We all came into this new console generation expecting big things. Grand ideas of games crossing the uncanny valley swirled throughout our minds; gamers wanted bigger explosions, better facial capture techniques and more lifelike textures. While we have gotten some of these insane graphical upgrades through inFAMOUS Second Son, Ryse: Son of Rome, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, and Killzone Shadow Fall, the Mario 64-esque mind-blowing leap simply has not appeared. Sure, moments will drop our jaws here and there (I for one, was floored by the Vekta City flyover in the aforementioned Killzone: Shadow Fall), but the gaming community as a whole is somewhat underwhelmed by the tiny graphical jumps we have seen in the vast majority of cross-generational titles.
Does that mean that we are starved of incredible experiences on our shiny new PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones? Hell no.
Two of the best games I have played in the last few years can be found on “next-generation” consoles. They are not the most beautiful visual spectacles of all time, nor are they close to being realistic in any way. Both demonstrate the most important quality of a good video game: phenomenal, gripping gameplay. I would insert another self-answered question here for dramatic effect, but we both know that the bold statement I used for the title gave away the two games I am talking about:
The PlayStation 4’s best game, Resogun, and the Xbox One’s best game, Super Time Force.
“Woah, woah, woah, hold on there opinionated journalist! You’re saying that these two indie shooters are the best that my sparkling new black box can offer?” Yes hypothetical Doubting Douglas, that is exactly what I am insinuating. However, these two titles do not win by default; instead, Resogun and Super Time Force excel by showing us that all the other nonsense we constantly debate about means nothing if a game’s core mechanics are not gripping.
Resogun is score-chasing at its finest, with a concept that takes Defender to the next level. The simple inclusion of a cylindrical arena allows classic shoot-’em-up mechanics to evolve. It is nearly impossible to keep track of everything, as nearly the entire field of play is visible. The three main tasks of Resogun keep the player’s mind constantly spinning: save humans, maintain your multiplier to get a higher score, and stay alive. For a game so incredibly simple, it is shocking how much is happening at any given time. Add intuitive twin-stick controls, numerous difficulties, three very different ships, and a variety of enemy types, and you have a bona fide winner.
Super Time Force, which I recently gave a 5 out of 5, is the insanely difficult, stupidly hilarious 2D game I have been seeking for some time. It features ridiculous characters like Squirty Harry, a revolver-wielding piece of excrement and Jef Leppard, my favorite vest-wearing video game character of all time (hmm…interesting article idea, Matt). Puzzle-platformers can often feel choppy, rarely mixing platforming and puzzling perfectly. One moment I’m playing a puzzler, the next I am playing a Mario clone. Super Time Force takes a simple mechanic, rewinding time, and infuses it into every moment in the game. It turns a simple action-platformer into a game with an overarching meta-puzzle. Constantly requiring a delicate balance of speed and precision, Super Time Force always controls perfectly. There is never a framerate drop; input-lag simply does not exist. Oh, and how can we forget that it looks like Fez‘s crackhead cousin and is only topped by South Park: Stick of Truth in the 2014 “Video Game Humor Rankings.”
I could contrast every game on each system with Resogun and Super Time Force, but you would be asleep by the time I hit Putty Squad. My admittedly ambiguous argument is that these two games simply play better than everything else on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Something about each of them just feels right; I never have to worry about losing because of flawed design. I am on the record as saying this is my biggest gaming pet peeve, and I will likely say it again in the future. If your game plays spectacularly, everything else fades into the background. The story can be terrible, but if the gameplay is enthralling, it does not matter. Look at Super Mario Bros.: you have to jump on random mushroom people and flying turtle dudes in order to save a woefully overdressed blonde from an obese dinosaur with the world’s most over-aggressive bacne. Does this nonsense make this classic any worse? Of course not.
Indie studios are able to take greater development risks because of their lack of company investors. Coupled with their smaller budgets and small team sizes, indie games often feel like they have more love put into them. Housemarque and Capy didn’t need to worry about the thousands of investors that mega-publishers like EA and Activision constantly have to consider when approving their developers’ ideas. Resogun and Super Time Force exist because two groups of individuals vehemently wanted to create these games. Furthermore, Super Time Force evolved out of a small Friday passion project, eventually turning into a full-scale release. These games are inherently risky, drastically differentiating from their AAA counterparts.
There is a reason why the zombies have followed World War II as the “video game trope du jour.” We, as consumers, eat that crap up (I am completely guilty of this, as The Last of Us is my favorite game of all time). If we weren’t buying these games, major studios would not be making them. Because of the aforementioned investor-factor, AAA titles are always designed with profitability in mind. Granted, there are some really damn spectacular AAA games, but rarely do they shock us with their inherent riskiness.
Resogun and Super Time Force cannot come close to the graphical pornography of inFAMOUS Second Son. Their structure is not as excitingly open as Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. They do not simulate battle like Battlefield 4, and they will only be touched a tiny fraction of the millions of consumers who bought Call of Duty: Ghosts. However, no two titles better demonstrate what “next-gen” truly means: accessing gripping gameplay experiences faster and easier than ever before.