Over the weekend, I went to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York, picked up the largest capacity iPad Air money could buy, then boarded the F train toward my apartment in Brooklyn and spent the next 40 minutes acting like I wasn’t hoarding $900 worth of hot new Apple tech in my backpack. When I got home, the first thing I did was marvel at how light the Air was compared to my two year old iPad 3. The next thing I did was install XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which I then proceeded to play for an embarrassingly indeterminable amount of time before realizing I should probably get back to my clients.

 

When I reviewed XCOM for iPad in July, I gushed about how remarkably complete it was for being a so-called “mobile port” of a AAA console game. And while I briefly touched on my disappointment over how unstable it was on an iPad 3, what I didn’t mention is that I would gladly have bought a new iPad if it meant getting a better portable XCOM experience. Four months later, XCOM is more at home on Apple’s tablet than ever, where, thanks to the Air’s A7 processor, it now screams along at 60 FPS with near-zero load times at 2048×1536. I don’t know how I’m ever going to get anything done again.

What I do know is, I’m giving my PS4 pre-order to my brother-in-law.

There’s been a lot of furor surrounding the launch of the so-called “next generation” of console gaming, but when you strip out all the noise, what it boils down to is that the next iteration of the PlayStation and Xbox brands are dropping into our laps in just a couple of weeks, and a lot of people are very excited. But to be honest, I’m really struggling to understand what’s got you all so batty.  I know a lot of you want to crucify me for this… I’ve already gotten a ton of flack on Twitter for announcing that I’d decided on a new iPad instead of a PS4, as if that decision meant I wasn’t qualified to write about or play games anymore. But hear me out, and share your thoughts on the topics below… maybe we can come to some kind of mutual understanding.

There’s Nothing to Play!

I bought my PS3 in 2008 under the assumption I’d be playing The Last Guardian in the not too distant future, and we all know how that turned out. Okay, so maybe it turned out alright: the PS3 has one of the best stables of exclusive titles of any console released in the past 10 years. But it took 3-4 years from launch for the system to get to that point. As for the PS4 and the Xbox One, there are very few titles coming this year that can’t be done in exemplary fashion on the consoles you’ve already got sitting under your TVs, and I’ve seen nothing coming within the next 12 months that has me convinced I need to upgrade. Honestly, you’re better off taking the $450-$600 you have earmarked for a new console and splurging instead on pretty much every new game coming out this holiday season.

supermario3dworld

Breaking News: Super Mario 3D World will *not* be coming to Xbox One!

Think about it for a minute: for the cost of an Xbox One, you can buy Assassin’s Creed IV, Batman: Arkham Origins, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Gran Turismo 6, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Pokémon X or Y, Super Mario 3D World, The Wolf Among Us, and XCOM: Enemy Within. And what’s better: spending $500 to play one or two games, or spending $500 to play 7-8 games?

Next-Gen What?

For decades, platform holders pushed the notion that “next-gen” equaled faster processors and snazzier graphics. And that made sense before the likes of Cave Story, Mega Man 9, Fez and Retro City Rampage started releasing alongside titles like Halo 4 and Mass Effect 3. With developers releasing such a broad variety of software on today’s gaming devices, it’s pretty clear gamers no longer see things in terms of the old paradigms. And if we no longer chart the growth of gaming in terms of “giggleflops” and “mecha-hurts,” what exactly is it that’s so “next-gen” about the PS4 and Xbox One?

ACIVblackflag

Does this screen from Assassin’s Creed IV look “next-gen” to you?

Perhaps it’s the slick new social features promised by the PS4? The off-screen Vita play? Maybe it’s the snappy multitasking capabilities of the Xbox One? Now, don’t read my probing as sarcasm; these are all features I’m genuinely excited to see implemented in the next versions of the PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems. But if, like me, you define “next-gen” by these new features that are going to fundamentally change the way we play, I’ve got news for you: there’s nothing next-gen about the PS4 and Xbox One. That’s because consoles and other devices have already been doing these things for years.

Nintendo did next-gen in 2012 with the Wii U’s pioneering off-TV play. Apple did next-gen in 2008 when it launched an App Store that pushed games into the hands of hundreds of thousands of people who would never have been caught dead in public with a DS or a PSP. And I won’t even bother talking about how reactive Microsoft has been in its design of the Xbox One, because Xbox Live aside, that’s been the company’s MO since it was founded. Been there, done that. Moving on.

So tell me, again: what’s so “next-gen” about the PS4 and Xbox One?

Play What You Love

Listen. I know it sounds like I’m down on the PS4 and Xbox One. But honestly, I just hate to see so many people getting excited about spending what little money they have on something that’s going to be a letdown, at least in the short term. Will I be getting a PS4? Absolutely, when there’s a game that I want to play and I can’t do it anywhere else. Will I miss out on the adrenaline rush of a new console launch? Not really: I bought a Wii U last year. But just because I’ve become cynical about the next-gen console rat race, it doesn’t mean you have to be. After all, we buy new consoles because we love games, and I’m sure you’re all eventually going to find something to love about your PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones. In the meantime, there’s just too much to love about the systems I already own for me to care about what might be coming for the ones I don’t.

