Along with a look back on 2016’s highlights
This past year in video gaming has been filled with innovation, exciting new hardware, and a transition to a promising future for the industry. With games such as Overwatch re-imagining how we play first-person shooters, and the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S introducing iterative upgrades in the console business, the way we play will certainly be changing in the months and years to come. Let us take a look back on 2016, and with that a look ahead at what’s to come next year.
First and foremost, Microsoft made a bold and courageous move to announce Project Scorpio, an Xbox console that will have the power of a high-end gaming computer yet with the convenience of home-console gaming. This announcement was partnered with the reveal of the Xbox One S which improved on the less-than-stellar sales of the original Xbox One. Sony also showcased a new version of their PlayStation home console as well as revealed and released an upgraded Pro version that has computing power resting between the original PlayStation 4 and the promise of Project Scorpio. Moving ahead in 2017, it will be interesting to see if Sony continues to provide upgrades to their home console to rival Project Scorpio’s insane capabilities and, in addition to that, if Microsoft can maintain a consumer friendly price for this new, beastly machine.
If Microsoft can manage to keep the price of Scorpio relatively competitive while also keeping the appeal of the One S pleasing to a growing fan base, Sony may have a run for their money. Toward the end of this year, Xbox has been outselling PlayStation for four consecutive months. While this may be because everyone interested in the home console market already owns a PlayStation and is now ready to embrace another console, it may be a troubling sign for Sony.
While Microsoft has embraced forward thinking game design, backwards compatibility, PC-connectivity and more exciting features, PlayStation continues to push their original vision for this generation, including PlayStation Now and a reliance on third-party exclusive content, such as expansion maps of “Destiny” coming first to PlayStation. Either Sony will either need to develop a fresh new hook to their platform, or hope that their upcoming exclusives will pull in new fans.
Speaking of PlayStation exclusives, this past year featured the masterpiece entry “Uncharted 4,” but beyond that was relatively barren. “Uncharted 4” itself was delayed out of Fall 2015, and many Fall 2016 titles were delayed to 2017. Instead, this week we’ll receive “The Last Guardian,” a game in development for literally ten years, and have to wait for “Horizon: Zero Dawn,” “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy,” “The Last of Us: Part II,” and “Death Stranding” until next year or even later.
Thankfully, the rise of the independent developers, indies, will provide endless content on a weekly basis. The tools to create games are more accessible than ever, and crowd-funding allows for small projects to quickly gain the momentum to go from concept to customers. Games such as “Yooka-Laylee,” from the original creators of “Banjo-Kazooie,” and “Shovel Knight” are inbound to make an appearance in 2017.
Developers also have the exhilarating new potential that comes with virtual reality. This past year we saw the launch of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. I have had the privilege to play with all three of these phenomenal new pieces of tech, and they are definitely a bright new future for gaming and entertainment as a whole. Star Wars, Resident Evil, and even Bethesda Studios with “Fallout 4” all have support ready to go on these headsets – so keep an eye on that and start saving your money. Fortunately, if you own a PlayStation your barrier to entry is already extremely easy. However, if you’re looking at the former virtual reality headsets you must be prepared to take a hefty hit to your wallet. The setups for those experiences runs in the thousands of dollars.
Another piece of hardware to keep your eyes on is the upcoming Nintendo Switch in March. As mentioned in the November issue of the Northerner, the Switch will provide a hybrid gaming experience of home console play that can be taken on the go. This past week as The Game Awards Nintendo premiered a new trailer for “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” as as well as a let’s play of the game. It appears as though the game will feature many callbacks to “The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.” Nintendo has yet to reveal a release date for “Breath of the Wild,” which seems to hint that it may not be released alongside the Switch in March. We’ll know more on January 12th, 2017 when Nintendo plans to present more details on the Switch.
Mobile gaming continues to be a juggernaut in the video game industry, and hopefully the Switch can tap into that. Most casual gamers are not compelled to invest a few hundred dollars in a mobile gaming device when they can play excellent video games on their phones. In December, Nintendo will release “Super Mario Run” on iPhones and later on Androids phones in 2017. It is their hope that Mario will then pull people towards their home market. Meanwhile, Sony has all but completely abandoned the PlayStation Vita. At the PlayStation Experience this week Sony made several announcements for the dying handheld, but each announcement was coupled with the mention that the games will also be coming to the PlayStation 4, eliminating the exclusivity for the Vita.
Overall, it’s a great time to be a gamer. The movie industry in embracing the medium with “Ratchet and Clank” and “Warcraft” getting movies this past year, and “Assassin’s Creed” premiering soon. Naughty Dog has also shared that an “Uncharted” movie now has a director. Beyond that, Telltale Games continues to redefine storytelling in video games with a partnership with Lionsgate opening the door for bigger and great licensed deals. Telltale will be releasing episode one of the third season of “Telltale’s The Walking Dead” this December, along with the finale of “Telltale’s Batman” and next year they will have a new “Guardians of the Galaxy” series.
Gaming has the remarkable ability to impact us on levels no other form of entertainment can. Through interactive storytelling, hero building, and dynamic worlds we are able to completely immerse ourselves in narratives that would otherwise be impossible to experience. The video game “That Dragon, Cancer” proved this and was rightfully awarded for it at The Game Awards, and Hideo Kojima’s new studio will surprise and innovate in the years to come. Keep on playing, and get ready for another awesome year in gaming.