As Devs Chase Next-Gen Visuals, Core Gameplay Remains Stagnant

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Breathtaking Visuals Are Great, But Where's The Innovative Gameplay?

Story Highlights
  • Modern games have become contemporary, and studios have seemingly settled. 
  • There has been no major gameplay innovation for a very long time.
  • Innovation has been compromised to play it safe and manage high-budget AAA titles.

Modern gaming is in a weird spot right now. Graphics are evolving, award-winning games are being released left and right, and developers are firing on all cylinders, yet an element seems to be missing.

Somewhere amid the quest for revolutionary graphics, optimizations, and story-telling, we have lost gameplay innovation. I still remember the older generations of the original PlayStation or the PS2, where I was excited to try out what innovations each new release would bring.

However, that seems to have ceased now, with studios preferring to go safe rather than try out new things. Modern AAA titles are mainly contemporary, keeping the elements of titles before them and not trying anything new.

Why it matters: Graphics have always been the selling point of each generation, but past generations also offered new genres, styles of gameplay, and more. This element appears to have been lost to time.

Original Doom
The Original Doom Changed Everything

Innovation Dying In Favor Of Contemporary Game Design

Let’s take it back to the early 90s when Doom first came out. Built on Wolfenstein’s 3D engine, the game was genre-defining and became the basis for the first-person shooters that we have now.

Then there were titles like the Tomb Raider games. The series, along with Super Mario 64, defined what 3D third-person platformers should be. From traversal to parkour to moving through various terrains and action sequences, the games were brilliant for their time.

However, years later, it seems like we’ve hit the peak, with games not finding anything exceptional to do. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some excellent releases recently, with ground-breaking titles like Red Dead Redemption 2, Alan Wake 2, Baldur’s Gate 3, Elden Ring, and many others.

But in the end, what they all do is build on game mechanics and structures that already existed. Even Nintendo falls into this category despite its position as the most innovative at the moment.

Uncharted 2 Opening Scene
Uncharted Set The Stage For More Narrative-Focused Games In 2007

Have Gameplay Mechanics Hit Their Peak?

Dark Souls was a genre-defining game. Released in 2011, it inspired a new genre that is more popular than ever today. Then there was 2013’s GTA 5, which is still relevant 11 years later. Batman Arkham Asylum was also something we never knew superhero games could do.

My point is that the genre-defining games become the model that every other title moving forward will follow until a new one arrives. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a new model in forever, which indicates developers have settled.

In my opinion, the last massive leap was taken during the Xbox 360 and PS3 era. This generation introduced more physics-based gameplay, open worlds gained popularity through the original Assassin’s Creed, and online multiplayer exploded.

These types of innovations are nowhere to be found today. As far as I can tell, the last two generations have been extensions of the Xbox 360 and PS3 generations, with games becoming more graphically advanced without evolving in other ways.

Hi-Fi Rush
Chai Stars As The Hi-Fi Rush Protagonist

Big Budgets Make Innovation Much More Risky 

Now, there is no way the brilliant minds in the gaming industry can’t think of new ideas. However, the budgets have risen so much that risk-taking has become a huge issue.

Imagine spending $200 million on a game that doesn’t sell well. There are bound to be failures as developers attempt to break out of their current shells, but therein lies the whole problem.

A title I would like to mention here is Hi-Fi Rush.

While Tango Gameworks did not do much out of the ordinary here, this game was a step in the right direction. Hi-Fi Rush instantly clicked and showed the possibilities of a new genre being born out of an amalgamation of hack-n-slash and rhythm games.

I hope to see more developers taking similar risks so gaming can find its next big breakthrough soon. Until then, however, I suspect we will be playing similar kinds of games for many more years.

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