The modern video game industry has a graphics problem. Ever since the Fallout 4 reveal trailer took the internet by storm, the key nitpick from people wasn’t the gameplay, story or characters but how the game looked. Like most, I didn’t think much of it, thinking that it was an inevitability in the age we live in. Apparently, it was a bigger problem than I thought it was. Bethesda has had to come out and publicly defend the games graphics on several occasions since E3. My question to anyone who complained that much to register not one but multiple statements from Bethesda is this. Who cares?
In my eyes, Fallout 4 looks amazing. This isn’t a Console vs. PC debate either. From the footage I’ve seen I find nothing wrong with it. Maybe it’s because I was raised on the likes of Crash Bandicoot or Super Mario 64 whose polygons could jut out and slice you open if you got too close to the screen. To avoid the “back in my day” argument, I’ve always played games for things like gameplay, story or just to experience something new and different. When did that stop being important in place of visual fidelity?
As far back as I can remember, it’s always been that way, surprisingly. The “Bit Wars” was where most people probably remember this problem stemming from. Nintendo vs. SEGA, NES vs. Genesis, 8-bit vs 16-bit. By design, humans have always been very visual beings. If something looks better or prettier in this case, it’s more tempting. Better the graphics means it’s more likely people will gravitate towards that game or system. Visuals have always been a selling point but gameplay has always evolved with it. Going from 2D to 3D gave a whole new dimension to games, elevating the gameplay as well as visuals. A new generation gave way to new technology such as the Wii or Kinect with motion control gaming. The Gameboy or DS let us game on the go. Now, the Oculus Rift, Morpheus and HoloLens are letting us game in Virtual Reality.
So when exactly did graphics start to dwarf gameplay? I pinpoint it around the dawn of the 7th Generation of consoles. By this time graphics could start going from pointy polygons to photo-realism and with controllers staying basically the same (minus the Wii), visuals were the thing to sell systems. This inevitably lead to games becoming more cinematic to rival film as the dominant entertainment medium.
Games like Uncharted and God of War set the standard for experiences that felt like movies but played like games. The push for more cinematic experiences lead to the removal of gameplay mechanics. Instead of doing something cool yourself now you just mash that X button. Quick Time Events, cinematic gameplay and visuals that dazzled all culminated into a game known as The Order 1886. This game was bashed by gamers and critics alike for relaying too much on pretty set pieces and QTE’s and having little in the way of gameplay, innovative or not. It took a very interesting concept and setting and drowned it under boring gameplay and an overabundance of taking control away from the player. The Order 1886 was focused on wowing the player with gorgeous visuals rather than interesting gameplay.
So how does this all come back to Fallout 4’s graphics? The newest generation of gamers have been raised on games like Call of Duty and the like which strive for hyper-realistic graphics. In turn, everything must look like and play like that otherwise it’s a disappointment. Going back to play Fallout 3, anyone can tell that it hasn’t aged all too well. Muddy textures, wonky animations and character models that are sometimes ugly to look at. But I found myself basking in the beauty of the Capital Wasteland as I strolled along, Combat Shotgun in my hand and Ink Spots playing over the airwaves as I fought off Ghouls and Super Mutants.
The beauty didn’t come from super detailed textures or realistic lighting. It came from the overall experience of it all. Everything culminating in an immersive and fun time. That’s the key word. Fun. A game can blow me away visually and can even be mistaken for real life. But if it isn’t fun then what’s the point? Fallout 4, from what we could gather from the E3 footage, looks to be Fallout 3 but bigger. A bigger world means more to explore and Bethesda’s marketing executive Pete Hines said himself that “We could make the best looking game possible, but we dial some of that back in order to allow for all of these other things.”
I’m all for great looking visuals but I’m also for games that are packed to the brim with fun and interesting gameplay. I don’t know about you but I’d take a bigger world with more to explore, a deep and rich crafting system and expansive dialogue options over shinier textures any day, but that’s just me.
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