So, after the longest console generation in history, next-gen has finally arrived, settled in our homes like one of the family, and has now become new-gen. As a strict console gamer, the wait has been almost unbearably long and arduous. For nigh on three years I’ve personally been ready and waiting to embrace new-gen, the codenames Durango and Orbis a prominent presence in my waking dreams, from the moment they were first leaked to the second the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were officially revealed. Not that you could accuse the Xbox 360 or PS3 of slouching in their extended twilight years, as both delivered some truly knockout games, but for too long I’d been peering over PC players’ shoulders with envious eyes, watching their retinas being dazzled by a glossy blast of 1080p/60FPS goodness as standard while duking it out in 64-player matches in Battlefield. Even though they persist, such numbers are well and truly out of reach for the eight-year-old hardware I’ve held dear for so long. But now? Well, now I too can finally enjoy a piece of that delicious gaming pie.

Okay, while very few launch games could confidently boast graphics in full HD maintained at a silky-smooth frame rate, hopefully, by the second or third wave of games we should more or less be on a level playing field (let’s not throw mud at the Xbox One, please). I’m sure PC purists will be quick to point out neither of the new machines are a match for the specs that their bank-busting rigs are packing under the hood, but console players and, crucially, developers seem more than happy with the PS4 and Xbox One’s innards (hey, no mud!). You only have to look at the 360 and PS3 to see how far a console’s fixed specifications can be optimised, even if it did get a bit excruciating towards the end, with certain games having to be cripplingly compromised in order to work (Battlefield 3 being a case in point). Simply put, for my fellow console advocates and me, this is as good as we could have hoped for. All the waiting, all the hoping, all the dreaming has paid off.

But here’s the thing. I’m lucky enough to have all three platform holders’ shiny new black boxes snuggly sitting under my telly and, despite all that time waiting, hoping, and dreaming, I’ve barely touched them, or even wanted to for that matter. The PS4 and Xbox One have had maybe a dozen hours of attention each, while the poor little Wii U hasn’t even been switched on, even in light of Wind Waker HD and Super Mario 3D World. Nostalgia has crept in, because I’ve got a strong hankering to replay the last-gen games I so desperately wanted to leave behind in favour of the new-gen ones I’ve yearned for for so long.

In the cases of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Dead Rising 3, it’s understandable that I’d rather dive back into the franchises’ earlier, better days in Assassin’s Creed II, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and the original Dead Rising. But, even looking beyond the launch-day bilge to hot new and upcoming releases, I can still think of last-gen substitutes I’d rather play instead. Despite the lukewarm reception, Eidos Montreal’s Thief reboot is the kind of game I could potentially wither hours away in, but it’s the studio’s stonking debut game and revival of Deus Ex that I’m eager to revisit. Shinji Mikami’s eagerly awaited return to horror, The Evil Within, is due this summer, but the darkest corners of Dead Space’s USG Ishimura are, rather disturbingly, calling out to me. Watch Dogs? Nah, I’ve got return trips to Liberty City and Los Santos in mind, thanks.

Tellingly, the new-gen games I want to play most are souped-up versions of last-gen games I still own, like Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and Rayman Legends. I’m still holding out for that GTA V announcement (c’mon Rockstar, you know it makes sense). That’s not to say I don’t want to, haven’t been, or won’t be playing any proper new new-gen games at all, because I’m not actually finding the limited choices currently available for PS4 and Xbox One as underwhelming as anticipated. The truth is, no matter how much I thought I wanted it to end, I’m not ready to let last-gen go. Not yet.

Let’s get the obvious reason out the way first. With last-gen lasting as long and delivering as many great games as it did, it was always going to be the case that anyone who crossed the generational gap on day one would probably do so with unfinished business. It’s funny that the generation where backwards compatibility has been omitted is probably the one where it’s most needed, because the number of games sitting on my shelf or downloaded to my hard drive that I’m yet to finish or even begin affirms the 360’s and PS3’s place in my crowded TV unit for quite some time. Untouched Game of the Year editions of Borderlands, Borderlands 2, New Vegas, and Skyrim will eat up the best part of a year, I’m sure. Meanwhile, TV’s excellent Mob City has smoothly got me in the mood for a spot of Mafia II, and you can bet season four of Game of Thrones will do the same for The Witcher 2. It’s an issue I’m sure I’m not alone with, but the causes for my last-gen longings run deeper than an unplayed stack of games.

We had it good with the last generation, so good, in fact, that I’m not sure we’ll ever see another that can equal its qualities and achievements. Yes, individually, games will get better and, as a whole, become more accepted, but will any other generation make such great leaps and break as much ground as this one has? I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced, and the thought that maybe the most diverse, surprising, and progressive era in the industry has been and gone saddens me a little. Despite encompassing a recession contributing to a number of studio closures, and leading to an over-reliance on sequels, in my eyes this was still the golden age of gaming, packed with the kind of watershed moments the future can’t repeat. I hope to be proven wrong, but when I think back to where we started compared to where we finished and look at the games and developments that have pushed the envelope, technologically, creatively, culturally, the answers are quite staggering.

