Many of us in the media have taken time out to label every single Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game as “next-gen”. We say the graphics haven’t been done before and that the gameplay is unmatched with anything else on the market. But are these games really....really the evolution and next-generation from past games? It almost doesn't seem like it.
This question came hard and heavy, though, when PS3 fanboys started bashing the Xbox 360's Gears of War. I have to admit, apart from all vertices being completely concealed from the human eye, due to an amazing amount of polygons put into the beautiful character models, there wasn’t a lot of weight behind Gears of War gameplay. Yes the shooting was solid and the story was an apocalyptic masterpiece, but what did it do gameplay wise that we haven’t already seen before? Is “next-gen” really only applicable to beefed up resolutions and character designs that look like real-life plastic?
“Next-gen” became even more allusive to its use when applied to Resistance: Fall of Man. Again, it had solid graphics and quite a few characters and effects occupying the screen at once...but what else? The maps were fairly large, but none of them contained any unbelievable, jaw-dropping effects that would make you say “Holy (insert appropriate expletive here)”. Have you seen the recent footage of Blazing Angels II? The opening sequence with all those dog-fighters filling up the sky is almost overwhelming just to watch. That’s what the next-generation of gaming is supposed to be about. I suppose it’s one of the reasons why many journalist have yet to say that the “next-gen” is the “current-gen”. Because we’re still waiting for these games to actually fulfill that emplacement. In a way, when we say “this next-gen game...” we’re really saying, “everything else is still very much like the current generation of gaming.”
Now before you fanboys start ranting “The PS2 and Xbox didn’t come out of the gates with next-gen games.” Actually they did. PS2's Gran Turismo A-Spec was nonpareiled to Gran Turismo 2. The Xbox came out of the gates with games like Halo, Project Gotham Racing, and third-party exclusives like Knights of the Old Republic. Literally, none of those games could even be remotely replicated in any way on the PSOne or N64. It just wasn’t possible. We didn’t even compare them to any PSOne, Saturn or N64 games. They were too big, too good looking and contained way too much processing power.
Yet publishers, marketers, and even us journalist are quick to say “next-gen” whenever the PR pushes a fact sheet in our face for “another shooter” or “another epic”. This is not to say that ALL Xbox 360 and PS3 games are fit into this “next-gen” fait accompli. On the contrary, I’m just concerned that it seems many of us in the industry are spoon-fed the concept of “next-gen” a little too soon.
For example, if by “next gen” we relate to graphics, then in what way? Is it the amount of polygons per character? Or the lighting used? Should graphics even be considered for labeling a game of the next-generation? If not, then Splinter Cell: Double Agent and Bullet Witch wouldn’t really be considered a part of the next-generation of gaming. Alternatively, is gameplay the only thing in which we judge to be next-gen? Because Zelda: Twilight Princess and God of War II both trump just about any other game (with the exception of Elder Scrolls IV) on the PS3 and Xbox 360 when it comes to gameplay depth. So does this mean that God of War II or Twilight Princess (which also appeared on the “last-gen” Gamecube) could be labeled as “next-gen”?
(Fanboys you better cover your eyes for the next part.) But Halo 3 and Lair are teetering on a borderline that could either make them marketing fodder for the “next-gen” fad, or actual candidates for serious next-generation gaming history. Right now Lair seems like a really big, very fast, good looking Panzer Dragoon spinoff (which isn’t bad, but not necessarily uber). And there still hasn’t been any news regarding serious “next-gen” gameplay features for Halo 3. It almost makes you question if those facts will really unveil something spectacular, given the game’s September release. Another game in an even worse position is Shadowrun, which is basically a normal Xbox game on steroids. The features are rather shallow and as it nears its release, it seems terribly unlikely that it will break any sort of ground in the world of interactive gaming....Of course, other than possibly being a lag-conduit for Windows users competing against Xbox Live subscribers for the very first time (remember Square’s cross-platforming disasterpiece, Final Fantasy XI?)
A while back LucasArts’ Chris Williams brought out an interesting point in an interview with Gamesindustry, saying that... “it's not just graphics which must improve if the new consoles are to hold gamers' interests.” He went on to say, “I don't believe that someone's going to go out and spend the kind of money that it's going to cost to buy a new system just for the pretty graphics. It really needs to play differently, and that's where we're trying to advance the industry."
Sony’s disappointing software sales for the PS3 this year and EA’s mega-loss during the launch of the Xbox 360, had nothing to do with bad marketing or lack of exposure. It was just that the games were (and still are) being hyped for their visuals and they didn’t even look all that great.
Sadly, we have a lot of “bigger” and “better” slogans coming from publishers, but nothing necessarily revolutionary. Especially considering that the PS2 can still pump out games that collectively receive 9 and 10s across respected magazines such as EGM and GamePro (and the PS2 manages to keep games in the top 10 charts, something the PS3 couldn’t even do for April). It really does make you wonder if we call the games on the Xbox 360 and PS3 “next-gen” just to make the distinguishing difference between them and the PS2.
The year isn’t over with, though, and Final Fantasy XIII, Assassin’s Creed,Uncharted, Mass Effect and Too Human still have a lot to prove. Hopefully these games will deliver the kind of gameplay experience that will cement the “next-generation” of gaming, as the current generation of gaming.