Outdated, outmoded.

Two days ago, having unearthed my GameCube, untangling the myriad of wires and wiping off a worrying amount of dust I figured it was worth revisiting Resident Evil 4. Many moons ago when I first bought the game, I finished it eight times in a row and was convinced that it was The Greatest Thing Ever. Literally, I could find no fault with it. Naturally, I immediately hailed it as my favourite game of all time.

Revisiting a game I held in such high regard gave cause to a certain degree of trepidation, primarily due to my complete and utter adoration of the game the first time(s) ’round that I didn’t want to play the game again only to find that, beneath the viscera, there was an overrated game underneath. I was ultimately afraid that Resident Evil 4 wasn’t the flawless masterpiece I had made it out to be.

As I played the opening chapters, the control scheme – one that I recall having no problem with previously – began to annoy me. Returning from a month-long Vanquish binge, the controls felt sluggish and the overall pace, which I recalled being breakneck and utterly intense though my rose-tinted glasses, felt bizarrely pedestrian in comparison. I faced an internal dilemma; part of my subconscious was repeating “THE BEST GAME!” with all the primitive grace of a tribal ceremony, another section was moaning on and on at the inability to see the laser sight through a blurred image on a hi-def screen.

Maybe the problem stems from returning to a five year-old game after growing accustomed to more recent releases such as Gears of War, Uncharted 2 and Vanquish, each owing a heavy debt to Resident Evil 4’s game-changing (pun not intended) innovations, but the opening sections of Resident Evil 4, whilst perfectly enjoyable, made it clear that the underlying mechanics were starting to show their age and, dare I say it, felt somewhat outdated.

It got me thinking just how archaic games can become in such a short space of time, games I distinctly recall enjoying the first time round. When new mechanics are introduced everything that came before it feels somewhat outdated and outmoded. Using Gears of War as a fine example; the cover system which Epic Games popularised (stolen from Killswitch, lovers of fact and scandal) has meant that in the intervening years gamers expect – nay, demand –  that third-person shooters feature the following:

1. A cover system.
2. A cover system.
3. Online multiplayer. Oh, and a cover system.

Since its release in 2006, Gears of War has in essence ushered in a new paradigm in what we expect from a third-person shooter. As a result, it makes us wonder how on earth we used to cope without it. Gone are the days where we used to strafe left and right, completely dependent on a wonky auto-aim feature to save the day. It also makes excellent games from the last generation such as Freedom Fighters harder to return to, as subjecting the player to an endless barrage of bullets without the luxury of a cover system makes the challenge feel cheaper than it actually is.

A year in the games industry often feels like five. Graphics are predictably the first casualties as developers get more and more accustomed to the technology and learn how to push console processing power further than ever before, though it does raise questions about the vulnerability of the medium as whole, which I’ll hopefully discuss in greater depth in another article. For instance, games historically were confined within their strict technological limitations. As such game design was built around what the hardware could feasibly achieve, and even then something had to give. It brings to mind the almost always hilariously awful cutscenes from the PSone days, because creating likeable and convincing characters was next to impossible due to the crude polygonal models on which they were based. When technology inevitably improved the design principles of the past felt almost objectively bad.

It takes a rare but special kind of game to rise above its technological limitations to offer an experience that is just as fun today as it was in the past. We can take comfort by the fact that great game design is timeless. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is still considered to be the greatest game of all time thirteen years after its initial release, Tetris is still seen by many as the epitome of the perfect puzzle game and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is… well, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Maybe my somewhat negative experience so far of my ninth playthrough of Resident Evil 4 is a simple case of me slowly getting to grips again with a game I’d long feared to touch. Time will tell.