As we slowly prepare ourselves for the onset of the newest console generation--the launch of the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5--our minds are filled with the possibilities of the greatness to come. What amazing new games will we see on this brand new hardware? How drastic will the gaming experience change with newer, better graphics, and lightning-quick load times? We can’t tell for sure just yet, but whatever the future may hold, there’s one thing that’ll certainly happen: it’ll affect our perception of the games that have come before.
That isn’t to say we’ll play something like Halo Infinite or Godfall and just throw away our retro game collection, no, (but who’s to say if Bugsnax will be the greatest video game of all time? And thus the only game you’ll ever need. Which it will be.) but certain innovations or changes to the foundations of game mechanics might make it harder to return to games that we previously loved.
We’re just a short few months before the Xbox 360’s 15th anniversary. The seventh generation of video gaming is getting up there in age--and while it may feel odd to consider them “retro”, the libraries of the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 are without a doubt, old. Especially by today’s standards.
Let’s take a look back at some of the trends of that era.
If you didn’t grow up during that time, or were too young to remember it, one of the defining hallmarks of that console generation was just how grungy, dark, and muddy things were. Many AAA game developers eschewed the previous generation’s reliance on cartoon-y colorful graphics by making their new high definition games hyper-realistic. For example, Fallout 3 had an ever-constant dark green filter over its visuals, desaturating its entire world. It worked in a thematic sense, but it’s a prime example of the mid-late 2000s trend of very brown, very drab, very dark visual styles.
When the next console generation came along, featuring not only the better processing power over the previous set of systems, but also developers more experienced and understanding of the intricacies of how to deal with HD graphics, a large number of games were re-released under Definitive, Ultimate, Remake, or Remastered banners. Some of these games, such as Uncharted 2, Valkyria Chronicles, Journey, or The Last of Us already looked good to begin with, but the move to a new console really let their visuals shine. And in the case of Naughty Dog’s games, the remasters became the de-facto best way to experience the games. It didn’t make the original release bad, but there’s an inherent desire to play the best version of a game, and with the “next-gen” remaster on PlayStation 4 being an improvement in every way, it made it harder to revisit to the PlayStation 3 release.
That’s not to say next-gen releases always end well--Silent Hill HD Collection for the 360/PS3 or Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection for PS4/XBO had numerous, well-known flaws, resulting in gamers recommending the older versions of those games as the optimal way to play to those interested in trying those franchises out for the first time. Sometimes, older is better.
That same console generation was also where players were introduced to new features that hadn’t really been seen before, at least on a wide scale, such as interactable objects having physics. This let you blow things up and see the debris scatter in Crysis 2, or even do something as mundane yet still amusing as throw cups and books around and let them clank to the ground and roll about on the floor in Skyrim. Of course, it’s also hard to forget Portal, which made you yourself become the object manipulated by the game’s physics and gravity.
However, there are moments where you can see that this is still a new concept. In Crackdown, cars will roll over as though they’re weightless and made of plastic, and while the ever-popular Skyrim is one of the most well-loved games of the era, it tends to be jarring when its characters awkwardly wobble up and down on slopes, glitching through the ground they stand upon. These were harmless issues at the time, and still are in a sense, but as time passes and developers are able to create more stable worlds and mechanics, going back to games made during that time where the concept was still new and untested can feel awkward after being spoiled by today’s standards.
When it comes to generation-defining games, Dark Souls can definitely be described as such. But there was a game that came before it: Demon's Souls. FromSoftware laid the groundwork for what would become a phenomenon and would lead to dozens upon dozens of direct clones and games inspired by its mechanics. In 2009, Demon's Souls was considered one of the best games to release that year, winning awards, accolades, and selling far above expectations.
Yet, just over 10 years later, with a three-entry long series of spiritual successors and two other games inspired by it from the same developer, Demon's Souls now has this notion of being hard to approach in this day and age. Some might think its gameplay is dated--especially after going through the Dark Souls franchise--that its graphics are drab, or even that it lacks polish, compared to games that came years after it released. The conventions that modern gaming has brought to us within the last 11 years have taken what was once an instant-classic and turned it into something that newer gamers might consider "clunky". Even if by your approximation, Demon's Souls is still more than playable in 2020, many won't agree, for some reason or another. Despite that, it's still popular to gamers that enjoy the genre, which is why Bluepoint Games is remaking it for the PlayStation 5, where the game will get a second lease on life, able to be enjoyed by everyone once more, without those connotations and labels of being "old" or "not having aged well".
One of the things from prior generations that has by far become the most dated has to be character model animations. By the tail-end of the seventh generation, using motion capture for video games had turned into a popular trend, which helped it become the prevalent feature that it is now for games on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Nowadays, we’re used to the idea. But back then, Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain were notable PlayStation 3 titles that stood out specifically because they made use of motion capture technology to better suit their narrative focus. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen mocap in gaming--even games as old as Shenmue had utilized it, though we’d never had graphics that could make human characters that looked, spoke, and animated like actual people until that point.
But for the most part, returning to the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3's libraries can put a spotlight on some unintentionally hilarious walk cycles or facial animations. Anything made from Bethesda is a free target to point and laugh at, even when they were new, but there’s an uncanny stiffness in the way some characters in Deus Ex: Human Revolution speak, or how Frank West awkwardly shuffles around in Dead Rising. Even though both of these games are considered as good--even great, and still are, their age is clear to see.
Going back to Dead Rising, it's another example of how perception can change over the course of a console generation. Though it wasn't a launch title, it arrived on the scene very early in the Xbox 360's lifespan, and was quite popular on the platform. It was popular enough to the point where it got a sequel, which quickly sold over 2 million copies and was received well by critics and players alike. As the franchise moved to the new Xbox One, (this time, as an actual launch title) it got a third entry, which was seen as decent, and a fourth, which was much more reviled by older fans of the series. Its sales reflected the mediocre-to-negative reception, resulting in numbers far below what publisher Capcom had hoped for. Although a Dead Rising 5 was in the works, it was cancelled, and the studio responsible was shut down. What had started life on the Xbox 360 as a well-liked game had ended up as a dead franchise in the span of a single console generation. It makes you wonder what other currently-popular games might arrive at the same fate in a handful of years.
Video games age quickly. So, as the eighth generation of gaming comes to a close, we should look back on some of the titles we've always wanted to experience, yet never got around to. In a matter of years, you never know what may change, and what games you see as innovative now may become hard to play later on. We can always appreciate games for what they've done regardless of their age, and some truly are timeless, but why not value the current platforms and their libraries now, while they still offer concepts and "modern" gameplay at their freshest?