Like every generation of gaming, the Xbox 360/PS3/Wii era saw the introduction of number of new, innovative gameplay mechanics. Some of these ideas still hold up well, but others probably should be driven out to the country and left by the side of the road as the eighth-generation of gaming gets into full swing.
Here are six trends that defined the last generation of gaming, but hopefully won’t dominate the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U…
Simply run at a structure and suddenly you’re scaling it like Spider-Man — it’s easy to see why people were exciting by free running when it was first introduced in Assassin’s Creed. It was okay if it felt kind of clunky, and that you’d often find yourself stuck or dropping off the side of a building to your doom. They’d fix that in later games!
Except they never really did. Six-and-a-half years after the release of Assassin’s Creed, I’ve yet to encounter a free-running system that truly feels like the free-flowing experience I was promised. Instead it’s always a start-and-stop thing — you get a good run going for a few seconds, but then you hit a figurative or literal brick wall, or accidentally leap off a roof into a cluster of enemies.
“But they just need more time to smooth out the kinks!” you say, “It’ll work some day!”
I’m not so sure. Frankly, I think free running may be fundementally broken. The idea, in theory, is that the system is supposed to feel liberating, but it’s anything but. You feel weighed down — like you’re glued to every surface. A traditional “push the A button to jump” approach actually feels much more liberating. Turns out covering every structure in your game in Velcro just isn’t that fun.
Much like free running, it’s easy to see why cover-based shooting initially wowed people. Up until Gears of War, the shooter hadn’t been a particularly deep genre. You ran around and tried to put more bullets into your enemies than they put into you, which was fun, but I don’t blame people for thinking maybe the genre was capable of something more.
Cover-based shooting gives the impression that your shooter has a greater level of depth and strategy to it, but in most cases it’s just an illusion. Most games that rely on cover-based feel like fancy, HD remakes of Duck Hunt. You sit in one place behind a wall and wait for the ducks/nazis to pop their heads out of the grass. Cover-based shooting can perhaps still live on as one tool in the shooter toolbox, but the era of “cover-based shooter” being an entire genre has to end.
RPG Elements in Everything
Back in 2009, Cliff Bleszinski (creator of the Gears of War franchise) predicted that the future of shooters would be RPGs, and he was right. It was, apparently, also the future of action-adventure, platformers, racing games and any number of other genres. For the past five-years or so the quickest, laziest way to give your game the illusion of depth was to throw some XP and leveling into the mix.
RPGs are one of my favorite genres, but I am sick and tired of having to navigate a skill tree in every second game I play. “It’s a shooter/platformer/fighting game, but it’s ALSO AN RPG” impresses precisely nobody anymore. If you want to make an RPG so badly, just make an RPG.
Super X-Ray Vision
Okay, so technically super x-ray vision was first introduced two generations ago in Metroid Prime, but it was this past generation that really glommed onto the mechanic in a big way. Assassin’s Creed, the Arkham series and countless other games have relied on some sort of visual filter that turns everything into a glowy wire-frame.
Super x-ray vision actually worked in Metroid Prime because those games only used it to find secrets and extras, but in games like Arkham Asylum it’s so essential you may as well leave it on the whole game, which might be fine except it’s visually confusing and eye-straining, so you end up having to switch back and forth constantly. Super x-ray vision is supposed to make you feel smart and perceptive, but at this point it mostly just makes my head hurt.
The On-rails Action Setpiece
This past generation was the first time video games were able to do graphics and effects that looked almost on par with Hollywood movies, so naturally developers wanted to fill their games with big blockbuster action setpieces. This gave rise to these sequences where all you do as a player is run forward and perhaps hit the occasional flashing button prompt while things explode, collapse and fly at you from every direction!
Games had never done anything like this before! The first Call of Duty or Uncharted you played blew your socks off! Eventually though most of us have come to realize that these setpieces, while stimulating on a base, lizard brain level, aren’t actually that fun to play. Particularly when you miss yet another quicktime event or stray from the predetermined path and have to play this explosive action sequence over for the 20th time. These setpieces are supposed to be the big payoff the gamer waits for, but all too often they’ve become the stumbling blocks you dread.
If you can’t make an action sequence work using the game’s base mechanics, don’t put it in the game or, worst-case scenario, just make it a quick cutscene.
Yeah, you knew this one was coming, didn’t you?
Unlike many cranky gamers I don’t hate motion controls, but they’re a dead end. Sure, you can try to make motion controls increasingly accurate, but most gamers can’t jump like Mario. Most people aren’t coordinated enough to dance or fight well.
The dream that motion controls will someday be so accurate you’ll be able to interact with game worlds like they’re the real world is false one, because most of us would trip over a rock and fall down the first pit we come to. The lowest level enemies would slaughter us. The Wii’s simple gesture controls are as fun as motion controls will ever be (there’s a reason Nintendo never bothered investing in a more advanced Kinect-like set-up). Simple motion controls can continue to be a basic, mostly forgotten feature (like rumble) but chasing better, more accurate motion controls with stuff like the Kinect 2.0 is a losing game.
So, those are my picks. Any gaming trends that popped up this past generation that you’d like to see go away?