Welcome to the New Age Part 2: Gaming in the Current Generation

Last week I described how I took a bold step into 2014 and got a current generation console.

This week I thought I’d share some thoughts on the games I’ve played so far and general thoughts on the generation as a whole. I actually jumped in at just the right time as I was able to get a lot of big releases at discounted prices since most of them had been out for months when I finally got my PS4.

  • Shadow of Mordor: As a Lord of the Rings fan this one looked fun and even had the chance of doing predatory stealth without the strange Assassin’s Creed background or the baggage of being Batman…again. It’s a new story with a new character and takes place in a formative stage in the Middle Earth history not often covered. The gameplay is some of the most fun I’ve had doing 3rd person combat. You can string long chains of attacks, defenses, counters, and kills without missing a step and it makes diving in and carving up Uruk Hai as much fun as sneaking up and jamming a broken sword in their skull. The Captains of Mordor mechanic is both brilliant and diabolical depending on the extent of the player’s OCD and wrathfulness. Since I am both OCD and wrathful I obsessively hunted down captains and evilly and relentlessly hunted down any of them that had the luck to best me… A great game, but it didn’t feel like a big leap to the new age.

  • Wolfenstein: The New Order/The Old Blood: I played these in reverse order as I got Old Blood first and beat it before getting New Order. Both are terrific fun, and I don’t even care for 1st person shooters. I haven’t played a Wolfenstein game since they were corridor shooters that could be played from a floppy disk. It says something that these games had the “new” 1st person feel but still captured the strange charm and 90s attitude of the original games. Old Blood especially had the classic sensibility, and even had a boss fight with a big armored dude with Gatling guns on each arm. I actually recommend playing the prequel before the original game. New Order is a deeper, more complex game and Old Blood’s simplistic game play got me back into console shooting again without having as many mechanics. Again it didn’t feel “next gen” moving up from PS3 but is still damn fun.

  • Bloodborne: Good god. I haven’t played completely through a souls game since Demon’s Souls but it was my second favorite game on PS3 (the first being Valkyria Chronicles). It was tough, rewarded patience and thinking, and was ruthless in its player correction. You make a mistake…you pay. And not in the lame Heavy Rain way, in a gameplay way that makes you even more careful and extremely tense. I played Dark Souls but it was at the end of my last console gaming phase and I stopped halfway through. Bloodborne is a work of art. It’s beautiful, brutal, fast, and aggressive. The level design is truly extraordinary and this is a rare game that can make you cuss like crazy out of frustration as some human-sized hunter owns you in seconds…then moments later makes you cuss in admiration as you exit a tunnel only to appear in a location you last saw 9 hours ago in a place that was previously gated. It’s is wonderfully balanced, intuitive in its controls, and masterful in gameplay execution. It’s the first and only game I’ve played that has truly felt like a step into a new generation from PS3 era.

The system is far, far from perfect and the choice of games really shows how much things have changed. My PS2 had dozens of titles I couldn’t wait to choose from. This system has only a few games coming out over the next two years that I will probably end up with (though I DID pre-order the Pipboy Edition of Fallout 4 thank you very much). It may be the change in the industry as a whole, like the difference between boxing now and boxing in the 50s…Sugar Ray Robinson might have fought 10 times a year…but Manny Pacquiao only fights once or twice a year. Games have become too much money and too much development too much investment to release bunches of titles in a year to support a console.

This is where Steam on PC and the indie and small games on PSN have it right (though I really want some of those Devolver Digital games to hit PSN…) These smaller, more reasonably priced games can fill the gap between the more expensive releases and make a system more cost effective. I don’t care about 90% of the AAA releases coming out, but with the smaller digital games I can get plus the other 10% I can only play on PS4 I get my money’s worth.

The Alamogordo dump site in New Mexico where a number of Atari products were laid to rest after the crash

With the advancement of PC as a gaming and market delivery platform I wonder if the console market will ever be the same. I don’t know if it’ll ever crash like it did in the 80s, but it feels like console as market king that we saw in 90s and early 2000s might be slipping away as companies force us to buy weakened versions of PCs with proprietary software, exclusivity limitations, and features many TVs and media players can accomplish with less trouble. The reason I don’t feel there will be an Atari-scale crash is that always be a market for console gaming due to its relative simplicity (you can always play the game you buy at the appropriate settings without having to mess with hardware, video output, or file structure) but as each generation becomes more tech-savvy those limitations become less onerous and more normal, relegating consoles to the lowest of the gaming spectrum.

I probably won’t ever buy one of these…so console gaming may be where I land for “current gen” titles.

I won’t lie, it’s nice to have a “current gen” system and it is a vast improvement over its predecessor, just in design and usability. Still, I can count on one hand the number of times I decided to go back and play my PS3 and PS2, but I can always find time to load up Streets of Rage 2 on the Genesis or Dragon Warrior on the NES. Even as the graphics get better, the features more extravagant, and the games more “realistic,” I feel the major games that drive these systems have lost some of the iconic beauty of the games drove their forebears. I’m sure there will always be a place for “current gen” on my media shelf. Whether or not each generation stays on the shelf after their time is past remains to be seen.

