There’s been a lot and I mean A LOT of talk about what is “next-gen” in this current console cycle. Opinions are polarized and no one can seem to agree on what makes a game next-gen and what doesn’t. I know that this has been debated ad nauseum but I still feel compelled to give my explanation of what I think makes something next-gen.
It used to be that graphics alone were enough to tell if a game was next-gen or not. There was no way that you could argue that a 16-bit game wasn’t next-gen compared to an 8-bit one. These days things aren’t as clear cut since graphics haven’t made that much of a significant jump from the last generation to this one. Games look a bit nicer now for sure but the graphical leaps that we’ve seen in years past hasn’t happened with the current gen systems.
So while graphics are important, I think that they alone aren’t a good enough indicator of whether or not a game is next-gen. To determine what makes a game truly next-gen we have to go beyond the surface level of graphics and instead focus on what’s going on under the hood.
My stance is pretty simple: A game is next-gen when it cannot be replicated on a last-gen console. If a game plays exactly the same on the Xbox 360 as it does on the Xbox One then I can’t honestly say that it is a true next-gen game. Yeah, it may LOOK nicer on the Xbox One but if the gameplay is exactly the same then it’s not next-gen. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a good example of this. The game plays the same across every platform it’s being released on. From a gameplay standpoint, it isn’t next gen at all.
This gen has just started but we’re getting an example of how gameplay can be radically different between generations with the upcoming Middle Earth game, Shadow of Mordor. Its “Nemesis” system had to be significantly scaled back on last-gen consoles due to the hardware limitations of those systems. This is just one feature but it is the feature that the developers are touting the most. The next-gen version of the game differs drastically from the last-gen versions in terms of gameplay and therefore makes the title truly next-gen.
Battlefield 4 is the other game that comes to mind when thinking about how a game plays differently between current and last gen consoles. Current gen consoles can have matches of up to 64 players whereas the last gen consoles only support 24 players. Because of the increased player count, maps on the current gen version of the game are far larger and feature more objectives and even more vehicles. Playing Battlefield 4 on last-gen consoles is a completely different experience to playing it on the current gen systems.
The above examples are just the beginning and I believe that as this generation progresses that we’ll start to see fewer last gen versions of games due to hardware limitations. Look at the just announced Batman: Arkham Knight. In the press release for the game, the developers said that thanks to the power of current gen consoles they can now have a bigger city that you can drive around in. They always wanted to have a controllable Batmobile in the series but couldn’t implement it into the games due to hardware limitations. This is a big AAA franchise which will NOT be on last gen due to hardware issues. This gameplay feature alone will make this title radically different from the others in the series.
I can only hope that the new Batman game will have glimpses of what I really want to see in next-gen games. I want many subtle things that add up to create living worlds: A.I that is actually intelligent, characters reacting to dynamic weather, debris that doesn’t automatically disappear, more seamless HUDs, more believable performances, precise environmental destruction… the list can go on. I want these things to affect the actual gameplay to give me an experience that I’ve never had.
With consoles being as powerful as they are these days I want developers to push the limits of gameplay. Graphics play a part in this too and they must be interwoven with unique gameplay experiences to create titles that can be considered truly “next-gen”. A marriage of cutting edge graphics and innovative gameplay that can’t be replicated on previous gen consoles is what makes something “next gen”.