In two/three weeks, respectively, Sony and Microsoft will throw new hardware onto shelves for people to hunt down, fight over, and ultimately buy. Yes, Virginia, we have back-to-back Friday console launches on the horizon, followed by the busiest goddamn shopping day of the year. It gets worse: If you haven’t yet preordered, you’re too late at this point, and unfortunately for you, that means trying your luck at retail.
Be warned: November is going to be an absolute bloodbath. If you’re going into the breach, you’re probably going to want to know what you’re risking life and limb to actually play. Here, then, is our analysis of the top contenders for each system, as well as a few multiplatform games.
Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4)
We Say: Everything Sony has shown of Guerilla’s latest indicates this will be an extremely polished first-person shooter, pairing tried-and-true genre mechanics with an audiovisual presentation that instantly justifies your buy-in to next gen. If you’re buying just one game at launch to serve as a well-rounded centerpiece for your $400 purchase, Killzone is that game.
The Games Press Will Say: It’s a first-person shooter on a system appealing to hardcore gamers, so of course, legions of oh-so-smug games hipsters will go out of their way to decry it as mediocre or irrelevant. The usual suspects will write walls of drivel to pooh pooh the PS4 and its flagship shooter as being less important that Sony’s slate of indie distractions. Those people are fart sniffers, in love with the smell of their own methane.
Potential Foil: A great launch game is still a launch game. On November 15th, this stands the chance of being the pinnacle of the medium’s technical achievement. Two or three years out, we’ll look back on Killzone: Shadow Fall as unplayable trash. That’s life.
We Say: At first look, Knack would appear to be another Kameo situation: a fair-to-middling, cute and cuddly family title that must rely on launch hype to move copies. That said, our hopes for Knack are fairly high, based on the involvement of Mark Cerny, a game industry veteran who has helped shaped similar all-ages franchises like Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet and Clank.
The Games Press Will Say: The clods will lavish it with verbal fellatio for not being a first-person shooter before giving it a 6-7 out of 10. Three years from now, they’ll pretend to have been blinded by launch hype and claim to have never really liked such a “mediocre” title.
Potential Foil: Cerny’s publicly stated emphasis on Knack being accessible to players of all skill levels gives us pause, as does his claims of a strongly reduced emphasis on actual platforming. Even still, games Cerny’s been involved with rarely misfire. We’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Ryse: Son of Rome (XB1)
We Say: Ryse began life as a Kinect-only title for current generation hardware. That’s strike one. Ryse was then transformed into a controller-based, third-person hack/slash game with an overpowering dosage of QTE event finishers. Strike two. And if even 10% of this post is true… well, yeah. Still, Ryse makes it into this preview by virtue of the fact that it’s the only thing approaching a bloody, third-person, narrative-based action game for either console.
The Games Press Will Say: Big sites will give this a safe score in the 7-8 range, regardless of actual quality. Smaller sites will tear it apart. One or two outliers will declare it to be a 1, further devaluing the score scale for video games.
Potential Foil: Most of what Microsoft has shown has been from the game’s multiplayer. If the single-player holds up, the combat feels weighty, and the gore factor delivers, Ryse still could get a nod based on being the first guilty pleasure of the generation. Don’t bet your lives on it, though.
Dead Rising 3 (XB1)
We Say: It will be the second biggest reason to get an Xbox One at launch; the first being the fact that you won’t be able to find a console for months when Titanfall drops in March. The graphics are not nearly as gorgeous as they should be in what has become the Xbox One’s de-facto flagship launch game, but preview footage promises increased scope, on-the-fly crafting (no more workshops!), and more of the twitchy, arcade-style zombie slaughter the series is known for. This one’s going to be just fine.
The Games Press Will Say: It’ll be the highest rated Xbox One game by far, garnished by some valid complaints re: graphics, and some much less valid complaints re: Dead Rising 3 just being more Dead Rising.
Potential Foil: The color and wackiness seem to have been largely sucked out of this series. The traditionally colorful cast of human antagonists has been relegated to optional missions, and all other comic relief seems to come from players putting the main character in a wacky costume. The mechanics and player feedback loop are sound, so it’s not impossible for Dead Rising to work without a sense of self-awareness. Still, this reeks of yet another attempt on the part of Capcom to chase Call of Duty numbers by taking away/”reimagining” iconic elements of their own franchises. Many have tried, but no game on Earth has caught up with Call of Duty’s sales. Capcom’s zombie launch game isn’t going to be the first by making everything brown-filtered and humorless.
Call of Duty: Ghosts (Multi)
We Say: It’s Call of Duty, so it will be a 6-8 hour campaign chock-full of absurd storylines, ridiculous set-pieces (astronauts gunfighting in space!), and all the fist-pumping, pro-military slaughter you could ask for. It’ll be a great time, if ultimately a disposable one. The multiplayer will suffer from reduced install bases on the next-gen systems, but there should still be enough people playing this to keep you busy until next year’s model drops.
The Games Press Will Say: Many sites will play it right down the middle of the plate and take 2-3 pages to say what you just read in the “we say” section. Those sites are honest. But this is Call of Duty we’re talking about, and as such, it’s time for the frauds to bust out the soapboxes and complain with gusto. Kotaku’s so-called review of the last game ultimately praised the title, but the text was less review and more of a scattered, too-much-information Livejournal post on its author’s feelings on everything from the Iraq War to Youtube videos. That was 2012, baby, this is 2013 — the bar on social justice warrioring in video games has been raised, so we expect only the finest quality, top-shelf hyperbole from the frauds. (House bet: 50/50 odds on Polygon giving this thing to either Danielle “ACLU” Riendeau or Chris “I ain’t gonna like it cause my WIFE is gonna hate it” Plante.)
Potential Foil: It’s still running on an engine powered in part by iD Tech, so don’t expect a looker. Also, it only runs in 720p on Xbox One, which is ridiculous for a console that costs $100 more than its 1080p enabled competition.
Battlefield 4 (Multi)
We Say: The single player is going to be all about fancy graphics, because current-gen reviews for this game report a painfully short campaign, albeit one better put together than the glorified tutorial slog that was Battlefield 3. Multiplayer is going to be what it’s always been: a larger-scale alternative to Call of Duty.
The Games Press Will Say: They’ve already done said it.
Potential Foil: If you’re playing on the Xbox One, be aware that EA absolutely crushed this game’s blacks and jacked up the color saturation to hide the fact that Microsoft’s new console apparently can’t handle the same level of detail found in the PS4 version. Also, be aware that OMAR COMIN’, because if you take a shot at the king, you best not miss, or the king’s going to teabag your corpse and call your mom a slut.
Best of the Rest
Resogun and Contrast are both free with Playstation Plus, which is all but required if you’re buying a PS4. Both are smaller indie titles of as-yet unknown quality, but free games is free games. Killer Instinct has a free Xbox One demo with individual DLC characters, so your best bet for an original fighting game at launch is to download the freebie and wait for Internet consensus re: which characters are worth it. Lastly, should you be required to defend your purchase to a ladyfriend, Just Dance 2014 might do the trick.