I agree with you to a degree,
But considering hardware is becoming more powerful, games follow on. If they didn't make the decision to change how games look, we'd never get advanced gameplay. They come hand in hand, as you can't have an animation with 2 frames to it. It would look jerky, uncoordinated, and ridiculous. Almost like the strafe movement in almost all Bethesda games, which they have managed to change for Skyrim due to a new game engine. The game engine couldn't have been programmed so well without the advancement in graphics.
There's definitely a line though, where do you stop? Do we keep rehashing the same graphics with different gameplay, or do we rehash the same gameplay with different graphics? The answer is, time. The 360/PS3 have been out a while now for developers to get used to the new technologies available. When the next generation of consoles come out, expect a graphics update too, it's how they can get the gameplay to next generation standards too.
They're definitely linked, I'd however, be happy with Counter-Strike: Source graphics, but with new gameplay mechanics... But that would require a new game engine, and then it wouldn't look quite right in game, so you'd have to update the graphics too, to support the new game engine.
It may not make logical sense, as the game engine itself could refer to say, a combat engine, which could be implemented without the graphical update. However, the way they work together does affect gameplay, for example, adding Crysis's game engine to Counter-Strike: Source, theoretically it could be done, but in doing so, you'd need the game world to be more interactive, more polygons, to have nodes to essentially "grab onto" and move, break, skew, add tessellation etc...
Imagine a game that doesn't have any rendering, just lines, nodes, polygons, basic fill textures, with less of these, the game engine can't be implemented. Counter-Strike: Source is no were near as advanced as Crysis, so applying the game engine would be a huge task and quite expensive, which is why stuff like that is rarely done, and would probably require some form of a graphical update.
You do hear of "remastered games", but they don't change the gameplay, they just make them compatible for HD, higher resolutions, and they can add textures, that's great, but it doesn't work the other way around as well. Far too expensive!
I'm ranting, but still, it's just not how games are made. Gameplay owns all. I still enjoy playing Arx Fatalis, really good gameplay, but let down (today), by it's graphics, and there's nothing you can do, but start again with a game like that.
I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm just saying it's implausible to have super amazing gameplay, with out-dated graphics. But I guess that depends on what you class as good gameplay. Good gameplay to me means having:
Advanced combat system
- Not just based on stats
- Such as, being able to chop tree's down in real time, not just a predefined animation.
- If you can see it, you can go there, (stuff like that DEFINITELY comes hand in hand with graphics, and affects your gameplay, well, only if you're me).
- Not entirely a gameplay mechanic, but definitely affects gameplay, if you're tall, short, etc... it should have an impact on how big the stride in your step is, how long your arms are, so how much reach you have with a weapon. Having heavier armour on makes you run slower, sink in water faster, but harder to knock down.
I could go on all day, but this is probably too long already, if you got this far, well done, I've just wasted 3-5 minutes of your life
! (depending on how fast you read)!