Yes, certain picks from previous console cycles could tell good stories, wow with their revelatory design (Super Mario 64, GTA III), and sometimes packed a hefty emotional punch, too (Final Fantasy VII, Ico/Shadow Of The Colossus). But it’s only in these last few years that world-building, characters, and story in games have really graduated to the next level and beyond. The extra boost in power and production values naturally means developers have been able to realise their visions more fully and immerse you in their creations like never before, be they underwater utopias, futuristic dystopias, or the lawless Wild West. However, this has been more than a case of more power equalling better games.

Thanks to significant step-ups made in games’ writing and performances, we are finding ourselves engaged with their characters, involved in their storylines and engrossed in their fiction on an emotional level more than ever, further proving the medium as a capable and powerful means of storytelling. Games like Mass Effect and The Walking Dead wouldn’t have been half as successful if they didn’t ask you to invest a personal stake, to get involved in the politics and forge strong bonds with their casts via roleplaying elements, only for the writers to then threaten to tear apart everything you’ve worked so hard to build. Not only that, this was the generation that delivered The Last Of Us, a game we can show to non-gaming folk and say “Look, this isn’t what all games are or should be, but this is what they can be”.

And who knew a decade ago that  some of the biggest and best-known games would be made by a team of a dozen, half a dozen or even a single person? Who knew Xbox Live and PlayStation Network would grow to become so integral to our gaming lives (kerching)? And, while it has its naysayers, who knew motion control was all it would take to get the whole family playing together? Nintendo boldly went against the norm by releasing the Wii, a console with a control scheme that broadened the market by cutting down the single biggest barrier for people who didn’t play games in the traditional sense. Wii Sports, Wii Fit, and the dreaded Just Dance were runaway successes, ushering in a new audience so vast that even Microsoft and Sony decided they wanted in on the action.

Everything that will come to define the future of games can be traced back to here: the dominance of narrative-driven experiences, the surge in digital distribution, the rise of indies, and the advent of proper motion control. Such big shake-ups have led to a shift in expectations, evolution in consumption, and change in stance as to what we and the rest of the world perceive games to be. Some areas still need work, such as the representation of women and the unacceptable behaviour of certain groups of gamers (something there may never be a cure for) but, even so, gaming has come a long way in the last eight years…

… and so have I.

You see, back in November 2005 when the arrival of the Xbox 360 kicked off the seventh console generation, I was a mere thirteen years old. You do the maths (just ignore the fact I’ve been playing games I really shouldn’t have for so many years). For me there’s always going to be an element of nostalgia with this generation; it’s the one that took place during the biggest years of my life. And yes, as sad (and worrying) as it may be to some, they have played an important role. Rest assured, I haven’t been taking life lessons from the 3rd Street Saints, but to say that games haven’t influenced who I am on any basis would be untrue.

What’s more, having now grown up, matured, and gained responsibilities, this was the last generation where I could play as a carefree gamer, who could play extended co-op sessions in Gears Of War late into the night and let the excitement of GTA IV, Uncharted 2, and Resident Evil 5 (oh, the disappointment) prevent me from falling asleep. Now it’s the digits of my bank balance rather than my anticipation for the next “big” game that keeps me up at night. I hate to say it, but as the amount of time I can spare for gaming  has dwindled, so has my passion for it. This was the definitive gaming generation for me, and it’s sad to see it come to a close. So, for the time being, I’m sticking with the old rather than jumping head-first into the new, in the vain hope of recapturing some of the spirit I used to feel.

Do I not want to see what the future holds, then? Of course I do. It’s always a good two or three years before the really good stuff starts to materialise in any console cycle, and maybe by then I’ll feel the same sense of amazement I did when I played Portal, Arkham Asylum, and Uncharted 2 for the first time. And, you never know, perhaps in five years’ time (or ten, as we’re being told) when the next (and probably last) generation comes along, I could very well be eating these words. The problem is, unlike the transitions to previous generations, I’m hesitant to think that the best is yet to come, for me and maybe even the industry. So, on a final note, I’ll say this to anyone it applies to: enjoy this new generation while you can, because by the time the next rolls around. things may not be the same.

Last five articles by Tim


One Comment

  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    You make some great points and I completely agree. I think that in all my gaming years, this has to be the most reluctant generational switch I’ve ever seen. Rather than the usual stampede to the new boxes of tricks, it’s been a quick head poke over the parapet, before pretty much everyone has wrinkled their noses and settled back down again to enjoy the ‘old gen’.

    There seems to be a great reluctance, even apathy. Some of it, I think, is down to launch lineup and money, but ‘still to play’, and ‘must replay’ games are a huge part of it. Given that this new gen doesn’t play well with its predecessors’ titles, and given how many unfinished games most gamers now have, I can well see why so many just won’t switch.

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