Why next-gen video game graphics don’t impress anymore
A reader wonders why a game like GTA 5 re-released three generations in a row would never have happened before.
In 1991, I heard a movie critic say that the current Terminator 2 would not hold up in several years, because the special effects would look outdated. Well, they not only held it up, they still do today.
The film had a revolutionary use of CGI, which arguably still hasn’t been surpassed, even by its own sequels. There was of course James Cameron’s previous experience with CGI in The Abyss, but it was a turning point. In the years that followed, movies and TV’s over-reliance on CGI left us indifferent to what would have been considered spectacular or mind-boggling years before.
As using CGI has gotten cheaper and easier, there’s really nothing that can’t be designed on-screen, often at the expense of creative practical effects, and we’re left with brighter but forgettable visuals on the screen. which ones to throw our eyes.
I think the same can be said with modern video game graphics, the progression of which, if you can call it that, has been going at a snail’s pace over the last 15 years or so, to the point where claims that an upcoming title may have the best graphics ever won’t lift much more than a casual shrug or a lazy eyebrow.
During the first lockdown of 2020 I bought a Raspberry Pi to pass the time playing some retro classics and had a lot of fun watching games in the 80s and 90s amazed at how quickly the graphics and the sound improved in such a short time. I found it hard to believe, for example, that there was only five years between the 2D delights of Sonic The Hedgehog and the fully 3D-made world of Super Mario 64.
The progression in terms of graphics and sound has taken place at a rapid pace, where each new console released would be touted as a true next-gen game. Music and sound quickly reached their peak, aided by the use of CD formats, and so the race was on to continue to provide the best graphics experience in the home.
When Namco released Ridge Racer in arcades in 1993, I thought it was the best he could have, and that these amazing “photorealistic” graphics could never be recreated at home. And yet, it was only a year later, with the arrival of Sony’s PlayStation. Shortly thereafter, the Dreamcast upped the stakes again, and then quickly the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
But then the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 launched. HD consoles with huge amounts of power and a real generation leap in terms of graphics and game production quality. Once I played Dead Rising, Project Gotham Racing 4, Red Dead Redemption, and, towards the end of their lifespan, Grand Theft Auto 5, I didn’t think the games would improve much beyond that. this in terms of graphics. Well, they didn’t.
The fact that Grand Theft Auto 5 is now arriving on its third generation of consoles and still looking great eight years later, albeit with a few tweaks, speaks volumes. Can you imagine games from the 80s, 90s or 00s re-released over three generations on consoles at full price, with little cosmetic touches?
I want the next gen consoles to impress me with amazing new graphics, but the new gen looks like the old one. And the older generation is not a big step forward compared to the previous generation. The original Gears Of War looks better than Gears Of War 5, for example. Upcoming PlayStation 5 games that remain cross-gen such as God Of War: Ragnarök and Horizon Forbidden West, appear to be an upgrade from their latest entries.
Some games that use supposedly next-gen features, such as ray tracing, make the games less performant. And even the developers came out and said Ratchet & Crank: Rift Apart probably could have been done on the last gen. That’s probably why Grand Theft Auto 6 is so delayed (or won’t happen, as one reader recently suggested.) It really doesn’t have anywhere to go other than maybe VR.
None of this is the fault of console makers or game developers. It is, I would say, the technology that loses the war of attrition. Take a look at mobile phones and how they struggle to find meaningful new ways to get consumers to upgrade. My current phone is the first one that I haven’t “upgraded” after the contract expired because it just wasn’t necessary to do so and I have no interest in a phone screen that fits. bent in two.
Will the graphics have another giant leap forward? Probably not, and you only have to watch movies again to see why. If even in the movies, they still can’t create truly believable CGIs (Fast & Furious 9 anyone?), Then games certainly won’t be able to outdo what they can do. So it looks like we’re playing Grand Theft Auto 5 for a few more generations.
By Relaxed Chimp reader (PSN ID)
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