Over the weekend, I went to the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, 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.
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?
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 gigaflops and megahertz, what exactly is it that’s so “next-gen” about the PS4 and Xbox One?
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.