Leaving this as open-ended as possible in terms of what our individual definitions of ‘next-gen’ are, what’s a gaming experience that changed your sense of what was possible—technologically or otherwise?
What’s the last game that felt truly next-gen to you?
Here are our answers, plus a few from our forum.
Evan Lahti: Arma has underwhelming AI, performance, voice acting, and its campaign isn’t exactly Hollywood material. It’s a military shooter, and the guns feel sort of dull. But the scale of the game is peerless, one benefit of being built on an original engine.
In my 13 years at PC Gamer, I think Arma 2 is probably the game that most delivered on the hype I had before release. It’s not just the technical aspect of the game, the fact that bullet fired will have a calculated trajectory and behave consistently, but what that fidelity facilitates in real terms. Ultimately Arma’s a super-big military sandbox that I can drop into with 63 friends (or more, on modded servers), a massive slab of satellite-modeled land that feels authentic for us to run around and blow stuff up in. No other game has felt more like a framework that I can safely reach inside and tinker and tamper with.
Rainbow Six Siege is right up there with it, though: its destroyable surface tech is still impressive, and transformed my sense of what’s possible in tactical shooters.
Wes Fenlon: So many games come to mind that seemed like they were going to feel next-gen, a mind-blowing leap forward in scope or technology. BioShock Infinite absolutely did, with its sky rails and dimensional rifts. Destiny, with Bungie’s original ambitious plans. But those expectations were almost always a setup for disappointment, for games that overpromised and underdelivered. But with every year of distance I get from The Witcher 3 in 2015, the more impressed I am by what it delivered. I’m upset, in hindsight, over the shitfit so many people threw comparing its launch graphics and lighting to what had been seen in trailers. With the passage of time, it’s only become more clear what an astounding success that game was. Yeah there was a low-res rock texture here and there. But Novigrad! There’s never been a fantasy RPG with a city that richly realized.
The motion capture and conversation engine makes small side characters feel alive and part of the world, even when their face and haircut might look familiar. The Witcher 3 was a demanding game, teetering on the balance of decent performance and open world ambition. But the important thing is that it did manage to find that balance, something that, right now, Cyberpunk 2077 seems to have failed at. That’s what’s most impressive about The Witcher 3, in hindsight—it had fantastic storytelling heightened by its presentation, but it didn’t need absolute top-of-the-line hardware to pull it off. When your game can still look like this five years later and also has the best sidequests in RPG history, you did real good.
Chris Livingston: Parts of games have felt next-gen. Sea of Thieves’ water effects are still fascinatingly beautiful after dozens of hours spent staring at them, and Far Cry 2’s spreading fires are still one of my favorite systems. For an entire game, I might have to go all the way back to Half-Life 2. The gravity gun just knocked me on my butt as both a weapon and a tool, especially when it gets massively buffed near the end. I remember just dropping objects in the water and watching them bob and float around, as if I were from an alien planet and I’d never seen water before. HDR (which I think came a year or so later?) did all sorts of interesting things with lighting and reflections. The game just felt like a huge leap forward in a lot of different ways.
Spent a good chunk of lock-down doing this important work. Boozy liquid shader, now available in the latest update for Half-Life: Alyx pic.twitter.com/Iw9h98pmEgMay 28, 2020
Tyler Wilde: I’m still not sure if VR is good. I mean, I know it probably isn’t good on a metaphysical level—our society is very sick and all—but I’m just talking about whether or not it’s actually a fun and exciting way to experience videogames. I recently reviewed Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond and parts of it were so dull that I was begging to get back to regular reality, which was just my bedroom. That’s not fun. And yet, I can go into Half-Life: Alyx and do nothing but pick up a wine bottle and watch the liquid slosh around, and I’m awestruck. I just want to keep looking at it. I could go into my kitchen and look at a real wine bottle, sure, but the point is the potential that the Alyx wine bottle suggests. It’s the potential for a sort of fun, or escape, or something that isn’t available in any videogame we have now. That’s the “next-gen” experience for me. It’s getting a glimpse of a future that hasn’t fully been realized yet, and the Alyx wine bottles do that for me.
Andy Chalk: Wes beat me to this but I don’t care, it’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
I held off playing The Witcher 3 until a couple of months ago for a variety of reasons, but even five years late to the party I am absolutely blown away by how above-and-beyond it is. The game world is open, varied and “alive,” and maybe most impressively of all, after a couple hundred hours of playtime it hasn’t started to feel small. That’s one of my biggest standing complaints about Elder Scrolls games—they purport to be grand fantasy realms, but everything feels tiny and compressed: I can run from one side of a nation to the other in 15 minutes and its big cities are barely small hamlets. (I adore Morrowind but let’s be honest, Vivec City is basically a low-rise apartment building.) Witcher 3, on the other hand, maintains its sense of scale without sacrificing a sense of bespoke design from top to bottom. It’s the most remarkable, well-realized (and quite possibly the prettiest) game world I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing in.
Jody Macgregor: I guess I have to be the guy who says it. Console generations are a myth! It’s all just meaningless marketing rubbish.
That said, I thought the mocap in Death Stranding was quite impressive. Sure, the faces in LA Noire looked neat but only until you noticed that everybody’s hats were too big for their heads. People in Death Stranding have constantly changing, believable expressions and they can put hats on without looking like five-year-olds playing dress-up. I could look into the eyes of Mads Mikkelsen for a long time.
ItsUrDad: Half Life Alyx. I remember the moment too lol. I was looking through boxes on shelves with the Index controllers and was suddenly hit by the realization that I am in the middle of my room looking through virtual shelves for ammo and it felt so “next-gen” to me lol.
DXCHASE: Recently it would be Destiny 2 when it launched for PC. Back then i had just gotten an ultrawide monitor that i wanted to pair with my also new 1080ti, i hadn’t used one personally before that either. I had no plans to play D2 and i missed D1 but a friend had gifted me the game after his brother didnt want the copy he had boughten him. I was just blown away by its design, from the planets to the enemies to the guns, the music was great and the gunplay was perfect to me, i was a fan of halo already and missed out on D1 since it was a console exclusive. Seeing all of this on a new ultrawide at over 100+ fps was the cherry on the top.
Kaamos_Llama: Its a long time for me. Improvements to graphics and gameplay mechanics I feel have been incremental for a long time rather then the huge leap I’d describe as next generation.
Fallout 3 in 2008. I didnt particularly enjoy the game in the end but the sheer size and detail of the world was stunning. I played a game I didnt really like for dozens of hours because the world was so huge. Same with Skyrim except it was even more beautiful.
Warhammer 40K Dawn of War in 2004 being amazed by the unit animations, partcularly the Dreadnought spinning and picking up smaller models and smashing them around. That was a massive leap from the basic hit/shoot animations of Warcaft and C&C games.
In Deadspace when they incorporated elements of the UI into an in game augmented reality overlay….
So yea 10-15 years ago 🙂 I don’t have VR yet though, and theres not time in my life to play everything so I probably missed a lot.