It doesn’t take an industry expert to identify the reasons for Sony’s success in the current generation of gaming consoles. Microsoft may have shot themselves in the foot with their initial online-only reveal, but Sony certainly didn’t rest on its default laurels. Sure, Playstation’s first-party studios exceed that of Microsoft’s, but as we all know it’s always been about quality and not quantity. One just has to merely glance at the PlayStation 4 library to spot the pattern; an undeniable sense of respect and fan loyalty permeates the continued dominance of the PlayStation, and it’s all rooted in a deceptively simple word: Maturity.
Since its inception in 1994, the Sony faithful have smashed their share of crates in Crash Bandicoot, awkwardly pivoted on the spot to escape the flesh-eating zombies in Resident Evil, placed a cardboard box over their heads to avoid armed guards in Metal Gear Solid. They’ve marvelled at their growing car collection in Gran Turismo, and they’ve taunted their friends after the 20th straight victory in the Tekken series. They’ve tasted immersion and experienced escapism on an unprecedented scale, but as with everything times change and Sony needed to do the same to maintain its original followers whilst also appealing to a new crowd.
With the dawn of every new generation expectations had to be constantly surmounted. An obvious example revolves around improved graphical fidelity and power. Though revered as a masterclass in RPG storytelling and gameplay, Final Fantasy VII‘s polygonal character models didn’t scratch the realism itch gamers wanted. Advanced visual aesthetics were the high demands of the maturing player and they got that with Final Fantasy VIII – a game that, while definitely looking better with its human-like avatars, arguably didn’t live up to the story, or gameplay mechanics of it’s predecessor. Maybe looks aren’t everything?
Flash-forward to 2018 and the Sony fans have all grown up. Family commitments – and maybe even children – might serve as blockers to their gaming habits of old, but the fire is still there. By this time they’ve not just escaped a zombie horde, they’ve judo-kicked them in the face, tilted their firearm upwards and let rip as another head explodes. Games have come a long way, as have gamers and they’ve seen a lot through the years, and this is the problem. Like going to the cinema to marvel at the 3D spectacle onscreen, how many times do we need to play/watch/experience the same tantalising eye candy before we’ve had enough and call it a day? if you constantly get that nagging feeling that you’ve seen it all before, don’t worry you’re not the only one. The Sony family man’s time is precious, too precious for repeats.
We live in a time of over-stimulation, and what Sony fans thought they needed, in the form of ever-improving graphics and power, simply doesn’t cut it now. PlayStation 4 exclusive Uncharted 4 is a prime example of maturity in modern gaming whilst also serving as developer Naughty Dog’s own acknowledgment of the absurdity of its beloved series. The Uncharted series follows treasure hunter Nathan Drake as he traverses the World in the search of hidden, forbidden artefacts. Like the Indiana Jones series, the premise is wild and wacky and, most importantly, doesn’t take itself too seriously when dishing out the fun. The sequel to Uncharted 3 could’ve simply adhered to the proven formula of the popular series akin to the rehashes you’d see pumped out of the Hollywood machine, and, while it does to an extent, Naughty Dog instils the franchise with a much-needed sense of thematic reverence and substance.
Perhaps reflecting older fans perception of the series and their own personal lives, Uncharted 4 explores the consequences of Nathan Drake’s incessant, dangerous adventuring and the serious effects it has on his companions and his chance for a life with his wife. Instead of the easy-going, inconsequential life of a treasure hunter, the context of Drake’s situation constantly nags the back of the player’s mind; how far is too far? Drake continues to doubt his intentions throughout the game and its effects on the ones he loves (never mind the hundreds of human lives he wipes out) and it’s this theme of responsibility and compromise that resonated with modern Sony fans.
Another game that looks to root itself in maturity and substance is the upcoming title God of War 4. The original God of War trilogy centred around the constantly angry and violent Kratos as he sought his revenge on the Gods that had betrayed him. Kratos’ depiction of anger and chaos incarnate isn’t dissimilar from the late teenager/early adulthood of the lifelong gamer; remember when you were the bee’s knees? the rebel with(out) a cause and the swagger to boot. The epitome of the passionate, outspoken youth and nobody could tell you otherwise? What happens when the responsibility of a family comes knocking? The anger subsides, but again, it’s still there burning deep down inside of you.
The introduction of a child for Kratos to protect and teach is developer Santa Monica’s response to the criticisms of its protagonist being too simple and video game-y. Early previews of the game portray a calmer and more methodical Kratos as he confronts classical creatures from Norse mythology whilst performing his duties as patriarch to his son Atreus. With another level of responsibility for Kratos, the God of War series appears to have matured for a new generation of old and young gamers. The closed-in camera angle – a far cry from the detached third-person hack-and-slash games of old – looks to augment the idea of a more personalised journey for our angry demi-God.
It’s not just modern day issues that keep the mature gamer awake at night, technology and its impact on our imminent future haunt our dreams as we begin to question our own purpose in the years to come. Videogames like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Detroit ask the aforementioned questions as they present possible futures for humanity, you know, the dystopian kind. Detroit, especially, seems to have sunk its teeth into contemporary allegory by immersing its audience into a World of Androids and their seemingly lower class on the social hierarchy. Early impressions of Detroit‘s ethical scenarios range from inspired to a little on-the-nose, but the fact that lead designer David Cage has attempted to tackle these current issues is a positive sign and further proof that videogames can question life’s big questions as seen in other media platforms.
Sony has come a long way since the advent of the original PlayStation, and the reason for their success stems from their loyalty to their old and new fans. Sony has allowed itself to grow and mature, and it’s this maturity that has allowed them to nurture their own and third-party studios. Sony never became complacent with the introduction of new technological advancements, instead they continued to push the envelope and question what makes a great game to a modern audience that has grown with the Sony brand.
Microsoft on the other hand…