Console Games Aren't Getting Better…

1st July 2005

…They're just getting prettier. Anyone with even a passing interest in games can’t have failed to notice the hype bandwagon starting to wind itself up for the next generation of new console hardware. All of the big Three (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) have now announced their new machines. It seems apt to take a look back and see what this generation of machines have done for us gamers. (I’m assuming we’re all gamers here…if not come back next month when I promise the Old Man of the Limb will be banging on about something non-game related. Honest!)

Now, I queued outside my local Game in the early hours of a freezing cold, typically English winter morning to put my name down for a lovely new Playstation 2. Having been an avid reader of the Official Playstation Magazine for many months I was filled with the promise of what this new uber-console would do for me; everything bar make the tea, or so they seemed to say. Talk of the ‘Emotion Engine’ taking us to a whole new level of gaming nirvana was rife. I can remember looking at screen shots of The Bouncer and having my jaw hit the floor. It was all gonna be so cool.

The reality, unfortunately, was somewhat different. As the first wave of PS2 sequels to classic PSone titles finally saw the light of day they sure looked nice. However, it turned out that the gameplay was a somewhat different matter. (Perhaps it’s telling that whilst the PS2's design is suitably dark and grown up the joypad is virtually identical. "Yes," it seems to say, "It's all gonna look lovely but you'll be interacting with me in exactly the same way as before".) Gran Turismo 3 was virtually identical to the previous game; Colin McRae 3 actually offered less gameplay; Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness was almost heartbreakingly poor; and the less said about the whole Driv3r debacle the better. All these games looked much nicer than the previous generations’ version but in all cases they either played the same or worse. It’s not just the PS2 that’s affected either. Nintendo’s big hitting franchises Mario and Zelda didn’t manage to topple Super Mario 64 or Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in terms of gameplay.

So a new age of uber-gaming nirvana is about to dawn. In between all the talk of Gigaflops and ‘Reality Synthesizers’ this year's E3 was home to previews of the launch line up for PS3 and Xbox 360. A lot of existing franchises were shown and it’s easy to get excited. Of course, at this stage all you can do is look at the screenshots so the games can only be judged on their looks. And my, don’t they look pretty? But are they actually gonna play any better? Will anybody use the power of these new consoles to give us a more in-depth playing experience? Will our brains get a workout or will our eyes continue to get all the fun? Will we get some Carol Vorderman kind of games that look the bomb but continue to engage us in an intellectual way, or will we be forever playing with Rachel Stevens: nice to look at but lacking any depth or talent (well, would you want to listen to one of her records?)