Sys­tem shock


The pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of con­soles will be re­mem­bered as a time when spec­ta­cle took pri­or­ity over sys­tems, and scripted ac­tion beats were prized over emer­gent play. There were ex­cep­tions, but most of the PS3/360 era’s big suc­cesses were the videogame equiv­a­lent of the sum­mer block­buster: big­bud­get, dumb-as-you-like fun. While the new gen­er­a­tion has, by and large, fol­lowed the same path, the first glim­mer­ings of a true gen­er­a­tional leap are there to see in this month’s crop of re­leases – even if the re­sults are mixed.

In Tran­sis­tor (p98), Su­per­giant builds on Bas­tion’s tem­plate with an in­tri­cate com­bat sys­tem that blends re­al­time and turn-based el­e­ments to re­mark­able ef­fect. The re­sult is a game that’s ev­ery bit as aes­thet­i­cally strik­ing as Bas­tion, but af­fords a much greater amount of agency in what is still, like its spir­i­tual pre­de­ces­sor, a fun­da­men­tally lin­ear game. At the other end of the spec­trum are Day­light (p109) and Sir, You Are Be­ing Hunted (p104), two games that, with pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated en­vi­ron­ments, del­e­gate level de­sign to al­go­rithms. It’s an ap­proach that lets small teams make much big­ger games, though big­ger isn’t al­ways bet­ter.

Try telling Ubisoft that. Watch Dogs (p94) is enor­mous, a game that weds the open-world de­sign ideas the pub­lisher has fi­nessed through As­sas­sin’s Creed and Far Cry to the city-based con­ven­tions of a Rock­star game. Yet strip away all the fat and you’ll find a sys­temic core that sets it apart from its all-too-ob­vi­ous in­flu­ences, af­ford­ing pre­cisely the agency and emer­gence promised by its eye-catch­ing an­nounce­ment at E3 2012. Watch Dogs is at its best when it is just be­ing

Watch Dogs, rather than try­ing to be GTA. The bal­ance will no doubt be tuned in the se­quel, but its morass of to-and-fro busy­work and point­less minigames sug­gests that its de­vel­op­ers aren’t ready to let go of the past just yet.

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