It's been six years since Microsoft jumped the gun and released the Xbox 360, and since then we've been lapping up what the next-generation has had to offer. Xbox LIVE. Blu Ray. The Wii. Gears of War. Uncharted. The list can go on and on. It's also been six years of ups and downs, unexpected turnarounds and mind-shattering surprises. We've seen great developers fall, new stables rise, leaders and runners up exchange places, and quite a bit of legal controversy.
So, in honor of these six scintillating years, Dealspwn presents The Top Ten Next-Gen Surprises!
10. Fifa's Dominance
Back in the bygone days of the PS2 and Xbox, Pro Evolution Soccer reigned supreme on the footballing front. No matter how hard Fifa tried, PES was always one goal ahead. The lead seemed unassailable, but so did Arsenal's on the weekend at Newcastle, and we all know how that ended, don't we? But since Fifa 09, it's PES who's been on the back-foot, panting and wheezing and coughing up dust in the wake of EA's rampant success. I honestly couldn't see it happening; but, lo and behold, it did.
9. Ensemble's Demise
Ensemble was - is - a fantastic studio. Their work on Age of Empires was some of the finest we've seen in the RTS genre. So what went wrong? How did taking charge of Microsoft's most precious franchise result in their untimely demise? Halo Wars didn't set the world on fire like its FPS siblings, but thanks to brand awareness and Ensemble's competency it sold well and pleased many. But even then the taste was soured. Months before Halo Wars released, Microsoft announced the closure of Ensemble Studios. And the world cried.
8. Western Rockstars
Rockstar can do no wrong. Not content with revolutionizing the urban sandbox genre, they decided to resurrect the western as a popular, profitable genre. Red Dead Redemption took the mold established by GTA, left it out in the arid sun to bake and gather dust before saturating it in all the finest western tropes and cliches you can imagine. And not only was the game good - fantastic, actually - it sold like hot cakes! Who'd have thought it? We'll be seeing a True Grit tie-in, soon.
7. Infinity Ward Fiasco
You're Infinity Ward. With Modern Warfare 1 and 2 under your money-tight belt, you can do no wrong, surely? Not with Bobby Kotick around. Whatever Jason West and Vince Zampella actually did, it was astounding to see their controversial departure literally unravel the inner core of Infinity Ward, tugging away key personnel and leaving the studio - as hyperbole might suggest - in ruins. It's still an ongoing debacle, what with lawsuits and counter-suits being exchanged like quips at a meeting with Tim Schafer.
6. Dwindling Exclusives
Who'd have thought that in 2005, the likes of Metal Gear, Tekken, Final Fantasy and more would no longer be vital exclusives? With publishers tightening their belts and the Microsoft leveling the field with Sony, widespread exclusivity is a thing of the past. Sure, the 360 still has Gears and Halo, Sony has Killzone and Uncharted, and even the Wii has the brilliant Madworld and the usual roster of Nintendo's finest pimping themselves out yet again. But it's a far cry from the days when exclusives occupied a large portion of store shelves.
Some are obviously in a better position than others - Sony's careful strategy has put the others to shame - but of those exclusives that do remain, so many appear to be unimaginative sequels, cash cows in place of true innovation.
5. Little Big Success
It was clear from Little Big Planet's reveal at GDC '07 that it would shake things up a bit. But who expected a plush platformer with an intimidating creation kit could become so influential? We saw EA literally ape it with Create, Microsoft try their hand at a sly competitor with Boku, and even Sackboy himself has become a recognizable mascot for Sony to champion. Not to mention it brought the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry to a far wider audience. He's a national treasure, don't you know?
4. Duke Nukem's Revival
It's been close to fourteen years, but the Duke is finally on his way home. It's been a long journey, beset with problems from all sides. The odds were not on his side. Then Gearbox stepped in, the wonderful Randy Pitchford rallying a charge to bring the Duke back from the brink of cancellation. And wouldn't you know it, he did just that. Duke Nukem Forever is due for release in May this year. Although it would hardly be surprising if Gearbox was struck by lightning and all the code lost.
3. Microsoft Surviving
Just how did the 360 survive? First of all, the Xbox wasn't particularly popular. It appealed to a certain type of gamer, but ran a distant third in the console race last gen. The 360 launched early, which helped, but the dreaded RROD pandemic threatened to derail Microsoft's ambitions. Then the PS3 and Wii were finally released, and Microsoft was forced to face its competitors. But despite the odds the 360 clung on, with the likes of LIVE, Halo and popular third-party partnerships yielding much profitable fruit. As if Microsoft need more of that.
2. Sony's Slump
And yet where Microsoft succeeded, Sony appeared to stutter. Coming off a resounding win last generation, Sony set their sights a little too high and their promises higher still. The PS3 was a year late. It's complex architecture proved difficult for developers early on. It was priced ridiculously high, and had begun to lose its backbench of vital exclusives. However, the PS3 is steadily chugging along, and while in America its lagging behind the 360 and Wii, worldwide it's rocketing ahead and shows no signs of stopping.
1. The Wii's Success
I'll admit, I expected the Wii to fail. First, it had a stupid title. Wii? Were they serious? Second, it couldn't produce HD graphics - it was just a little bit more powerful than an Xbox - and you couldn't even play DVDs. But you can't fault Nintendo's strategy, carefully refocusing their efforts on the casual crowd so overlooked before. Appealing to families, parents, the old and young alike, the Wii hit a rich vein of form and has blasted ahead of its competitors at such a rate its literally astounding. The difficult step now is what Nintendo does next...
In the last six years or so, what has surprised you the most in the wild, wacky world of videogames? We'd love to hear, so leave your most mind-boggling realizations in the comments section below!