We're two months into the next generation - can you feel the passion? Yes, as has been written about ad nauseum, it's a bit of a dry spell to start the era of the PlayStation 4. The exclusives are kind of disappointing, the cross-gen games can be glitchy, and, well, we're just all waiting for that game-changer, the title that makes the PS4 a must-own system. By this point in the legacy of the PS3, we already had "Resistance" and "Uncharted," two games that would influence the form and start franchises. That's not happening yet in the world of the PS4. And yet there are still games to play and awards to give. In light of the fact that we're chest-deep in awards season for films, here are the first PlayStation 4 Awards, picking the best in nine categories.
Let's start with the big one. You have a PlayStation 4 and you've been told by your parents or spouse that you only have the free time for one game, what should that game be? It's not really much of a contest, at least until the PS4-upgraded "Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition" hits stores on the 28th. Until then, looking back at the ten best games of 2013, the highest-ranking title available for the PS4 is the glorious "Black Flag," a reimagining of the entire "Assassin's Creed" franchise that has been so creatively successful that they're considering branching it off into its own pirate-themed franchise. The game also looks stunning on the PS4, fully taking advantage of its graphics engine to offer a visual experience that tops the PS3 and truly shows you what this machine is capable of offering. If you only get one, this is the one.
There are only two. Flip a dirty coin. The fact is that neither are great games, even if "Knack" could appeal to younger gamers and "Shadow Fall" truly shows off the graphics capabilities of the machine. And so that's why, if you're only going to play one, "Shadow Fall" is the way to go. I'm more increasingly frustrated the more I think about these games and I can't wait to play "DriveClub" and "Infamous: Second Son" so the company that has revolutionized home gaming can get back to their rightful throne but I have to pick one for now and so I go with "Killzone." Tomorrow, I might have picked "Knack."
Best Exclusive Downloadable Game: "Contrast"
Again, a shallow pool. Sorry if I sound like a broken record. Most critics have thoroughly embraced "Resogun" but I can't get my hooks around that one. It's fun. For about five minutes. Is "Contrast" a perfect game? Oh no. It's got some serious gameplay issues. But it's an original, unique experience built around a fascinating idea and strong visual aesthetic. I want more games like "Contrast" even if this game itself isn't perfect. It's a good place to start.
While my praise for "Shadow Fall" and "Contrast" is clearly limited at best (but something has to win in these categories), this one is an unqualified masterpiece. And it looks even better on the PS4 than it did on the PS3, complete with upgraded graphics, remastered sound, and refined controls for the DualShock 4. “Flower” is a unique experience; a game that can inspire you to look at the potential of game development in a new way. Let’s hope they upgrade “Journey” soon as well.
Before you write me an angry email, I know about the problems with servers and glitchy gameplay that have been so prevalent that DICE is actually delaying releasing DLC for this title until they can iron out the multiplayer experience. So, perhaps an asterisk should be added for “when it works.” Because the fact is that when the servers are functioning as they should in the world of “Battlefield 4,” there’s never been a game like it. Going from “BF4” on the PS3 to the PS4 is like going from training to actual combat. The tension is raised by the increased realism and it feels like anything can collapse in front of your eyes. Cover? Look what we can do to your cover. The sound design, the graphics, the gameplay – it doesn’t get better than this, and it’s stunning to think what a multiplayer game this accomplished designed specifically for the PS4 could deliver.
Until the breathtaking “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” hits the system next week, this is the best use of your PS4 in a visual sense. I kind of covered this ground above in the “Best Game” category but no title looks better than “Black Flag.” The crashing waves, the facial details, the smooth gameplay – if you want to show of the visual capabilities of your PS4, you’re not going to be able to do so without Ubisoft’s smash hit.
Best Family Game: "Angry Birds: Star Wars"
“LEGO Marvel Super Heroes” is an absolute blast but also a bit difficult for the littlest members of the family. This game, even if you own it on your iOS, is something that can truly appeal to the entire clan. The littlest ones enjoy the refined graphics while legions of teens and adults have already experienced the addictive qualities of the world of “Angry Birds.” Much as the LEGO games brilliantly blend nostalgia with modern gameplay, “AB: Star Wars” combines something you loved as a kid in the Lucasverse with something modern. It’s a blast.
The market may be a little thin but 2K Games demolishes the EA Sports offerings at the start of the PS4 generation with the best basketball game ever made. The broadcast presentation quality of “NBA 2K14” is breathtaking. If you saw someone playing it in another room, you could easily believe that it was an actual broadcast. It looks THAT good. The gameplay is stellar, the modes are deep, and the addictive nature of the on-court mechanics is stunning. Even as my Chicago Bulls season was falling apart (Rose & Noah injured, of course), I couldn’t stop playing this game. Excuse me, I got a season to continue.
Most Anticipated Game: "The Order: 1886"
Oh, there are so many choices here. “Infamous: Second Son” and “Thief” will be the first horses out of the gate with early 2014 releases that we’ll surely review here. The footage of the action-period hybrid “The Order: 1886” is the most breathtaking to date, even if we know remarkably little about it. The game could just be another “Dishonored” (pretty pictures, hollow storytelling) but I hold out hope that it will be the breakthrough game of the year and the real start of the PS4 generation.