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8th Gen Retrospective

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By Nelson Schneider - 08/22/21 at 04:42 PM CT

As of 2017, the 9th Generation of videogaming officially kicked off. However, with not all of the big players in the console space so over-anxious to usher their last-gen offerings into the Great Beyond, it only really “feels” like the 9th Gen has been going for a few months now. Combine the recent releases of the Xbox SeX and the PlayStation 5 with their unavailability on store shelves due to a combination of COVID-caused logistics hurdles and a global microchip shortage, and the 9th Gen still feels very new indeed.

But with the 8th Gen completely behind us, it’s a good time to look back and pass judgment on those that came before. Let’s take a look at how the platforms stacked-up and remember some of their best and worst games.

#1. PC
PC gaming continued to be an ever-growing juggernaut in the 8th Generation, stealing away gamers from both Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation in sizeable numbers. This leeching effect was not nearly as noticeable amongst the Nintendo community, however. Of course, since most PC gamers still use Windows, Microsoft sorta wins even when they lose.

PC gaming was not without controversy in the 8th Gen, by any means. Both Epic Games, the creator of the Unreal Engine that underpins so many modern games, and TenCent, a Chinese gaming conglomerate, did their best to throw a wrench into the happy status quo that existed between Steam and Good Old Games as the go-to markets for all digital purchases – and PC gaming has been 99% digital since the beginning of the 7th Generation in 2006. Combine those economic rabble rousers with some well-meaning European politicians who managed to coerce Steam into building a refund system into its store, but sacrificed the glory of Flash Sales in the process, and not everything was coming up roses.

Steam further tried to cement PC gaming as a core living room experience – like console gaming – through the development of both the Steam Controller (which they did in-house) and Steam Machines (small-form-factor PCs that they left to third-parties to figure out), neither of which is still in production now that the 8th Generation has ended, even though the Steam Controller is a fantastic (if a bit niche) input device.

As far as games go, there was a huge cRPG resurgence, with a number of dormant developers coming out of the woodwork with new projects. Many of these games debuted on PC before getting ported to Sony’s and /or Microsoft’s consoles. While the quality of these RPGs was all over the place, the Belgian studio, Larian, finally made a name for itself after languishing as a Eurojank B-tier outfit for over a decade.

Best Game: “Divinity: Original Sin”

Worst Game: The countless no-effort asset flips that have been vomited onto the Steam Store after Valve removed Steam Greenlight and opened the floodgates.

#2. PlayStation 4
It can be somewhat jarring to contemplate the transition from the 7th Generation to the 8th Generation in 2012, then the transition to the 9th Generation in 2017, in spite of the 5+ year spans which traditionally defined a time in which hardware could be stagnant, and games running on said hardware could become progressively better. This is even more apparent for Sony fans, since the PlayStation 4’s library really didn’t start to go places until after Nintendo kicked-off the 9th Gen with the release of the Switch.

Early on, the PS4’s library was so abysmal, I had no interest in buying one. Then there was a mid-gen hardware refresh because all of the fancy ports of PC games didn’t run so well on the original PlayStation 4 (or XBONE). And I still had no interest in buying one. But between Sony’s force of will and the collective power of its fanboys, the company was able to hold onto the top console position for the 8th Generation… or maybe it was because their competition lay down and died…

About the only interesting thing about Sony in the 8th Generation is that, instead of copying Nintendo’s ideas, they started copying PC ideas, with the release of PlayStation VR, the first console virtual reality headset, ever. No, we’re not going to count the Virtual Boy. Of course, as it is on PC, PlayStation VR is still an early-adopter thing, with little support and few compelling games.

