Next gen is coming! Next gen is coming!
Now far more than distant "what if?" scenarios, both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are bearing down upon us and will be with us before we know it. With that in mind -- and after seeing the recent news coming out of Gamescom in Germany -- we thought it would be a good time to put our heads together and figure out what games (if any!) on the new consoles had caught our interest and why.
As ever, you're part of the conversation here, too, dear reader. Let's hear your most-anticipated next-gen games and why you're stoked about them... or indeed why some of you might not be interested in any of the upcoming deluge at all!
Xbox One: Watch Dogs
I'm a bit torn on this, because despite my reservations, I still want to see how Dead Rising 3 turns out. But since I've already covered that, let's go with my second most-anticipated Xbox One launch title, Watch Dogs.
Basically, the game looks like it could be something new in the AAA space. For the first time in years, there's a big-budget potential blockbuster on the way and I don't have a concrete idea as to what the gameplay will feel like, how the game will be structured, and whether it will be something that appeals to me. I've found that mystery around the title so intriguing I've basically kept myself in the dark about it since the game's announcement. My only concern is that the game's setting is more a prop than a platform for meaning. If Ubisoft managed to make a post-9/11 game set in a Christian-Muslim holy war while still avoiding to say anything substantial on the subject, I fear the publisher is once again wading into a hot-button topic to get attention, only to be masterfully evasive when it comes to actually addressing the subject in a meaningful way.
PlayStation 4: N++
I loved N+. Even though the Xbox 360 lacked a proper d-pad, that hard-as-hell platformer was just perfect, especially in co-op mode. It required you to do stupidly difficult things in order to pass levels, and you would do them. It didn't matter how many times you needed to die in order to get them done, or how many times you wanted to throw the controller through the stupid TV's stupid non-face, you did them. Even if it was asking one player to keep a homing missile busy for a few minutes while the other player went through the level to open up the door forward, you did them. At least until they started introducing curved walls, because forget that noise, right? I'm looking forward to N+ because it's been years since Metanet released a game and I want to know how they think they can improve on perfection.
PlayStation 4: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
You knew this was going to be Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, didn't you? Not that there aren't some other PS4 launch window titles I'm looking forward to. Need for Speed: Rivals and Watch Dogs stand out on the retail list and I know there's a few digital-only titles I'd enjoy. InFamous: Second Son is also high on my list, but falls just outside of 2013. Regardless of all that, Assassin's Creed will always be my main course. The series started this generation and will always be one of the games I point to when people ask what can developers do with more tech. The first time I climbed a tower and looked over the city of Jerusalem was a transformative experience. Next-gen (at the time) was here.
And the first Assassin's Creed wasn't really all that great! I always viewed the first game as a proof-of-concept, while the second entry polished the experience for me. The series has stumbled at times since then, but I always look towards each entry with hope. What I've seen of Black Flag so far seems to correct the errors made with Assassin's Creed III. A more magnetic protagonist and supporting cast, a new open-world to explore, and a wide variety of places to stalk and kill people in. I'll buy it for PlayStation 3, but once a PS4 is in my hands I know my first purchase will be to re-purchase the game on PlayStation 4.
Xbox One: Killer Instinct
I'm tempted to put Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag on this list again, but since AC II, I've always played the series on PlayStation 3. So for Xbox One, my launch game will be Killer Instinct. I was excited when Microsoft announced the reboot and scared when Double Helix was revealed as the developer, but what I played at E3 was pretty good. It wasn't enough to tell if the game will be great: a fighting game's strength is all about how the different characters interact.
Eight characters are planned for the game, which falls short of the original ten, but there's enough room to give players choices. The released videos show that Double Helix is putting some thought and effort in the playstyle and design of each character. And with the recent reveal of the game's pricing model, I no longer have to worry about buying characters piecemeal; $40 gets me the whole roster and some extras. So bring it on, Double Helix. Killer Instinct's been gone since 1996; don't let it die for another 17 years.
PlayStation 4: Knack
Growing up in Malaysia meant that everything arrived late. Really late. Intercontinental divide and all that. As such, I've never had much of an interest in the games consoles ship with. (Fun fact: I got my PS2 three years after it was released into the wild.) Still, if I had to choose a game from the parade of PS4 launch titles, it'd be Knack.
