When Fallout 3 first came out, reviews referred to it as “Oblivion with Guns”. When the Xbox One was announced, it was seen as the 360 designed by Orwell. Reviews of technology and gaming have a tendency to compare new releases to those that have come before them. But why do we do this? And is this a harmful way to review products?
Gaming is still extremely new as an industry. To improve, each new release takes the core functions from its predecessors and improves it with recent technological advancements- that’s the definition of process. When the Xbox One was announced, people were concerned with it as a “media centre” that can respond to your voice and can detect your movements with the Kinect, drawing similarities between the new technology and the telescreens in 1984.
But is this really surprising? The latest tech allows us to control our gadgets through voice and movement, and Microsoft thought to harness that. It’s highly unlikely that Bill Gates is sat at a screen monitoring your Kinect as you eat Pot Noodles and peruse Netflix. There’s no point Microsoft releasing a brand new console. They know what their audience want, and that’s the same core machine but improved. That’s how technology develops.
It’s different with the games themselves. Consoles are a form of technology; games themselves are really a form of art. Games by different developers get compared constantly. But maybe they’re just similar because developers know what will sell. It’s the same reason Ubisoft have been flogging “Daddy Issues: The Series” by releasing ten Assassin’s Creed games and Rockstar have around seven GTA games, each one more controversial than the next- they know what is going to sell. Game concepts that have proved to sell well are a good place to start and help fund smaller, more original game concepts. Fans of Oblivion are going to buy Fallout 3 if they hear about the guns. Tomb Raider fans can jump about and destroy ancient tombs again, but this time as the son Lara had with Indiana Jones. But Uncharted brings things to the gaming table that Tomb Raider didn’t deliver on. The new Thief brought in new aspects to stealth gameplay that Assassin’s Creed didn’t explore.
Technology is always going to be compared to what has come before-but that’s ok, because it just means that this still relatively new industry is going to improve on what has come before until we eventually have a completely new area of gaming to develop on. Maybe in a few years or decades we can evaluate a game on its own merits but now, when each game is very literally climbing over the backs of its predecessors, it only makes sense to acknowledge this.