Tonight at big-box electronics stores and GameStops all over the country, as the clock ticks over to midnight, the next generation of gaming will officially begin with the launch of the PS4 (sorry, the WiiU doesn't count). Next week, the other shoe will drop in the form of the Xbox One. Hardcore gamers will line up for hours to be the first to get their hands on these high-end entertainment machines; if history is any guide, some of them will fight, and maybe get shot at, for the privilege. Thousands more will join them between now and Christmas, happily dumping their old machines in the closet and devoting their gaming love to the new shiny.
For the first time in this millenium, I won't be joining them.
I have to admit, it feels a little weird. Ever since I got back into gaming as an adult -- an event that happened to more or less correspond with the launch of the PS2 -- I've been a first-to-play kind of guy. PS2, Xbox, GameCube, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii: I had all of them within three months of launch -- basically, as soon as I could walk into a store and buy one without standing in line. (As much as I was a first-to-play guy, I was also a last-to-stand-in-line guy, because fuck that twice.) Now, while all the other kids are busy playing Killzone: Shadow Fall and Killer Instinct with more pixels and polygons than have ever before been seen on their TV, I'll be plodding through a few more hours of State of Decay and Skyrim, games on which I have already logged hundreds of hours.
I'm okay with this.
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The truth is, by some combination of my own life and the dynamics of the gaming industry, I just can't muster up any enthusiasm for these new systems. Part of it is certainly me getting older and becoming a father again, but I was in my late twenties when I got back into gaming and continued throughout my thirties, while raising a kid the whole time. I still love zombie movies and superheroes, so it's not like I suddenly became too sophisticated to headshot a stranger and then teabag his virtual corpse. But when I look at the list of launch titles and watch the demo videos of the games to come, all I can muster up is a disinterested "meh," accompanied by that little half shrug that suggests you can't even be bothered to not care enough for a full shrug.
Sure, the graphics are a bit nicer, but just a bit. The current crop of hardware, even though it's showing its age, already looked damn good. It's certainly not the kind of generational leap we got from the Super Nintendo era to the PlayStation era, or even the HD upgrade we got with the PS3/Xbox 360. It's better, but it's subtly better at best.
The games themselves ... well, they're awfully familiar. Sequels abound. Reboots, too. Those few games that are new franchises look like they are treading some pretty well-trodden ground. It's very possible I am missing something, but I don't see anything that looks to change the state of the game as it stands. There's no innovation, no new possibilities that have been opened up by this new hardware. The PS2 generation gave us our first real sandbox games. The Xbox 360 generation made them all HD and finally delivered graphics that could be described as "lifelike" without earning peals of laughter from anyone who spent enough time in real life to know what that meant. With this generation, we get ... what exactly? More bump mapping? A smoother frame rate? Yay?
Since I'm not one of the lucky few who have the time to play every top-notch title that comes out, the current generation still has plenty to offer me. I can find a dozen games for the systems I already own where I can shoot, punch or stab something, possibly in a go-anywhere, do-anything open world, that are brand-new to me. I can probably get most of them for under $30, especially once those new systems hit the shelf. Compare that to the cost of the new systems -- $400 or $500 depending on your system of choice, and god forbid you want to own both -- and what meager enthusiasm I might have had for any of the new generation of games is just gone.
I may join in later, once there's something I can't resist despite its "more of the same"-ness (Just Cause 3...) or when the price drops down to the $200 to $250 range in a few years. Or maybe the games industry will prove me wrong and deliver some new gameplay experience that I just have to embrace.
But then again, I may not be alone, and the rest of the world could be just as unimpressed with them pushing out the same old games with 200 percent more shiny, and this console generation as a whole will follow the WiiU pattern of collective shrugs and miserable sales. In any case, I'm at peace with my decision to sit this one out for now.
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Still, if you want to invite me over to play yours, I'm down.