New-Gen Gaming: 2014 - A Year of Disasters and Turnarounds

2014 has been a year of ups and downs for gamers.

"Stop right there and give me your sandwiches."
This past year, gamers are paying full price to essentially beta test broken games in hopes that one day what they paid for will become mostly functional. Publishers are thinking they can get away with this, and if we keep loading wads of cash into a baseball launcher aimed at their pockets, then we can expect them to keep thinking that. This past year of gaming has been puzzling, frustrating, and surprising. While the PS4 remains at the top of the heap in terms of raw numbers, both the Xbox One and Wii U have made far bigger improvements and we're now beginning to see much stiffer competition from them. Unfortunately, however, not all the game developers are following suit. While the Xbox One and Wii U made gigantic strides to close the gap by openly communicating with or being receptive to their communities, Sony seems perfectly happy resting on their laurels. Most of the disappointment however is due to publishers and developers themselves with sub-par "next-gen" offerings, ultimately falling far short on promises or launching with entire portions of games missing/or broken. How much and how long are we willing to pay for this to continue?

Battlefield 4 was a launch title that up until recently was nearly unplayable with problems persisting for months on end. Grand Theft Auto V's re-release on current generation consoles still struggles with online play where users are spending half as much time playing as they are waiting for an actual game to start—a problem that carried over from the preceding generation. Even Xbox One's first-party, Master Chief Collection, amassing an anthology of games that reinvigorated first-person multiplayer, launched with a plague of matchmaking issues, and yet it doesn't end there.

Ubisoft has been a pointed example of absurd and downright insulting PR, trying to clean up their messes regarding frame rate issues, bad networking, and a huge list of bugs for both Far Cry 4's multiplayer and Assassin's Creed: Unity. The problem doesn't lie with the advertised resolution and frame rate­—900p30 would have been more than fine for Unity had they kept their mouths shut about it, but they insisted on shoving words into gamer's mouths saying we prefer 30fps because it's more "cinematic." So, you're saying that Unity could definitely hit 60fps, but you made the artistic choice to limit it to 30 in order to achieve a better cinematic feel? Didn't think so. Nice try, Ubisoft, but, frankly, we're not the idiots you think we are.  Just be honest and say that there are some ambitious targets you have with huge city life, crowd size, and architecture, and that 30fps allows you to hit those marks. Not only do they barely meet the advertised 30fps, but at the time of this writing, they admit there is no solid ETA on when it will be fixed.

Titanfall had massive hype behind it, but ultimately asked for $60 in exchange for a handful of multiplayer modes with little variety beyond the tired and traditional. Is it fun, though? Sure, it is! But so is Pac-man CE and that only cost me $10. So, you're telling me that Titanfall is worth the extra $50 just because it's a three-dimensional first-person-shooter? Side by side, sure, something like Pac-man or Geometry Wars are completely different games versus Titanfall, no doubt about it. But when the defense of the cost of the game rests on a strict argument of fun factor within an otherwise empty platform, you're reducing your own argument to a matter that does little, if anything, to justify the cost disparity between these types of games. What are you really getting for your money? In my original Alpha review of Titanfall I expressed a concern that while intensely fun for a few hours, I wondered how long that excitement would last. After its launch, Titanfall was hardly heard from ever again. In fact, I don't even remember the last time anyone had mentioned it to me.

"We are the members of the
Lollipop Guild. Take us to your
leader before we smash your face."
Let us not forget Bungie's epically overpromised Destiny being an empty shell of itself. Some people criticized me for showing concern regarding the seemingly purposeless design of the missions, maps, and enemy types during the Alpha, with almost nothing changed for the Beta. I was told, "How do you know that that's all there is going to be? It will surely be more fleshed out for the launch version. This is Bungie, remember!" Well, I didn't know for sure, but that's not a reason to withhold concern from Bungie regarding the quality of the ultimate package. Turns out, I was right and more people agreed with me than disagreed, surprisingly. It seems pretty obvious now to fans and the industry in general, that people are upset about the money they dished out for it. I've never seen a game so obviously shaved of content in my life. Destiny literally does not have a beginning, middle, or end to the story, but only the parts that fit between them. It's as if they sifted the story through a strainer and all we got were the juices that seeped through the tiny holes, leaving the majority of the tale for DLC. Maybe they didn't have time to complete what they wished for prior to launch, and that blame can be laid upon Activision for rushing the release and attempting to sell you the complete story later. There's a difference between selling us, let's say, a decade of complete, individual Harry Potter films and stretching the first story in the franchise to fill out an entire decade's worth of paper-thin experiences, which is exactly what Activision seems like they want to do.

