A new generation of consoles means an important choice, but it’s not between the PS4 and the XBox One. With seventy dollars you can pay a company to start learning how to program a new console, or you can buy enough brilliant old games to keep you playing until your beard is down to your knees. Even if you’re a woman.
Every new console provides undeniable advantages, but this is the first time those advantages have been for the previous console. The Xbox 360 was the most successful console in history, giving the greatest video game developers in the world eight years to craft some of the greatest games ever made. Meanwhile the XBone downloads daily software updates because its makers decided wanted your money before they were quite finished building it.
Everyone has already enjoyed their favorite Halos and Maddens, but the 360 is the console equivalent of the Library of Alexandria. And right now stores can’t shift them out of the way fast enough. You could give Capcom seventy dollars for ruining Dead Rising 3, or you could buy both good ones, and Saints Row IV – which is the concept of joy connected to a control pad, by the way — and all these games you might have missed.
Racing games can be grinding feats of technical mastery or arcade accelerators taped to the floor and exploding. Split/Second shares our amazement that so many titles took the first option. It’s a game where game mechanics and special effects are the same thing and your racing line has to take crashing jumbo jets into account.
Black Rock Studio invented the awesomest solution to the repetition of racing the same tracks over and over again. Most games inviting you to shave splinters of seconds off your time, and I’m not saying that’s boring, but they have to pay professionals millions of dollars to do it, and they get to do it with awesome real cars and free champagne. Split/Second stuffed the game with spectacular special effect “power plays” you can earn and trigger. The first time you detonate a suspension bridge you’ll be screaming in joy as you swerve between the ex-suspended pieces. The second you’ll learn how long it takes to drop. The third time you’ll flatten four enemy cars and take first place.
There are dozens of multi-million selling BattleDuty games, and every single one is a wimp. The multiplayer works because they bringing in fellow humans for you to kill, but when you’re stuck in single-player it’s $#!+-brown whack-a-moles. I call them hospital shooters: you advance down a long straight corridor, every time you go forward you see a few new injured people who couldn’t really move, and if you’re ever actually hurt you can just stop where you are and get better.
But the only way Space Marine uses “cover” is at the start of “-ed with the blood of your enemies.”
A fundamental change in gameplay mechanics – if you don’t remember when games used to have different mechanics, ask your parents – shifts your playstyle from Minesweeper* to murderglory. You heal by using execution moves which restore your health, so when you’re nearly dead your urge isn’t to hide, but to dive straight at enemies and take at least ALL of them with you. It’s a breath of fresh air in the field of combat, and that breath is being cut from your enemies’ lungs by a spinning chainsword.
*Minesweeper gameplay: you sit in one place clicking on different parts of the screen until all the enemies are gone.
There’s an entire generation who spent more time with platform games than their parents, and it can be hard to reconnect with those precious memories. We’re still talking about the platform games. Sure, you can still play Mario, but that’s not entirely safe because the Wii U has proved that Nintendo are willing to engage in lunatic self-harm to prevent anyone from playing their games. An alternative on a console you actually own is Rayman Origins.
Origins is all the heart and soul of an underappreciated hero from decades ago rebuilt with the latest in technology. He’s the RoboCop of platforming, except his reboot remembers everything great about the original. Jumping mastery and imaginative levels are now armed with art so gorgeous it should be looking out over a gallery, not has more fun watching you explode enemies with oversized fists. It’s also a fusion of both gaming eras: you can just coast forward, but every level is stuffed with secret bonuses and challenging pickups, so skill is still rewarded without scaring off more casual players. If you remember the A-button endorphins of a perfectly executed sequence of wall-jumps, you understand that the only reason to risk your life for a bonus coin is “because it’s there.”
You can get buy one of the most beautiful games ever made for less than a new pair of controller batteries. Mirror’s Edge is what happens when a large developer says “let’s make a new idea which isn’t gradually shooting people”, and it’s such a divine revelation the result looks like someone polished utopia for a visit by God.
It’s indie game originality with big budget accessibility, a game where you get to learn a new playstyle instead of just using the old ones with a slightly different background. Cult favorite, eternally deserving of a sequel, and just as good as it ever was because no-one’s done any thing with the parkour-platformer since. You might have preferred Gears of War 2 and Call of Duty: Worlds at War back when it was released, and that’s fine, but right now they’re obsolete and it’s only five bucks. You can get one of the most glorious visions of gaming for less than a sandwich.
And that’s just the tip of the 360 iceberg. For the cost of a new console, you could buy enough games to skip this generation entirely. Not this generation of consoles – this generation of humanity. And if you lock yourself into a computer reality of constant joy for a hundred years, they just might have made a real world that’s nearly as much fun by the time you get out.
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.
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