In the world of gaming, “next gen” is one of those phrases that gets tossed around so much it becomes more fucking tired than a Borat joke at an office party. But what does the phrase really mean?
A couple years ago, Sony and Microsoft’s gigantic, PR war-machines started cranking to life and attempted to define “next-gen” their own ways. Both sides took potshots at each other over the others’ systems’ minutiae- and getting the vast gaming internet involved in the fight in the process. It seemed like we were trying to use “next-gen” as something more than to describe the two new consoles coming out.* Where the other generations were clearly defined by changes that added new dimensions to gameplay (movement in a 3-D space, streamlined online connectivity or HD graphics), the new generation seemed to flounder in its ways it was going to impress us.
“Next-gen should be able to play used games,” someone from the Playstation camp might say in reference to the Xbone’s (now defunct) DRM policy. Or we were subjected by this type of article which looked deeply into the specs of both. I know that speaks to some people but I don’t really know what any of that shit means (and the end result is basically the same looking game).
Used games? Always online? Complicated computer specs? These were the things we were debating instead of where gaming could be headed in the future. Where were these systems taking our favorite hobby as an art form?
Most gamers have upgraded at this point and now that we’ve gotten time with the new systems it’s easy to look at objectively. From a guy that’s witnessed multiple generations of consoles from primitive Nes onward to the powerful Xbone, I can say one thing: this is the only time “next gen” has not been discernable from last gen to me. In fact, I would argue that we’ve plateaued and that these systems aren’t taking gaming anywhere.
Let’s get the obvious things out of the way: they play the new games and the graphics are better.
The graphics aren’t really that much better, though. I mean here’s a screenshot from Dark Souls 2 for the PS3:
Here’s a shot from Bloodborne:
Does Bloodborne look better? Absolutely, but it still looks like something you’d have played last generation.
Here’s a late PS2 game- GTA: San Andreas:
Here’s a PS3 launch title- Resistance:
Way different, right? You had the transition to HD, so things looked shiny and new. My PS4 and Xbone games do not look shiny and new. They look slightly better than games I just traded in to upgrade. And it’s not just the graphics- let’s talk mechanics.
Playing Mario 64 was fucking mind blowing when the N64 was released. We could run and jump around in a fucking 3D space. It was a literal game-changer. When I put down my PS2 and transitioned to the 360 I was stunned at how easy and fun it was to play online. No longer did you have to buy a clunky port and snake cables around to your gaming area- online functionality was integrated.
Developers were able to ride the wave of trending technology and actually change the way games were played. Headsets and OS’s that we could activate outside of throwing in a game in your system, these things were taking a growing art form and pushing them to the next level.
Now it seems like we’ve matured. For one, computer technology is not progressing at the rapid speed it was during the 90’s and early 2000’s, but maybe the art form has plateaued as well. Maybe we’ve become complacent with what we expect from a game.
So I guess I’m let down by the “next-gen” or “Generation 8” or whatever you want to call this latest console collection. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope- Project Morpheus, the PS4s VR component comes next year and could be a game changer (though initial observations haven’t been crazy positive)- but things are at this stage are still relatively disappointing. Whatever it is, something needs to kick these consoles into the actual next generation and wow us or we might lose interest.
*I’m an avid Nintendo fan but I don’t think they’re participating in the whole console generation thing the way the competition is.