It seems like we’ve been on the verge of next generation for a while now, and in fairness to Nintendo, it has already begun. But with Sony’s announcements this week, it feels like the next gen of consoles is really, finally on its way. Nintendo have got off to a reasonable, if slightly understated start. The Wii U has performed well enough, but apart from its first party efforts, games are based on the current gen. It seems like developers have been waiting for Sony and Microsoft to make their moves before announcing their intentions for new games, so perhaps soon the U will start to pick up pace, and potentially build up a steady fan base before the other contenders enter the ring.
Sony’s news this week, has been met with reasonable optimism, even though there was not a huge amount announced that we didn’t already think was on the cards. The main thing to come from the announcement was the fact that someone had finally made a move, and the focus now moves to Microsoft. It had been predicted that MS would wait for E3 to make its intentions public, but now with the purchase of an ‘Xbox Event’ domain name, it seems MS is gearing itself to counter Sony’s move with some news of its own. At the moment, Sony’s announcements are difficult to gauge, as there is little to compare it to. The Wii U, like the Wii before, is almost its own industry, and there has been once again a push to distance itself from the others. So all eyes are now on MS. Will they have something that blows the competition away, or will they rush something out just to make sure the Xbox brand doesn’t become an after thought?
What would be nice to see, is something that gives the next Xbox an identity again. As the current gen ends, there is very little to choose between the PS3 and the 360. Both are now home to some stunning franchises which the majority of people are clamouring to play, and neither has a particular brand which must be played over another. Halo is as good as Uncharted, Uncharted is as good as Gears, Gears is as good as Killzone, Killzone is as good as Halo. Neither console has a particular franchise that makes non fanboys choose one console over another. There is little to choose between what the two offer online now. Xbox Live was once the 360′s biggest triumph, but PlayStation Plus has helped re-build the PS3′s online reputation. In terms of what both offer away from games they are now very similar, from Netflix to I-Player, from music to radio and so on. The PS3 still has the Blu Ray angle, but as Blu Ray continues to grow, many households now play host to regular Blu Ray players anyway. So both consoles have almost become essential to the core gamers out there, and in the end neither has become a must have, over the other. So for MS, they need to start putting an identity into their next console. It needs an angle, that could be through a more prominent use of the Kinect, or it could be something that neither Nintendo or Sony have come up with yet.
One route they could go down, is making gaming a more social experience. This gen has seen people s gaming move to a global arena, meaning anyone can play anyone, anywhere at any time. Which is fine, but perhaps they could move back a step and make gaming together special again. Many of us will remember huddling around portable TVs to play Street Fighter 2 or ISS with mates, and as fun as that was, it was always limited by the tech on offer. Maybe local multiplayer is an avenue MS could go down, but with something different to what the Wii U is trying to achieve.
In terms of controllers, the 360 pad is still up there with the best. So a complete re-design is not necessarily needed. As we have seen, Sony look to have finally moved on from the DualShock, not massively, mind you, but have at least attempted something different this time. But MS doesn’t need to start from scratch here. So what can they add to the pad and the control system of their next console. It seems inevitable that Kinect will feature heavily, but the game pad will still be the main choice of control for many gamers. Touch screen is the current flavour of the month, but perhaps more voice recognition could be implemented.
The one area we all want to see something fresh though, is games. There is no doubt that this gen has treated us to some fantastic new franchises, Dead Space, Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, Gears of War and of course the resurgence and near world domination of Call of Duty. As great as these games are, they have all now either hit trilogy marks or gone past it, and whilst you wouldn’t consider any of these games as dead, the next gen will need more than just fourth entries of now old brands. For me, if MS wants to take a firm grip of this gen, it will need games. Games that will make an immediate impact and spark an interest in their new machine. It would be refreshing to see MS make games the focus of its new console.
With all the new features that can be incorporated into a console these days, it feels like sometimes games are taking a bit of a backseat. My personal wish for the next Xbox, and the new PS, is that Sony and MS make their consoles the centre of my gaming attention. Make games the most important part of the dashboard, put the game marketplace in a more prominent place, show me my game stats, let me save favourite levels for quick access, give me rewards for my Gamerscore and put friends high scores and achievements so I can see them and aim to beat them. If I have a collection of downloaded titles saved to my console, I want to see them on display on the dashboard, just like my physical copies are. These are on my personal wish list, but I have a feeling I’ll be disappointed.
So, we will wait and see what MS has to offer. There is a chance that we will be offered the same sort of detail that Sony presented, but with the noises MS has made in retaliation to Sony’s announcement, they will need to have some special news to avoid being embarrassed before a ball has even been officially kicked.