Toast On Jam: Fallout 4 And Backwards Compatibility – Gaming’s Unhealthy Obsession With The Past
A number of my columns this year have been about forward momentum – learning from our mistakes, improving our gaming experience and making peace with that which we cannot change. At no point was there a plan to build them up towards some spearhead but here we are, all thanks to the recent brouhaha made by backwards compatibility and Fallout 4.
Do not misunderstand me, these are both great things and undoubtedly things that people have been wanting for a long time; Fallout 4 outweighing backwards compatibility by a hefty margin mind you. The issue I take is more in the exuberance and hoopla with which they’ve both been received. As though it’s the second coming of
bin Laden Jesus. It may as well be because people are cheering for something from the past, something that didn’t need to be brought back. Or at least it shouldn’t be this big a deal.
Yes, I just compared Fallout 4 to Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Draw your own parallels.
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I’m happy that the Xbox One has backwards compatibility, it adds a whole lot more depth and incentive to buying into the platform.
I’m thrilled that Fallout 4 hasn’t left a trail of tears in its wake after such a monumental wait.
However, why are we so hung up on the past?
By most accounts Fallout 4 makes little tweaks here and there (aside from bigger additions such as settlements) over its predecessor which came out seven bleeding years ago. Yet, it sits with an OpenCritic score of 87 at the time of writing. Having never played Fallout 3 and having not yet touched Fallout 4 I’m an outsider looking in and from here it looks like madness. I won’t argue that the game has all the qualities that make Bethesda games 100+ hour sinkholes for many but why is a game very, very similar in feel and gameplay to one from so long ago being rated so highly?
My thinking is perhaps that instead of criticising Fallout 4 for doing so little to improve on Fallout 3, they acknowledge it as a problem but overlook it because they’re getting to play an updated, current-gen version of Fallout 3. It’s not only nostalgia at play but also the fact that everything about Fallout 4, down to its marketing, has been decidedly old-school. It hearkens back to ‘better times’ as it were. Fallout 4 released without a spreadsheet of special editions, without pre-order bonuses, without being accused of visual downgrades and having only been officially revealed at the start of the year. It is, for all intents and purposes, a game out of time.
Perhaps that is part of why folks are so enamoured by it. It’s the same old thing but that’s a damn sight better than these newfangled social experiments.
That neatly brings me onto backwards compatibility. Yes, it is a nice feature to have and I would like to be able to play my collection of PS3 games on my PS4 but the important thing to note is that I have played them. I already have all those great memories of playing them and so there isn’t really a need to keep going back to them. It’s far better to move forward, to find the good in what is out now and to not get stuck in the past. There are certain cases where I desperately wish to get back to old games such as BioShock now that I’ve read Atlas Shrugged but most people don’t analyse their games.
Yes, for a few years we had what many, including myself, consider to be a golden era with Gears of War, Assassin’s Creed, BioShock and so many other fantastic games which are now undeniable classics releasing. However, there is no “good ol’ days” to go back to.Gaming has always had its issues, always will. Just like any other industry. The nature of those issues evolves with the times and with the size of the industry but so too has our ability to push back with people having a far louder voice than ever before. Often to our own detriment but that’s nothing new. Looking back and reminiscing doesn’t help though, it just makes the present seem worse. The thing is, we should be focusing that energy on making the most of the hand we currently have instead of ruminating over that time you got a royal flush.
Furthermore, the industry kingpins know how obsessed withe the past people and so they’ve monetised it, weaponised it even. It’s only human nature, we’re wired to either look forward or back but never at what’s right in front of us. It’s a skill that can be learnt though. It’s not just the big players though, indie developers who are strapped for cash exploit this weakness with endless barrages of retro-inspired, old-school games.
The gaming industry feels caught in a queer equilibrium with the past and progress struggling to tip things over. There is a constant push and pull in the hearts of people. We want things to change but we also want them to go back to the way they were to the point where a game that goes backward instead of forward feels like progress. Yes, the industry is filled with things loathsome things such as microtransactions and a myriad pre-order bonuses but these things are not inherently bad. They’re symptomatic of a burgeoning industry and can be done in a decent, more humane manner.
This is why Fallout 4 feels like such a great step backward. It doesn’t really bring anything new, it doesn’t invigorate its genre the way Inquisition of The Witcher 3 did, it has its feet firmly planted in the past and that seems to be why people praise it so excessively (aside from it being a Bethesda game).
The easiest path is always going to be back down to where you came from but we’ve already been there. Sure, the path up is harder and requires a bit of effort and we don’t exactly know what we’ll find but that’s part of the journey. Hollywood has reached its turning point, it struggles to do anything but look back. I don’t want that to happen to gaming and I doubt you do either.