For many gamers right now, having so many choices of platforms on which to play is almost like nirvana. There are 2 powerful consoles, the option to play on PC, and of course many different mobile platforms. Current gen games provide detailed atmosphere and a sense of immersion that was only imagined just 10 years ago. Yet, something seems to be a bit ‘off’ when comes to the current gen of gaming, especially when it comes to console games. We will take a look at a few reasons why this current generation of consoles is not living up to its potential.
There are no really strong exclusives
Speaking for myself, it’s safe to say that in nearly 40 years of gaming, if you picked a system, I could name the hot exclusive game that drew people to it. When Atari 2600 dominated the market, it was Space Invaders, when the Nintendo Entertainment System came along, Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda were the games to get, even when the Sony PlayStation came along, it was the platform to have in order to play the near arcade perfect versions of Tekken and Ridge Racer. But, when one looks at the PS4 and the Xbox One, one has to really ask, what exclusive game is the de facto game that would get consumers to really choose one system over the other? That’s really hard to answer. When the Xbox One came out, Titanfall was supposed to be the killer game to get. Upon arrival, however, the fun may have lasted about a month. With a tepid multiplayer component, and a (frankly) anemic campaign, it wasn’t long before gamers moved to the next hot game of the moment. Sony really hasn’t had many compelling exclusives that one could say are a ‘must have’, unless you mention Uncharted 4. Killzone was ok as a launch game, Bloodborne was a good riff on the Dark Souls series – but only for a niche crowd. One of the biggest games that Sony tried to push, Driveclub, received a mixed reception from critics & fans alike.
Microsoft’s platform hasn’t fared any better. Besides the aforementioned Titanfall, HALO 5 was well-received by critics. There was one misstep, however. In 2015, Microsoft revealed that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be a timed exclusive for the Xbox One, which would have put it in a position to really push the Xbox One during the holiday season. However, an issue arose when the sales numbers were less than expected because it released at the same time that Fallout 4 dropped. Let’s not forget to bring Destiny into the mix. While not an exclusive game, this was Bungie’s magnum opus; a game that was expected to exceed any and everything that was done with HALO. Thus far, it’s polarized many corners of the gaming community.
Without any games to really separate the consoles, sometimes the only reason to pick up a particular game is simply a matter of where your friends are playing or when you can get some of the exclusive DLCs.
Not anticipating technological changes
As a gamer, one of my biggest concerns right now is that, in less than 3 years’ time, we will see an incremental hardware refresh from Sony and Microsoft. This is mainly to take advantage of 4K TV technology that is on the market. Also, depending on who can be believed, the next systems coming within the next year or so while still supporting present games will be new systems which may mark this as the shortest console iteration in history. It makes me mad as a gamer because when you consider how much we spend on consoles and how quickly the value drops, it’s hard to have to think about spending another few hundred dollars when you just did the same less than 5 years ago. If you look at prior systems, Microsoft, Sony, Sega, and Nintendo were attempting to innovate their systems so that they could try to be future-proof. Sony was responsible for pushing everyone from cartridge based gaming to disks, Sega’s Dreamcast worked to get gamers online with friends, Microsoft’s Xbox tried to innovate the online atmosphere as well as integrate with PCs, and the Wii U did its best to incorporate remote gaming and tablet technology.
Let’s look back at the current console release. The Xbox One was being pushed as being a multimedia platform. It was supposed to integrate multiple systems including TV and streaming, but in such a short time, many of what it was touted to do was abandoned. Even the Kinect – which was supposed to do what the Wii couldn’t do – became a forgotten peripheral. Also, both systems were supposed to try and take advantage of tablet devices. There were games such as Battlefield 4 and Assassins Creed Unity which were supposed to take advantage of tablet devices to enhance the gaming experience, but just wound up cluttering the gaming environment. This was mercifully dropped within the first years of the current consoles. Sony however, stayed committed to making a system dedicated to just playing games, and for the most part it succeeded.
The biggest issue however, became both systems’ commitment to backwards compatibility (which also I will cover in a depth in the next section). While Sony only offered a convoluted digital rental system which allows PS4 gamers to play a limited number of PS3 games, Microsoft initially balked at the idea of ever having any sort of backwards compatibility, even going as far as saying that the Xbox One was not built for backwards compatible gaming. Then, just last year after some shuffling in the corporate office, we found that the Xbox One can indeed play many Xbox 360 games and continually adds more monthly.
One of the most baffling things, however, is the fact that due to the file size of many games played on current gen systems is that both companies insisted on putting 500GB hard drives in their systems. I am shocked that there wasn’t enough forward thinking happening in both companies to anticipate the need of gamers requiring more storage space, instead of relying on gamers to buy external drives to compensate. Many critics asked from the beginning why wasn’t 1TB used instead. If you look now, most of the revamped systems on the market have well over double the space of its launch predecessors. Maybe they wanted to keep costs down but it still does gamers no favors when in less than a year some have to buy external pieces just to have enough space to store games.
The concern we should look at is when gaming technology as it is now, especially since VR systems having just released as well are the Scorpio and Neo coming, are we at risk for having a fragmented gaming ecosystem?
One step forward two steps back
I briefly covered backwards compatibility in the last topic. The biggest concern beyond still being able to play Xbox 360 and PS3 games, is how a large number of those games are being ‘re-mastered’ for current generation systems. Many of us are falling for it. It would be hypocritical of me to not say how much I enjoyed replaying the Bioshock series, knowing that it’s really just a fresh coat of paint, or how I am anticipating Skyrim as well. However, a large part of me says, “if it ain’t ugly, don’t add more paint” or “you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.” Nearly every month, we have seen many games getting the re-master treatment, and outside of the nostalgia of it all, nothing new is being added. We hadn’t seen games being released like this in any previous console cycle, but many of us will plunk down money to play a hi res version of Uncharted, The Last of Us, and/or HALO. This issue goes back to what I said earlier about the lack of exclusives which distinguish a difference among the major consoles. Also, with so many re-masters on the market, it’s making it seem like gaming studios are really afraid to release any new IPs. Then again, in a year in which both Watchdogs 2 and Titanfall 2 are both being released, we can cross our fingers and hope for the best. Then, there are new IPs which bombed such as No Man’s Sky. This was a game that was hyped to be the next great space adventure but lacked in story content and was also very repetitive. On the other side of this issue, what about the fact that there are so many dormant IPs that could probably take advantage of the new consoles? I would love to see what a current version of Legacy of Kain, Syphon Filter or something as wacky as Ready 2 Rumble would be like. Let’s not forget that gamers would really love to see another Half Life release. It would give us so much more to play besides yearly iterations of Call of Duty, Madden or NBA 2K.
To conclude, there is so much more we could be getting out of our systems. We seem to be at the peak of gaming technology, yet it feels like so little is being done to take advantage of it. My hopes are high that with the next iteration of consoles, companies can focus more on games, and forward thinking tech, and not so much on frills – which I think hurt both systems.