Next Gen Remorse
So, eight months in and the next generation is pretty damn disappointing, if you ask me. Am I missing something? Is this all next-gen is? Because as far as I can tell, nothing at all has changed.
I don’t mean to be dour or negative, but I do feel a bit like the major console players somehow convinced us all to buy the same machines we already had, with very little to show for it. As I look at the upcoming cavalcade of next-gen games set up for the end of the year, I don’t really see anything that makes me think, “Oh, this is why I bought an Xbox One.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there aren’t good games coming out or that there aren’t games I’m excited for — it’s not that at all — but what I am saying is that when I look at the offerings to come, I really don’t see anything that feels like it couldn’t have been played on my 360 or PS3.
Adding insult to injury was recent news that Watch(underscore)Dogs had been graphically hobbled on the PC, conjuring images in my mind of Ubisoft as Kathy Bates holding a sledgehammer threateningly above James Caan, who in this particular metaphor represents my PC. It’s as though game and console makers all agreed on what Next Gen should look like, but just decided not to actually make machines that can accomplish it.
I haven’t really turned my Xbox One on to play a game in months. You might read into that some assumption that I just don’t tend to play console games, and there’s truth in the fact that most of the time I play on my PC, but in my house the Xbox 360 is still getting plenty of play. My kids were interested in the new and shiny for a few weeks, but inevitably the abundance of games in the XBLA selection called them back home. And even as we buy new games, frankly we’ve bought just as many new games for the old generation as the new.
So I’m left somewhat asking why we went through the mess and cost of a new generational cycle. Oh, I have no shortage of cynical answers to that question, of course, but I try hard not to just assume that every decision made in the industry is entirely, disingenuously devoid of actual logic or purpose. I understand it takes a new generation a little time to find its legs and justify the expense, but it’s not just that there’s nothing yet to really validate the effort. There doesn’t even seem to be anything on the horizon.
Part of the problem may be that the experiential iteration of the generation is different than the technical iteration. After all, I’ve seen side-by-side comparisons of next-gen games with the same game on a 360 or PS3, and in a freeze-frame moment I can analytically look at the game and note the differences. There are plenty of people, I also assume, for whom this kind of micro-analytical comparison is a substantive justification, but in the moments of actually playing I never feel those differences. Even when there are meaningful technical differences between two versions of a game, if I play that game on a next-gen system and then immediately play it on an older system, I almost never experience that evolution. It feels like the same game.
I think back to the differences between the original PlayStation and the PS2, and I remember feeling a substantive experiential difference between the two. The PS2 had games that felt more advanced, like an actual leap forward in the way you felt while playing games.
I’m not even sure that kind of sensation is possible anymore through brute-force technology iteration. It’s probably more likely that such an experience-based leap is now in the realm of interface, with things like the WiiMote and Oculus that genuinely make you feel a different sensation of what games are.
What really sticks in my craw is the idea that companies will now actively undermine one system’s performance to match the lowest common denominator. I realize there are financial reasons for this, and I don’t care. The net result is that a seemingly half-baked generational launch is acting as a functional drag on the technological evolution and development of gaming.
I’m sure it will change over time — slower than it should and not fully to the end it could — and at some point maybe I will see the next-gen game that justifies the switch. It’s just entirely disheartening to me that it seems like it will be 2015 at the earliest before we get there, and in the meantime we live in an awkward limbo that could have instead been a longer golden age of last-gen gaming.
I suppose we all asked for it, or at least enough of us did that the tide turned. Looking back, I remember that the best games for a generation almost always seem to come from its fully matured years, and yet those are the ones we’re most eager to leave.
You could say I have no one to blame but myself for buying in so early. Still, I don’t know that I regret asking for the next generation or regret diving in. I’m not sure that’s the real problem with next gen.
The problem is, from my point of view at least, that the industry failed to deliver one.