Face off: Are classic games worth playing today?

Deus Ex Face off

face off

Chris Livingston, Staff Writer
Chris loves old games and looks at them through a rose-colored VR headset.

Tom Marks, Assistant Editor
Tom respects the the great games of the past, but doesn't pretend that a lot of them don't suck today.

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Chris Livingston and Tom Marks debate whether or not classic games are worth playing today.

Chris Livingston: YES. They’re worthwhile both for people who never played them and those who haven’t played them in years.

For younger gamers, or people who only recently started playing games, classic games are a great chance to visit the inspiration for many of today’s games. Plus, when older gamers start talking wistfully about the old days, you’ll no longer have to get out your phone and stare at it in boredom because you don’t know what they’re talking about, you can get out your phone and stare at it in boredom while knowing exactly what they’re talking about. For older gamers, like myself, the classics are a great chance to revisit the games that made us fall in love with gaming in the first place.

Tom Marks: NO. Just because a game was revolutionary at the time doesn’t mean it’s still fun to play now.

I don’t mean to disparage what classic games have done for gaming as a whole. Many classics introduced brand new gameplay mechanics and fundamentally reshaped what gaming could be. I can appreciate that Deus Ex did something very important for gaming when it was released, but there is no way I could stomach playing that game. After playing Mass Effect, that classic feels slow, ugly, clunky, and down right embarrassing at times. In fact, Deus Ex was more impressive to me before I played it, and seeing it firsthand cast doubts on why people like it at all. I don’t have the context of when the game came out, so I can’t appreciate it the way others do. Times and tastes change, and many classics just simply don’t fit in to what I expect out of my games.

CL: Eh? Speak up, young man. Look, I know it can be a bit of shock to load up a classic game and feel a bit puzzled by what was once considered amazing graphics and gameplay. It's like when you're watching a show about gangsters in the 1930s and the narrator says something like "Jack "Handsome Jack" Handsome was so incredibly handsome! All the ladies swooned when he came to town to handsomely rob banks." And then they show an old photo of Handsome Jack and his face looks like a bag of stepped-on hot dogs. It's a jolt because compared to flawless movie stars and models we're used to, an old timey gangster can't really compare. But just because something prettier and smoother has come along doesn't mean what's old is ugly. Let's face it, bank tellers probably didn't really think Hot Dog Face Jack was that handsome, they just didn't have anything better so they simply held their breath and kissed him. Just hold your breath and kiss classic games. KISS THE OLD GAMES.

TM: First of all, no thank you. That’s how you spread cyber-mono. And second, playing an old game doesn’t just look like stepped-on hot dogs, sometimes it tastes like eating stepped-on hot dogs too. Just because the gameplay was revolutionary does not mean it’s timeless. I’m fine with playing a classic game to appreciate the roots of a genre or concept, but that doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy it. In fact, graphics is an interesting comparison, because very few people would argue that this has better graphics than this. So why are we so resistant to admitting that the gameplay has gotten better as well? Would you like us to throw out our fancy iPhone-a-ma-jigger too? I suppose rotary phones worked just fine, Pa. I’m not saying that every classic game has worse gameplay, but we don’t have to pretend that every game we consider a classic is still a special little snowflake which must be cherished. Some have melted a bit.

Star Wars slide

CL: Oh, you youngsters. Always wanting to enjoy things! You think I enjoyed clicking on every last pixel in Myst or trying to figure out how to kill demon beavers in Grim Fandango? Of course not. Classic games are filled with stupid, senseless, overly difficult tasks, but it gave us a sense of accomplishment you don't get from Googling a walkthrough the second you find yourself stumped. We had to use our rotary phones to call the game companies for tips when we needed help. That's a reason you should play old games, even if you don't enjoy them: to understand how tough we had it back then. There we sat, our faces stained with soot from the coal mines, our legs withered from polio, determinedly pressing every last goddamn cockpit button in the Full Throttle finale until something finally worked. I know there are better ways to do things nowadays. Like, I'm pretty sure we shouldn't bury people under enormous pointy stone tombs anymore, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go stare in wonder at the Pyramids when you're in Egypt. KISS THE PYRAMIDS.

TM: That’s because your only options were to click every last pixel until something worked or risk being drafted into The Great War, destined to be lost in no man’s land. If someone wants to see what ye olden days were like then, by all means, they should don a pair of leg warmers, throw on a cut-off Depeche Mode shirt, and experience how much better games have gotten, but a modern gamer isn’t missing out by not playing the classics. What does tearing my hair out— which I still haveburn>—over frustrating gameplay actually teach me?

Also, Nic Cage is still on the pyramid bandwagon, so there’s that.

CL: Something to remember is that frustrating gameplay isn't just a thing of the past. There's still plenty of it in the current games you value so highly, and I'd wager a shiny double eagle that it's because, like you, some modern developers have resisted subjecting themselves to games gone by. There are lessons to be learned, not just in emulating the best parts of classic games but in avoiding their pitfalls as well. As for you personally, it gives you extra ammo when you need to blast a modern developer for making a poor choice. Instead of saying "They made a mistake in this new platformer" you can say "They made the same mistake Hard Hat Mack made in 1983." That's just an example, mind you. There were no mistakes in Hard Hat Mack. That game was perfect.

Hard Hat Mack Slide

TM: I don’t even know who Hard Hat Mack is, one of these guys I assume. But why do I care what mistakes it made? I’m happy to judge a modern game for its own sins, and if it repeated the mistakes of the past then that’s the developer’s problem. There is still value to be found in these classics when looking towards the future, but not necessarily to the individual gamer. I don’t need to eat stepped-on hot dogs to appreciate how good regular hot dogs taste, nor do I want to eat old stepped-on hot dogs so I can understand when someone says “Now, do you taste the similarities to these new stepped-on hot dogs?” I’m a vegetarian, maybe we should drop the hot dog metaphor.

CL: Well, while you're eating your precious vegan dogs, try to remember they wouldn't even exist without real hot dogs, stepped-on or otherwise, and a great deal of time and effort has been spent trying to make the tofu taste as much like the blended hooves, snouts, and cartilage of genuine hot dogs as possible. That's because, despite their horrifying and unhealthy contents, original hot dogs taste great. I suppose you're right, you can enjoy a new tofu dog—or least attempt to enjoy one—without having any concept of what a regular hot dog tastes like. But it's not a fully informed opinion, and your opinions should be built from as much hot dog data as possible, even if it means forcing yourself to choke down a dirty water ballpark dog or two.

TM: Well that may be, but I like my tofu dogs with...wait, what were we arguing about again?

CL: My memory isn’t so good these days. Egypt, I think? You should visit Egypt. They’ve got great hot dogs. And stop slouching!


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