 

11 Responses

  1. Gabe Gurwin

    For the average Joe, I wouldn’t recommend picking up one of the new consoles until development of series like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty has obviously shifted to those platforms. As of right now, the differences between generations is not that extreme. With that being said, the potential down the line for these consoles to deliver groundbreaking experiences (games like Destiny, the Crew and The Division) definitely warrant a purchase.

    Reply
    • Tom R

      I think it is ridiculous to compare mobile games to console/PC games, or an iPad gaming to PS4 gaming, 95% of mobile games are casual games designed to fill in time for adult casual gamers or infants.

      These games do not and never will compete with console games in terms of graphics, gameplay, depth, AI, online multiplayer, etc… I own a Nexus tablet and an iPhone, I play a few mobile games on them when I am on the go but get bored of them quick, but when I get home and want an immersive gaming experience with a proper controller, it is the PS3 or my PC that I game on and I am very much loking forward to playing next gen games on PS4 this Christmas.

      Reply
  2. Brien

    It’s a fair point, though I’d argue that the potential of systems like the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam Machine are what I define as next-gen. The processing power of those machines, it is hoped, will not just lead to better graphics, but more sophisticated engines that will allow for better artificial intelligence. Sure, Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite and Ellie in The Last of Us were fascinating, but their interaction in the world was virtually nonexistent because the developers didn’t want them to get caught in environments and wind up a liability and detraction from the story–something that, this writer hopes, will be a thing of the past.

    I’m actually very hopeful for the Wii U and its’ self-publishing aims, I think the further expansion of independent and self-published games is one of the true next-gen promises that holds excitement. But, I’m also excited to see what the Naughty Dogs and Santa Monicas and Media Molecules and Lionheads and so forth can do with the sheer power of these new devices.

    Reply
  3. OJ Simpson's Uncle

    Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, doesn’t get anymore casual than that.

    Reply
    • Gabe Gurwin

      Who do you think are the ones unsure about buying the systems? And your username both amuses and baffles me.

      Reply
  4. Axe99

    One has to wonder whether the author is a gamer or not. It’s patently clear, they don’t understand what drives video games. The bump in processing power in the next-gen consoles allows for far better world simulation, physics, game systems and AI than current-gen (or the latest Apple tablet) can handle. These are the things that, at the end of the day, are the foundation of video games.

    On top of that, of course, there’s a nice skin of pretty visuals, a slick interface and UI, and top-quality audio. Something you won’t see on the iPad air (the visuals are nice, of course, but they’re current-gen visuals, with current-gen details and effects, as for sound, 3.5mm headphone jack is not the same as digital optical – and the touch-only (or touch and gyro if you’re getting gimmicky)) interface on a tablet – or very patchy and unreliable controller support – is not the equivalent of the rigorously tested and developed next-gen controllers).

    All in all, it’s patently clear what differences next-gen will bring to someone who’s enthusiastic about gaming, and has something of an understanding of the medium. Of course, no worries if the author isn’t someone that fits this camp, but assuming everyone should share his somewhat more casual gaming tastes (not a bad thing, just not a thing for everyone) is parochial and poorly thought-through.

    And, of course, there’s nothing next-gen about tablet gaming. Kinda highlighted by the game he chose to use as an example being a port of a current-gen console game, current-gen game systems and the like all thrown in. Suggesting that a platform whose best games are hand-me-downs from other platforms after they’ve been played out there is somehow “next-gen” is stretching the definition past breaking point. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting next-gen – just don’t pretend you get it from an iPad air (in a gaming sense – it’s clearly a next-gen tablet, which seems to be the author’s main interest ;)).

    Reply
    • Michael Burns

      Excellent comments, but a bit off the mark for a variety of reasons.

      1) Physics and AI are not what make up the foundation of video games. Gameplay is what makes up the foundation of video games. By your definition, most of the first three decades of games do not actually count as games.

      2) XCOM: Enemy Unknown is about as hardcore as games come. If you’d played it, you’d know. The iOS version hasn’t changed that in the slightest. You seem to assume that just because it’s using a touch screen interface, that it has to be a casual game. Wrong.

      3) What makes something next-gen to me isn’t further refinements on the same thing developers have been doing for decades. Seriously, go back and listen to developers rattle on and on and on about their advances in physics and AI. It’s always the same, decade after decade. No, what makes something next gen to me is the fact that I’m no longer shackled to my living room or PC to get a AAA experience.

      4) I’m not sure where you’re getting your information about the graphical capabilities of the iPad Air… there haven’t been any games revealed yet that take advantage of it.

      5) Lastly… I assure you I am a gamer. This is my site. Take a look around. You’ll probably like what you see. :)

      Thanks for your comments!

      Reply
      • Axe99

        Fair defence – note, I wasn’t saying you were a gamer, just not one that was on top of the things underpinning games :). For example:

        1) I also mentioned game systems – these are not necessarily physics and AI – these are the core of gameplay, and these are dependent on the processing power to execute them. The next gen systems are capable of implementing game systems far in advance of current gen, or Apple tablets ;).

