For nearly three decades I’ve always welcomed new console generations with an almost tangible sense of excitement. The prospect of bigger, more believable worlds, brand new gameplay ideas and designs and even the return of familiar friends looking better than ever before: these were all measurable qualities that could be seen in near every proposition from hardware manufacturers. This time, however, there’s very little of any of this to see.
Of course it is very early days still. All we’ve seen is a small selection of launch titles and some ambitious projects expected to come in the months that follow. Many developers are capitalising on the power of next-generation consoles for either bigger open worlds or more immediate massively multiplayer online (MMO) experiences, and while this would have thrilled me five years ago, I’m not entirely sure this is what I want for my free time any more. I’m even less sure that this content will convince me to sell my Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
In reality gaming is still very much my favourite pastime. I will enjoy many of the videogame seen thus far from the prettier sheen of Killer Instinct and Forza Motorsport 5 to the blissfully dense action of Destiny and Titanfall. Therein, however, lays the crux of the matter. All of the videogame experiences that the next-generation is boasting to be capable of thus far are all easily assessable. We can break each one down to it’s foundations with just a few minutes of video or a fact sheet. We know what a first-person shooter (FPS) is, we’ve played MMOs and I can still remember Jago’s Ultra Combo after so many hours of practice has had it ingrained on my gamer soul.
The genre space has narrowed. Fewer new experiences are being promised as, quite simply, it’s proven formulas that are most financially successful. The economy has always leaned favourably to specific genres and popularised familiarity, hence the bust of platform videogames in the 8- and 16-bit eras, role-playing games (RPGs) and action experiences in the late ‘90s and FPS’ more recently, but that space seem to be more limited than ever. You could argue that Project Spark and Knack are at least providing some innovation in their respective genres, which does appear to be true at present, and yet this remains evolution as opposed to disruption.
Where’s the Pilotwings of the next-generation? The Viva Piñata? Super Mario 64? Luigi’s Mansion? Even a Timesplitters or MotorStorm would be sign that things are being shaken up, but instead we’re left with a selection of videogames which, for the most part, I doubt couldn’t be achieved on current-generation hardware. Bar the significantly enhanced visual quality, of course.
Gamers have proved time-and-again that it’s not innovation that they actually want. Fitting snugly into their grooves and eschewing almost anything that differs from the norm, the next-generation looks set to capitalise on this by offering more of the same with a spit-polish and some new buzzwords. Of course, Microsoft’s twisted DRM arm is evidence of a future that looks to be very similar to how it did seven years ago when the Xbox 360 launched: it’s going to be bigger and flashier, but will the next-generation actually bring anything new to the table?