I’ve played computer games for most of my life, but something seems out of kilter with the current generation, the 8th generation. Massive day one patches, a general and noticeable lack of innovation, constant console updates, the lack of console hard drive space and a slew of games, that while good (brilliant on occasion) are mere updates of long existing franchises.
But first I would like to provide some context to the current issue. The mid-2000s saw the arrival of the 7th generation with the X-Box 360, PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii. This was perhaps, in my opinion, one of the greatest console generations in history. It was the perfect amalgam of many established genres hitting their strides with mature and talented development studios at the helm, driving them forward. This was the first generation with the ability to create fully fleshed out and coherent 3D worlds for the player to truly immerse themselves in. The generation where, for better or worse, online play came to the fore. The one where motion controls, regardless of your opinion of them, did at least add some innovation into the mix.
When you look at the new intellectual property (IP) and existing franchises that really hit their stride in this generation, it’s astounding: Assassins Creed, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Bioshock, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Dark Souls, Dead Space, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Forza Horizons, Grand Theft Auto 5, Halo 3, Mass Effect 2, Minecraft, Mirrors Edge, The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, The Last of Us, and Wii Sports.
After this lofty peak, I feel we are traversing something of a plateau at the moment. The 8th generation is turning into something of a slog. It has promised so much and delivered so little.
There is a lack of immediacy with the actual games themselves. I went to play Deus Ex: Mankind Divided after a two-week break and it required a 7-gigabyte download before I could even venture back into the cyberpunk game world. At this point, the developer had lost me. I went on to do something else. If I need to wait well over an hour to play a game, it’s not worth it anymore and I’m not really prepared to wait. If you went to the cinema to watch a film and you had to sit through a 90-minute screen telling you that the film was buffering, what would your reaction be? If you bought a book and had to wait for the pages to load slowly, one at a time, would you be impressed with your purchase? Gone are the days when you could go home and stick the media in your chosen console and play. This temporal barrier to the game is slowly turning into a mental barrier about making a new purchase.
Even consoles themselves are not immune to this. When I first brought home my new X-Box One and my copy of Titanfall, it took over six hours to download the console update, the game and then its accompanying updates.
During September 2016 I had three console updates in that month alone. Most of these took at least an hour to download and install. When you just want to play something, especially after the promotion and hype those marketing departments now insist upon, this can completely kerb your enthusiasm.
This issue has been exacerbated by the fact that games now have to be download onto the console hard drive as well. Previously the purview of the PC, this has now sapped the main appeal of the console: It’s ‘plug and play’ immediacy and ease of use. Patches existed in the last generation but they weren’t 13 gigabytes. I’ve heard that because of the bigger capacity of Blu-ray most developers don’t even bother to compress data as they had on previous generations. Many of us still don’t have a fibre optic line and are persevering with a broadband connection. Apparently, the physical copy of Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain didn’t even have the game on the disc; it had to be downloaded from a server.
For further evidence, just look at the sheer number of remasters and re-releases from the last generation that have appeared on the current generation. These are often used as filler for the launch window but in this case, nearly three years on, we are still getting a steady slew of these games: Assassins Creed: Ezio Collection, Return to Arkham, Bioshock: The Collection, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 4: remastered, Darksiders: Warmastered Edition, Dishonored: The Definitive Edition, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, God of War III: Remastered, Grand Theft Auto 5, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Saints Row IV Re-elected, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition
Definitive, enhanced, legendary, complete and superior are all monikers that have been attached to numerous games this generation, usually signifying a graphical update and that all the downloadable content is present, but nothing more substantive.
You could argue that it’s corporations trying to make a quick buck with minimum effort on their part. You could also say that it gives people, who missed out on these amazing games the first time around, a chance to play a more polished version. But surely the sheer volume of these remasters is indicative of a drop in creational output and perhaps nostalgia for the superior games of the last generation. It’s very telling that Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition, a game that is five years old, is the only game that has peaked my interest in gaming again.
The new IP this generation has been non-existent. When was the last time that something truly innovative was released? Where are the Mario 64s, the Halos, the Half Lifes, The GTA 3’s, the Morrowinds, The Ocarina of Times, that would go on to define their respective genres and ultimately change the way we play and consume games?
Even the best games of the current generation are graphical updates of previous ones. Fallout 4 was fantastic but on a subjective and mechanical level was it significantly different from Fallout 3 in 2007? It looked a lot prettier, but in scope and execution, it wasn’t strikingly different from its older predecessor. GTA V was a graphical and narrative masterpiece but gameplay wise was it such a huge leap forward from GTA: San Andreas from 2004?
Doom was hailed as one of the best first person shooters of 2016 (so far), this is in spite of the fact that it implemented mechanics that were in the FPS genre well over a decade ago: no iron sights, no regenerating health or shields.
The moribund call of Duty and Battlefield franchises are now getting to the point of irrelevance. How many times must we fight in World War 1/World War 2/Iraq/Afghanistan/space in the present day/near/far future as a new cadet/veteran/space marine/dog against a near future insurgency/uprising, against a rabid army of zombies/robots/Russian nationalists?
I understand that the gaming demographic is gradually getting older and as we get older we have less free time. Careers, mortgages and marriage all take priority and this means that we have to be more careful with what free time we do have and be more selective of our gaming purchases. We also develop other hobbies and ways of spending our time as we journey through life.
Even the great hope of VR doesn’t seem to be the saviour of this generation. Also, the fact that Sony and Microsoft seem to be releasing incremental upgrades of their consoles, with the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox Scorpio for sale this year and next, respectively, they are trying to align consoles into the 2-3 year “phone contract model”. This is further alienating me from my beloved, long-term hobby.
This is a shame, as gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. If the 9th generation falters, as this one has, I’m afraid the feeling of disconnect that I feel may become a permanent feature.