Some game titles are embedded into our nostalgia as reminiscents of our ‘good old days.’ It was a time when having a computer with no GPU or a 256 MB RAM wasn’t a barrier to enjoying a game.
To this day, when someone mentions names like ‘Max Payne 2,’ ‘Half Life’ or ‘Bioshock Inifinite,’ we turn around as we are suddenly struck with an unexpected but welcome splash of memories.
So what made these games so good? These games did not have the visuals the games of today do have, nor the sort of PR team that works on 10 social media to promote the titles worldwide.
Still, after more than one or two decades, they are as popular amongst their fans as they were at the time of their release. It seems like the old popular titles did one thing right, and that is having stories that were amazing, relatable, personal, and impactful.
The developers didn’t have the game engines that made the crust of the soil look so real that it becomes hard to tell whether it was animated or not, instead, they had to focus on the story and its progression to make the games appealing.
The developers of Max Payne 2 had so little budget that they couldn’t even incorporate animated cutscenes between the gameplays, and the story-book-like still picture progression became a legend immediately after its release.
The fact that we still chant the name of Tommy Vercetti from Grand theft Auto, and we still get goosebumps remembering the tower scene from Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 tells us that good stories are essential to make the games memorable.
Now all this may sound like a rant from a grown-up who can’t move on from the past, but if we look at the games that made it to the top lists in the last 4-5 years, it’s visible that the gaming sphere is changing rapidly in its preferences and dynamics.
Multiplayer games have exploded in the arena, a report of the popular website ‘GamingGorilla’ showed that the top 20 most played games in the world are mostly multiplayer, session-based games.
In recent times, titles like Pokemon Legends: Arceus*, Forza Horizon, Gran Turismo, and Fifa have dominated the platform, and it seems like the trend is likely to continue.
In the last 5 years, consumer-level gaming hardware has been through improvements that were previously unseen, as a result, the game developers are consistently releasing titles that are more graphically intensive and space-hungry.
Yet, the biggest irony is that the growth in budget and in visuals did not necessarily translate into game titles that have amazing, memorable storylines.
Although the 2018 release of Red Dead Redemption 2 and God Of War remastered, the two most popular games with amazing storylines in recent times, indicated that maybe good stories are making a return, the subsequent years have seen multiplayer or franchise-based games dominate the lists.
Yes, games like Halo Infinite or Elden Ring are still getting released, but the overall trend unequivocally shows a decline in story-based games. And it makes perfect sense from a business point of view; the nuggets developers are investing their money in games that are ensuring safe returns.
A comment in a discussion in the escapist magazine forums precisely captures the scenario - “Big publishers don't want creativity, they want a guarantee on their money. So what ends up happening is you don't get good games in America, you get iterative games. Battlefields, Call of Duty, sports games, it's all the same game with a different coat of paint. But that is because these games sell and are very low-risk investments for the publishers.”
Maybe our decaying attention span is inducing us to opt for session-based, multiplayer games for that quick release. It seems like we are losing the vigour to sit through long hours to wait for the protagonist's story to truly unfold in a grandiose manner.
We simply don’t have the patience to wait for the time that every good story takes to reach the build-ups that made the story-based games so good in the first place.
The agony we felt with Max Payne, or the suspense we experienced with Dr Gordon Freeman still feels real to this day, and as humans, at the end of the day – amongst all the quick adrenaline rushes of modern times, we all crave a good story that brings us closure.