Have a think about some of the greatest games of all time: Mario, Resident Evil, Mega Man… all of those classics that consumed your childhood. By today’s standards, most of these games aren’t technically impressive, not even pretty. But that hasn’t stopped legions of nostalgic, balding gamers booting up their favourite cartridges over and over again until they’re nothing more than crumbling paperweights. It’s no grand secret why this is the case; gameplay is, and always has been, king.
Contrary to the overzealous insistence of E3 demo masters; pretty textures and cacophonous spectacles don’t make a game. Recent months have made for a better time than ever to substantiate this point. Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Drive Club – two games whose central selling points were predicated upon eye-watering graphics and pre-eminent engines – launched to tepid responses. In 20 years’ time, we’ll all be hard-pressed to remember that Assassin’s Creed game which mediocre-d its way to the dusty-shelf.
Today’s most graphically groundbreaking games, much like a Botox-fevering grandmother, are going to look pretty ugly no matter what in a few years’ time. Facing an industry that increasingly prides itself on looks over actual quality, we here at Power Up Gaming feel obligated to celebrate some of the past few years’ most impeccable gaming experiences. The games which grabbed us and never let go; the games which we know will feel every bit as good in 20 years’ time; the games which will compel us to play them until the end of time.
Minecraft is about personal achievement and the thrill of exploration. Whilst coding away in his spare time, developer Markus Persson (better known by his alias, Notch) could never have quite predicted the monumental way in which his quaint survival-thriller would take off. Everyone and their mother has played Minecraft by now. ‘Blocky’ has become a pejorative term with which to talk about ugly games; but, for Minecraft, the adjective encapsulates everything which makes it stand above everything else so effortlessly.
Minecraft’s jaunty visuals go easy on processors, and that’s not a bad thing. Notch is committed to gameplay above all else, and that’s why Minecraft’s exemplary worlds gladly hoover up all this surplus computing power. PC Minecraft worlds are virtually infinite; current gen console worlds are bigger than they have any right to be. Mojang’s prodigious engine is not only capable of inducing feelings of inadequacy, but offering overwhelmingly vast expanses to explore. Worlds are generated randomly: that means no two are alike; every player’s experience is unique and special. No word quite does these virtual playgrounds justice like nebulous. And no gameplay system could do these worlds justice quite like Minecraft’s.
Unsurprisingly, Minecraft’s core gameplay tenets are mining and crafting. The uninitiated can only balk at how spending 2 hours plinking away at a stone wall can possibly be fun. But this is exactly what keeps the initiated up at night, too excited about tomorrow’s potential plunder to sleep. Minecraft’s crafting mechanic is, in a word, “compelling”. In two, “intensely gripping”. And, in three, “too damn addictive”. A genuine feeling of self-improvement exists here. There’s something truly special about beginning your journey with nothing but your fists and ending wherever your imagination stops, all the while bleeding for every brick, every treasure and every precious diamond. For this reason, Minecraft has been captivating young and old alike for the past five years.
Minecraft is a timeless game and its possibilities are almost boundless. With new updates still coming out all the time, it’s hard to tell at what gargantuan point Minecraft will end up. What is clear, though, is that Mojang’s title is one of the few games of today that we will still be playing in 20 years’ time.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us may well have been one of the best looking games to ever light up a console when it originally released on PS3 in 2013 (and once more when it was subsequently remastered for PS4), but that doesn’t mean master-jugglers Naughty Dog failed to deliver in any other respect. Naughty Dog is one of those few developers that are committed to achieving perfection in every department. Breathtaking graphical realism was merely window-dressing to the unfailingly evocative art direction. Dilapidated districts and corroding houses spoke lengths about the nefariously twisted world its characters were forced to inhabit. Artistically realised levels repeatedly left staying impressions that were tough to forget. While it may look a little rough around the edges in the future, The Last of Us’s visual design will undoubtedly hold up come the day it can be considered “retro”.
