With the debut of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One alongside the year-old Wii U in 2013, the next generation looked to be staring us gamers right in the face. It was set to be a revitalization of our stagnant perceptions of the seventh generation of gaming, a rebirth for games and consoles alike. Was it? Eh…not really. The eighth generation launch suffered from the expected post-launch blues immediately, with 2014 being marked as next-gen’s true debut. PS4 was getting Infamous: Second Son, Xbox One was getting Titanfall, and the Wii U would finally get Mario Kart 8. As promised, we got these games and they were great. But in the afterglow, many were blinded by the steadily shrinking 2014 launch schedule. With so many games being pushed to 2015, this year remains a shell of its promised self. But can E3 2014 be the bountiful oasis that this next-gen dry period needs?
The Playstation 4 has been running riot in the gaming market, confidently earning its place in millions of gamers’ homes. Its emphasis on sharing gameplay online and a solid repertoire of big and small games on PSN pushed the console into a triumphant success. But despite some amazing indie support, the PS4’s 2014 schedule is dwindling, at least on the exclusive side. The highly anticipated The Order: 1886 got pushed to early 2015 with no other enormous exclusives set for the 2014 year. Sure, Driveclub is set to release, but that isn’t likely to gather an enormous audience outside of its core, racing game fan demographic. With indie games being routinely shared with PC gamers, the Playstation 4 has met a rather miserable rut after the awesome Infamous: Second Son. Fortunately, third-party support (both indie and not) is keeping the PS4 going. E3 looks to be Sony’s chance to amp up the PS4’s bleak 2014 lineup. Sony has been known to surprise fans with fresh IP’s and exclusive content during their press conferences, but unless this content is very far into development, the appeal isn’t likely to subsist long enough for 2014 to be an exclusive-heavy year for Sony.
The Xbox One has been in a more negative position, falling behind the PS4 in sales. Microsoft’s lineup has also stayed the course on third-party games, with most exclusive games like Halo 5: Guardians being set for 2015. The Xbox One has also followed the rather negative view of its predecessor, the Xbox 360, with very limited exclusive count. Aside from Halo and Gears of War, the 360’s exclusive library became very small once its successor was announced, with most exclusives like Bioshock and Braid being ported to PS3 and PC later on. However, the Kinect-less Xbox One model cut a chunk off the system’s heavy price, matching the PS4’s price point. It was smart for Microsoft to do this before E3 as opposed to during; with the air cleared, the accessible price will get people more excited for the system and its offerings since it’s not at such a high, impenetrable-looking price. Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive remains the biggest release of the second half of 2014 for the Xbox One. With stunning art design and an action-based gameplay structure, it’s a captivating antithesis to the “dudebro” stereotype for the system. Sadly, the Xbox line’s emphasis on third-party games leaves 2014 in a tough spot for exclusives. Similar to Sony, E3 means plenty of potential for surprises, but it would require most of the games to be far into development to be set for a 2014 release, and with indie studios shying away from Xbox due to the company’s parity clause, 2014 doesn’t look too interesting for Microsoft.
Nintendo’s E3 2014 presence might not have a major press conference, but right now, their 2014 is looking the brightest of the three. Though the console has fallen on rough times since launch, the reinvigoration that is Mario Kart 8 has given gamers new eyes for the system. Exclusives remain Nintendo’s biggest strength; no other company can touch Mario, Zelda, Metroid or any other of the company’s franchises. Also, most of the hyped exclusives for Wii U have been announced already, so their 2014 launch dates look much more promising. Bayonetta 2 from Platinum Games and X from Monolith Soft still have 2014 release windows, and though they are subject to change, there’s excitement in the air for those games. Hyrule Warriors continues to shed off fan skepticism earned at its announcement, while Super Smash Bros. U leads the pack as the Wii U’s flagship fighter and the most anticipated Wii U game for 2014. However, the third party support Nintendo has struggled to obtain means 2014 isn’t likely to have too many releases aside from the exclusives. Sure, they’re big and have surprisingly stable-looking launch windows, but the exclusives only mark surprise explosions of interest instead of a steady, fiery ground. All in all, though, Nintendo has a promising 2014, with many big games set for release and other titles like Yarn Yoshi, Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, and the rumored Retro Studios project keeping the further anticipation alive for next year.
The exclusives battle remains the deciding element for the consoles’ appeal in 2014. Multi-platform games, while certainly not incompatible with great quality, are not things you’d buy one system over another to play. While Nintendo appears to have that base covered for the year, Sony and Microsoft will need some striking new media to show fans that their systems have exciting content only available on their respective systems. Even more so, as stated earlier, announcing new games at June’s E3 leaves a very small window of development to make the holiday shopping season. Unless the games have been in the works since the consoles’ launches, they aren’t likely to make 2014. With games like Quantum Break on Xbox One still without a set release window, even after being announced during the console’s reveal, it doesn’t provide confidence that the 2014 season will be populated with too many console-selling exclusives, E3 or not. Even with Infamous: Second Son, Titanfall and Mario Kart 8 showing some great quality for 2014 thus far, leaving those games with the legwork to sell consoles at holiday is ill-advised.
But at the same time, removing the developers out of the picture is also ill-advised. What Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo show directly might be the main attraction, but with the rise of independent publishers, we’re starting to see some great indie games on digital download services. Nintendo netted both the wildly addictive Pushmo franchise for Wii U with Pushmo World, along with the Wii U exclusive sequel to Stealth Inc., Stealth Inc. 2, both scheduled for release in 2014 as eShop exclusives. Sony has championed their PSN indie offerings in the past, with the PS4 indie exclusives like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, N++, and timed console exclusivity of Jonathan Blow’s The Witness. Sadly, Microsoft’s poor relationship with indie studios has made their indie exclusive schedule non-existent, with no indie exclusives scheduled for 2014 and only timed exclusivity of Below for the near future. It’s a shame, because with independent developers now proving their importance in today’s market on a regular basis, getting some of their talent on board could fill the gaps that AAA exclusives leave behind.
But will this be enough? 2014’s first half provided us with some incredible games from all three consoles, but the long haul seems irritatingly bleak. With the PS4 riding high and the Xbox One getting a second wind with a Kinect-less model and a lower price, now is the time to really get into the next generation of gaming. It makes the current 2014 season seem like a wasted opportunity. While Nintendo has a remarkably stable 2014 season with some huge exclusives set for holiday launch, it still rests on E3 to bring something to really look forward to by the year’s end. Exciting new content is getting routinely delayed, and while that’s not encouraging in the slightest, the importance of indie developers has clearly caught the eye of big console developers, proven with Nintendo and Sony’s efforts to enlist these devs for exclusive games.
2014 isn’t meeting the kinds of expectations that those who waited on picking up a next-gen console were hoping for. E3 could be the shot in the arm that the bleak 2014 release schedule needs right now. At least, we hope it is.