Weekend Hot Topic, part 2: Video games that’ve aged badly

GameCentral readers name the retro games they regret going back to, from Final Fantasy VII to the first Uncharted.

The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Grackle, who asked what old games have aged the worst? Going back to a much-loved video game can be a traumatising experience, as something you remember as being amazing is revealed to have aged less than gracefully, but what’s your worst experience with an old title?

Many people highlighted almost the entire PlayStation 1 generation, the first with 3D graphics, as a problem, with GoldenEye 007 in particular suffering from both old-fashioned visuals and controls.


Don’t remind me

For me the obvious answers here are the Spyro The Dragon and Crash Bandicoot games. I loved them at the time but the recent remakes have highlighted the fact that they are not good games. The remakes themselves are excellent, I’m seriously impressed Activision put that much effort in, but the gameplay is just… not good.

They’re a product of their time, of course, but as GC pointed out in the reviews they were designed more like 16-bit games than anything else. While Super Mario 64 was exploring 3D Crash Bandicoot was doing these awkward linear platform sections that I had no fun with whatsoever when I replayed them.

Spyro is 3D but that only underlines how much you need to have good design on top of just good graphics. I found them all completely boring and couldn’t complete any of them. I found it all a bit depressing at the time, and it’s kind of put me off retro gaming in general. But then again Resident Evil 2 was great so I guess it depends what you’re working with.


False memories

Just about any PS1 game could qualify here as they all look, and usually play, horrendously by modern standards. (No wonder the PlayStation Classic was a flop.) But the one that got me was Gran Turismo. My memory of playing that is that it had almost photorealistic graphics. I distinctly remember me and my mate sitting watching the replays almost as much as we actually played the game.

Nowadays though it just looks like a pixelated mess and it’s actually kind of fascinating how awful it is, compared to how good I remember thinking it was. It makes me wonder what people are going to think of current games in 10 or so years time when photorealism is commonplace. All the weird facial ticks and bad facial animation is going to seem bizarrely ugly to them I think. And probably to us, I guess.


Bad start

I imagine most people will probably be going for older games but I think Uncharted 1 is one of the worst examples of this, it’s just terrible if you play it now. It’s on the Nathan Drake collection and if you love the other three games all I can say is don’t bother with this one.

The combat is terrible, even though I think they used some of the controls from 2, and there’s just so much of it. They should have renamed the game Nathan Drake Murder Sim. At least half of the game is him gunning down what look like poorly paid mercenaries, like some sort of Rambo clone.

The puzzles and platforming are better but only just, and the story and characters are nowhere near as interesting as the later games. I get that Naughty Dog were just learning their craft and everything but it’s shocking how bad the first one is. I don’t know what happened between 1 and 2 but I’d love to have some of that mojo myself.


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Never go home

Listing games of the PS1/N64 era that have aged gracefully is far easier than listing those that have not. The first generation to properly tackle 3D movement and polygons is full of camera issues and sub-optimal control methods. The few games I have replayed from the era recently that have aged surprisingly well are Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, Super Mario 64, and Metal Gear Solid but these do still suffer from control and/or camera issues.

Only having a single analogue stick on the N64 controller instantly makes any first person games unplayable now. (Although I do remember trying to play GoldenEye 007 with two controllers back in the day.) Some third person games also struggle with single analogue sticks, with the Dreamcast’s Shenmue games proving a chore to play even at the time.

To be honest I do not revisit old games that much. The main reason for this is that I do not want to spoil my memory. Final Fantasy IX in particular is a PS1 game I would really like to play again but I am too scared of being disappointed.


Dare to complain

Dare I say Half-Life 2? After the most recent rumour about the long-awaited sequel I went back and played the game for the first time in probably a decade and… it is not good. The funny thing is the first one is still very playable and enjoyable, except for the final level, but the sequel feels more like a tech demo than a game most of the time.

All the open world bits are terrible and the pacing is terrible, it goes on forever and I found myself getting bored of the various set-ups long before they came anywhere near to finishing. The worst thing is the gunplay is bad too. This was noted at the time, when all tech demo stuff was still impressive, but now it just makes a badly made game almost unplayable.

Maybe that’s why they decided not to do the sequel? Even the stories worse than I remember, so at least that’s me cured of always looking forward to it.


Die monster, you don’t belong in this world

People talk about whether the Final Fantasy VII remake is really a good idea, but you go back to the original and it is almost unplayable now, if you ask me. It’s not just the graphics are awful or even the badly translated dialogue, the characters are paper thin and the story makes no sense whatsoever. I tried to push my way through a full playthrough and just couldn’t do it.

I think sometimes nostalgia is invoke to criticise bad games unfairly, but with Final Fantasy VII I think that really is the only reason people still talk about it. It was important at the time, in terms of technology but as a playable game today? No.

The annoying thing is the combat is still fine, it’s one of the best turn-based systems out there, but the constant random battles are just a chore and have no place in the modern gaming world.


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One or the other

I’ve only ever come close to having my heart broken once when it has come to revisiting an old favourite. Usually, if I take against a game that was critically acclaimed back in its day it’s because I played it years after it came out. Tomb Raider without analogue controls is unplayable, Final Fantasy VII is decent – but come on, the story is a rambling, incoherent mess with paper-thin characters, and Virtua Fighter after you’ve played SoulCalibur is plain awful. Great soundtrack, though.

So, my close call was with Sonic The Hedgehog 2 for the Master System. Which is the console I had when I was 11. A strange, melancholic game with some really clever ideas and entertaining bosses. You could fly a hang-glider, which ironically takes quite a while to get the hang of, and float up through Aqua Lake in a giant bubble – the best underwater level in the franchise.

I remember a particularly tense moment towards the end of the second act which just haemorrhaged lives for me back in the day, where you float up between two walls, a few spikes laid here or there as well as badniks that would try to charge you. Hit the spikes, the badniks or even just the ceiling too early, and the bubble bursts. Naturally you don’t have to worry about running out of air while in the bubble but it won’t shield your rings and this wasn’t like Sonic Mania, where it’s relatively easy to have at least one ring most of the time.

But as an adult, I had the GameCube version of Sonic Adventure which gave you extra challenges and you could unlock the old Game Gear games. I didn’t think the change of format was that important until the very first boss. It was a cake walk on the Master System. Robotnik dumps you on this ramp out in the open, a sarlacc-like robot crab monster at the bottom, its jaws hungry for freshly minced hedgehog.

Off-screen, Robotnik would launch bouncing bombs at you. One attack pattern bounced low and even and the other high and erratic. But, for the Game Gear’s tiny screen, your reaction times are massively reduced. You almost need Sonic’s reflexes to survive it and is oddly one of the toughest battles in the series ever. It was very disheartening.

But, get past that nasty spike and it’s all good. A solid, weird little platformer – just make sure to buy the Master System version.

GC: So wait, which one hasn’t aged well? We’re confused.


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