The defense I hear frequently is, "Well, I've put 120 hours into the game, so I got my money's worth!" I put a crap load of time into the game, too, but that also doesn't automatically equate to being a fulfilling, or complete experience. Bioshock, by contrast, offers a mere 12 hour single player campaign, is seven years old, had a fraction of the budget to work with, a shorter development time, and yet, few would disagree that it's a far more satisfying, and brilliantly realized game. Where was Bungie and Activision for the last seven years? Did they literally lock themselves in a cave and miss all of the standards set by otherwise much stronger titles like Borderlands, Diablo, and Bioshock? Did they not hear of the wringer Diablo III went through regarding its horrible loot system, and its subsequent revitalization? Did they forget how to write a story with dynamic missions and awesome set pieces like their very own Halo? Did they not play Borderlands 2 at all and see what makes a truly gratifying loot-and-shoot game? How did they miss Bioshock's standard for showing story through environment? What in the hell happened with Destiny? Telling, not showing, is a prime example of amateur writing and Bungie has systematically embraced that. I'd love to see a documentary on what exactly went on behind the curtains of this game's development and why a company like Bungie delivered such an undercooked product. I have a feeling we'll come to find Activision to be the key contributor to its immense shortcomings.

After all of this, you may notice I have yet to mention the Wii U. The answer is as simple as it is obvious: Nintendo releases games only when they are ready. Sure, in the first year of its life, the Wii U had struggled to remain afloat, but with the release of Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros. U., to name only a couple, the console is seeing a big turn-around with many jaded Xbox One and PS4 customers turning to Nintendo for salvation. The library currently holds some of the best exclusive titles on any console with more major releases in development or on their way very soon.

The Playstation 4, by contrast, still lacks a strong exclusive library while the Xbox One has its Master Chief Collection, Sunset Overdrive, Killer Instinct, and Forza, which is actually a functional video game unlike its PS4 exclusive counterpart, Driveclub. This flagship racer, delayed several months after launch not only is rife with networking issues, but the promised PS+ version is still nowhere to be seen. In just the last year, Wii U has seen Bayonetta 1 and 2 in the same package, Shovel Knight, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Smash Bros. U, and Mario Kart 8. Dude, what?! Hey, Nintendo, so nice of you to join us!

While I stand by my decision to wait on both the Xbox One and Wii U to see how they improve over time, I'm thoroughly let down by Sony over this last year. Yes, I'm very happy I own the console, and have squeezed it dry over the last year as much as I could, but it doesn't change the fact that it just can't match its competition in terms of improvement and exclusive blockbuster titles. Bringing on Phil Spencer as the head of Xbox is one of the best decisions Microsoft has made. The Xbox One wasn't in great shape when it first released, but has remained steadfast evolving the consoles features, and tweaked to its user's benefit. Sony, on the other hand, has seen PSN go down once a month with a paltry offering of fixes and updates which have amounted to very little that the customers have actually been asking for and even less in the social gaming arena Sony promised since the start. The only promise Sony has kept, which was one of the biggest deciding factors for my purchase is their unrivaled indie support. Warframe, for me, was at the time a system seller. While PS4 hasn't seen a great variety of big exclusive titles like the Wii U or Xbox One has, Warframe was that game I swore by and still do. In fact, indie dev, Digital Extremes, might be the only developer I can't say much bad about this past year for their unstoppable dedication to bettering their game. Every time I launch the game, or hear about a new massive update, I have to remind myself that the game is totally free-to-play. They haven't asked for a single dollar from me while a dozen other half-baked or entirely broken games have become sixty dollar miniature Frisbees that can't even scratch the surface of what Warframe offers. Now available on the Xbox One, I'm left with even less exclusive titles to brag about. Infamous Second Son was an all too short, though awesomely fun, stunner of a game. Killzone: Shadowfall, though painfully gorgeous, and, in my opinion, the best looking game of the generation so far, failed to live up to expectations, ultimately turning out to be a paint-by-numbers first-person shooter. The PS4 really doesn't have much going for it for games right now outside of indie titles, which a lot of gamers including myself are getting really sick of hearing about when the AAA titles are still lacking. If we had ten indie games for every stellar AAA, then I wouldn't be flapping my gums about it, but we don't.

