Next-Gen PS4 PlayStation 4

DriveClub, one of Sony’s big exclusive PlayStation 4 games, launched this week to a largely lukewarm reception. Evolution Studios’ hotly anticipated racing title had been paraded as one of the first must-have next-gen releases, only for a string of middling reviews to siphon any fuel out of its tank. The critical response, as a whole, has ultimately been mixed, with critics divided over the Runcorn-based developer’s intentions. The one thing that it’s not, however – whichever side of the fence that you occupy – is essential. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Indeed, it’s not just the Japanese giant’s first major Christmas game that’s pulled up short. Earlier in the year, Watch Dogs, a title that was supposed to revolutionise the sandbox genre as we know it, disappointed due to its lack of identity, while Destiny, the game that was intended to kickstart the holiday season, has frustrated even its most ardent admirers due to some generally dire design misjudgements. All of these games, like DriveClub, are decent – but they are not the watershed, fist-pumping affairs that were promised. So, what’s going on?

The Last of Us

Expectations change

In a world without Borderlands and Phantasy Star Online, the next big thing from Bungie would have been a groundbreaking game. As it turns out, Destiny feels more like a flimsy fusion of these titles, rather than its own thing. The problem is that, while its gunplay is top-tier, it has neither the content nor the narrative to support it, and so it’s fallen short of where Activision’s exorbitant marketing push promised to put it. A similar conclusion can be drawn from DriveClub, a game which plays brilliantly on the track, but looks practically threadbare compared to its open world competitors.

The reality is that expectations change, and developers must push themselves at every hairpin bend to ensure that they stay ahead of the pack. Unfortunately, this becomes a greater challenge during the first year of a new generation. While companies can count on locked specifications at this point, tools are still not at the mature state that outfits previously working on the PlayStation 3 became accustomed to, and that creates its own set of difficulties separate from the ones at a core game design level.

It’s no surprise, then, that the very best titles typically come towards the tail-end of a generation. Subtract the PlayStation 2’s unparalleled first year fall lineup from the equation, and this is a rule that almost always rings true. It’s particularly pronounced in this instance, because last year played host to BioShock Infinite, Gran Turismo 6, and, of course, The Last of Us. For the average consumer, the gulf in quality between the aforementioned products and this year’s offering is stark – but none of the above would have been possible in the PlayStation 3’s opening months.

Heavenly Sword

Rose-tinted glasses

And while we suppose that it shouldn’t matter, that point is very much worth keeping in mind. During its first year, Sony was showering marketing money on PS3 exclusives like, er, Heavenly Sword and Lair, two titles that may have gone on to attain some kind of cult value, but were not especially well received at the time. The manufacturer’s lineup may have been broader back then, with Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune also among its offering – but even the latter didn’t show signs of blockbuster potential until the E3 demonstration of its sequel.

Another fascinating franchise, Assassin’s Creed, was hitting the headlines in the hazy days of 2007 – and it, too, a little like Watch Dogs, failed to attain universal critical acclaim. Subsequently, the studio stepped back, learned plenty of hard lessons, and released Assassin’s Creed II in 2009, a title which transformed the historical series into a mega brand, and kickstarted a trend of annual entries that remains unbroken until this very day. And it was around that time, by the way, that Naughty Dog deployed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, arguably one of the greatest PS3 games ever made.

The point is that these occurrences are not too dissimilar to those taking place right now with the PS4 – in fact, they’re almost identical. And, while not everyone will agree, it could certainly be argued that the largest difference in this instance is that the games are better this time around: Watch Dogs is a more fulfilling first attempt than Assassin’s Creed, while Destiny’s certainly a better title than, say, TimeShift. The only disappointment is that there’s still not been a Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare moment, but with the holiday still not over, there’s no reason why that can’t come yet.

Tomb Raider

Publisher preparation

We’ll never know the kind of conversations that went on at major firms such as EA, Ubisoft, and Activision ahead of this generation, but we get the distinct impression that publishers weren’t properly prepared. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but prior to the PS4 setting fire to several sales records, many in the media were questioning whether consoles even had a future at all. With smartphones and tablets booming around the world, we have to imagine that at least some of that scepticism was shared in boardrooms at many of the major game makers across the globe.

And you can see the consequences of that in the current next-gen lineup: re-releases – a quick an easy method for publishers to pad out their lineup – have ruled the roost, while an emphasis on cross-gen titles have allowed firms to mitigate any risks should the new consoles not take off. EA’s performance so far is particularly telling; while the company has had to contend with a management change, its PS4 output looks distinctly sparse when you subtract its annual sports entries. Worse still, the likes of Star Wars: Battlefront and Mass Effect 4 still seem years away.

This is something that will change in time, though. The fact that the PS4 and Xbox One have both got off to strong starts will give reason for the publishers to re-invest, but you’re going to have to wait a little while to see the fruits of that financial injection. And all of these elements combined mean that, while the uptake of new hardware has been faster than ever before, it’s going to be the second wind – much like the one that the PS3 caught in late 2009 – that will really signal the start of this generation in earnest. No, it’s not ideal – but it’s also not necessarily new.

Are you disappointed with the start of this generation, or have you been enjoying your new console regardless of the lack of real must-have games? Do you agree with our thoughts on the issue, or do you think that the above points are way off base? Mumble your grumbles in the comments section below.

Has the PS4’s first year been what you expected? (125 votes)

  1. It’s been better than I expected10%
  2. It’s been about what I expected50%
  3. It’s been worse than I expected41%

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