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Will true next-gen start at E3 2014?

As I’ve noted several times before--and predicted even before that--this new console generation is, alas, currently most notable for being the next-gen that started not with a bang, but with a long, largely unimpressive seeping sound, like a balloon slowly being sapped of air rather than popped with a pin. Where every previous incoming hardware generation has arrived amid a sparkling cloud of futuristic wonderment, and rapidly cranked things up during the months following its launch, this new generation feels like it’s just sort of turned up unannounced, and is waiting for people to start paying attention. And in turn, the people are waiting for it to give them a reason to.

That doesn’t mean that the Xbox One and PS4 are tanking. Far from it, their combined sales thus far are higher than those of their predecessors from the equivalent post-launch period. That’s great, great news for the industry. But I still feel like we’re waiting for them to really do something spectacular. I’m still missing that “Holy crap, next-gen!” feeling. I’m still waiting for a game to instill the disbelief that Gears of War and Super Mario 64 did. It’s doubtless coming, but we certainly haven’t seen it yet.

Blame under-prepared launch line-ups. Blame last-gen’s artificially amplified visual boost by way of HD. Blame the impressive graphical progress made during the long tail-end of the outgoing hardware. Halo 4 and The Last of Us almost certainly eroded the usual cross-generational upgrade. And speaking of that, the huge number of cross-gen game releases since November hasn’t helped next-gen stand out either.

But enough of the problems. What about the solution? When can we expect to finally find our mouths dropping open in that delightful, slack-jawed way we love so dear? All eyes are of course on next month’s E3. Six months after launch, surely we’re about to see real next-gen start to solidify, oozing free from the cracks of the past and taking its true shape, like a shiny, reforming T-1000? Well…

Yes, I think we are. Though I don’t think we’re exactly going to be staring starry-eyed into a sparkling, luminescent near-future, like kids in some heavily CGed spring-season trailer for Disney World (but with more brutal melee takedowns). You see, this E3 will undoubtedly be the first big ‘statement of intent’ year for Microsoft and Sony. With the initial tussle out of the gates now complete, it’s time for both consoles to lay down a compelling roadmap for the future. Early adoption sales are done, and the hardcore loyalists now have their new boxes under their TVs. It’s time to start grabbing the interest of the less obsessive gamer, and to snag those guys, you need to bring the pretty. They need tangible, eye-popping games, not talk of services, architecture and potential.

And they’re going to see them at E3 2014. Batman: Arkham Knight will be there, and trust me when I tell you that it's already dazzling. Having just been re-announced (if not fully unveiled) Halo 5: Guardians is bound to turn up at well, at least in the form of an early trailer sporting 343 Industries’ brand new next-gen engine. And speaking of Halo, we’ll also see more of Destiny, Bungie’s MMO FPS, which should impress in terms of both visuals and next-gen scope.

With Epic using the announcement of a new Unreal Tournament game to ramp up hype (and licensing deals) for its Unreal Engine 4, I can almost guarantee that we’ll see one or two impressive showcases for the successor to last-gen’s most prolific game engine. Indeed, rumours already abound that Epic is in bed with Microsoft for a big, AAA showcase of the tech’s capabilities. And then there’s the less definite stuff.

BioWare might well drop Mass Effect 4 at either EA’s conference or that of one of the platform holders (and let’s not forget that Dragon Age: Inquisition is already looking rather lovely). If Naughty Dog brings some footage of Uncharted 4, then the chances of it not melting faces are about a trillion to one, given the studio’s graphical track record. Ditto any teaser visuals from Black Tusk Studios’ new Gears of War. The game is still a long way off, having only started production recently, but you can bet that with Epic’s ex-Director of Production Rod Fergusson on board, the franchise that started last-gen’s graphics race isn’t going to be slacking. And the newly announced Far Cry 4 is bound to be a stunner.

But there’s a common theme amongst all the games listed above. There’s a good chance that few of them are going to be appearing in your disc tray or download queue straight away. We already know that Halo 5 has been bumped to 2015, with a so-far-off-it’s-imaginary release window of autumn. Batman is still coming in October, rumours be damned, but I’d guess that we’re unlikely to get hold of any of the rest until next year’s spring/summer release schedule ramps up.  

Of course, if there are going to be any big surprises, E3 will be the place they happen. And with both console’s first big Christmas coming up, surely both platform holders will want to drop at least one or two big, first-party hitters late this year. Microsoft can’t be pinning its holiday hopes on a rumoured Halo HD collection, and however impressive the results of its relationship with smaller developers, Sony won’t want to fill a Christmas schedule with indie games alone.

But E3 isn’t about getting concrete products directly into your hands (Sega tried that once, and look what happened there). It’s about the excitable spirit of gaming. It’s not about sticking games straight into your machine, rather it’s about infusing the whole essence of current gaming with the spirit and personality of what it’s to become. It’s about paving out the path to the future and getting everyone giddily running along it. And E3 2014 is going to do that, I reckon. It’s been a while coming, and we’re probably going to have to wait a little longer to get the fruits of the show in our homes, but however long the wait, gaming will feel different after E3. And that’s what matters. Next-gen will get real, and you’ll start look upon your console in a whole new way. Who’s excited? 

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14 comments

  • Pruman - May 20, 2014 6:37 a.m.

