Ever since all this fuss about “next generation” started a couple of years ago, I’ve been pretty vocal about my ambivalence towards the whole ordeal. I don’t think that innovation in graphics is nearly as compelling as innovation in game design, and the games that are available for the next gen systems don’t seem like they are pushing the innovation envelope any more than the last generation (Wii excluded). In fact, the added pressure of making everything look all nice and next-genny seems like a very bad thing to me, as it increases the cost of game development and thereby decreases the chances that developers will attempt risky new designs. I also think that the price point for the Xbox360 and PS3 are pretty outrageous, especially since so many of the games seem like the same-old same-old with shininess and bloom effects applied.
So it’s hard not to sound a little hypocritical when I tell people that I bought an Xbox360 last weekend. I know what you are thinking, but the purchase had nothing to do with Halo 3. I’ve not played any of the Halo games yet, and when I start I’ll be playing them in order. No, I didn’t buy a 360 to play any particular game (though if I had to chose one, I’d label Stuntman 2 as the most likely candidate). I didn’t buy it for the updated graphics either, though wanting something to drive the HD TV I bought earlier this summer was probably a factor.
I still think that the 360 and PS3 are too expensive. And I still have yet to see a game that really takes advantage of that power to achieve something that would have been impossible in the previous generation (though Bioshock might be that game). I stand by my statement that rising costs in game development caused by the need to make better looking and more complex games will, at least in the short term, drive innovation down overall.
The part that I missed, the feature that ultimately sold me on the machine when I saw it in action at a friend’s house, is Xbox Live. I thought Live was simply a service for playing first person shooter games against prepubescent kids with anger management issues and a touch of Tourette syndrome, and while that assessment isn’t inaccurate, it doesn’t describe the breadth of features that the service provides. The ability to download game demos and get games off of Xbox Live Arcade in particular are killer features for me. I like to sample a wide range of games, and I’ve bought a lot of games that I’m not all that interested in just so that I can see how they work. Being able to download demos of commercial games before purchasing them is pretty great, and the Xbox Live Arcade seems to be full of cheap, innovative, fun games. Finally, being able to stream video from my Mac to the TV via the Xbox is all kinds of awesome.
And there are enough Xbox360 games out now that I should have plenty to throw at the console. The Darkness, Dead Rising, Stuntman 2, and Bioshock are all on my list of things to buy. Not to mention the few original Xbox games I missed out on last gen (basically Ninja Gaiden, Call of Cthulhu, and Halo).
So I’m pretty happy with the purchase, despite my rather anti-next gen stance. Next gen may represent a challenge for game developers, but the 360 itself seems pretty slick.