimps!” and I suppose I am a little like that. But this doesn’t mean I think gaming has changed for the worse.
Look: I love that gaming is becoming more and more popular, and that anyone can enjoy many varieties of games. All I’m saying is that when people automatically write off old games as garbage they’re denying themselves some great experiences. I’ve already confessed my sin of never having played Half-Life, so I’m not guiltless in all this. There are many old games out there that I’m sure I’ll love and feel like a fool for never having played – Advent Rising; Outcast; Freelancer 2. I would just urge you to try some old games, even if you aren’t sure that you’ll like them. You may find that you’ve missed out on something really special.
As an industry driven by technology, the world of video games is forever looking forward. In that environment, it’s easy to find ourselves always racing towards the promised thrills of the Next Big Thing, while not even so much as looking over our shoulder towards the past. But the games industry is approaching half a century old, and all these shiny new games we’re enjoying or about to enjoy in the weeks and months ahead? They’re all built on the foundations of what came before. Sometimes, going back to what was then the future can be an education – and many older games still feel just as vital to play now as they did at the time of their release, even when more modern games improved on their accomplishments. Without System Shock 2, there’d be no Bioshock. Without Elite, there’d be no Eve Online. A world where Wolfenstein 3D was never made doesn’t even bear thinking about.
So once you’ve finished playing the flavor of the day – be it Bloodborne, or Destiny, or Final Fantasy Type 0 HD – take a little trip back in time. Go on gog.com or Steam, find that revered classic which you’ve heard so much about but never played, and spend the pittance it costs to pick up and play. The best experience you’ve ever had is waiting there, quietly – buried among the thousands of digital corpses of games tossed aside like McDonalds burger wrappers.
Now that my old man rant is over, I can go back to playing Half-Life 2. I’ve been told nobody goes to Ravenholme anymore, but I’m heading there now.
How bad can it be?