Death and resurrection of the cursed PC genre that became the Holy Grail of the 90s

Death and resurrection of the cursed PC genre that became the Holy Grail of the 90s

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The more video games advance, the more emphasis is placed on interaction with the virtual world. Over the years, we have seen how the scenarios and elements go from being less containers of the action to being part of our activities. Beyond simply moving around them and dodging obstacles, we are increasingly being urged to use our imagination as an element of the game.

While it is true that this might seem like a new trend, its origins have roots in one of the most fishy classic genres we know: immersive sims. Far from being like FPS or RTS, its name is not that popular, but the titles that populate it have connotations that range from timeless jewelry to completely groundbreaking titles. But why aren’t they so popular? Why have we never had an outbreak of this type of works? To answer this question, we first have to see what they consist of.

What is an immersive sim and why are they so important?

Defining an immersive sim is perhaps a bit more difficult than usual. Yes, the gender thing is a move to address as such, but here we are not just talking about the way you finish off your enemies, camera angles or its setting. The most important focus in these games is put on you, the player, and the way you take advantage of their systems to be able to solve problems in different ways. When I think of them, the names that come to mind are some of the most relevant in the video game scene, titles that have always been advanced and groundbreaking in equal parts.

Names like Deus Ex, Thief or System Shock have always been on everyone’s lips

Names like Deus Ex, Thief or System Shock have always been on the lips of all those who seek to talk about the most influential in history. With very clever and complicated designs, these great pillars of immersive simulators formed the basis of many of the elements that we now consider essential in a video game, both at a playable level and at a narrative level, having pushed the medium to modernize based on its achievements. Practically forever, an immersive sim has been synonymous with sophisticationintelligence and a very, very thorough and detailed design.

They are usually video games with a more narrative spirit, thus justifying your actions and giving you several options to face the challenges that it presents you. For an immersive sim, it’s crucial that the worlds feel alive and interactive, and that the player can find their own solutions through the synergy of its elements and mechanics. Sometimes they can even feel like amusement parks that you design on your own: stacking barrels to get to new places, using your skills to jump over obstacles or come up with alternative solutions to their misfortunes are a huge part of their appeal from the point of view of the game. of a player.

Critically acclaimed, but a hard sell

If you did not know the genre very well, now you will understand that it is a complicated genre to spin and balance. Halfway between RPG and sandbox, creating an immersive sim is an arduous task that is not within everyone’s reach. Today, if I had to point to a triple A studio that is responsible for being the champion of the genreI’d say the best known and most valued is Arkane, who has been refining his hand on it from Dishonored to Deathloop.

We are talking about robust, concise and refined works, but that have never exploded

The name of this studio has echoed far and wide after its successes with critics, but how are they doing commercially? If we take Deathloop, the latest game from the French developer, as an example, we find some surprises. SteamDB data shows us that the highest number of concurrent players the game has ever had was just 20,000, and this was on launch day. This trend is repeated with Prey, the first Dishonored, and its sequel, despite all of these being incredibly well-rated games. This is not something that only affects Arkane, because something similar happens to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. And, beware, we are not talking about bad games or titles that simply are not as good as their predecessors. They are sturdy piecesconcise and refined, but that, despite their prestige, have never come to explode as they have, for example, Dark Souls, Uncharted or Devil May Cry.

Dishonored 2

Reading the journalist Paul Tassi on the Forbes portal, he pointed out that the marketing behind Deathloop had been, at the same time, overwhelming and uninformative, something that has made me wonder if it really is a problem with the game and how it was advertised … either of the genre as such. An immersive sim is such a specific and detailed thing that it costs not only to develop it, but also to sell it to the general public. Elements like interactivity, options, and player weight are becoming a bigger standard within the industry, making it hard to market these titles as truly unique, even though they are.

Great modern stumbles of the genre

On the other hand, there are also a series of works that, even having great figures from the industry in charge or on their teams, have tried to create new benchmarks within immersive simulators, but have not succeeded. The director of Deus Ex himself, Warren Spector, collaborated with the creation of Underworld Ascendant, one of the biggest failures that the genre has seen in recent years, in addition to having his own great project, System Shock 3, unaccounted for after the loss of its publisher. Weird West, meanwhile, even having behind him the very founder of arkane, has not had a mixed reception. And it is that, achieving the balance of elements and the technical perfection that this Holy Grail of video game design chooses is a task as arduous as it is difficult.

Weird West, the heir to the Dishonored director's 'immersive sims', I'm liking it;  but is it really recommended?

With this in mind, it’s possible that the reason we’re seeing more and more elements of this genre in mainstream games is because, on its own, it’s a hard sell, but assimilating it into the amalgamation of elements that are the current triple A has lots of benefits. Creating more immersive worlds that you can interact with is always going to have flashes of emergent gameplay that can create memorable situations for players. That said, what is what is to come for this very special genre and what are its modern referents?

As an exception to almost literally everything I’ve said in this article is Hitman. The IO Interactive saga is a perfect example of what can be done with the genre if we detach ourselves from its roots. So much so that sometimes it almost gives me something to say that it is part of it, coming to think that Hitman It’s plain and simple… Hitman. The Agent 47 trilogy is something so, so special, that I am sure it could not be carried out in any other context than the one it already has. With that in mind, it’s more of an exception to the rule, a wonderful anomaly.

Hitman 3

On the other hand, System Shock, even if we don’t have a third party on the horizon, is preparing to make a big comeback. in the form of a remake. Although it has had a somewhat tortuous development, seeing it at this year’s PC Gaming Show is a ray of sunshine that fills us with hope, despite not having given us a release date.

Gloomwood has the potential to become a modern classic.

Getting out of the upper echelons, there’s a little indie game from one of my favorite publishers that I think you should check out. Gloomwood is the new thing from the creators of DUSK and ULTRAKILL, and it’s a modernization of one of the most classic and fish tank immersive sims in history: Thief. In this title, you have to be one with the shadows and use your ingenuity to take advantage of both the scenarios and your full mobility options to go unnoticed. Smoothing out the rough edges As age has left the Looking Glass title, this indie opus is everything those of us who played Thief back in the day remember it to be. Fine-tuning all of its elements, Gloomwood has the potential to become a modern classic and prove that the immersive simulator can live alone in 2022 and beyond.

While it is true that we are in an era of creativity in the triple A space, indie enjoys a lot of freedom creative thanks to the lack of need to raise billions. With its terse way of using its systems and mechanics to tackle a relatively niche genre, Gloomwood is proof that they don’t need huge budgets to create an immersive sim, and perhaps even a genre that could benefit from being explored in a more precise and measured way.

Gloomwood

In the end, it is true that making a video game is something incredibly complicated, but immersive sims have it Even harder. With so many variables to juggle and player options, it’s no wonder it’s something that’s rarely seen within the industry. It’s a real shame to see amazing games get the critical feedback they deserve, but rarely make the sales figures I think they deserve. Even so, I don’t think that these games are going to disappear, because how much they are permeating the general model of video games is proof that, as a genre, they have a lot to contribute to this industry.

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