The debate about cross-gen games is a contentious one. One side of the argument is that releasing next-generation games on current-gen consoles risks holding them back. Others argue player choice is more important and that more people will have the opportunity to play the game.
There doesn’t seem to be any definitive answer to this issue. Both sides make valid points in support of and against the idea.
Yet this debate is a relatively new one. It only really came into being during the advent of the PS4 and Xbox One. Prior to this, there weren’t really any cross-gen games.
Previous Console Generations
There’s no denying the gap between console generations is shortening. In days gone by, games released on upcoming consoles were always new - and far beyond the capabilities of the existing hardware.
Gamers who owned a PS1 will remember images of Tekken Tag Tournament and Metal Gear Solid 2. Nothing like this had been seen before on games consoles.
Titles like this, be they fresh IPs or sequels, could never be released on the PS1. They were simply too advanced - we'd need to purchase a PS2 if we wanted to experience the future.
The same could be said again, once it came to the generational jump from the PS2 to the PS3. As well as the original Xbox to the Xbox 360.
The Genesis Of Cross Gen Games
However in 2013, by the time the PS4 and Xbox One were due for release, this phenomenon truly began. Games that were scheduled launch titles for both consoles were also getting released on current gen machines (i.e. PS3 and Xbox 360).
Titles like The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto 5, Dark Souls 2 and countless others were all announced as being remastered for next gen – which seemed acceptable enough. But other titles were simply being released across both generations from launch.
Games like Call of Duty Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag are examples of games that came to both generations simultaneously – with little difference between either version. Aside from a few graphical enhancements.
Analyzing The Last Generation of Consoles - To Understand The Next
Cross gen games continued on PS4 and Xbox One for a number of years. Although franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed began to focus more on the PS4 and Xbox One.
Activision continued to hedge their bets, releasing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare as a cross gen title. In fact, COD games didn’t abandon the PS3 and Xbox 360 until 215 – two years into the next generation.
Interestingly in 2014, Ubisoft made an Assassin’s Creed game (Rogue) specifically for last gen consoles. But they also released a much more high-end title (Unity) on PS4 and Xbox One.
Despite the lukewarm critical reception towards Assassin’s Creed Unity, and its innumerable bugs and glitches, the game wouldn’t have been possible on older consoles.
Unity was built (some would say poorly) for PS4 and Xbox One and marked a significant technological jump forward for the series. While utterly flawed and evidently rushed, 18th Century Paris looked stunning, nonetheless.
It was also a considerable step up, graphically speaking, from Black Flag. Which many felt had been downgraded to allow it to be released as a cross gen title. Yet this didn’t harm the game’s overall quality or legacy.
Ironically, Black Flag was considered the superior game compared to Unity. It’s still a fan favourite today while Unity is considered a low point for the franchise – regardless of how pretty it looked.
Are Cross Gen Games A Mistake?
It’s been argued that Ubisoft would have been better served releasing one finished product across two generations. Instead of rushing out two unfinished titles – Rogue felt more like a standalone Black Flag DLC than a full game.
The above point could be considered an argument in support of cross gen games. Although, Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs was also a cross gen title and received its fair share of criticism.
Many commentators believed it too had been downgraded to ‘fit’ on older consoles, something that was reflected across all platforms. The finished product had clearly undergone some changes since it was first shown off.
The Assassin’s Creed and COD examples show us that games developed as cross gen titles aren’t necessarily lower quality than those developed exclusively for new hardware. But they are at a decided disadvantage when it comes to visuals and new features.
It also risks making gamers jaded and in less of a rush to purchase a new console than they would have been previously. Some will wonder what the point is, especially when they can buy the same games on their current console.
Next gen games need to stand out and differentiate themselves from what came before. The same games releasing time after time do little to ensure this.
In 2021, Grand Theft Auto 5 will be the ultimate cross gen game, having been released across three separate console generations. Just imagine if this had been the case for a game across the PS1, PS2 and PS3.
Why Developers Do This
That’s an easy one; sales. Games can be upscaled/downscaled and re-released in a remastered/de-mastered form. They can be also be deliberately underdeveloped so they can be sold across multiple platforms.
It’s a great way to sell copies, but it’s also a cynical business model that will be holding some games back from true greatness. As the PS5 and Xbox Series X come into view, this practice is now commonplace – and it could alienate console gamers.
The issue is there’s a risk that games consoles will begin to emulate devices like the iPhone. Updates every year or two instead of every 7-8. This is less exciting than a whole new generational leap – and gamers simply won’t be able to keep up.
They’ll also feel cheated if the console they’ve only just bought is outdated too soon. Games being released on multiple generations of consoles may make gamers question their purchases. They may even be tempted to skip a generation.
History is now repeating itself and once again Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty are leading the cross gen games charge. AC: Valhalla and COD: Black Ops Cold War will sell many copies across multiple console platforms.
Although, we wonder what each title could have been if it had abandoned the PS4 and Xbox One. Will these two games really be worthy of the PS5 and Xbox Series X price tag? How will they compare to games under the same franchise banner in three years time?
Also, will it take a full two years until Ubisoft and Activision stop supporting the PS4 and Xbox One? If this is how long it takes to truly unlock the potential of next gen consoles, then where’s the motivation to buy one at launch?
Benefits To Gamers
There is an upside to cross gen games. It simply allows more people to experience them - and for less.
Financially speaking, not everyone is in a position to rush out and spend $500 on a new console. But cross gen games mean they don’t need too, and that their consoles will be supported for some time to come.
This must be reassuring for many gamers. Nobody likes being left behind, and everybody knows that a new generation of consoles means their current one has started the slow march to obsoletism.
For this very reason; perhaps cross gen games need to exist. Although we feel there should be more balance. A compromise between the new and the existing.
Something that gives gamers a reason to be excited when they go out and spend their hard-earned money on a new games console. They need to know they are getting something fresh and unique.
As well as catering for those who aren’t ready for this yet. After all, every gamer matters, as do their choices on how they enjoy the medium.