It should be obvious to everyone, but somehow it needs to be reminded everytime we discuss old offline CGI vs. realtime gfx: The quality level of different aspects of rendering evolved at different pace/order between old offline rendets and contemporary real time ones. Different people will look at the same thing amd yet will come out with different conclusions as to which one is superior, because they focused on different things.
To go back to a classic example, 1990's Toy Story still is arguably higher polycount than any game because it tesselated its NURBs models each frame into subpixel geometry. Yet, its lighting and shading is inferior than any average modern game, because research on PBR materials, Light transport, HDR pipelines, etc were very primitive.
I love rewatching the killzone 2 target render. It encapsulates very well what the ambitions of AAA devs were at the time. Coming off of Half Life 2, and other highly scripted but imersively cinematic titles like Medal of Honer or CoD (still WWII era) the holy grail was still the tight "roller coaster ride" model of game desing.
Paradoxically, it was also a time when there was a lot of interest in developing robust enough systems and simulations so that unexpected emergent scenarioz could come up. (soldier hanging from ledge, other body drops him, soldiers in flames running around causing further ravok, gunning down helicopter only for it to fall on the player himself - that last one ripped straight out of one of HL2's mid-development media demoz)
In short: Unapologetically linear level structures, small to medium sized arenas and many corridors in between, with a lot of scripted grandiose set-pieces. And some dynamic systems anf physics sprinckled on-top to add in variability within the "texture" of what happens.
Modern shooters tend to go more towards a FarCry3 type of design. Very open ended arena layout, and less emphasis on physics and system based animation/locomotions. The emergent gameplay comes from more high-level elements like spawning more/less units of enemies or player-support, different archetipes, special abilities, RPG ellements...
Its like, the past was concerned with making a movie that could be played like a game. And the present is concerned with making a game (filled with layer after layer of meta-games: RPG ability trees, looting, side-quests, base building, etc) that can hopefully look like a movie.
Both aproaches can lead to excellent master-pieces and formulaic boring filler, depending more on the talent and time the devs have to refine their title.
While we got bored of the old formula, I kind of miss some aspects of it that I wish modern devs would re-doscover: the love for trying to have physics and sim makibg every little thing more dynamic and unpredictable, for example... And at the same time, the FC3 style game design is also out of fashion now. I don't know what will succed it, if anything will, in the single player FPS space. I hope devs find a new paradigm before every single game becomes a souls-like. Blerg...