I know what you mean @Ultrazen. I finished Anachronox last year and that had a tremendous sense of place given how old it is. It helps that the game just oozes atmosphere with the music and personality of the characters and world.
I’d also like to give a shout out to some modern games like Proteus, Bernband and the unusual looking Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor (which I haven’t played yet) that all have these low-fi but really hypnotic aesthetics.
There’s an art to evocative and immersive worlds that somehow gets lost in AAA productions. It’s not necessarily about fidelity so much as being perhaps too literal. I think the last modern day AAA game I played which I got lost in was probably Dishonored and I think that’s because it was a little on the impressionistic side with a real sense of style and visual flair. Actually, I’d add Alien Isolation too because they really nailed the environments in that.
You know, another theory I’ve had for years is that it depends on the type of game you’re playing and the speed at which you move through the environments. Thief, Deus Ex, Metroid Prime, Dishonored, Alien Isolation, Gone Home, SOMA, Brothers, Anachronox, Proteus, Bernband, even Dear Esther which I didn’t like. They’re all games where you take your time through the environments and I think this does wonders for immersion and getting keyed in.
Although Titanfall 2 is realistic and super fast with a fleeting campaign, I was surprised how effective the brief moments of downtime were. Perhaps because it contrasted so heavily with the action, you could feel the… I dunno, the sense of place, bleeding in. I’m also thinking of the shelters in Metro 2033 here, and the ‘village scene’ in Uncharted 2. I hear SWAT 4 has incredible sense of place too, and, again, that’s a slow game. Actually, I could go on and on with examples here :-)
So I suppose I’m not entirely convinced that it’s just down to more impressionistic graphics and leaving blanks for your mind to fill in so much as it’s about the speed at which you’re expected (or allowed) to experience the worlds. The derision aimed at (and the coining of the term) ‘walking simulators’ suggests to me that gamers generally aren’t so great with slower games so there’s an ADHD approach to keeping them entertained with pacey campaigns and plentiful action sequences, or the worst: UbiSnot markers sneezed all over maps, incessant HUD pop-ups, challenges and cheevos tugging attention every which way. I don’t know about you but most of that junk just distracts me and breaks immersion.
Okay, I’m waffling now.