The Cross-Gen Concern is Getting Old
There’s been a fresh wave of concern over the prospect of “cross-gen” games this week – or games that’ll come to both the PS4 generation consoles and PS5/Series X. It’s getting beyond old.
Every few months it’s the same thing: “we can’t see what these devices are truly capable of until they ditch PS4 and Xbox One.”
And while that’s partly true in some extreme use cases – situations where the game’s physics are tied to a better GPU or faster loading – these extreme cases will not count 90 per cent of the time.
Nothing we’ve seen so far has been “held back” by having to also release on the old consoles. The proof is on PC.
Where Cross-Gen Doesn’t Exist
Revisiting Portal 2 in 2021 has blown my mind a little bit. Switching it down to 720p and playing with the settings gives some hint at how we’d have played it a decade ago. Of course, then you turn everything back up to maximum and it looks like a remaster.
And it’s not just that. I’ve been playing a host of older games this last few weeks. All of them still look and feel fantastic. Final Fantasy X, while still clearly a PS2 game, looks knife-edge sharp in full 4K on Xbox Series X. Psychonauts, similarly, looks and plays astoundingly well.
Why? All these games were incredible then, and they’re incredible now. Final Fantasy X is the peak of classic Final Fantasy in many ways (more on that next week). Psychonauts has an art style that so many companies would kill for.
It’d be wrong to say developers didn’t need cutting edge tech, because they made the most of what they had. The whole reason these games look so beautiful today is because of talented devs who utilised the tools available to them.
But that was the good old days and this is now. The time of needing blood sacrifices to get the simplest of games working on console are gone. The tools are incredible. The power in these consoles equally so. Developers can do whatever they want…
…And what they want will probably be prettier, bigger versions of what we already have. And that’s fine.
Rewriting the Rule Book
How many games were there last generation that really transformed a genre? The Third-Person Action titles got refined to perfection, but it was an extension rather than an evolution.
Maybe Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system showed something new and unprecedented. But really, the only things that changed were that maps got bigger, enemies got smarter and games got prettier.
If anything at all changed, it was outside of genre games. It was the rise of digital, the rise of free-to-play and increased utilization of mobile.
If you want to see how games are actually going to change this generation, you need to look at their PC counterparts. Games are prettier, but boundaries are almost never stretched to breaking point.
Ray-tracing, DLSS (or its equivalent), better textures… these are not necessarily things that will transform genres. Landing space ships from orbit sounds good and well, but how many games are actually going to do it?
Arbitrarily cutting off the last generation will not make your games better. At a time when the new consoles are almost impossible to get hold of, it’ll just make a lot of people’s lives worse.
The Cross-Gen Concern is Getting Old – Conclusion
I’m certainly not saying everything should be cross-gen. That would be insane. We want innovation where we can get it, and there are certainly cases where the old consoles would hold a title back.
But that shouldn’t mean a blank ban of older games. Instead, developers need to take a sensible approach to their scaling. Where new games can run on old hardware, make it happen. Where it can’t, focus going forward.
Really though, gamers just need to stop stressing over things they can’t possibly understand or fully appreciate. Stop panicking about whether Starfield will be on Xbox One, and the implications for the game’s quality as a result. Stop the concern about Horizon 2 or Forza being “held back”.
If Final Fantasy X and Portal 2 can still blow us away in 2021, developers have plenty of room to make their vision come true, with or without the Xbox One to worry about.