The early years of a console generation often see developers trying a little too hard to justify their work’s existence on the new platform instead of the old one. We’ve suffered through countless screen-obscuring particle showers, puzzled at crowds of thousands of onscreen NPCs conspiring to push an open-world game’s framerate through the floor, and rolled our eyes at games that are impossibly beautiful, but staggeringly boring. On this month’s evidence, that is, at last, about to change. Finally, with the current generation almost two years old, modern hardware is being exploited in ways designed to serve the end user, not just the marketing department.
Crackdown 3, for instance, makes good on Microsoft’s cloud computing promises, using remote servers to power a level of environmental destruction that Xbox One simply couldn’t manage otherwise – and in the process has the potential to birth a new spin on multiplayer combat. Stellaris developer Paradox is doing something similar with procedural generation, taking a technique beloved by devs and sometimes eyed with suspicion by players and using it in a way that serves both. By wedding it to the strategy genre in which Paradox so excels, the unpredictable work of the procedural algorithm can enliven a set of deep, considered systems. Not everything need be so grand, of course. Planet
Coaster uses contemporary processing grunt for improved animation, letting visitors to your virtual theme park show you what they think of it – a job usually handed over to a busy UI. And there are still plenty of traditional generational leaps being made. Fallout 4 and Mafia III are simply bigger and prettier than their previous outings, and that will probably be more than enough to get them into our disc trays and to the top of the charts. But finally these powerful processors are being used for more than fancy marketing materials, giving us games, not just graphics, that wouldn’t have been possible before now.