Do game graphics really matter any more?

There seemed to be a time where game graphics were the be all and end all. I remember playing the demo for Metal Gear Solid 2 and being blown away by how it looked. I marveled at the way the rain hit Snake in the cut-scenes, and how the light glimmered in the puddles. Or how the spray from the ocean waves filled the air, as they battered the ship.

That was around 16 years ago, now. I think back and, in my mind’s eye, the game still looks stunning. Though I literally just watched a YouTube video of that same mission, and it looks shit.

When the PS2 broke the boundaries of game graphics

I can’t remember a time in recent years that I was blown away by a game’s graphics. When I felt that same feeling I did when playing Metal Gear Solid 2, all those years ago. Maybe when I played Ryse: Son of Rome for the first time at EGX back in 2013. Say what you will about the gameplay, but the graphics are pretty impressive.

I played it again, quite recently, and it still holds up. Despite being 4 years old. In fact, putting it side by side against more current games – I can hardly tell the difference.

Now, with the rise of 4k gaming, a new era of graphically improved video games may be on the horizon. But does it matter? Does a better looking game automatically suggest that the game is better? What’s the old saying. You should never judge a book by its cover.

Doesn’t have to look great to be great

I’ve played plenty of great games over the years that I wouldn’t consider graphically impressive. The go-to example is always Minecraft, which is graphically impaired for good reason. It would be difficult to make a game look pretty, and do as much as Minecraft does.

But games like Ark, 7 Days to Die, SuperHot, Hyper Light Drifter and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare all have their own unique style. Sure, they’re not classically beautiful – but their style is different, and appealing.

Those that aren’t as stylized often make up for it with great gameplay. And if a game’s great, does it matter if it doesn’t look that pretty? If it’s not pushing the boundaries of game graphics?

Graphics aren’t the be all and end all

I’m of the opinion that graphics can help to make a great game – but they’re not the only factor. They’re certainly not the most important factor, either. For me, it comes down to story and gameplay.

A game like N+ is just fun to play. The gameplay is spot on, but there’s no real story. A game series like Telltale’s The Walking Dead deploys incredible storytelling with fantastic writing – to create an engaging experience. Neither are pushing graphical boundaries, though. Then there’s a game like Dragon Age 2. At the time, it was ahead of the curve with its graphics. But the game sucked. The story and gameplay just wasn’t there.

Story and gameplay make the game

On their own, an enthralling story or engaging gameplay will make a game. With graphics, on the other hand, there’s no substance. There’s no depth, no playability. Once you’ve got passed the initial awe of how good it looks, you realise that there’s nothing to actually play.

Recently, we seem to have been treated to some games with fantastic stories (games which happen to look great, too). Titles like The Last of Us, or The Witcher 3 (possibly the longest story ever told). They combine great gameplay with an awesome story and impressive graphics. Would the games have been as well received had they not been as graphically impressive? I think so.

But what do you think? Can you forgive a game for not looking its best, if the story and gameplay are top notch? Let me know in the comments below!