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Innovation held back by Old Machines – Welcome to PC Gaming, and to PS4 and Xbox One

For years now, console gamers have rolled their eyes whenever the matter of PC gaming being “held back by consoles” has come up. The PC elite, with their often snobbish attitudes and condescending comments, have claimed that because all they get are poor console ports, that no publisher is really making the most of their more expensive, more modern hardware. It’s a very genuine problem and one that most goes ignored most of the time, partly thanks to those few PC owners who like to flaunt their equipment in everybody’s faces (which isn’t at all an implication that they’re making up for anything…).

Still, this problem that console-only gamers have previously been able to laugh off is about to become very real for them. With more and more announced games being released across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, the effect of having to work on older technology is going to become only too apparent. It’s a problem some of us have been suffering with for over half a decade, and it’s soon to become something much bigger.

The Future Looks Good

It’s easy to be impressed by the Next-Gen visuals released so far. It’s chalk and cheese with most of what’s being released right now. Sony specifically showed very colourful locations at their conference, and the likes of Knick was almost too obvious in its Pixar influence. Next-gen won’t suffer with the greys and blacks of the current generation. Of course, that’s a level design thing more than a hardware thing, but how many people would make that link? How many people watching open-mouthed as it all went to hell in Killzone took the time to think that much of what we were seeing was about how they’d crafted the design itself?


That’s not to take away from the graphical fidelity itself of course. It looked good, no matter what you game on.¬†

But then, that’s a first party title in a flagship franchise, a game that won’t see a PS3 release. It’s a good title to use as a banner: “this is why you should buy a PlayStation 4.” And I promise, Microsoft will be using many of the same tactics in their E3 conference. There¬†will be next-gen exclusives that look beyond anything console gamers are currently expecting is possible, and beyond what most current PCs are capable of. They will be in the minority. Most titles will look merely “better.” Noticeably smoother, better textures, but give it a few months and it’ll look normal. It’s only with a return to PS3 or 360 that you’ll reset that normalisation and see the fantastic visuals for what they are. Those PC gamers who criticized the PS4 visuals – that’s what happened to them. They said they’d seen better and they probably had.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Then there will be games like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed 4. Call of Duty is getting a lot of stick, partly because it’s a Call of Duty game and people who will never buy it feel if only Activision ditched everything that makes it successful and popular, they might maybe buy it (but probably not). They’re also saying that it doesn’t look much better than previous entries in the franchise. This isn’t true.

You won’t get the full difference until you’re actually sat there playing it. Playing Call of Duty at 60fps at a rendered 1080p is almost like playing a completely different game. The visuals pop in a way that just doesn’t happen on consoles, or at least didn’t. For the first time ever this year, console gamers are going to be able to play Call of Duty as it should be played, as it has been played on PC for years. But here’s the deal: 360 and PS3 gamers are going to have exactly the same experience as well. They may have upgraded the engine, but it still needs to work on previous-gen machines. If you’re asking why Call of Duty’s next-gen experience will be much like its last-gen one, you need look no further than the millions of players who wouldn’t be able to buy it if it became Xbox One/PlayStation 4 exclusive.

And yet people are angry, and they’re going to get angrier. This hasn’t really been an issue before. Yearly releases, aside from sports franchises, is a relatively new invention. While the likes of Crash and Spyro saw yearly release back in the day, they were never specifically yearly releases. They just happened that way. Now, with Ubisoft, Activision, EA and Co touting “experience,” it’s become more noticeable, and these publishers want everybody to be able to play these games.

Sure, they’ll upgrade the visuals from low to high in the hard-coded options, maybe they’ll even throw in some high-def textures, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the very least they’ll do is up the frame rate. These games will look better, but the base will be exactly the same. Forget next-gen innovation, forget your hardware working to its max – your shiny new PS4 will largely be used to play last-gen games, but slightly better. It’s only once the shackles of the old machines are truly removed that publishers will feel the need to regularly push the boundaries.

Together in Frustration

But don’t feel too cocky, PC gamers. It’s nice to think that the console crowd will finally realize what you’ve had to put up with for the whole of this generation, but the truth is rather more sombre. While the decidedly next-gen Tomb Raider – one of the best looking games around, if you ignore occasional issues – is a nice indicator of things to come, there’s not suddenly going to be a slew of amazing looking titles available on PC. You’ll still be stuck with poor 360 ports, the difference being that PS4 and Xbox One owners will be suffering through the same thing. The occasional next-gen only title will be as good as anything we’ve seen, and (if developers care to push it), might even be far better, but I’m wondering how anxious publishers will be to abandon the 150,000,000 consoles that sit in people’s homes. The early part of a generation is a time for new IPs, for blockbuster exclusive sequels designed to make people take the plunge into new hardware, but the biggest franchises will remain over everything. If you’re not already getting it on PC, you’re probably not going to be getting it for a few years yet.


The generational shift is always an exciting time, especially for casuals who don’t really know the power of playing on a PC. For them, the experience of higher graphical fidelity, more happening on screen and smoother actions will be out of this world. But those expecting some magical transition are going to be disappointed. It hasn’t happened before, and it won’t happen now. Early PS4 games, on average, will probably look like late PS3 games, and the likes of Call of Duty will continue trying to capture as many people as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s the very definition of multi-platform. But previous-gen games made to work on next-gen machines aren’t truly next-gen, just like PS3 games made to work on a $1000 graphics card isn’t really going to push that graphics card.

The sooner more people realize that and lower their expectations, the less disappointment there will be when the next generation of consoles truly kicks off.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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