Are setpieces and pretty graphics taking over gameplay?

Giant setpieces in video games are an absolute blast to watch and play but they also manage to make games that aren’t as interesting…well, interesting. Some games that really benefit from this are 1st person shooters and their campaigns. A vast majority of 1st person shooters are very simple and generic: point and shoot at a flood of mediocre A.I. But one of the things these shooters do so perfectly, is having these massive, over the top setpieces with insane explosions and crazy things happening all at once.

The reason these setpieces don’t both me as much as they should is because I am controlling them, I am apart of them (sort of). Let’s compare this to action movies these days which are a bore, we’ve seen it over and over again and I don’t think (most) people want to see it anymore, but a dumb Call of Duty campaign can still be decent fun for a few hours solely because of these setpieces. We live in a very interesting time in video games where graphics and big, huge stuff looks so interesting…because it is pretty and we control it. And as much as I push for innovation in video games, I’m still willing to play these stupid, big set pieces every year. What exactly does that say about us as gamers? Do we just like to look at pretty graphics and sometimes care less about what the game itself actually is? Is this a good or a bad thing?

Let’s look at this from a hardware perspective for a second. Every time a new system comes out, what is the first thing that ends up being the conversation? Frame rate? Pixels? Polygons? How great that next gen game looks rather than how it might play? What is going on here? Why is this the first thing we care about? Shouldn’t we care about gameplay? As I said, I love look at pretty graphics and pretty set pieces, but should that be what a game is about? Absolutely not, we need to look at games way beyond that, but sometimes I think that factor is completely forgotten about as new systems and new big budget titles come out every year, and we all fall into this trap!

Hell, even if you look at Uncharted, that game is littered in cinematic spectacle that makes aspects of the game maybe better than they really are too. If we look at video games at their core, it always seemed to be about games progressing to look better and better and better, from 8bit to 16bit to 32bit to 64bit. It was always numbers, data, and things of that nature. Should it be? I don’t really know. As a whole, no, I would hope not. I want games to embody something more than being visual spectacles that you (sometimes) control. But sometimes it feels as though so many games every year fall into this trap. Games that are filled with cutscenes that go far too long, games that focus on how pretty they are instead of how well they play.

Sometimes, it may be necessary to look at the purity of video games and what they really come down to: gameplay. Gameplay is always the key factor to what games really are. If a game doesn’t play well, why would anyone want to play it? Are we reaching a point where gameplay is starting to matter less for figures instead, because these games are being “improved” (superficially) by graphics more than ever? I can’t answer the question fully, it’s a tough one to answer, but I can still be so easily amused by the first level of Super Mario Bros., so maybe it doesn’t matter as much as I think so, it just seems to be in the limelight. What do you think? Are we-gamers and developers-too focused on set pieces and how games look, have they taken center stage? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Author of this post (and the only author ever on this blog):

Jesse Jordon is an aspiring writer who writes this garbage on these blogs to make you laugh or learn something I guess. (Wait, why am I mixing 3rd and 1st person point of view when I’m the only one writing this?) He’s trying to be a video game journalist but is probably failing at that. You can follow him on Twitter @jjordon96 (if you want I guess). You can also purchase his first self-published book On Human Empathy for only $5.00 (you can buy literature or coffee, it’s up to you to decide. I’d go with the coffee personally).


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