When it wasn’t giving you a new appreciation for the serene majesty of nature, the Last of Us was bankrupting players of any sense of internal peace. Enemy AI was smart: scant resources ensured that even the most elementary of skirmishes put gamers on edge. A comprehensively punishing list of difficulties insisted that the challenge would always be way up there, even for the most seasoned of fans. Said encounters could be approached and veer off in a myriad of ways, and players were often placed out of their comfort zones.
Under the hood, The Last of Us also boasted some of the tensest gameplay around, not to mention one of the most nuanced virtual casts of all time. Only the most hard-hearted of people could fail to be moved by Ellie and Joel’s relentless adventure. The Last of Us dealt in overwhelming wharfs of emotion from beginning to end with expert scripting that remorselessly fashioned player’s heart strings into yoyos. Naughty Dog’s rich, layered world simply demands to be consumed again and again. Like The Godfather, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Shawshank Redemption, The Last of Us’s story will never turn sour. It will remain just as relatable until we’re all cyborgs fighting over the last Curly Wurly on Mars.
All of this meant that – just like its story and world – the Last of Us’s thrilling gameplay was meant to be experienced over and over again. The game is a complete package if there ever was one. Naughty Dog have created a bold new chapter in video game history, which will be celebrated by fans for a very long time.
Despite clocking in at a demure two hours in length, Journey had the most post-credits staying power of all the games on this list. Journey was, in many ways, an exercise in trimming the fat. The story was conveyed organically: ‘look, a mountain; go climb it’. All the potential clutter of a HUD was surmounted by a pretty, luminous scarf. Experimental developer Thatgamecompany simply allowed no time for schoolboy fluff. That’s why every element of Journey was a master stroke.
Journey’s minimalism allotted breathing room for its very best elements. Gameplay was in no sense deep, but that didn’t matter. Complex mechanics would have just gotten in the way of the developers realising their core vision. A wash of striking blues and caramel sands gleefully lauded up the spotlight. Journey was an interactive concept gallery: art in motion. Like all the best art, Journey’s ascetic was open to all and its meanings were entirely interpretable. You don’t need to be a lifelong gamer, or even an Art History graduate, to appreciate Journey’s beauty. In its efficacious simplicity it stood outside of time-bound tropes and visual timestamps. Journey was fundamentally accessible on every level; it’s the game every generation should at least give a go once. That’s why it’s the game we’ll be forcing down our hypothetical children’s hypothetical throats before they can learn to say, “I’d rather go outside and play sports”.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
What more can be asked of a Batman game than that it makes you feel like Batman? How about a litigious attention to lore and an impeccable combat system? The die-hard comic fans at Rocksteady got all of this down when they first stepped up to make the Batman game of their dreams. Batman: Arkham Asylum is the tour de force of superhero games. There’s no better destination to revel in the love of all things super.
Arkham Asylum set new benchmarks for free flowing combat. Fluidly flooring foes and neutralizing ne’er-do-wells was worryingly enjoyable. So much so that the game’s mechanics are still being mercilessly mimicked 5 years later. The Predator stealth system offered an even more empowering parallel to traditional combat. Deviously swooping through rooms crammed with gun-toting baddies and using gadgets galore was quintessential Batman. The brooding hero’s plight had all the scintillatingly dark hallmarks of any good Batman story. Watching the condition of Batman’s cape, cowl and armour slowly deteriorate as the all-night gauntlet progressed was the cherry on top of a perfect cake. Rocksteady truly made gamers feel like they were the world’s greatest detective stumbling through the night of his life.
The series’ sequels have been more ambitious and grander in scope. However, it was this tight, story-driven Batman feel that made Asylum such a pleasant surprise in 2009. While grand, these follow-ups weren’t epic. Batman: Arkham Asylum is the superhero game of a generation. The video game equivalent of The Dark Knight Returns or the Killing Joke: this is a seminal Batman caper that can be religiously revisited.
Have your very own game you know you will be playing until the end of time? Then let us know in the comments below what it is and, more importantly, why it’s so timeless!