A new Batman video game adventure kicks off what could be the last wave of major video game releases for the long-serving Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 game consoles.
Batman Arkham Origins, out now for the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PCs, is likely to be the caped crusader's last big case on the older systems from Sony and Microsoft, as both companies are primed to launch new ones: the PlayStation 4 on Nov. 15 and the Xbox One on Nov. 22.
Going forward, most of the biggest video game releases will land on the new systems. In the meantime, these are the glory days for the Xbox 360, out nearly eight years, and the PS3, seven years.
"Games that come out late in a console life cycle for the PS3 or Xbox 360 look great because developers have figured out by now how to maximize the technology," says P.J. McNealy of Digital World Research.
The double-whammy of high-quality releases for older systems, along with the arrival of new consoles should deliver an uptick for the video game industry, which has seen sales dip in recent years. Total sales are expected to hit $16.2 billion in 2013, up from $15.6 billion in 2012, according to estimates from DFC Intelligence.
Among the last wave of marquee releases about to arrive:
• Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag ($60, Oct. 29, for PS3, Xbox 360, ages 17-up), takes the historic battle between the assassins and the Templars to the pirate-infested Caribbean of the 18th century.
• Battlefield 4 ($60, Oct. 29, for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, ages 17-up), the latest in Electronic Arts' military shooter series. With more than 20 million copies of 2011's Battlefield 3 sold, the franchise aims to gain on competing publisher Activision, which routinely sells about 25 million of its annual Call of Duty series. The latest, Call of Duty: Ghosts, arrives Nov. 5.
• WWE 2K 14 ($60, Oct. 29, for PS3, Xbox 360, ages 13-up) a wrestling game that includes the largest roster of pro wrestlers ever with legendary stars such as Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and the Rock.
Both combat games - Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts - and Assassin's Creed IV will also be available on PS4 and Xbox One. That gives consumers the choice to play the game on their current system or to wait for the next-gen version.
One sign that players are ready to spend on high-quality games: Blockbuster release Grand Theft Auto V, generated more than $1 billion worldwide in just three days after its Sept. 17 release.
That bodes well for the industry, says Jesse Divnich, an analyst with game research firm EEDAR. "The market sentiment is overwhelmingly positive this holiday season for both games launching on the current and new consoles," he says. "If the success of Grand Theft Auto V is any indication, the traditional home console experience is far from receding."
Game publishers have already begun shifting resources to developing games for the new systems, Divnich says. A strong fall game lineup and new systems will serve to "get consumers excited again," he says.
To that end, developers working on Batman: Arkham Origins created an explorable Gotham City that is twice as large as the one in 2011's Batman: Arkham City game on PS3 and Xbox 360. "It's so big we felt we had to add a smart travel mechanism, the Batwing jet" to transport players throughout, says the game's creative director Eric Holmes.
The prequel covers Batman's early career as he establishes his guard over Gotham City. It delves into what drives Bruce Wayne and his alter ego - as well as enemies such as the Joker and Penguin. "We're showing him becoming the character we knew he would be," Holmes says.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag "pushes the current-gen technology to its absolute limits" with its virtual ocean and land environments, says the game's director Ashraf Ismail. "You can go from sailing your ship, to boarding an enemy ship as Edward, to diving in the water and swimming over to an island and running around exploring a ruin without ever breaking the immersion or cutting the action."
Those who opt for PS4 or Xbox One versions will see an upgrade in atmospherics. "When it rains or there is wind or a character touches the foliage, it will react more appropriately. This allows you to be more immersed in the world," he says. "The current-gen version of the game is the best looking Assassin's Creed we've ever done for that generation, hands down. However, the next-gen version is just absolutely breathtaking due to the fact that the hardware is so much more powerful."