Mark my words: 2017 has the potential to change the landscape of our industry forever. It’s a sentiment I first felt at the dawn of a new year, my heart filled with a hope for all those games and bits of hardware that might arrive without being delayed into oblivion, but now I can say for sure that 2017 might be the best one yet for console gaming.
Let’s start with the software. There was a critically acclaimed Resident Evil reboot, a new IP from Sony in Horizon Zero Dawn that blew everyone away and Nintendo Switch launched with a new game in The Legend of Zelda series.
The year of our gaming lord 2017 isn’t just a period that’s ripe for change due to some hugely anticipated titles, either – though, let’s be honest, any year with a new Legend of Zelda is an exciting one – but for the fact we’re potentially getting two new machines while a third starts to realise its true potential.
As much as we want to talk about the newcomer to the console market first, let’s start with talking about PS4 Pro. Sony’s newly upgraded eighth generation console has only been out on shelves for a few months now, so both consumers and developers have barely had the chance to tap into the wealth of potential it has to offer.
Remember how tame the PS4 launch games were by comparison to the ones that arrived in 2014? 2013 was a year ruled by the last hurrah of the old generation, the likes of The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite proving old hardware still had something prove. It was a raft of cross-gen titles and indies and nothing that screamed ‘unit shifting monster hit’.
A few months after launch, PS4 and Xbox One received their first wave of killer apps. Dragon Age: Inquisition challenged Skyrim for the action-RPG crown, Shadows of Mordor surprised everyone with a procedural generation system that actually worked and Alien: Isolation scared everyone half to death.
And that’s just some of the titles that started to push PS4 and Xbox One’s GPUs and processors. Larger worlds, greater player agency and stable graphical output were just some of the mountains conquered in the year that followed the beginning of the eighth gen.
With the same architect behind PS4 Pro that worked on the original, and no doubt the same internal push from Sony for developers to work with the new hardware, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest PS4 Pro will follow much the same trajectory as its predecessor.
Also, considering that every new PS4 title (and many an old one) getting a PS4 Pro mode as standard, the door is about to kicked off its hinges when 2017 gets going. PS4 Pro is only just getting started.
Then there’s the other upgraded console offering: Project Scorpio. Microsoft has been candid about its intentions for Xbox One And A Half back at E3 2015, even going as far as to release an understandably vague list of hardware specs.
Of course, much of was made nebulous by a raft of pointless soundbites and the usual boring rhetoric you get from the likes of E3 and Gamescom, but there was a lot to take away from the reveal of the machine codenamed as ‘Project Scorpio’.
For a start it’ll be 4K ready, as well supporting HDR. It’ll no doubt support 4K Blu-ray discs much like Xbox One S (something PS4 Pro doesn’t offer) and has been confirmed to have backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 (because we all know being able to play Gears of War 2 on another machine is very important to the average consumer).
It’ll also launch with a purported six teraflops of graphical performance power. To put that into perspective, that's roughly five times more powerful than Xbox One. Keep in mind PS4 Pro is only twice as powerful as PS4. That’s a lot of power. That’s almost a new generation of power.
It’s also being designed and tested with the most in-vogue of technologies in mind: VR. With support for Microsoft’s mixed reality Hololens headset (we wouldn’t if Microsoft has another pure-VR headset in mind to compete with PlayStation VR) baked in, Scorpio is being made to hit the ground running midway through the current console war.
And since Microsoft has said outright that Scorpio will have the processing power and GPU of a PC worth thousands of pounds, it’s made plenty of us balk at the potential price of such a behemoth.
However, if Microsoft’s Phil Spencer is to believed, Scorpio will attempt to compete with the £350 price range of PS4 Pro. "I want Scorpio to be at a console price-point," he commented in a recent interview with AusGamers. "I’m not trying to go and compete with a high-end rig.”
"And because we’re building one spec, we’re able to look at the balance between all the components and make sure that it’s something we really hit that matters to consumers and gamers."
So Project Scorpio could not only be more powerful than PS4 Pro, it might also offer its impressive services at a price that force you to weep into your empty wallet. It’s an incredible prospect, but it’s not the only bit of hardware coming out in 2017.
Making a Switch
Then there’s a little thing called Nintendo Switch, fresh out of the silicon womb.
Nintendo Switch has so much potential. No firm is better placed to unify the non-mobile handheld market and the console realm than Ninty, a firm that’s built its brand on solid first-party franchises and hardware innovation.
Being able to play titles that could well appear on both PS4 and Xbox One in both handheld and console form is nothing short of mind-blowing. It doesn’t even matter that the console probably won’t be able to compete with PS4 Pro or Xbox One - Switch will have a game-changing feature that neither console will be able to replicate.
We don’t know for sure the full extent of which titles we’ll see coming to the Switch in 2017 and beyond, but if Nintendo is able to keep the quality and scale of its classic franchises up then it could have an utterly formidable handheld on its hands.
2017 is going to be one hell of a year for gaming. Just you wait.