Next-gen isn’t what it used to be
With the graphical envelope becoming more difficult to push is it time to reassess how we judge next-gen games?
Gaming by Shaun Prescott
If there’s one thing gamers like more than playing games, it’s arguing about games. With the new generation of consoles well into their first year on the market, the enduring controversy has been the apparent disparity between the PS4 and Xbox One’s graphical abilities. Call them the resolution wars, or as I like to term it, 1080p-gate.
When new consoles launch, it’s important for consumers to feel as if they’re experiencing something groundbreakingly new. Traditionally this newness has been defined by graphical fidelity: the true 3D of the PS One and Nintendo 64, the polygon counts of the PS2, the HD lustre of the PS3 / Xbox 360 generation. For the first time though, neither the Xbox One or PS4 demonstrate any huge generational leap compared with their predecessors, and when compared with high end PCs, they’re often inferior.
The ongoing controversy really asserted itself with the release of Watch Dogs in June. While many commentators have rightfully identified the inferiority of the game’s graphics next to its 2012 E3 reveal, it’s still a good looking game. It’s a lot of fun, too – a fact that may have been forgotten amid the handwringing over what constitutes a true next-gen experience.
If the Watch Dogs controversy proves anything, it’s that hardware is really not the determining factor here. Instead, it’s the amount of money invested in a title. Grand Theft Auto V managed to squeeze juice out of the PS3 and Xbox 360 no one knew it had, and the reason for that is the way Rockstar operates its business: the game cost $265 million to develop and market, which means there were more hands on deck to create the level of detail and immersion audiences expect in modern games. Meanwhile, before its delay to 2014 (it was initially scheduled to launch in November 2013), Watch Dogs’ budget was a comparatively paltry $68 million.
Of course, this doesn’t explain why the resolution was higher on the PS4, but the difference is immaterial. What audiences need to realise now is that it isn’t their console’s hardware that makes games look beautiful, it’s the people who create them. In sprawling open world games like Watch Dogs and GTA V, it’s not the processor or the resolution that makes something pretty, it’s the amount of manpower employed to fill out its tiny details. That’s why GTA V is arguably the better looking game, even though it’s using hardware of eight years vintage.
This is going to be an enduring issue during this console generation: games are getting harder and more expensive to make, and gamers are getting more demanding because they want their fancy new consoles to work their hardest. The problem is, games that do push consoles to their extremes are going to be few and far between, and when they do, they’re going to need to please as many consumers as possible. Maybe it’s time we reassess what progress and innovation means in this industry, because those who prize graphical fidelity above all else will get nothing but diminishing returns.