Aaaaand it’s here. Do you feel it? We’re in the next generation. Or the current generation now, I guess. Today saw the retail release of the Xbox One for most of the world, a week after the release of the PlayStation 4 and a year after the release of the Wii U. Over the past seven or so days, though, a theme has emerged in these launch titles.
There’s a sneaking suspicion that starts to bubble up while you watch trailers and hands-off demos, but years of training yourself to not trust marketing shenanigans has ingrained a deep sense of cynicism with such footage. Remember when the term “bullshot” was all the rage? It taught consumers a valuable lesson that journalists have to deal with on a daily basis.
Then you play the games and there is confirmation. Why is there so much trash everywhere? Did someone turn on a fan? Everyone’s hair is flowing like a god damn L’Oreal commercial directed by Fabio. It feels a bit childish. It feels disingenuous. It feels like they’re trying too hard.
That’s probably because they are trying just a smidge too much. If you look at Killzone: Shadow Fall, it’s easy to see a beautiful game, even more than its stunning predecessor. The colors are varied and vibrant, skewed to a level of alien saturation that feels both inviting and uneasy. But then it spends the first 20 minutes cramming your camera into the face of dude after dude.
We get it, okay, you have more memory. Check out this killer textures! Aliasing? What aliasing! And look into this man’s eyes. Doesn’t it remind you of the first time you heard Jeff Buckley sing “Hallelujah“? (Maybe Leonard Cohen if you’re older.) Oh wait, now look at this dude’s eyes. KEEP LOOKING AT ALL OF THESE IMMACULATELY RENDERED EYEBALLS.
Then there’s the issue of trash. Not to say any of these launch games are garbage, but there sure is a lot of debris floating around in them. Shadow Fall has it bad, as evidenced in the opening scene with the inciting explosion, so that’s somewhat justified. Battlefield 4 has birds out the wazoo, but we’ll allow it since they’re at least outside when they’re flying.
Need for Speed: Rivals has leaves blowing across every single street, but at least there are trees. No wait, those are evergreen. The leaves don’t even match the trees. Okay, this is getting out of hand. Now these developers are really just showing off.
But we can’t really blame them. They’ve had to deal with the limitations of devices hamstrung by technology eight years old at this point while developing for the PC has been a rapidly growing and educational experience. Now they are off the chain, let loose to put in as many dynamic lights and particle effects as their hearts desire.
There are thousands of light-generating and light-affecting particles in the air, something you wouldn’t have seen in the last generation. They are all independent actors in a physics-bound representation of the world, not statically animated sprites pouring out of a point generator. And reflections? Oh, don’t get them started.
It’s hard to blame them wanting to show off all these new toys that they’ve been teased since high end PC hardware hit commodity prices, justifying the time and money they spent on making these graphical fantasies a reality. And these games are beautiful. Battlefield 4 and Shadow Fall look just stellar.
But it doesn’t stop it all from feeling like a kid running back and forth from his room and the living room to show you his latest toy. This one has karate chop action and this one has an attachable cannon arm and this one got a law degree from Harvard despite a rough upbringing. And we notice. As a consumer, it’s hard to ignore something so obvious.
That is, to a degree, the purpose of launch games, though. All those floating rubber ducks on the PlayStation 3? Showing off. The insanely fluttering hair of every single god damn character in Ryse: Son of Rome? Flaunting it. That doesn’t make it any less tiring, though. American photographer Alfred Stieglitz said, “There is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” I guess that one didn’t take.