For many, excitement over the eighth generation of consoles is, understandably, at a fever pitch. With the Wii U already on the market, the PS4 launching towards the end of the year and widespread reports of Microsoft’s plans to announce and detail the 360’s successor in the not-too-distant future, it is all but upon us. The question is whether the high levels of anticipation can be justified. The ideas that we’re seeing – second screens, socially aware hardware, implementation of more control mechanisms – are all progressive without really being impressive. The technical specifications of Nintendo’s console are massively outdated already, and while those of Sony’s and the rumoured specs of Microsoft’s next are more than reasonable, all they are at the moment is future promise.
And promise of what? Better visuals? More realistic physics calculations? a greater sense of persistence and dynamism in gaming worlds? That’s all good and well, but does it necessarily equate to better, more innovative and involving games going forward? Early evidence says no. In recent years, we’ve seen a number of companies stepping forward to present engines that they claim as being scalable and cross-generational, with the most prominent being Frostbite 2 and CryEngine 3. Gorgeous titles have been crafted on these, with the flagships of Battlefield 3 and Crysis 3, respectively, being true standouts. Despite being built upon these forward-facing platforms, however, none of these games has done a single thing to visibly advance their genre, let alone the industry as a whole.
It might be argued that their design ambitions are necessarily hampered by having to allow them to run on the ageing consoles, but this is a hollow retort. The PS3 and 360, even in their twilight days, are acting as home to games that are far more inventive and impressive than aught that we’ve seen advertised from these cross-generational engines. Games like Dishonored, The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, Bioshock Infinite and Remember Me prove that technology is subservient to creativity and it is the latter that is currently lacking on the future consoles. Even if one chooses to disregard that fact, how can one say that the technological leap will allow more self-aware AI, a greater degree of intricacy in level design, a greater sense of presence or more refined mechanics when there has been a void of all of these things on the supposedly superior PC hardware? A desire to ensure platform parity? The differences in Battlefield 3‘s multiplayer and visual proficiency across the different platforms proves that to be a fallacy.
There isn’t a single game in development, that the mass media is aware of, that one can point to as clearly belonging to a new generation. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Diablo III, Destiny and Watch Dogs all serve to rob momentum from the future by launching simultaneously and fully featured on current platforms while Killzone: Shadow Fall appears to fall into the same trap as the first-person shooters listed above. To be fair, we haven’t yet seen enough from DriveClub, inFAMOUS: Second Son, Dragon Age III: Inquisition or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to pass judgement on them, but it is reasonable to assume that they won’t be overly different from what has come before due to all but one of them being part of firmly established franchises while the last is in a stalled genre. What little we do know is enough to assume that they are not exactly aspiring to what is clearly a new level. It might be normal to look at things this way at the inception of a new generation, and there is no doubt whatsoever that the matter will improve on that front as time goes on, but I’m genuinely curious as to why gamers are so excited by the prospect of new hardware when there is nothing in terms of interesting software to back it up.
Developers may be appeased by the abolition of the memory bandwidth constraints of the current generation, but until they show me that they are making full use of their new freedom, I shall remain unimpressed. It seems almost as though the new hardware was forced by the likes of DICE, Crytek and Epic; developers that lack the creativity to wow gamers with new forms of content and instead rely on shiny new graphics in-house and licensing their engines to third parties more capable of inspiring through design. Based on the content that we currently know is in the works, the eighth generation really isn’t the tantalising prospect that many are touting it as and I, for one, will be more than happy to wait for a couple of truly generation defining titles before jumping aboard, no matter how long that may take.