Four factors that define the next generation
E3 has come and gone, and we finally got a first glimpse of what's to come with next-gen consoles. But what defines a game as next-gen? The most obvious answer to that would be the graphics. I was skeptical at first whether next-gen games would indeed look that much better than current gen. Spoiler: Yes, they do. It's not a giant leap like it was from the PS2 to PS3, but the difference is certainly noticeable.
However, with such powerful systems come many more possibilities, and it's awesome to see that developers are harnessing that power to go beyond just pretty graphics. Even just from the press conferences, which all happened before E3, it was clear that there are a few things that define what it means to be next-gen. Let's take a look.
While the notion of open world games isn't an entirely new one -- GTA has been doing it for a while now -- it does look like giving players this sense of freedom to explore every nook and cranny will be even more dominant on the Xbox One and PS4. A lot of what we were shown will either have a more massive open world than its predecessor, or an open world that it didn't have before.
Games like Dead Rising 3, Dying Light, The Division, The Witcher 3 and more will all have massive worlds to explore. Even the surprise car racer from Ubisoft, The Crew, will give players a somewhat scaled-down map of the United States to drive around. That's huge!
The best part about this is that, despite the size of these environments, they all look absolutely phenomenal, without compromise. Lush forests with beautiful flora permeated our Witcher 3 demo, while a post-apocalyptic New York with impressive details down to individual bullet holes was superbly represented in The Division. Essentially, open-world junkies have a lot to look forward to whenever these new games hit store shelves.
The freedom of movement is something that's also been explored in various games before. Mirror's Edge gave players the ability to run across rooftops in one fluid motion. Even Brink attempted to bring free running to the FPS genre. However, it seems like now, more than ever, developers want players to feel that sense of freedom on a much bigger scale.
While not all of these games we're shown off in playable form, you can expect to parkour in titles like Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive, Mirror's Edge 2, Dying Light, inFamous Second Son, and other titles that I might be forgetting at the moment.
The gist of this is, next-gen is giving developers a reason to make their environments more explorable. And what better way than jumping and wall-running through gigantic cities to truly get that sense of scope?
Blending Single-Player and Multiplayer
This seems to be the big new feature that a lot of games will be utilizing moving forward. Essentially, what you're getting here -- or not getting, to be more accurate -- is the choice to select whether you want to be playing single-player or multiplayer. One mode will seamlessly blend these two, without ever forcing the player to exit into a menu in order to play with friends or other players around the world.
Need for Speed Rivals will seamlessly connect you with other real-life racers, or cops trying to take you down. Watch_Dogs will let other players enter your city disguised as civilians, hack into your phone, and it will be up to you whether you'll let them get away with it, or track them down and silence them for good. Even The Division, which will already be co-op focused, will seemingly populate the city of New York with other players, waiting to claim that high powered rifle you just looted.
The problem of having shoddy AI is eliminated when your opposition is comprised of actual human players. However, even AI will seemingly get an upgrade thanks to this connected experience as well as the Cloud. Forza 5 showed us that every action you and other players make will get computed, and uploaded into AI that you race against, totally eliminating the now-standard racing AI that sticks to racing lines. That's bloody innovation.
A Second Screen Experience
Microsoft and Sony are certainly no strangers to adopting some of Nintendo's ideas. Both companies introduced gesture, motion-controlled gaming after the successful sales of the Wii. Now, both companies, as well as third-party developers, are once again acknowledging Nintendo's innovation, through gaming on a second screen.
Whether it's Xbox Smartglass or the PS Vita, both consoles will allow gamers to experience their game, or add to it somehow, through the use of these devices. But possibly even better, these second screen experiences can be done through electronics we already own, like tablets and smartphones.
The Division will allow players on tablets to join the game and control a drone that can help out in various combat scenarios. The Crew will allow players to customize their car on their tablet, and then take that car straight into the game. I've done this myself and, trust me, it's impressive as it is surreal. Dead Rising 3 will let players set various waypoints around the map, as well as call down an airstrike or two if you get too overwhelmed by the massive horde of zombies.
Beyond this, a somewhat simplified tablet experience might be just the thing to get non-gamers to play along with you as well. Controlling the AR Drone in The Division won't require much aside from providing some cover fire for the players, without the need to hold a complicated controller. In fact, I can see many gamer husbands using this approach to get their non-gamer wives to participate in their gaming time, myself included.
Many games will actually have this second screen element to further enhance each game, yet they're not essential for the full enjoyment of a game. They're there to simply complement an already rich experience.
The next generation of consoles is still about a half a year away, but the prospect of it seems more and more enticing. It's great to see that next-gen goes beyond just prettier graphics, and that's just the first batch of games too. It'll be interesting to see what the future holds for these high-powered machines.