It is the subject not of interesting debate but of sneers and dismissal.
When a new generation comes along it brings with it the inevitable question: “What will the games be like?” This question has always been valid because history tells us that with each generation a leap is taken.
I saw Colecovision usurped by Atari, then NES eclipsed by SNES, the emergence of various 32-bit systems like Playstation and Saturn, I experienced with sheer awe the magic of Mario 64 on Nintendo 64. Playstation 2 games left PS1 games in the dust. Finally, the PS3/360 generation brought HD graphics, physics, and logical gameplay steps into the mix. What could possibly be next?
That's where things are kind of stuck in my opinion. When a critic or gamer makes note that the current games (admittedly quite early-gen ones) aren't showing anything “next-gen” in their productions, the gamers who are enjoying said title tend to fire back with protestations that that concept is so nebulous that it means nothing. If that isn't their problem, it is to suggest in some way that we have progressed as far as we are going to go and gameplay cannot be further innovated or refined.
Personally I disagree with these ideas since I'm always seeing room for improvement. I was hoping for something “next-gen” about inFamous: Second Son and while I'm loving the game it seems mostly to be a visual update of the previous games with a few alterations and no progress in key areas that were ripe for improvement.
What did I want that would have made me more impressed? Well that comes down to the question of what you or I consider to be “next-gen” doesn't it? As it happens many of us are playing Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD and I think that is a great place to start. Final Fantasy has always been a barometer for generational change. From 2D sprites to 3D models to 3D worlds to new cinematic wonders, if you want to see what generational change is, it's all right there in the series. Youtube the games if you aren't familiar. There is a striking, giant change between Final Fantasies VII-IX and X. Suddenly we had voice acting, moving lips, 3D maps instead of pre-rendered areas, dramatic cut-scenes, character models more than twice as impressive, much better special effects, et al.
Looking at “next-gen” through that lens, I generally consider the term to be indicative of what the games will be capable of that they previously were not. What is this system allowing that was impossible before? I also like to consider the refinement of growing pains. Are the cameras not as nuts? Are the physics better tuned? How has the AI gotten better? Are there fewer animation goof-ups? Are there new aspects to the gameplay that enrich it? Is the virtual physical world reacting properly (or at all) to my actions?
I think Second Son addresses a few of the pains that the series has had in the past, but ultimately it seems that it could have all been done on PS3 with less glamorous graphics. That doesn't seem too next-gen. That's not an attack against the game, it just means I don't believe we've seen new things that developers weren't capable of before. Though that Orbital Drop might just qualify 🙂 Those are my thoughts, but many will disagree and I invite further discussion on all matters of opinion.
Specifically, we'd like to know what you think qualifies as “next-gen” gaming on the PS4 or Xbox One. Are better graphics good enough? Do you want to see some more experiments in creative gameplay? Are you expecting the soft world physics of The Order: 1886 to wow you?
What can these new systems do to convince you that they aren't just allowing a marginal upgrade from the previous ones?