Is it just me, or is this generation stumbling a bit? We’re about to hit the 5-year mark, and I feel like we’re running out of gas. It’s looking like this will be the longest console generation yet, and it seems like developers don’t quite know how to handle it.
At this point in the last cycle, the industry had really hit its stride and was turning out some of the best games of the generation, not unlike today.
2004 was bottom-heavy, while most of 2005’s big releases were grouped into Q1. So we got this tremendous eight-month period of—pardon my language—megaton after megaton. A lot of these games became cherished classics.
From September 2004 to April 2005, we got Burnout 3, Fable, Katamari Damacy, San Andreas, Ratchet: UYA, Halo 2, Snake Eater, KOTOR2 (end 2004), Resident Evil 4, Gran Turismo 4, God of War, Chaos Theory, and finally, Psychonauts. This isn’t even including PC titles like Half-Life 2. Talk about a golden era.
October gave us Shadow of the Colossus, but most of the fall season was taken up by mediocre 360 launch titles and, uh, Shadow the Hedgehog, I guess.
The 360 forced everyone forward, but it also got developers to take chances on new IPs. Dead Rising came to be because someone at Capcom said, “Hey, we can get A LOT of enemies on screen now. That would be awesome for a zombie game, but it doesn’t fit Resident Evil’s tone.” We got Crackdown because someone at Realtime Worlds said, “Look at the crazy draw distances we can get on this thing!”
OK, I’m making this up, and I’m sure there were more and better reasons (I hope) for those games to exist, but you can see how the new tech gave developers a chance to tell new stories with unfamiliar characters. Instead of KOTOR3, BioWare made Mass Effect. Instead of Unreal 3 (at first), Epic made Gears of War. Ken Levine somehow talked Take Two into BioShock, Naughty Dog was allowed to work on something other than Crash or Jak, and they blew our brains halfway out the back of our skulls. This is what new console generations do.
So, while I’m really excited that developers have the time to learn the ins and outs of our current systems, I’m concerned that, without the kick in the ass that a new gen would be providing right about now, we’re just going to continue toiling in the same tired franchises for years to come.
What have we seen at E3? COD Black Ops, Halo Reach, Fable 3, Gears 3, MGS Rising. These are dead or dying franchises, though I’m sure their respective owners will squeeze them to the very last drop. Mass Effect 3 is coming. Uncharted 3 is inevitable. Most everything else is just in the endless franchise sequel/reboot undead shamble: Forza, GT, Prince of Persia, Twisted Metal, Mortal Kombat, GRAW… I’m sure there are more. Even Assassin’s Creed looks like it’s revving up for a good annual milking.
There are lots of small developers doing crazy stuff. With XBLA, PSN, and Steam, it’s never been a better time for those guys. But I feel like there’s an absence of well-funded developers trying new things. New settings, new mechanics, new perspectives, new anything.
Maybe I’m just going through my annual “E3 is nothing but sequels” phase of jaded disappointment.