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E3 Reaction: The Next Generation Arrives at E3

Amidst franchise fatigue it seemed that while the platform holders might not be ready for the next gen just yet, others most definitely are.

It's a funny place we've found ourselves in at this year's E3 - if not necessarily stuck between a rock and a hard place then certainly trapped in an awkward twilight, having old tech repackaged and resold to us while we marvel at a future that's very much here amongst us, even if certain parties refuse to acknowledge it.

For Sony and Microsoft, eager to squeeze another 12 months out of their existing hardware, it's an inconvenient truth. Despite a leave of absence in Monday's platform holder conferences, the next generation made an understated debut in the shape of games such as 1313 and Watch Dogs, and through the premonitions of both Square and Epic. Compare the excitement around these announcements with the weariness that met the over-milked mega franchises - a fatigue that's been accentuated by the annual churn that's provided a dreary backbeat for much of this generation - and it's clear why there's such a strong appetite for something fresh.

EA's conference was a perfect case in point; while heavy on quality games and boasting in Criterion's Need for Speed: Most Wanted a contender for one of the highlights of the show, it was also a damning snapshot of where this console cycle currently is. A couple of big name brands had a three slapped on to them, a couple of sports franchise updates were paraded and a military shooter screamed its way towards anonymity; John Riccitiello's assertion of a showing that was "less like the Oscars, and more like Sundance" has never rung so hollow.

1313 looks wonderful, but its debt to Uncharted makes it look like there's not much going on between the ears.

It's a stark contrast to the dying days of the last generation. As the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox drifted towards obsolescence there was a golden autumn that brought us new experiences such as Shadow of the Colossus, Black, Guitar Hero and Okami as well as genre-defining ones such as God of War 2 and Final Fantasy 12. For all the brawn of Halo 4, or even the breathtaking breadth of Assassin's Creed 3, it looks likely that this generation is going to limp towards its conclusion.

Sony is, at least, making sure it's going to send off the PlayStation 3 in some semblance of style. Its 2012 slate may be worryingly sparse, but in Beyond and The Last of Us it looks to have 2013 wrapped up already - and it's doing so by offering up two games that, even if they do lean on their respective predecessors, promise something new.

But against a backdrop of general apathy, it's no surprise that both Watch Dogs and 1313 have been lapped up with such enthusiasm; here are two new games that are promising to deliver new levels of fidelity in their action, and in the case of Watch Dogs a little more besides.

Ubisoft may have pinned down Watch Dogs for release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but the vague mention of multiple other platforms suggested a release that would span generations, while the complete silence from LucasArts said even more. Both games, of course, were running on PC, underlining the well-known fact that for investors in that platform the next generation is now.

In the flowing overcoat of Aiden Pearce and the believably dreary vision of a near future Chicago as well as the thousands of sparks that illuminate every explosion in 1313, every spell cast in Agni's Philosophy and just about everything in the Unreal Engine 4 demo (sparks, it seems, are going to be next year's lens flare) we also caught a first, at times exhilarating glimpse at what the next generation could hold for consoles.

There are notes of caution worth sounding, for sure; Watch Dogs, for all its well-crafted atmosphere and exquisite world building quickly evolved into a cover-based shooter in the demonstration. 1313, meanwhile, looks an awful lot like it's done little more than transpose Naughty Dog's formula into space, adding credence to the belief that yesterday's Gears of Wars clone is tomorrow's Uncharted copy (a point that was rammed home by the Tomb Raider demo, revealing a furious franchise Ouroboros as Crystal Dynamics are seemingly influenced by the game that Uncharted borrowed so much from).

In the fireworks of Agni's Philosophy and the Unreal Engine 4 demo there was also a sign that the next generation of visuals perhaps won't offer the sea change that other hardware transitions have - that perhaps we should prepare ourselves for a generational step rather than a leap.

It may be down for 360 and PS3, but it's highly likely that Watch Dogs will also make an appearance on next gen consoles too.

Let's not forget that a certain other platform holder did show off its next generation console (and surely we won't forget what an awful hash it made of doing so). For all the deserved negativity around the new console it's the asymmetrical gaming that's at the heart of the Wii U's philosophy that offered one of the most exciting visions of the next generation of gaming, even if the most tantalizing example didn't come from Nintendo itself.

Beneath the sheer splendor of Ubisoft Montreal's Watch Dogs there's a smart idea that, given the confusion that reigned when Nintendo tried to explain an asymmetric mini-game during its Wii U reveal, perhaps wisely didn't make it to the game's own on-stage unveiling. Watch Dogs promises to deliver a blend of single-player and multiplayer, an intersection between players that bleeds into the campaign and that, somewhat fittingly given the themes of the game, is all about connectivity.

It's not new, exactly - Brink promised a similar blurring, though somewhat ironically the end result lacked definition - but Watch Dogs attacks the idea with fresh tools and fervor. The game interacts with tablets and phones in a way that sounds a hell of a lot smarter than SmartGlass; players with the second screen in their hand can manipulate the environment, theoretically being able to hack into the game world and hinder or help with another player's progress.

A gimmick, yes, but it's one that sits perfectly within the world of Watch Dogs and one that posits an interesting solution to the idea of multi-screen gaming and social connectivity, and one that's far more enticing than the idea of thumbing through cast lists or flicking through a message board. It's a fascinating answer to an issue that's going to become increasingly pronounced on the agenda, and one that's daringly different to other approaches - and it suggests that there'll be plenty of new ideas to complement the new technology in the next round of hardware, something that's surely worth getting excited about.

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