Certainly, Jeremy's preview from E3 has me a little bit concerned about the game. I don't like the notion of being man-handled through a linear, simplified God of War. But there is an unmistakable appeal about a game described as a mix of 'Crash Bandicoot and Katamari Damacy, with a touch of God of War.' Emphasis on the Katamari Damacy bit, which was and still is my favorite PlayStation game ever. (Sorry, Atlus.) Why am I so keen about it? I suppose it's because I've gotten over being curmudgeonly adolescent. No more being 'cool' for being cool's sake. I love the idea of games that evoke childhood's memory, of tiny little robots that can grow into Jaeger-level titans. Also, the fact it looks like it was built by Pixar helps.
Please be better than the preview hints at, Knack. Please.
(Are we allowed to talk about non-launch games? I don't know, but I'm going to sneak one in, anyway.)
Cheeky Bonus: Transistor
Sweet Gyarados's mother. If there's any PS4 game that I do want enough to contemplate auctioning a toe for, it's Transistor. Supergiant Games wowed me with Bastion a long time ago and they blew me away at PAX East with Transistor. To paraphrase something I've said before, Bastion feels like it was set in a world that had already ended. Things can't get any worse. People are dead. The world is in pieces. It's over. You've hit rock bottom. There's no where to go but up. The impression is helped along by Rucks' calm narration. This is a story he told of something that happened. For those reasons, Bastion felt weirdly, wonderfully hopeful to me.
Transistor, though, is way darker. At least, that was the impression it gave me. Here, the world is still cycling towards apocalyptic doom. No one knows what form the aforementioned horrors might take but there is, nonetheless, a certainty that things are ending. Equipped with Supergiant Games' now familiar artstyle and armed with Logan Cunningham's voice, Transistor follows the story of a girl named Red and the eponymous sword which serves as your weapon, narrator and as the domicile of a dead man's soul. It's gorgeous, darkly fantastical and crowned with just enough cyberpunk to make me wish it was bloody well out already.
Xbox One: Watch Dogs
Watch Dogs. Definitely Watch Dogs. (Even though I could totally just get that on the Playstation 4 instead.) You know how people keep talking about how impressionable teenagers are? I suppose my fascination with hacking originates from a well-scheduled encounter with the Matrix. I love that movie. And every movie that made use of hacking in some capacity since then. Sure, they might not be terribly realistic but that doesn't stop them from being very revealing.
Watch Dogs' premise makes my toes curl in excitement. A snappily-dressed anti-authoritarian hero with a penchant for breaking into his city's nervous system? The ability to hack traffic lights and break into phones? An open-world, action-adventure stealth game? Yes. Sign me up.
Xbox One: Need for Speed Rivals
The Need for Speed series has varied somewhat in quality over its lifetime, and particularly in the last few years. For me, the standout titles have always been the original Most Wanted (not the more recent one) and the more recent Hot Pursuit reboot; both offered the kind of experience I was looking for from a Need for Speed Game: lots of things to do, coupled with the freedom to just drive around for fun if I so pleased. Most Wanted was particularly noteworthy for its excellent "cinematic" music that played while you were being chased by the cops; eventually, I ended up turning off the awful "EA Trax" music altogether but just keeping the cinematic music playing as much as possible. Meanwhile, Hot Pursuit was just an amazing game all round, made even better by the addition of Autolog.
Rivals looks like it has potential to be a spiritual successor to both Hot Pursuit and to an oft-overlooked, sometimes-derided driving game that I had a lot of fun with back in the day: Test Drive Unlimited. The idea of being able to drive around, come across other players and immediately, seamlessly challenge them to a race is an immensely appealing one; I just hope the game lives up to the promises EA is making. It almost definitely won't, but I'm open to being pleasantly surprised.
Oh, and making whatever this game's Autolog equivalent is (AllDrive, I think, wasn't it?) cross-platform would be lovely. Thank you.
