A reader tries to define exactly what turns a great video game into an all-time classic, from atmosphere to pacing.
This is a question that has been bandied about for over 30 years, and will do for another 30, but I’m not going to go through what games I consider a ‘classic’. I will touch on some titles by way of example, but more on what elements of a game help it to be heralded as an all-time great. I’m not saying a game has to tick all these boxes to be considered a great, just that when I sat down to think about it these are the elements that I came up with.
By this, I mean believable within the framework the designers have created, not necessarily realistic in our world, but realistic in the world we’re playing in. Deus Ex and Half-Life 2 are set in semi-realistic dystopian worlds with fantastical elements but are still absolutely believable within those worlds due to the storytelling and atmosphere created. Skyrim and The Witcher 3 similarly.
No, not the Microsoft spreadsheet, but the need for a game to be very good at something; it doesn’t have to be something unique, although that helps. Zelda: Breath Of The Wild excels at exploration, Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare excelled at online play, Inside excelled at creating an atmosphere of foreboding. Word.
An often overlooked element to linear games, but similar to films and literature, pacing is key. Have too much going on, set piece after set piece, can become exhausting. Having too much downtime can be dull. Where Uncharted 4 slightly failed in this regard, The Last of Us nails it.
Now, this seems an odd thing to state, as we only play games we enjoy right? Wrong. I imagine every one of us has continued to play a game we haven’t been enjoying, and I’m not talking about the odd grindy bit, or a particularly difficult level, I mean we’ve all played a game and not had fun, and yet continued to play it. It’s difficult to have fun all the time on a single game, but the likes of Super Mario Odyssey, Street Fighter II, and Grand Theft Auto III is as close to it as I remember.
Get the basics right
Again, may seem obvious, but too many times have games with great ambition and vision been thwarted by broken mechanics, game-breaking glitches, or poorly-implemented controls. Such ‘basics’, the building blocks to a great game, are all too often side-lined.
Not necessarily the vision of a single person, but that helps. Many games seem to be designed by committee, looking to pander to what’s considered the ideal demographic, but end up appealing to no one. The Metal Gear games were successful, critically at least, as they were driven by a single (minded) vision. It’s not a coincidence that many successful games in the current era are indie titles created by a small team, a welcome echo of the early days of the Spectrum.
Games are primarily an entertainment, entertain us! Skool Daze, Streets Of Rage, Rocket League, Super Bomberman, and Speedball 2 are games that bring a smile to my face just by mentioning them.
Every game has an atmosphere, but not every game has one conducive to creating an environment that is all encompassing and compliments the game perfectly. Resident Evil 7 in VR creates a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere that mirrors what your character is going through. Lords Of Midnight gives you a sense of Tolkien-esque high fantasy using memory and graphical power that wouldn’t be enough for an oven clock now. Music and sound effects all add to this, and sometimes less is more, as highlighted by Super Metroid.
And… that indefinable something, the je ne sais quoi, the magic ingredient
By reader TheTruthSoul (PSN ID)
The reader’s feature does not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email email@example.com and follow us on Twitter.