Xbox One: New Console, Old Games

Microsoft showcased dozens of upcoming games, but none of them showed what differentiates its latest console from its old one.

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Meet the new generation, same as the old generation. There is no inherent need for a new console. It's a concept that seems to clash with our technorabid culture, but rings with more truth than Microsoft would like to admit. As the veil was finally lifted on the Xbox One's growing library, scenes of shooting and fighting filling the screen, one thought rose above all the noise: We've seen this before. After suffering through weeks of people arguing about RAM capacity and cloud potential, of what an always-connected console could mean for the future of gaming, we were left with an hour of pretty games that didn't offer any noticeable change to the core experience we've already been playing. Everything that's old is new again.

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Visuals are an important component of gaming--they are called video games after all--but they're not the only element that matters. The leap from one generation to the next brings changes that go much deeper than raw specifications. From the speed and rotating perspective of F-Zero on the Super Nintendo to the flood of undead freaks in the Xbox 360's Dead Rising, we've become accustomed to the earliest games for systems showing exactly why we should care. Why we'd be willing to spend hundreds of dollars to jump in. Why we would line up outside of electronics stores at midnight to secure an amazing, new, industry-defining console. We're supposed to see hints at how the next few years are going to play out, and Microsoft failed miserably in that regard.

Open world was a major theme at Microsoft's press conference, and when you consider the technical demands of boundless lands, you would expect to be blown away by the sheer wizardry being displayed. But such excitement was deadened when the games showcased failed to elicit that thrill. Sunset Overdrive looked like a '90s commercial for an orange-flavored drink. The protagonist showed off his incredible parkour ability and even rode a zip line to the street. But we've seen crazy agility in an open world already. What elevates this above Just Cause 2 or even Crackdown? Dead Rising 3 has zombies and more zombies, but its predecessors have already given us that. Why does this need to be on the Xbox One?

Fancy visuals are not enough of a draw to warrant a console upgrade. We've already been spoiled by eye-popping graphics on our current systems, and PCs have been churning out unbelievable sights for years. Raw power simply doesn't matter if it doesn't lead to new experiences. Once the luster of uncountable polygons and dynamic lighting fades away, we're left with a game that lives and dies based on its own mechanics. Though just about every game that Microsoft showed looked like it could be fun, none of them offered gameplay advancements that would necessitate a $500 purchase. Is war going to change because a plane slid down a naval carrier? Are we supposed to ignore the mechs that have already appeared in science-fiction shooters? We've seen these elements in the current generation. Show us something new.

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This press conference was Microsoft's chance to show exactly why we need the Xbox One in November. It needed us to look at our dusty consoles and pine away for something new. Show us exactly why the cloud is so important, what the connection to 300,000 servers can give us that was previously lacking in our gaming lives. Explain how infinite power has allowed developers to tap into a well of creativity that they never knew existed. How was the current generation holding designers back, and what games can be realized now that the shackles have been removed? Microsoft needed to convince us that the Xbox One is the future of the industry, that they and their partners can fulfill their wildest fantasies on this new hardware.

The next generation of consoles is almost upon us. Our instincts are dragging us forward, urging us to preorder these shiny new consoles. We see these flashy visuals and hear the bold claims from company executives, and we're helpless to resist. The current generation has stretched on for too long; we want something new. We need something new. We're here and we're ready to be amazed.

But we're not going to fawn over a new console just because it's new. We're not going to drool just because you tell us to. It's Microsoft's job to convince us that the Xbox One is the system to own. It's Microsoft's job to show us why the Xbox One is the future of the gaming industry. It's unclear what sorts of games are still under wraps. Maybe there is something that is going to forever change how we see video games in the pipeline. But right now, Xbox One games look an awful lot like Xbox 360 games, and that's not exciting at all.

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