        2) You completely missed my point here. I’m a huge XCOM fan, been through it on ironman, and was halfway through a classic ironman run when it bugged out and corrupted my save. Haven’t gone back yet (losing your game 15 hours in, on classic ironman, when you’ve just built your crew back up from a squad wipe, scars you!), but will grab Enemy Within at some stage. The point I was making wasn’t that it wasn’t an excellent game, but that it wasn’t a tablet game – games like XCOM: Enemy Within aren’t developed for tablet – they’re developed (and paid for) by PC and console gamers, and ported afterwards if successful/feasible. Grand Theft Auto 3 is also an excellent game (although the tablet controls are a bit wonky – XCOM’s controls are a much better fit for tablet), as are the other tablet For tablets to be a feasible next-gen platform, we need to be seeing the latest games launching on them, something which aside from a small selection of the console indie titles they are not.

        2.5) Going on from this, XCOM was great, and the enemy AI was reasonable, but it had a huge amount of room for improvement. In enemy within, they’ve put in ‘meld’ to force you to push forward. I’d much rather the game had been developed for more powerful systems and that instead of throwing in another gameplay mechanic to push players forward, the enemy were more coordinated and aggressive. This is an example of where next-gen could make notable improvements to XCOM, but without the available processing power, they have to make do with a somewhat contrived (I’m sure it will be executed well, mind) game system.

        3) Indeed, but you won’t get it on a tablet unless you’re playing turn-based tactics/strategy games ;). Most other AAA genres don’t control near as well with touch controls, and it’s generally not practical to take a bluetooth controller on the road (even if it’s supported). Based on your argument, the only ‘next gen’ experiences available are the Vita and the Shield, even though the PSP actually introduced the concept of AAA on the go over six years ago (noting that the PSP’s analog nub meant the controls weren’t perfect, even if they were ahead of touch for the likes of God of War: Chains of Olympus).

        4) I doubt you’re seriously suggesting the iPad Air will match next-gen systems. Even if it had the silicon, it can’t draw near as much power as the PS4/XB1 to get the job done (one of the reasons consoles will never match high-end PCs as well). If this isn’t rationale enough, post away and I’ll dig up the specs for ya ;). XCOM’s a great game, but it’s not a particularly tough test for hardware, and is hardly frame-rate dependent for gameplay.

        5) Apologies, I wasn’t trying to insult (there’s nothing wrong with not being a gamer, or not being into game development, or what have you) :). I do like your site (and its concept), and you write very well :).

        One of the things that I think is starting to confuse people as gaming matures, is that we’re all looking for the kind of leaps in experiences that happened between the SNES and N64, or PSOne and PS2, and that if we don’t see as large and obvious a jump, then it’s not worth getting excited about. I guess I’d define “enthusiast gamer” as someone who was interested in the cutting edge of gameplay systems, such as the way the next-gen version of Watch Dogs simulates weather and water, while current-gen systems have far simpler systems, or the way Killzone:Shadowfall can handle 24 separate, complex AIs in the SP action at one point in time, making possible more dynamic and frenetic firefights than was possible in the series.

        In other words, if next-gen systems aren’t pushing gaming forward, then how are we going to improve our interactive experiences? It could be through interface (Oculus Rift, Wii, Kinect, Move, that light-sensor bar thingy for PC that released recently I can’t remeber the name of, and what-have-you) but beyond the interface, the biggest scope for improvements in gaming lie in the actual code of the game itself. A video game, first and foremost, is a complex set of code and art assets, and its upper limits are defined by the hardware it runs on. The only way to enable growth in the core of what makes a video game a video game, is to produce more powerful hardware, and thus we have next gen :).

        The thing about Tablets, is that they’re not pushing any of this forward. The games that are pushing tablet gaming forward, like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush Saga, are iterations on gameplay systems that have literally been around for decades, with a social twist put on top. Sure, tablets get some quality ports, but how is a port of a game developed initially for another system a qualification for next-gen? (On this note, all these indie ports for the PS4 don’t make it next-gen, they just make it a broad-based platform ;)).

        Sorry – that got far longer (and probably less coherent) than I planned). Game and write on, and props to you for looking after your brother-in-law :).

    • Brien Bell

      As Michael already deftly pointed out, he’s as far from a “casual” gamer as you can get. I’ve seen this man play games that would make most of your “hardcore gamers” of today, the Call of Duty/Battlefield bro-fists out there, soil themselves with their difficulty. The man knows his stuff.

      Reply
      • Axe99

        He definitely knows his games – I think there may have been some room for more consideration of what makes them tick though ;). Props to him for getting into the deeper side of games – I enjoy CoD and BF, but totally agree that they’re on the shallow side. Arcade shooters are good, but they’re not everything ;).

  5. Seth

    Well said Michael. I tend to agree with most things you say here and definitely feel as if these new consoles are not what I am looking for right now either. I will definitely get a PS4 down the line as I love Playstation and would not be where I am now without my amazing PS3 library. But the truth is I am so happy with the consoles I have now as well as the games coming out in the next couple months. I mean come on Zelda, Mario AND DK between now and February?! The only new console teasing my interest finally is a Vita because Tearaway looks wonderfully fun.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.