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.