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7 video games with graphics that blew us away when they first released

Video game graphics have come a long way and people expect a lot from developers in this day and age. This generation, we saw games like  God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn turn that graphical fidelity up to 11 and produce mind-blowing graphics. I’ve been an avid gamer for over 25 years now and looking back, it got me thinking which games had graphics that blew me away when they first released.

Looking at the top seven games that had mind-blowing graphics on release makes you wonder just how video games will look 10 years from now and why people are complaining about a puddle in Marvel’s Spider-Man. Check out the seven games below and why their graphics completely blew us away when they first released.


Those who haven’t been playing video games for all that long might not remember, but before June 1996, first-person shooters had characters and enemies portrayed via sprites in a game. There weren’t fully 3D enemies in the likes of Duke Nukem 3D, DOOM or any of the others, until the release of Quake that is. id Software revolutionized the FPS genre with Quake in more ways than one. At the time, Quake’s fully 3D rendered enemies, objects and environments left nothing to be desired. At the time, Quake’s full 3D world was a marvel to behold and made use of Polygons to render enemies, guns and even those Nailgun bullets.

However, Quake wasn’t just about graphical prowess, but the engine also gave birth to rocket jumping and accelerated movement, which is now a staple in current-gen titles such as Quake Champions. Call the discovery of rocket jumping a happy accident if you will, but without the original Quake in all it’s glory, the whole FPS genre might have looked and played differently today.

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Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 released all the way back in 2004 and if that makes you feel old, then remember this is the second latest game on my list. Even to this day, 14 years later, playing Half-Life 2 feels great and that’s due to the game’s brilliant physics powered by the original Source Engine. Valve did something special with Half-Life 2 and the facial expressions from characters still look surprisingly realistic if you boot up the game right now.

Water, reflections and City 17 was, and in some ways still is, a marvel to behold. However, it was the use of the gravity gun and physics puzzles that put Half-Life 2 near the top of this list and to this day, I find searching for something similar quite difficult.

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Today, we have the powerful Unreal Engine 4 and tonnes of games being created using this amazing engine, but it all had to start somewhere. Enter Unreal, released by Epic Games all the way back in 1998. The game was as much as a showcase for what the Unreal Engine could do as anything else and it became the biggest rival of id Software’s Quake Engine.

Without the mind-blowing graphics, especially the lighting, that the Unreal Engine provided during this time, we might never have had follow-up engines including Unreal Engine 4, which now powers games like Fortnite. The cutting-edge graphics at the time, showcasing an incredible alien planet was a sight to behold back in the day as the atmosphere created by the engine was just incredible.

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When the first-person puzzle and exploration game, Myst, released all the way back in 1993, the game’s graphics and immersion completely blew me away. At the time, the graphics seemed photorealist almost, but today we know that not to be the case. You journeyed through an interactive environment on the island of Myst as “the stranger” completing puzzles and many times, just staring at the gorgeous world in disbelief at the graphical quality. Myst was such an enthralling experience that even today, it is worth playing.

Sure, the game hasn’t aged well graphics wise, but the puzzles and intriguing story can still hold up to games released in the last couple of years. The game has seen multiple re-masters for example with realMyst and realMyst: Masterpiece Edition (which runs on the Unity engine) and is definitely worth playing if you didn’t have a chance to play the game back in the day.

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The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Few games are as memorable as Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and the first time I made my way from the opening area to the town of Balmora is something I will never forget. Released in 2002, Morrowind felt ahead of its time in terms of open-world gameplay and world design. Breathtakingly beautiful visuals could be further amped up by mods if your PC could handle it and even though the game was filled with bugs (as per Bethesda tradition) that didn’t really compromise the experience at all for me.

Combine a stunning day/night cycle, a beautiful environment and hundreds of characters as well as enemies that felt unique and Bethesda had a recipe for success. The scale of the world was massive as well and the further you could set your view distance if your hardware allowed, the more you could really appreciate it all the way it was meant to be played.

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Back in 1995, I had my first taste of six degrees of freedom gameplay, and I even got a little bit of motion sickness in the process. Even so, the original Descent changed the way I viewed shooters forever. Graphically, Descent was great and felt so fluid to play, but it was this newfound freedom of movement that I never experienced before that completely blew me away.

Navigating elaborate mines all while fighting virus-infected robots and collecting access keys in the process meant that you had to use all the movement available to you in a fight for survival that would have very likely left you stunned if you played the game in 1995. Best of all, this classic title is being revived in the form of Descent: Underground.

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In 2007, Crysis was released and broke the backs of PCs everywhere. To this day, it is one of the benchmarks used in PC gaming and on the absolute maximum graphics settings, the game stands toe-to-toe with some of the best-looking titles released even this year. That first moment when I walked up the hill and saw the ocean, the beautiful sunrise and the environment open up to me left me breathless.

This was due to the CryEngine 2 (the follow-up to Far Cry’s engine) as it was one of the first video game engines to use the DirectX 10 framework. When building a PC back in the day or seeing someone brag about their new “monster PC”, one thing I always thought was “yeh, but can it run Crysis” even years after the game’s release.

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Which old games completely blew your mind when they first released and do you remember playing one or all of the titles and drooling due to their insane graphics at the time? Let us know in the comment section below and share your experiences with us.

Marco is the owner and founder of GLITCHED. South Africa’s largest gaming and pop culture website. GLITCHED quickly established itself with tech and gaming enthusiasts with on-point opinions, quick coverage of breaking events and unbiased reviews across its website, social platforms, and YouTube channel.

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