Welcome to the New Age: Kicking and Screaming into Current Gen Console Gaming

Toward the end of the PS3 generation I started to become exceedingly disillusioned with the gaming industry.

Games that started as well-paced horror franchises became absurd action shooters, beloved turn-based RPGs became mash-up amalgamations of MMOs and action games, platforming vanished (except the three franchises Nintendo makes every year), and everything became about all the additional content you could buy once you bought the original content.

On PC it was even worse; franchises I grew up with had morphed into poisonous, hateful incarnations of themselves. Diablo 3 came out with no use for weapons (despite the original Diablo having a memorable dev quote “When I pick up an axe I want it to look like an axe”) and that awful real money auction house. Sims 4 and SimCity arrived with forced online and reduced content, not to mention broken states. Not to mention the mess that Steam has become.

So I essentially gave up. I played my NES and Genesis more than any system, reliving the old days when games were just games, not virtual market vectors for publishers to extort money.

Luckily Warhammer and other table top games kept me pretty satisfied, because at least those price vectors give me physical products with palpable advantages.

So when the current gen started I decided not to get a new console and that my days as a modern console gamer were over. I’d been one since the Atari days and I’ve participated in every generation since so it was a momentous decision. I never even considered an Xbox One. Despite their desperate back-pedaling, the fact that Microsoft even considered limiting used games, tried to force always online, and initially forcibly bundled with Kinect made me completely dismiss it as an anti-consumer product. Sony’s new pay wall for some features didn’t make me happy, but everything I normally use still came with the free online so it wasn’t too off-putting. Still nothing was out that I cared about so I wrote off console gaming. Until…

Walking through a local Target with Miss Misty I decided to check their clearance section. There, in a box, with a little red tag…was a PS4. I stopped and actually said, “Is-is that a PS4?” It was and it was 289.90. More than 100 off. It was noted as being “repackaged.” I rolled the dice and took it home.

After setting it up I found someone’s account info was still in there. No funding data, but there were some kid’s gaming install info. “Huh…must’ve been a return…” I thought. Then scrolling through the games, just before factory reset, I saw there was a little disc symbol on the GTA5 icon. I selected the “eject” option and sho-nuff, the GTA5 disc popped out. Even though I’m not a fan of the franchise, a free game in system added to the value of the purchase. Essentially I got a slightly used discount bundle.

Fortress of Games
PS4 with free GTA5 at home with my other systems. The PS3 was moved to my gaming room so I could have a Bluray/Netflix player in there too.

I’ll talk about some games in the next post for now here are some late-to-the-gaming thoughts on the system itself:

  • Aesthetics/System Functions: It looks nice. It looks more solid and dense than the PS3, though the front buttons are a pain to get to. Also the constant glow is a little much especially for creatures of the night like me. It isn’t loud and doesn’t get as hot as I thought it would.
  • User Interface: The PS Vita style UI is much more effective than the old XMB. So much so that when I turn on my PS3 and navigate it I realize how clunky that interface is. I like the sorting of icons, and applications, and find it far easier to use. Also the PS Vita style continuation function, where my videos will pick up where I left off, my games will pick up where I left off, etc., even when changing applications or putting the system in rest mode is glorious.
  • Controller: Yes it has that weird touch pad button that I haven’t found a use for yet, but the controller actually feels better than the old PS3 version. One thing I don’t like about it is there is no turn off for that LED which means it’s always glowing all the time. I do like that the PS button is the only one that can turn it off and on…I can’t tell you how many times I kicked the PS3 controller only to have the system start up by accident and have to wait for the system to load just to turn it off. The battery life is pretty good and the first time it made sound during Shadows of Mordor scared the s**t out of me. I could use a media remote tho, as I still use the system for videos more than games.
  • Network: The network took a LONG time to set up. Not the actual process of me setting it up, pretty standard actually, but it was about 24 hours before the system recognized my network and gave me internet access. So much so that I thought it was why the system was returned. Once it was set up the network has actually been more reliable than the PS3 one (though that might be my aging PS3) and navigating the network options and network applications is much better thanks to the UI mentioned above. The PS Store STILL needs work. It takes a while to load and the lists of games on there are organized in such a way I still can’t find stuff I know is there. The PS Vita store is much more user-friendly.
  • PS Plus: I never even considered this as a feature. I don’t like paying for intangibles and this always seemed like a Book-a-Million discount card or Gamestop Rewards card: pay us money for a bonus or discount. If you DO happen to own a PS3, PS Vita, and PS4 you really do get your money’s worth. Two games for free every month each system. Even though they usually aren’t MAJOR titles (depending on your definition thereof anyway…) there are a TON of great games that show up for free. What talked me into PS+ was when I first went into the store Oddworld New and Tasty was free so…sold…

Next week I’ll do a short list of the games I’ve played. I came in at just the right time where a lot of good launch titles are now discounted and the generation is hitting its stride in terms of software support.