It’s once again that time of year when our collective eyeballs are assaulted with best-of-the-year compilations, as everyone and their Nan rushes to jump on the nostalgia bandwagon.
2013 was hardly what anyone would consider a ‘banner year’ for videogames; according to Metacritic’s aggregate scores, only 18 games last year achieved the 90% score necessary to be considered a “great game”, and the year was somewhat defined by notable flops and critical disappointments such as the notorious Aliens: Colonial Marines. However, there were some striking standouts. GTA V, unsurprisingly, has been almost universally crowned game of the year, and Bioshock Infinite delivered one of the most immersive and fun gaming experiences I’ve had to date. However, rather than reminisce about the good times from the year gone by, let’s instead look to the bright, shiny future of 2014.
The big news, of course, is the arrival of the next console generation. With the Playstation 4 and Xbox One both slugging it out for your Christmas bonus, it’s a battle to see which one will control the living room. As always, next-gen consoles bring with them new developments and innovations, with the PS4’s in-built touchpad and Xbox’s increasing Kinect integration being much-touted features of the new consoles. I, meanwhile, absolutely love the fact that classic Playstation and PS2 games will be able to stream on Sony’s new console. One of the most tragic limitations of the last generation was the lack of backwards-compatibility, and if fixing this means I can play Timesplitters 2 on my HDTV with four-player splitscreen, I will literally give Sony one of my kidneys. Fingers crossed this will help breathe some new life into a few under-appreciated franchises as well. (I’m looking at you, Mega Man Legends.)
However, the thing that saves any new console from the scrapheap is its selection of launch games, as the floundering WiiU has discovered the hard way. At the moment, I would have to say that Microsoft have the edge in console exclusives, with day one releases like Dead Rising 3 putting them in a very strong position. Coming hot on the heels of summer blockbuster Pacific Rim, giant robot shooter Titanfall also looks incredibly exciting, promising agile FPS action alongside the chance to punch enemies into a fine paste with giant mechs. If the last part of that sentence doesn’t excite you at least a little, then seek immediate medical help because you’re probably dead. Although it doesn’t quite match the roster of the Xbox One, the PS4 does have some potentially great titles on the horizon, particularly sandbox superhero title Infamous: Second Son and Oddworld: New ‘N Tasty, the HD remake of one of the original Playstation’s most quirky and colourful platformers, Abe’s Oddysee.
Not that console exclusives are the only thing to look forward to; the prospect of a new Thief title is making me positively salivate. Clunky plot aside, I hugely enjoyed Bethesda’s first-person stealth-em-up Dishonored, and it’s gratifying to see the granddaddy of the genre stepping back up to hopefully show the newcomers how it’s done. Fast becoming the biggest publisher in the business, Bethesda are also scheduled to release The Elder Scrolls Online, as well as the hotly-anticipated Fallout 4, rumoured to be set around Boston and the MIT. Also on the way is Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs. One of the very first next-gen titles ever revealed, it debuted in a trailer that featured seamless gameplay and graphics that were, at the time, jaw-dropping, so it’ll be interesting to see how well it lives up to expectations given its later release.
PC gamers need not feel left out of the festivities, though. For those turned off by the new kids on the console scene, this year sees the arrival of the Steam Machines. Brainchild of Half-Life creators Valve, these little boxes aim to bring PC gaming into the living room via the Steam digital distribution service, with the SteamOS running on pre-built, upgradeable machines dedicated to running high-end PC titles. At the time of writing, Valve has just released details of 13 initial hardware partners building the first set of Steamboxes. With brands like Digital Storm, Alienware and iBuyPower all creating competing platforms, it’s looking like there will be a configuration to suit any taste and budget. The inbuilt upgradeability also means that it should be a snap to tweak it to your own personal needs, a fact that, combined with Steam’s legendary seasonal sales, should make Sony and Microsoft very worried.
The dawn of a new console generation is always exciting, and this is no exception, especially given the possible addition of another major player. New games, new franchises and new technology to explore could well prove the jump-start the industry needs to re-invigorate after what some critics have been calling a period of stagnation, but whether or not this is true, one thing’s for sure: this time around, the fight for Triple-A dominance will certainly be one to watch.