At least Sony was aware enough to read the writing on the wall when it comes to multi-platform releases and exclusives. While PlayStation was always a magnet for third-parties in the past, that started changing when the PlayStation 3 introduced the ‘Powah uv da Cell,’ which nobody knew how to handle. Instead, we’ve seen a rampant proliferation of multi-platform releases of third-party games, even long-running IPs that used to be PlayStation exclusive. What did Sony do in this situation? Did they cry? Did they hide? Did they try to bribe third-parties into limited ‘timed exclusivity’ windows? Well, yeah, they did a little of all of that… but toward the end of the Generation they finally started to dump tons of resources into creating a large number of first-party IPs – game and series that Sony would control, and thus only Sony would profit from…

…But then there was yet more writing on the wall that showed Sony just how impossible it is to be profitable with platform-exclusive game releases. So they started porting some of their hot, new, late-gen titles to PC, where they, naturally, sold like hotcakes. While Sony has traditionally been brazenly hubristic, it turns out that being a bit more humble is a much better look for them.

Best Game: “Ghost of Tsushima”

Worst Game: “Bloodborne”

#3. Xbox One
Microsoft had this one IN THE BAG! Everyone was angry at Sony’s abysmal, hubristic handling of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. The Xbox 360 had broken-down a lot of anti-Microsoft AT Fields in the gaming community, and was situated at the highest position of esteem an Xbox had ever attained. All they had to do was walk out on stage and introduce a new console that was like the 360, but shinier. Instead, MS not only tripped over their metaphorical collective dick when stepping out on stage, they decided to do some clog dancing on that organ until it resembled a plate of low-quality Klingon gagh.

Microsoft never managed to recover from the XBONE launch, and the XBONE continued to bear that penile moniker for the entire generation, even when the Special All-Digital (SAD) version was released near the end. Between the mandatory Kinect functionality (which was quickly scrapped), the need to check-in online to play physical games (which was quickly scrapped), a focus on watching TV and Sports instead of gaming (which was quickly scrapped), and a lack of… really any compelling games, the XBONE never had a chance.

Knowing they were doomed to finish near the bottom again, the Xbox Division started bending over backwards to appear customer-friendly, introducing concepts such as CrossPlay and CrossBuy to the PC/console ecosystem. They also tried to remedy that dearth of compelling games by using Microsoft’s near-infinite coffers to purchase small and independent development studios to add to their portfolio (and occasionally big “AAA” studios). While these actions didn’t really bear fruit in the 8th Generation, the fact that the Xbox Series X (SeX for short) is somewhat defying the concept of Console Generations might finally lead the House of Gates to the top.

Best Game: “Skulls of the Shogun”

Worst Game: “Rare Replay”

#4. WiiU & 3DS
Alas, after the raging success Nintendo had with the original Wii and its portable companion, the DS, everything fell apart. As so many other gaming companies do, when they find success, they think that success will last forever. Nintendo, of all outfits, should KNOW BETTER, as they have been through this whole dismal cycle before with the flop of the N64 and the flop of the Gamecube following on their two-generation reign, when ‘Nintendo’ was synonymous with ‘videogame’ thanks to the NES and SNES.

The WiiU came out the doors and nobody really knew what it was. Was it an attachment for the original Wii, or a stand-alone device? Not even Nintendo seemed to know why it had a second screen built into the Player 1 controller. Handheld play was extremely limited both by the need to remain within a few inches of the base WiiU with nothing denser than air between the console and the ‘GemuPado,’ and by the fact that nearly all WiiU games were designed with the horrible two-screens-at-once gimmick in mind.

With its anemic PowerPC architecture in the face of x86 homogenization across ALL the other platforms, nobody wanted to go to the effort of porting third-party games to the WiiU either, so it became, in essence, the N64-2: No third-party games, bad/gimmicky first-party games, and an absurdly-designed controller relegating it to the bottom of the pile.

The 3DS hardly fared better, though it did actually start to take-off once Nintendo killed-off the WiiU and started focusing more, better first-party development efforts on it, giving us a handful of pretty-solid throwback games. But there were still plenty of first-and-third-party mistakes there, too. P.L.E.N.T.Y! And should I mention the meat-space stereoscopic 3D that can really mess-up kid’s eyesight? Oh, I just did! I guess I’ll also mention that it was so ‘important’ to the 3DS’ core essence that it was completely removed when Nintendo released the kid-friendly 2DS a few years later. That was some EXCELLENT (/s) planning.

Best Game: “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds”

Worst Game: “Metroid Prime: Federation Force”

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