When talking about the winner of the current console generation, it’s inarguable that Sony are in a strong lead with the PlayStation 4. With the system’s sales being set to surpass the original PlayStation’s, it’s an absolute juggernaut of a console that’s been carrying a strong momentum since its 2013 release. With that being said I’m of the opinion that it’s also Sony’s least interesting home console to date, and that its success may lead to a more stagnant future for console gaming.
To me, a system is only as strong as its games, and contrary to the popular opinion that the PlayStation 4 has a killer lineup of titles, a majority of the critically acclaimed exclusive titles feel lacking in ambition and innovation. Titles such as Horizon: Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and Marvel's Spider-Man aren’t trend setters pushing the medium forward, they’re safe big budget releases that rely on tried and true formulas for success in the same way that a summer Hollywood blockbuster might. While these titles are certainly much stronger than most of the exclusive offerings on the direct competitor Xbox One, that isn’t much of an achievement given the constant failings of the Xbox this generation.
Even the latest God of War - which acts as a large divergence from previous titles in the series - seems incapable of doing much that’s actually new to gaming as a whole. Its over-the-shoulder camera was taken from Resident Evil 4, Atreus’ implementation in gameplay mirrors Ellie’s from The Last of Us, the weighty combat system is heavily inspired by DARK SOULS, and its customisation options and skill trees have been seen in too many games to count. This kind of derivative approach is seen in numerous other PlayStation 4 exclusives as well. Take the previously mentioned Horizon: Zero Dawn and Marvel’s Spider-Man for example. While they both boast a lot of polish and are technically impressive, their design philosophies feel rooted in open world games from the seventh generation of consoles. When compared to certain open-world contemporaries such as The Witcher 3and The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, they feel like they’re retreading old ground.
Naturally, innovation is no easy task, especially in an industry that’s had so many releases. However, there are PlayStation 4 titles that have played with new gameplay ideas, but they’re being treated as something lesser by Sony. While not a perfect game, The Last Guardian manages to emulate the feeling of interacting with a fictional creature better than any game I’ve ever played, yet it feels like it’s been thrown to the wayside and forgotten by Sony due to it failing to cultivate a large audience at launch. VR titles such as Astro Bot: Rescue Mission seem to be interesting takes on a pre-existing genre, yet they’re unfortunately stranded on an expensive peripheral, giving them a fraction of the audience they could potentially attract (myself included).
The future of the system doesn’t seem to be much brighter either, with the only upcoming big budget title that appears to be striving to do something unique being Death Stranding. While I’m sure The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima will be extremely well polished and solid games, I don’t see them doing anything unexpected or new mechanically.
I’m not saying that every game needs to change the industry, but I think that the more experimental and possibly divisive titles should get more support from Sony themselves. What made PlayStation consoles great to me in previous generations was the variety of exclusives from different corners of the globe, but now it feels like Sony is aiming for the lowest common denominator with titles that are relatively accessible and don’t push boundaries. Even the PlayStation 3 had a good mix of large titles that were treated equally, with LittleBigPlanet being seemingly just as important to Sony as God of War 3.
Recent reports are only making me more nervous for the future of the brand, with claims of the PlayStation 5 continuing to focus on “bigger” titles leading me to believe that there will be even less innovation from the next generation of PlayStation exclusives. What’s more is that a lot of these titles are likely to be sequels to games we’ve seen this generation, with aforementioned Horizon: Zero Dawn, Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War all setting up for second instalments.
I want the next PlayStation to be a system that appeals to me, but with the rate that things are going I might have to search elsewhere for interesting titles that showcase new ideas.