This week brings with it the release of PlayStation 4, and next week, Xbox One. While these aren’t technically the inaugural systems of the eighth console generation, they are the first powerhouse systems that truly distinguish their games from those of their predecessors. Though PC gamers can and will make the argument that these platforms are merely playing catch-up to the level of PC’s available hardware, consoles remain a favorite for gamers all over the world.
Though I have a competent PC gaming rig I use frequently, I’m no exception. The prospect of bringing home a next-gen console is a rush; the days leading up to launch are wellsprings of anticipation, some dread, but mostly pure excitement. Mere days from turning on my PlayStation 4 for the first time, I’m filled with memories of the day I received my first console—a Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Looking at it, I knew that within its rectangular plastic shell was a frontier of new experiences and years of fun to be had. When I think about the consoles fast approaching, I get the same butterflies I got twenty years ago.
The eighth generation is particularly exciting, not because of its updated graphics and mightier processing power, but because there’s more to offer than sharper graphics. These consoles bring several new things to the table. The Wii U has given us a good taste of second screen functionality, which the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will expand upon with PS Vita remote play and SmartGlass. A clear advantage Sony and Microsoft have over Nintendo in this realm is that the Vita and SmartGlass are untethered, and can be used miles away from the main console over WiFi. Really though, it’s in-home second screen gaming that intrigues me most of all.
As a Vita owner, I’ll not only be able to play my PS4 games on my handheld, I’ll get to enjoy many of the same features Wii U games have. Developers will be able to add the ability for the Vita to be used for enhancing gameplay, rather than cloning it. I get goosebumps thinking about using my Vita as a Pip-Boy in a next-gen Fallout title, or perhaps for point-and-shoot photography in a series like Fatal Frame. I fully expect to be blown away by some of the innovative ways developers will utilize the second screen over the lifespans of these machines—I hope you’re paying attention, Bethesda.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the power of the cloud to consider. Microsoft is touting relatively untapped power most of all, though Sony plans to dip in as well. New games already look fantastic, but with cloud computing the finer details can shine even more. Physics on less crucial elements like grass and trees can be improved and not tax the console, and as graphics, lighting, and physics in games get better over the course of this generation, their incremental improvements need not necessarily be something console gamers miss out on, despite hardware limitations.
Piling on the goodness, Sony and Microsoft have stumbled onto something great with online bonuses through the PSN and Xbox Live. Offering free games and discounts for members is not only a great way to get more people online, it does wonders for making console gaming more affordable. New releases may still be $60 or more, but less financially privileged console gamers have an alternative to scraping through bargain bins. Combine this with the rising stardom of more affordable indie titles, and you can bet a lot fewer kids are going to feel left behind by their peers who get all the latest games. There is, of course, the cost of the console to consider, but even that is a relative improvement over the last generation. There’s even a chance that prices on these consoles will drop sooner than they did last time around.
Most importantly, however, the games are looking great. Grand epics like The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, long-awaited sequels like Mirror’s Edge 2, and stunning new properties like The Division look to make this one of the strongest generations ever. For most platforms, the first year of a console’s life is fairly light on content while the system builds up steam. Not so with the PS4 and Xbox One; I can think of no fewer than 15 games I plan to pick up in the next year, and that’s not including the multitude of indie titles dotting the release map.
My growing excitement for these releases is almost overwhelming. As I write this, it’s all I can do to calm the butterflies. I’m willing to bet I’m not alone—I’d wager more than a few of you are bouncing off the walls in anticipation of November 15 and November 22. Maybe I’ll see some of you on the road in Need for Speed Rivals, or through a scope in Killzone: Shadow Fall. On the other hand, maybe one of you will shoot me down in Battlefield 4. Whichever it is, I look forward to sharing the fun with you over the next generation.