Games fill niches these days. Want open ended? Far Cry 2 was geared towards that demographic. Want to be able to define your own goals and carry a war instead of a sequence of battles? Here’s a copy of Medieval 2: Total War and I hope you meant that, because it’s the only way you play it. Want an immersive experience that’s out of the ordinary? Your plane just crashed in the 1930s and, oh, mind the tin cans. And welcome to Bioshock.
Do you want some seriously innovative and well presented new gamplay mechanics in a 2D environment? Here’s Braid. It likes to fuck with the fourth dimension in four layers of spatial thinking. Want realistic one-bullet firefights? I’ve got a pre-order of Operation Flashpoint 2 with your name on it. Want funny? Here’s another copy of Portal. Want fairytale? I’ve got your Fable 2 right here.
Do you want a fresh feature implemented in a way you’ve never seen before? I hope you haven’t lost your voice, because in Tom Clancy’s End War you’re going to need it; your entire army is controlled by your voice. Want deep? Dwarf Fortress is free. Want pure, indie gameplay? Mount & Blade just hit stores. Want over the top? Psychonauts contains a secret agent masquerading as a housewife by wearing an apron, a wig and talking disjointedly about pies.
None of the games above are made before 2000. Hell, 90% of them are less than three years old.
I grew up with gaming from the C64 on. When I was what, 10, I was asked by my personal Military Advisor to get ready for a briefing on the Brotherhood of NOD’s military activities in the original Command & Conquer. By the time I turned 11, I’d stared down the Zergs time and time again. I’ve got all the stars in Super Mario 64, I can quote Fallout 1 & 2 from cover to cover, I could play through Deus Ex blindfolded.
But games have never been better. The only thing that has been seriously fucked over the last decade is sequels. Unplanned or conditional sequels are a bad idea, period. But this has been true for decades, if not centuries, accross all medias. Dune? Every book beyond the first pretty much blew chunks. Narnia? A conditional ditto. Most classical composers? Had two great pieces in them. Led Zeplin? Rocks way less hard. World War 2? Way worse than the first one. And so on.
This decade has had it’s plenty of minor and major revolutions and epiphanies of gaming. Sequels and follow-ups? Not so much. But I’ll put the experience of, say, Psychonauts against, say, Super Mario 64 any day. Fallout 1? Still unmatched in its genre, but we haven’t made games in that style since 2001. Deus Ex? I’d put it side by side against Bioshock, any day. Command & Conquer? Matched and surpassed by every single game in the Total War series. And so on.