With all of the rumour mills spitting out endless mutterings regarding whatever Nintendo are planning, not to mention a number of industry luminaries having practically come out and begged for a generational jump in the past month, Josh Clark asks if we really need another generation of consoles right now.
As dedicated gamers, there are few things more exciting to us than getting our calloused fingers on a shiny new console. Scrabbling at cardboard flaps, throwing styrofoam packaging over our shoulders, discarding hefty instruction manuals just to get to that block of plastic and solder at the bottom is one of life's finest pleasures. And it seems that leading game developer DICE share in that sense of giddy anticipation, urging hardware manufacturers to usher in the next generation of home consoles. As Matt reported earlier this month, DICE's Patrick Bach has stated that Battlefield 3 would scale onto a next-gen console, pushing current PC technology as it does to the very limit of what it can do. But are we as gamers really ready to dig deep into our pockets and shell out for another console?
Bach's statement was made with the best intentions, of that I have no doubt; DICE have developed a product they are excited about, and want gamers to experience it in its best possible state, but the truth is that Battlefield 3 will be released on current generation consoles, to the detriment of nothing but cosmetic value. So the sound of that rocket-propelled grenade screaming overhead might not be as crisp as it would be on Microsoft's next machine. So the bloom effects might not be as ambient as Sony's Playstation 4 could make them. What will undoubtedly remain in tact are the asssuredly chunky controls, the excellent set-pieces, and the game-changing multiplayer DICE are famed for. And really, what more do we need?
Back in November 2005, while those with a little more disposable income were clawing feverishly at shop counters for their futuristic, high definition Xbox 360s, I was at home having the time of my life with Sony's greatest console to date: the Playstation 2. 2006 might have seen 360 owners lapping up the lush visuals of Rare's Kameo, but I had Okami. For every headshot landed in the next-gen Call of Duty 2, I had thrown four times as many grenades in Black. I didn't invest in Microsoft's little white box for another two years, because I simply didn't feel the need to.
It's no secret that the longer companies are able to develop for a platform, the better they get at it. Never has this been more evident than during the Playstation 2's ten year lifecycle. Sure, Timesplitters will always be a fantastic game, but consider the advancements made in the next two iterations of Free Radical's beloved franchise and it is easy to see why sticking with a platform pays gamers dividends.
Skirting around the “Videogames as Art” debate that will continue to rage indefinitely, Limbo is an enthralling, emotive, and brilliantly simple platformer developed by new indie heroes Playdead and, HD aside, would have fared just as well as a sixth generation title as it has on Microsoft's Live Arcade marketplace. Smaller studios, without the budget or manpower of developers like EA or Bethesda, rely on innovation in order to shift units. Fortresscraft, the latest indie sensation is outselling even the biggest titles on Xbox Live, because of its focus on (almost) original gameplay, and not just the next glitzy shooter.
The point I'm attempting to make is that in the absence of limitless graphical potential, originality and clever manipulation of existing assets are the only tools left available to developers, and it can often lead to some moments of true brilliance. The recently released Battlefield 3 trailer showcases unprecedented graphical immersion, but I'm yet to see anything that really distances it from the Modern Warfare series, and in fact, it seems to have taken more than a few scripting cues from its billion-dollar nemesis. Infinity Ward know all about pushing a console to its limits, it was of course that very company that managed to wrestle the World War 2 FPS monopoly from EA's Medal of Honor series with the hugely impressive Call of Duty.
Why then, are some of the larger developers so eager to see an eighth generation of consoles hit store shelves? Is it to enable improvements in gameplay, or is it simply to add that little extra shine to their military first-person shooters? I for one believe it to be the latter, with AAA titles in particular focusing on a greater amount of graphical detail than challenging any of the given genre's conventions.
Epic's Rod Fergusson, for example, has recently accused gamers of taking the graphical improvements in their flagship franchise for granted, explaining that it is only when the first Gears of War is played alongside its newer counterparts that the first game's shortcomings become apparent. Why then, you ask, are Epic placing so much emphasis on graphical improvement when upon reflection, pixel-polish ranks so low on our measure of a good game? It is an excellent question, and one I don't have an answer to. Gears of War remains one of gamings greats because of its revolutionary cover system, not because Dominic's five o clock shadow could be rendered in stunning detail.
It is hard to believe that Microsoft's second home console is now approaching its sixth birthday, and with Nintendo releasing a steady stream of information regarding their follow up to the Wii, an eighth generation announcement cannot be far away, but I urge gamers and developers alike to treasure the next few years with their console of choice, be it the Playstation 3, the Xbox 360, and even the Wii, because if the last generation told us anything, it is that the best is yet to come.
We know y'all have opinions on this one, so get involved and let us know how you feel in the comments box below. Would you like to see a new generation sooner rather than later? Do you think developers need to be given time now that they've arguably reached a peak to make the most of it? Does the rapidity of PC tech progression mean consoles should emerge sooner? Let us know what you think.