There's no doubt that the gaming industry has advanced in many, many ways compared to it's infancy. Looking at Atari 2600 games or original Nintendo games and comparing them to the stuff of today is perhaps not far off from comparing a Technicolor Fantasia to an IMAX Avatar. They can do more now than ever before...
...and yet, it feels like they're doing less.
I have a distinct bias against games that lack stylization, and go for looking as realistic as possible. I like games that take an old-school approach. I tend to have a heavy favoritism for games that incorporate certain elements that characterized yesterday - and which most everything today has tried to distance itself from.
I look at all the games that line the shelves - and will be lining the shelves - and let out a sigh. Ultra-gritty action shooter with a crime theme. Ultra-gritty action shooter with a sci-fi theme. Ultra-gritty action shooter with a warfare theme. Yet, I'd be fooling myself if I didn't believe the same slock would have been around 'back in the day' if they were capable of it.
Art through adversity. When they weren't capable of making ultra-realistic graphics, they had to take much more creative approaches. If Metal Slug was made with today's technology, I've little doubt it would have ended up looking like Gears of War. Yet, because they couldn't, we ended up with a game with a ton of charm and characters that didn't need voices to give them characterization.
Sure, there were many games that still tried to go for a realistic look, but because they weren't capable of doing so, they had to find creative solutions. That seems to be gone now. They no longer have to be creative, they can just perfectly copy the real world... and that just seems all kinds of lazy.
You can say a lot when you can't say anything at all. The characters from Jet Grind Radio had maybe about 2 lines of speech, plus a few grunts and yelps when they did tricks or got hurt - yet, you didn't need a ton of back-story or monologues to understand them. Just from their appearances, gestures and expressions, you could tell more about them than two hours of cut-scenes.
And yet, they go with the two hours of cut-scenes. With very few exceptions, I haven't seen a character that blew me away with his or her character design in any game of this generation that aimed for realism. Nathan Drake may have a few humorous, witty one-liners, but that doesn't change the fact that his character design was pretty bland... unless we're talking about Donut Drake. Indiana Jones was pretty real looking (maybe because he was being played by a real man), but that didn't stop the designers from crafting a look for him that was iconic and instantly recognizable - Drake, by comparison, looks like... just some guy.
Stick to what you're good at, and don't waste my time. There used to be a time when games were what you paid for. You bought Sonic 2, and you ran at break-neck speeds and killed robots. You bought Street Fighter II, and you told a bunch of dudes and one chick to go home and be a family man. This was enough. Hell, this was more than enough. We played it, and when we were done, we played it again. It was fun in it's most purified form - why would we wanna stop?
Now look at games. Collect 500 Agility Orbs. Complete 333 ambient freeplay missions. What the hell? Do we really need to add a bunch of chores to our games? I assume this is done to keep people 'playing' longer (thus, preventing used sales), yet it does the exact opposite for me. Maybe, if you'd put the time spent planning out these horrific collect-a-thons into making the game a much more fun and enjoyable experience, I wouldn't sell the game because I'd want to play it again? Nah, sorry - I guess that's just too much to ask.
Maybe I'm just some crotchety old man who sees things with rose-tinted glasses.Wait, no - that's wrong. Fact of the matter is, I'm right. Things WERE better back then, precisely because they weren't. It's become obvious to me that, with only a few exceptions (and those exceptions are usually relegated to budget titles, digital releases and portable games), the games of today lack a creative punch because they no longer have to have it.