Phew! 2020 has been one cluster of a year, from the coronavirus pandemic and political unrest to economic disruption and the delay of the iPhone 12. So the arrival of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, and the start of a new generation of gaming, was set to be the kick in the rear this year needed. But there’s a slight problem.
As much as I’ve enjoyed reviewing the Xbox Series X, and as much praise as my colleagues have given to the Xbox Series S and PS5, I think all three consoles have arrived about a year too early.
The obvious sticking point here is that there aren’t enough platform exclusives for either console. And all of the big games that will debut on the PS5 and Xbox Series X will also come to the PS4 and Xbox One.
So waiting a little longer for the likes of Halo Infinite or a new God of War game to be ready to spearhead the Xbox Series X and PS5 respectively would have made the consoles’ launch much more kinetic. Though going by how fast the pre-orders of all the consoles have sold out, this lack of launch games doesn’t seem to have throttled the appetite for new gaming machines.
And I’ll admit that there’s something very appealing about having a lot more power to bring to bear on current-gen games to give them a boost in performance and visual clout. The Xbox Series X is particularly impressive with its Auto HDR function. But I don’t think that’s enough to really inject that excited “gotta have one” feeling for the new consoles that their predecessors arguably had.
Power going to waste
One of the biggest problems here is the mid-generation refresh the PS4 and Xbox One had with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Both of these machines started to enable 4K console gaming, either with the use of checkerboard rendering or native 4K, particularly with the One X.
As such, the jump to 4K at 60 frames per second is very impressive. But not necessarily a revolutionary leap if you’re coming from the PS4 Pro or One X. The One X actually has more teraflops of graphical power than the Xbox Series S — 6 teraflops vs the 4 teraflops in the newer console.
With that in mind, I feel my Xbox One X still has a lot more to give in terms of performance as developers tend to get the most out of consoles as they get to the end of their lives.
Take Red Dead Redemption 2 for example: it runs at 4K and a reasonably steady 30 frames per second on the One X and looks fantastic doing it. Sure, 60 fps would be even better. But I’m not sure it’s $499 better.
And given the One X can do that on such a large game, imagine what could be done with an Xbox exclusive carefully calibrated to tap into the One X’s power. The long-life of the Xbox 360 showed what could be done with mature console hardware with Halo 4, which was a visual treat for a game running on a seven-year-old console. The same happened with the PS3 and The Last of Us, which looked fantastic when it arrived in 2013.
Not only do I think Sony and Microsoft could have squeezed more out of the current-gen consoles before they launched the PS5 and Series X, I also think it’s something they should have done.
The world is getting a lot more savvy to the threat of climate change, so surely it would be more environmentally friendly to get the most out of a machine before it’s finally consigned to the great console storage in the sky. After all, we’re talking about games consoles where the money is made on games and software subscriptions, not hardware sales, which drive the incessant refresh and iteration cycles of smartphones.
PS5 and Xbox Series X outlook
Don’t get me wrong, I find that the release of new consoles, and hardware in general, really tickles the “I want” glands. But the sensible part of my tech-addled gray matter tends to advise waiting or really weighing up the benefits of getting a new shiny hardware thingamabob.
Of course, I’m lucky enough to have an Xbox Series X to test. But if you’ve been chewing over whether to buy it or the PS5, I’d advise you to wait a little bit. There are going to be plenty of cross-platform games in the next year or so. And while they might not look as good on older hardware, game graphics are so good these days I don’t think you’ll miss out on too much.
As for Sony and Microsoft, I hope they spend more time really building out the feature set of their upcoming consoles, as I really want them to deliver true next-gen gaming in the next 12 months. Halo Infinite better look good, and God of War 2 needs to blow my tiny mind.