Should Next Gen Focus On Graphics, Or Physics And Gameplay?
For this generation of consoles, gamers the world over have been treated to some really great looking games. When we take a look at titles like Killzone 2 and 3, God Of War 3, Gran Turismo 5, Uncharted 1,2 and 3, MSG4, Heavy Rain, Gears of War 3, Forza 4, Crysis 2 and many others, it's really a mind trip to think that just some 20 years ago, we were playing 8 bit games. Technological advancements has made it so that our games are very polished and life-like, to the point where the untrained eye can sometimes confuse a game being played to a 3D animation movie. I remember fooling my mother a few times while playing Uncharted 2 and watching replays of my races in Gran Turismo 5. The graphical fidelity that we've reached with current gen console games is simply astonishing.
But with great graphics, also comes great compromises. This generation of console sports some of the shortest games ever. Nowadays you can consider yourself lucky if a game offers anything beyond 5-8 hours. FPS (First Person Shooter) games are notorious for this trend, where the single player campaign is very short, almost as if to serve as nothing more then just a tutorial for the multiplayer portion of the game. The interaction with the environment in those games are next to none, except for the few times where you can shoot at a gas barrel (obviously painted red) and cause it to explode, and if you're lucky, a car might get set on fire and also explode as a result, or a building may topple over to simulate some feeling of unpredictability, which often falls flat. Very scripted events that the player rarely have any control over, and rarely do you feel any sense of surprise while you sit and watch the said scripted event take place.
The multiplayer part of such games don't really offer much either. The environment on the maps are just as dead as they are in the single player mode, the only difference being that now you're playing against a smarter enemy, but that's countered by that the fact that the maps are generally tiny. So it very quickly becomes kind of hard to miss as everyone is cramped up, and all the good spots on the maps are already well known.
Imagine for one second that you're playing an FPS multiplayer game with similar visuals to Killzone 3, or sightly better, but this time around the environment is not so dead and scripted. Where if you find yourself in a room and C4 detonates, there's a big chance that this room might come crumbling down. Imagine being able to interact with nearly everything you see on that map , from vehicles to trees and animals. A game where every building is accessible: if a door is locked, then you break the lock, electric poles can be brought down and an entire map can experience a black-out leaving whoever didn't bother to equip night vision goggles to sorely regret their choices. A game where each map follows a 24 hour day/night cycle and changing weather cycles, making them even more unpredictable, and actually causing your character to react to those conditions in either a positive or negative way. I know that games like Battlefield have done some of the things on a much smaller scales, such as destructible environment, but I really think that should be the focus of next gen games.
Unless of course we simply want more realistic graphics while hanging on to the same old tired game mechanisms that we're accustomed to. Go there shoot bad guy... explode gas barrel... go right pick up conveniently placed RPG to take out chopper...chopper falls and breaks open the barricade now you can go through onto the next series of set pieces.
I've watched countless videos of Naughty Dogs new game The Last of Us, and I find it to be a truly amazing game concept. Not only is the game pulling off second-to-none graphics, but also for the truly innovative new game play experience that it promises. A game where the environment is your best friend but also your worst enemy. A game where survival takes on different paths with the different choices that you as player get to make through your style of play. A game that promises to offer a glimpse of what next gen games should be. The last game to dabble into such possibilities was Heavy Rain. Though it was scripted, it offered more interactions and choices than you'll ever find on 99% of the games released this generation.
So the real question is this. Should the next generation of consoles focus on providing next generation game play? Or should better graphics drive the industry once more?
And which side are you on? Gameplay? Graphics? Or a compromise?