Now, I'm not one of those guys who's been asking for AAA titles to drop on PS+. I'm a huge fan of what we've gotten for our PS+ member ship so far, but I'm not fine with Sony touting the PS4 as "4 the Players" while also coming up short on exclusive AAAs in the first place. A year in was when I was expecting larger titles to hit PS+ anyway, but seriously, Sony, if you're "4 the Players" where's the communication with the f--king players at, huh?!

Sony finally did give us an update to be hyped for in the form of Update 2.0, but they couldn't even get that right. Evolve launched an Alpha build which ran mostly pretty well for Xbox One players, but coincided with the launch of PS4's 2.0 update, which not only rendered the game 100% unplayable for thousands of fans, but also bricked systems and forced most other players to dangerously pull the power cord from their console just to turn the damn thing off. Even if this update didn't crush the launch of one of the most anticipated Alpha demos, the update itself is too little too late, offering very little that fans have been asking for since the very first day it launched more than an entire year ago. What is taking so long and where is the communication at, Sony? The only thing I got out of 2.0 was a game I was excited to try get snuffed out, a whopping five dynamic backgrounds, most of which are essentially slideshows, some admittedly cool Share features, and being able to play music off of a USB drive. Whoo! How super! Finally, I don't have to scroll across a game library 10 actual feet long before I get to the game I want to play, but I still can't remove Sony's proprietary music and video apps from the main page, I can't create my own folders, and my game library is more like a purchase history loaded with crap I deleted for a reason.

Yes, the PS4 has sold an astronomical load more consoles than the Wii U and Xbox One, thanks mostly to Microsoft's blunders at launch, but that hasn't stopped the latter giants from taking a major piece of the pie recently, especially with Xbox One's newly limited price cut. The Wii U is without question the winner of this past year, delivering several big critically and fan acclaimed games on a solid, reliable console, with Xbox One coming in at a close second place, and PS4 at a distant third. I never thought I would have typed that previous sentence, but here I am and I did just that.

"Jump around. Jump around.
Jump up. Jump up and get down."
These kinds of issues aren't new to the industry. We all know that, but it's been a sickening, and frequent trend in the past year to launch virtually unfinished games to fans and consumers at full price. We need to start asking ourselves, what really makes a game worth my money? For many people, $60 is an entire day of working a dead-end job we don't enjoy. When we finally get home and want to kick back and relax, is this prettier, sixty dollar graphics showcase giving me the same level of enjoyment that an $8 indie title would? Am I just paying extra for more polygons, particle effects, voice acting, a symphonic score, and dynamic lighting or am I truly paying for a more rewarding, enthralling experience? When you really break it down, that's all it boils down to is if it's fun to play. Destiny, for example, has exceptional core shooting mechanics and a social element—a hindered, and sparse social element, but it's there. You couldn't tell me you were entranced by its story, great mission design, or robust, dynamic PvP, because it has none of these things. Again, when we truly break it down, that $60 is essentially going toward shooting stuff with friends. Is it really worth it? And why couldn't you do that in any other better game?

This year has seen a complete flip in every direction from each company with the accompanying "next-gen" game developers failing left and right at launching titles whose quality is questionable at best. We need to spend our money more wisely and quit buying on faith. We need to tell developers and manufacturers what kind of quality we expect in a language they understand. While I still believe I made the best decision for my wallet and my entertainment last November, I think it's time for my money to go to the company that seems to care the most lately. Playstation, I'll always love you, and I mean only the best when I criticize you, but there's someone else. Nintendo, it's going to be good to have you back. And Xbox One, here's lookin' at you.

-J.G. Barnes