Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Six Months In with the 9th Generation Consoles and....

When this sordid story of next gen console acquisition left off  I had secured a Playstation 5 a week before Christmas in an unorthodox move which involved driving 2.5 hours from Albuquerque to Farmington just because Best Buy only had one in stock there. Two weeks later a pre-order from Gamestop coughed up my Xbox Series X, miraculously surviving a journey via UPS to my doorstep. Meanwhile, I had secured not one but two Xbox Series S consoles (the budget machine) for the rest of the household, one for my wife and one for the living room (and ergo the kid). So yeah, by about January 5th I had one of each next generation console sitting in the house. So how has it been?

Short version is: satisfying to have them, but the actual games one expects to see from a new generation of systems is anemic, to say the least. For most owners, the advantage of these consoles has been about seeing how the newer machines improve existing older gen experiences. Days Gone and Horizon: Zero Dawn are better experiences on the PS5, for example. Gears of War 5 and the Halo franchise likewise show improved performance on the Xbox Series X/S. 

But....the new games? Well this week we are finally seeing some new stuff. Returnal for PS5 is out and I am quite enjoying it. Resident Evil 8: Village with the Big Scary Lady is about to release. But in terms of what a console generation's groundbreaking first few months are supposed to look like? It's pretty shallow. If Activision and Ubisoft hadn't dumped out their usual annual affairs (well, in Ubisoft's case if they hadn't delayed them a year) there would have been precious little to enjoy on the new generation. For PS5 we have...Demon's Souls (a remake, albeit a very nice one), Godfall (a game which I have thoroughly enjoyed but for which most had a mixed reception), and...um.....I'm sure there was something else....* And for xbox Series X/S we have Medium (well, if you discount the PC release) and....um....yeah I am sure there is something else, right? 

I'm discounting titles like Outriders (a frenetic co-op shooter with some identity issues), Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Watch Dogs Legion and Call of duty Black Ops: Cold War because while playing these titles (and a handful of others) on the new generation provides an enhanced experience, they are all still retroactively available. And let's not even talk about Cyberpunk 2077, which somehow managed to release without any forward compatibility for the new consoles (see endless other blogs and videos on that subject).

Let's not even mention Fortnite, which provided next gen consoles with exclusive amazing graphics such as: thick clouds and chug jug animations. Wooooo.

Amidst all of this has been a flood....a torrent, if you will, of weird cashgrab and indie titles, most of which can "technically" claim to be forward compatible but their graphical demands are sufficiently low that actually being able to tell they are taking advantage of the new systems is difficult or even impossible. Many of these are insanely cheap, disgusting cashgrabs (I have for the first time ever asked for my money back twice on Xbox purchases....and gotten it!) due to games which were essentially unplayable, in a state which at best suggested that the publishers or devs of said games have barely concealed contempt for their potential audience. Worse, these garbage titles, what was once called shovelware, are so bad it demonstrates that there's a critical failure in Microsoft's vetting process for what sort of titles they let on to their console. I haven't had a truly unpleasant purchasing experience on the PS5 yet, but that would be even worse if it happened since Sony's refund policy is cryptic and not at all consumer friendly.

Still, better I suppose than the Nintendo eShop on the Switch, which is tantamount at times to diving into the shallow end of the kiddie pool and hoping that there's more water than urine in it. Speaking of which, thanks of course to the pandemic the Switch is also suffering from a rather shallow (but wide) lineup of releases this year. Without Monster Hunter Rise (a game I am having a hard time seeing the appeal of) it would be a much less interesting year for most Switch owners. 

All the ranting aside, I'm glad I got the consoles when I did if only because without them I'd be delegated to the Other Camp, the much larger group of gamers who watch in dismay as dismal restocks trickle out only to be snapped up by scalpers again and again, where one can only wonder if those reviews about Returnal being either A: an amazing experience because it is a roguelike or B: an awful experience because it is a roguelike (let's not even worry about the $70 game debate for a moment) are all just imaginary hypotheticals to you, answered at best by watching streamers play through the game.

(By the way: I know the answer, and Returnal is awesome. I am not a fan of roguelikes, having found Dead cells fun but tedious after a while, and Hades charming but not worth the effort. Turns out if you make it a really good 3PS shooter/exploration game with a mix of Prometheus/Alien design in a roguelike package I will play it obsessively and when not playing it think about how I can't wait to play it. So there's my answer) 

Still, now that we have Returnal and RE: Village it looks like this console generation is at last going to get some stride. If only they could have had some of these titles on release! And even better, if only they could get these consoles on store shelves at non scalper prices! 

Thanks, 2021! You're not as ugly as your big brother 2020 but you try.


*Spider-Man Miles Morales, which my son played through three complete times in the first week we had the PS5, then was done with. I watched the entire game in action and could not see significant differences in the graphics from the first Spider-Man outside of some better framerates, so yeah.

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