Metro GameCentral video game review of 2019 – a year in waiting

This year has really all been about next year (pic: Microsoft)

GameCentral offers a retrospective of 2019 in gaming and looks forward to what can be expected in 2020 from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony.

We’ve all seen this happen before. As soon as it becomes clear that next generation consoles are imminent, the big gaming companies suddenly clam up about their future plans and it’s left to leaks and guesswork to determine what’s actually happening. There was plenty of that in 2019, although Microsoft revealed slightly more than Sony, with a glimpse of what the Xbox Series X looks like and the implication that its launch games will include Halo Infinite and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2.

All we know for sure about the PlayStation 5 is its name, but that won’t last once Sony puts its marketing machine into gear – probably starting with some sort of reveal event in the early spring. A few years ago, many would’ve predicted that this would be a very different kind of console unveil and perhaps the end of traditional generations. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that that won’t be the case, not this time.

Streaming is clearly the future of gaming but the faltering start for Google’s Stadia, and Microsoft’s very cautious approach with Project xCloud, suggests that it’s not yet ready for the big time. 2020 may well reveal other big name companies (Amazon has certainly been rumoured as being interested) joining the race to become the Netflix of gaming, but everything in 2019 suggests that will be a battle for another time.

In terms of the quality of its games, 2019 will not go down as a particularly remarkable year. We’ve already named Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as our game of the year, but even it, and other top games such as Astral Chain and Apex Legends, are variations on well-worn themes. A lack of new ideas has been a problem for mainstream games all generation but if there’s any appetite to change that amongst the big publishers they’re now leaving it to the next generation to make their move. Although, predictably, the majority of next gen games known or rumoured about so far are sequels.

While it’s relatively easy to predict what Microsoft and Sony will be up to next year, Nintendo is, as always, another matter entirely. They only have one big name game confirmed for 2020 (Animal Crossing: New Horizons) and that’s only because it got delayed, so what the new year holds for them is very hard to guess at. Especially as the likes of Bayonetta 3 and Metroid Prime 4 may still not have been in the oven long enough to release next year.

Some rumours suggest Zelda: Breath Of The Wild 2 will be out sooner rather than later, but then rumours also suggested that the imagined Switch Pro would be released, or at least announced, this year, and that obviously never happened. Nintendo has frequently talked about the Switch lasting longer than normal for a console but whether they really mean that remains to be seen, as Nintendo has always proven perfectly happy to change previously stated plans if they think it’s for the best.

We’re also yet to see Nintendo’s response to the rise of streaming, although they have already streamed Switch games in Japan – so they’re obviously not blind to its importance. Neither are Sony and yet their plans are almost equally opaque, especially after the shock announcement that they would be using Microsoft technology (although very much on a corporate level and nothing to do with the Xbox division). PlayStation Now has only been a mild success at best, but it’s unclear whether Sony will admit that and launch a brand new service or just try and improve what they already have.

Indeed, it’s very hard to judge what Sony’s attitude is at the moment on anything. In previous generations they’ve frequently been accused of arrogance, even during their struggles with the PlayStation 3, but one of the secrets of the PlayStation 4’s success is that they’ve been able to control their vanity and avoid any serious PR disasters or hubristic mistakes. Will that continue with the PlayStation 5 or will they underestimate a clearly resurgent Microsoft?

Rather than how many teraflops the PlayStation 5 is pushing that may well be the most important question to be answered next year: will Sony pursue the same basic approach they’ve used this generation, or will their attitude be very different?

It’s not as if Microsoft’s plans are crystal clear either, as while they have been relatively humble about the Xbox One’s failings that’s not something they’ll want to dwell on. And although they’ve been making headlines these past few years about buying up developers, to bolster their first party studios, very few new games have been announced so far. More importantly, there’s the problem that everyone they’ve bought has been from North America or the UK.

Microsoft’s great failing, since their very first console, has been its inability to engage Japanese audiences or developers (or indeed anyone not in America or the UK). Every new generation they talk about working more closely with a wider range of developers, but it’s never happened and there’s no obvious reason to think that will change this time. Microsoft needs to get away from the stigma of being seen as the ShooterBox and just releasing the odd game from Rare is not nearly enough.

But perhaps the most positive thing about 2019 is that all three console manufacturers are in a very healthy position at the moment. The Switch and PlayStation 4 are amongst the most successful consoles Sony and Nintendo has ever made and Microsoft has clearly been preparing for this new generation for a very long time. It’s entirely possible for all three companies to be successful at the same time, which is exactly what happened last generation, and that would be the best outcome for gamers too – ensuring each company pushes the others towards making the best games and hardware they can.

Whether that’ll be evident in 2020 is difficult to say – the new consoles aren’t likely to come out before November and launch games can often be underwhelming – but gaming has an exciting future ahead of it and 2020 will be the first real glimpse of what it looks like.

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