PlayStation 4: Watch Dogs
I'll be honest: for both Xbox One and PS4 I'm struggling somewhat to pick out titles I'm really, genuinely excited about. This is my own fault, really; my personal tastes in games have drifted so far away from the mainstream in recent years that I find it genuinely difficult to get excited by whatever the latest and greatest triple-A experience is these days, particularly if it's one of those games that we can't go a single day without hearing some nugget of information about. (Today's "nugget" is a mobile app, by the way.)
I'm definitely starting to reach saturation point with Ubisoft's promotion of Watch Dogs, but I remain intrigued by its premise and, as Brendan says above, the fact that we still don't really know what actually playing the damn thing is going to feel like. I'm picking PS4 as my platform of choice because of the extra platform-exclusive content (as an aside, could we maybe stop doing that, please? No? As you were.) and also because that Aisha Tyler video that came out a while back made it abundantly clear that current-gen versions of the game are... not going to be the optimum way to play, to say the least.
Not to be the wet blanket here, but I have to confess there is not a single game on either console's day-one lineup list that has me interested. Hard, expensive experience has taught me that launch lineups consist of (1) hastily upscaled (and usually buggy-as-heck) versions of third-party blockbuster titles designed with the limitations of last generation's hardware in mind, (2) godawfully shallow tech demos that no one will remember in a year (once the real games show up), and (3) sports. Unfortunately, nothing I see on tap for Xbox One or PS4 looks to shake up that paradigm. So, here's to 2014! And, as inevitably happens over the past 15 years of console launches, a fall 2013 consisting of me playing a heck of a lot of great stuff on systems I already own.
Xbox One: Forza 5
I'm glad Jeremy went before me, because I thought I was going to be the only one who sounds a bit jaded. I look at the list of launch titles from both machines, and I’m simultaneously impressed and unmoved. The problem is that it’s all about as predictable as it gets. It’s a superb lineup of big-name titles, sure, but it’s also stuff that for the most part represents a far greater step forward for cosmetics than actual games design. I probably sound like a pompous beardy ingrate, but where’s the innovation? Where’s the stuff that makes this less last-generation +1 +smoke effects, and more, holy crap, I’ve never seen anything like that before.
Of course, that’s to come – we hope – and for now, we just need to enjoy the transition from this generation to the next like an expertly-mixed DJ set that imperceptibly transitions from one track to another, before you realize that everything has indeed changed, it just happened almost too seamlessly to notice.
So for now, Forza 5 remains my obvious pick for Xbox One. Obvious, because it’s been the reason why I bought an Xbox-branded console for the last two generations, and is the reason why I'll buy one again this time around. I played Turn 10’s racer at E3, and it looks very good in the same way that the latest generation of a well-established car looks compared to the previous one. It’s clearly the same series, it’s all very familiar: it’s just a bit more refined and fettled.
There are plenty of other games I’m looking forward to playing, but I’m looking forward to them like I look forward to eating food I like. I know what it’s going to taste like when I eat it, and I know it’s going to be delicious. But it’s just not quite as exciting as when you go somewhere you’ve never been before and are surprised by something completely new and unexpected.
PlayStation 4: DriveClub
Continuing on from what I just said. I feel pretty much the same way about the PlayStation 4 lineup as I do about Xbox One. Being a racing addict, and at the risk of repeating myself, DriveClub is my predictable choice here. I played it at E3, and while it doesn’t quite have the finesse and pedigree of Forza 5, it's extremely fun and exciting to play. Just a little more arcade-immediate than Turn 10’s more taut, sim-like offering. Need for Speed: Rivals runs it a very close second. I played a couple of multiplayer sessions at E3, and had a blast, and I know I’ll be putting a lot of online time into this when I get it.
Other than that, there’s certainly plenty of good stuff to play. I’m sure I’ll enjoy FIFA 14, just as I have done with pretty much every FIFA game since the early 90’s, and I'll certainly have fun with the shooters and Watch Dogs. But I also know they won’t quite blow me away.
Still, the innovative stuff is not far off, so for now, I can't complain too loudly. What we have to play in the meantime will more than tide me over until the really interesting stuff starts coming through the pipeline.