    Only one original property on your entire list. And we wonder why there's no interest in next gen. You know what gets people excited to buy a new console? Unique games that you can't play anywhere else. I couldn't play anything like Pilotwings on the NES. I couldn't play anything like Mario 64 on the SNES. I couldn't play anything like Metroid Prime on the N64...you get the idea. Nintendo is learning this lesson the hard way with the Wii U, since nearly everything on it is either a minor tweak of another Nintendo product, or is available in some form on the 3DS. I have a feeling that the other two boxes are going to experience it too as sequel fatigue sets in. My theory is that "play the same games you can play already - but with MOAR GRAPHICS!" is no longer a value proposition for a new console, especially in a crappy economy. The graphics jump this gen also isn't significant enough to get folks other than early adopters and the hardcore to jump on board just yet. Finally, if you have a gaming PC, there's no real reason to get either x86-based one unless you're dying to play the exclusives. Last gen's jump to HD was like the home video transition from VHS to DVD. After I saw some of my favorite movies with crystal-clear clarity, in 5.1 surround and widescreen as the director intended, and packed with special features, I vowed that I'd never watch a VHS tape again. This gen is like the transition from DVD to Blu-ray. While I won't deny that Blu-rays are much prettier and overall superior to the same version on DVD, I'm not particularly motivated to run out and buy all my old movies again, because the benefit isn't worth it to me.
  • Vonter - May 21, 2014 5:01 p.m.

    Yeah, this new gen has begun with apathy. Even people who've played previous Infamous say Second Son its just a prettier one. Nintendo did say they'll deliver their promise with the gamepad this E3. Destiny could have a chance to move the FPS from its comfort zone. And IMO FF XV last trailer shows how next gen should feel. Fast paced and on and beyond interaction with the environment in a creative game world. We know devs have understood how to manage several "realistic things" but I think they should go beyond what we see IRL.
  • Tidus0203 - May 19, 2014 11:44 p.m.

    i for one cant wait for E3 as im really hoping that resident evil 7 rumor is true and that more footage of FF15 is shown. Also to see what these big plans are that microsoft has in store. :D
  • d0x - May 19, 2014 6:08 p.m.

    Every generation has started slowly and awful. Every single one except the NES generation. The only really good launch was the Dreamcast and MAYBE the original Xbox because of halo. Every console has 1 game that can turn heads cause it looks good when it launches but they all have a serious lack of games that use the hardware for the first year at the least.
  • theguyinthecloset - May 19, 2014 9 p.m.

    This.
  • Vonter - May 19, 2014 2:38 p.m.

    I'm still waiting for what will be this generation's GOW, Metroid Prime, Halo, Final Fantasy VII, or Chrono Trigger of this generation. Personally I'm not looking forward to a The Last of Us kind of experience... yet.
  • Rhymenocerous - May 19, 2014 11:08 a.m.

    I hope there's some unexpected gems at E3, everything seems predictable - not much buzz on the games front lately (then again it's nearly summer). Think I'll wait until around Christmas to get myself a PS4 with Alien, Tropico 5 and The Evil Within. And probably Batman, if it's a good 'un.
  • winner2 - May 19, 2014 11:03 a.m.

    Nope. Next gen will be gradual. I bet we're gonna come out of it not feeling much different.
  • shawksta - May 19, 2014 10:56 a.m.

    Maybe.
  • Divine Paladin - May 19, 2014 9:52 a.m.

    I'm pretty tired of all game journalists magically forgetting that every gen is awful when it begins. The PS2, of all things,was an overpriced mess, the seventh gen was hilariously bad for quite a while, etc. It always takes a year or so for new consoles to pick up any steam. 2001 for the PS2, 2007 for the PS3, late 2006ish for the 360, 2013-14 for the Wii U, and the list goes on. Let's stop this rose-goggled nostalgic crap about how "it was better in the olden days," because it wasn't. Every gen sucks for at least a year barring one or two games. The only console I can think of that counters this is the Dreamcast, and that's pretty much because it had only three years.
  • Lordgokal - May 19, 2014 12:21 p.m.

    I think the point the article was making is: until this ps4/xb1, every generation at least had that one game that signalled a change in graphical and gameplay performance, whether it was released at launch or sometime after. Even if the launch titles were pap, you knew sometime in the future x was coming out because you had seen it previewed extensively. You both Halo, Super Mario 64, SSX at launch, you waited for Metal Gear Solid 3 and Gears of War when you bought the system at launch. Plus, there are no real easy visual signifiers this time: 8Bit, 16Bit, 32Bit, 3D, Higher Polygons/DVD Playback, High Definition, and now, it seems we're at a stalemate. Because to make games that look super amazing take time, and games cost money, and I don't know about you, but I'm yet to see one next gen game since e3 2013 that couldn't come out on Last Gen with gameplay intact. Hopefully E3 2014 will change that.
  • Divine Paladin - May 19, 2014 1:17 p.m.

    Even still, GR has the habit of hyperbolizing issues, and this case is no exception; yes, there're fewer signifiers of the change in hardware, but that doesn't mean we should flat-out pretend that this is a first-time thing. This kind of stuff is the biggest flaw with what's otherwise my preferred gaming site.
  • d0x - May 19, 2014 6:10 p.m.

    It could easily be argued that killzone, forza or ryse were this generations lookers for launch. They all looked better than anything from the previous generations of consoles and while they didn't herald a new era like mario64 they still are stunning.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - May 19, 2014 9:36 a.m.

    It depends on what we actually want. Ryse was a neat show of future next gen games, except the game wasn't actuall. Batman is so far what I feel will be the true Next Gen step, though hey I'm all for surprises from Sony and Microsoft, especially with them having next gen games already like Killer Instinct and Killzone. Speaking of which, I'm hyped for Season 2.

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