Video game players are always excited to get their hands on new consoles, and in November, two new game machines are scheduled to be introduced: Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4. But while new consoles usually lead to better games, often that happens only in the long run. Some of the final games made for aging consoles have been better than the first games that were released for brand-new systems. Neither the PlayStation 3 in 2006 nor the Xbox 360 a year earlier went on sale with a single memorable initial title.
Xbox 360 gamers waited four months for their system’s first great game, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and an entire year for the next one, Gears of War. Likewise, a full 12 months went by before PlayStation 3 players were able to get their hands on that system’s first noteworthy exclusive, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. At the same time, two of the PlayStation 2’s most highly regarded games, Bully and Okami, were released mere weeks before the release of the PlayStation 3.
While it’s too early to say for sure, something similar looks as if it will happen in 2013. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One each have a long list of launch titles, but the most interesting games that will be playable on the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft seem to be coming next year, including Titanfall from Respawn Entertainment and Project Spark from Microsoft Studios, both of which are Xbox exclusives on console; The Witness from Jonathan Blow’s Number None, a console exclusive for the PlayStation 4; and Destiny from Bungie, which will be playable on both (and on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3).
Who knows? There might be surprises among the first batch of games being released with the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. Maybe Ryse: Son of Rome, an initial Xbox One title, will end up as one of the year’s best games. But Ryse’s E3 demonstration didn’t do much to auger that, instead promising to immerse players in antiquity by letting them repeatedly stab people in the neck. The developers of Dead Rising 3, another Xbox One exclusive, have talked about using the system’s superior technology for the important work of improving the graphical fidelity of zombie blood and teeth. Sony’s big-budget exclusives don’t look any more enticing.
Many games will be released with versions for currently available consoles — the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii U — as well as for the new ones. The most exciting of these games is Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, coming Nov. 19 for PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. (No release date has been announced for the PS4 and Xbox One.) An open-world game about information hackers in a near-future Chicago, Watch Dogs seems impossibly well-timed for the year of Edward Snowden.
Perhaps because two new consoles are coming out nearly simultaneously, the next few months seem to be the most unpredictable video-game autumn in memory. Can the gameplay in Watch Dogs possibly live up to its alluring premise? Will the military shooters Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 be hurt by a form of the blockbuster fatigue that afflicted moviegoers this summer? Will Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag mount a comeback for that series after last year’s divisive Assassin’s Creed III?
And many of 2013’s most-anticipated games won’t be playable at all on the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V, the first Grand Theft Auto game in five years, will be released on Sept. 17 and can be played only on an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3. Set in an immense virtual Los Angeles, the game features three criminal protagonists instead of the usual one, and players can switch freely among all three characters in the game’s open world. Rockstar says the world that it has built for Grand Theft Auto V is bigger than the ones inside Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption combined. I played Grand Theft Auto V for about four hours at Rockstar’s offices in SoHo last month, and it felt las if I only sampled the game’s possibilities.
Likewise, Batman: Arkham Origins, the third title in an exceptional series of games about that comic book hero, comes out Oct. 25 for PCs, PlayStation 3s, Xbox 360s and Wii U’s.
And Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls is a PlayStation 3 exclusive that stars virtual renditions of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. It lands on Oct. 8. Quantic Dream’s previous game, Heavy Rain, was a bold experiment in interactive storytelling, even if it didn’t entirely succeed.
Super Mario 3D World is the season’s most promising Nintendo game. For decades, Nintendo has often broken the rule of thumb that new consoles don’t ship with their greatest games. New Nintendo systems have been packaged with games like Super Mario Bros., Mario 64 and Wii Sports, after all.
But the Wii U, Nintendo’s newest console, went on sale last year and it is still waiting for its system-selling game. Super Mario 3D World, slated for Nov. 22, gives Nintendo reason to hope. It is being designed by the people behind the extraordinary Super Mario Galaxy games. For the first time since 1987’s Super Mario Bros. 2, players will be able to play as Princess Peach, rather than just saving her from a kidnapping. And now, the damsel can throw fireballs, too, just as Mario can.
There are also a number of intriguing games without scheduled release dates that might come out this fall but also might get pushed to 2014, including South Park: The Stick of Truth, a game for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 that has the close involvement of the TV show creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone; TheWalking Dead: Season Two, the sequel to Telltale Games’ acclaimed series of downloadable episodes inspired by Robert Kirkman’s comic books; and Silent Enemy, a game about bullying from Minority Media, the independent studio that made Papo & Yo, my favorite game of 2012.