A game doesn’t always have to push the boundaries of technology to impress us. We can have as much fun pulling that last, nail-biting block from a gently swaying tower in Boom Blox as we do stomping around Crysis on our shed-sized supercomputers. Look at World of Warcraft, a game that boasts over 11.5 million subscribers, but which could probably run on a low-end toaster. Yes, in spite of stubbornly clinging to a years-old engine or technology that wouldn’t impress a small child from the Dark Ages, some games can confound expectations and win our hearts regardless. What follows are some of the best.
Left 4 Dead 1 and 2
Unimpressive technology: Valve’s Source engine
Advanced facial animations, real-time motion blur and sophisticated physics that took account of friction and buoyancy made Half-Life 2 a true pioneer. For the first time, games could be physics playgrounds (literally – there was a playground near the beginning of the game with swings and everything) and create action scenarios that, with a fully powered gravity gun, were always unique. How things change.
Where once a puzzle that saw you weigh down one end of a see-saw with heavy objects so you could use the other end as a ramp seemed to be powered by black magic, now it’s literally child’s play. Valve, though, isn’t changing anything. The last two years have seen releases of the Source-powered Left 4 Dead and its sequel, and both have proved as fresh and innovative as any game on the market. Compared with Crytek’s weep-inducingly beautiful CryEngine3, L4D may look dated, but unless you’re a Valve boycotter, you can’t deny the games that came out of ”the little engine that could” were absolute riots.
Best Source moment: Tossing a last-ditch pipe bomb over the heads of an onrushing zombie horde and counting to three... Australian game-denouncer Michael Atkinson can’t handle this!
Pro Evolution Soccer series
Unimpressive technology: All of it
If nothing else, Japanese developers are reliable. Their annual, virtually unchanged Dynasty Warriors games do for fighting fans what Konami’s PES does for soccer fans: frustrates them.
Above: PES from 2007...
Eight-way directional running, end-of-match highlight reels, 32 club teams? Simply breathtaking... In 2001. It’s now 2010, and where FIFA, once PES’s less-gifted footballing brother – the Phil Neville to PES’s Gary – has changed fundamentally, incorporating 360-degree directional dribbling, thousands of fully licensed players and 10 vs 10 online play, PES seems to have stood rooted to the spot. But it can’t be denied PES still has it. Developing your team through the Master League is as addictive as ever, and the graphics – one of the only aspects that improves each year – put FIFA to shame. FIFA 10 may be the more progressive game, but for the sake of pure, comfortable nostalgia, we hope PES never changes.
Above: ...and its 2009 successor
Best PES moment: Forming an unbroken string of passes all the way up the pitch and culminating in a cool finish is something we hope the more forgiving gameplay of PES never loses.
Early Game Boy Advance games
Unimpressive technology: The first-generation GBA
Eyes, ears and hands – all required to play games. It’s a shame the first iteration of the GBA, with its screen as dark as Jack Thompson’s soul, rendered vision near-useless. It’s also an irony that some of the best games for the handheld were released during the period which we like to call ”The Blackout.”
Above: What playing early GBA games looked like
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, which took place primarily at night and in a castle, was obviously the hardest of all to follow, receiving lowered review scores purely because of the GBA’s hardware limitations. But it wasn’t alone, and any game daring to have a deep, rich color scheme risking the effects of “The Blackout.” Having to angle our GBAs so that reflected light brightened the screen was an inconvenience we suffered to play games like Rayman Advance and Earthworm Jim – both brilliant, if you didn’t mind squinting.
Above: What was hiding under all that darkness
Best early GBA moment: Finally completing Circle of the Moon on the hardest setting... in sunlight and under a very bright bulb.