On May 7, the team at Xbox put on a showcase featuring select third-party releases coming to their next-generation console, the Xbox Series X. As I watched, there was a part of me that was a bit underwhelmed by their visual presentation. Certainly, several of the games shown (such as Bright Memory Infinite, Dirt 5, and The Medium) looked gorgeous. However, at no point did I find myself picking my jaw up off of the floor as I had with previous consoles at the beginning of a new generation. The games shown at Inside Xbox, while impressive, essentially looked like an advancement of current-generation visuals. I didn’t find there to be a huge generational leap. This got me thinking: are we finally reaching “the wall” when it comes to visuals in video games?
I vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on NFL 2K running on the Sega Dreamcast back in 1999. I was properly floored. NFL 2K was so head and shoulders above all other football games visually, it was laughable. It made the version of Madden that I had been playing on my PS1 look quite
crusty by comparison. The same could be said when I first saw Gran Turismo 3 in motion running on a PS2. It made the pixelated visuals of Gran Turismo 2 look positively primitive. To my eyes, the next-generation games shown thus far lack this “wow factor.” But why?
For one, it seems as though technological advances from generation to generation simply aren’t as huge as they were in the past. Tech YouTuber Austin Evans recently produced a video covering this exact topic. Previously, new consoles would routinely be five to ten times more powerful than the previous generation. This is simply no longer the case. When you factor in the mid-generation console spec bumps that we have seen in the current generation (PS4 Pro and Xbox One X), realistically we’re seeing approximately a two times increase in power going into the next generation. The result is that we’re seeing games that look better, but not remarkably so when compared to the current generation.
Another reason has to do with the talent of developers. Games like God of War 2018, Resident Evil 7, and Horizon Zero Dawn are a few examples that represent the high watermark for visuals this generation. Each of these games possess demonstrably better visuals than what you would find on the previous generation of consoles. A key reason for this has to do with developers leveraging their talent and experience to wring every last bit of power from a console to produce the best visuals possible. When one takes a look at a game like The Last of Us Part II looking as stunning as it does on a base PS4, it’s hard to imagine how a video game could look better.
Of course, we’ll see bigger jumps in visuals as the next generation continues on. Developers will become more familiar with the hardware for the Xbox Series X and PS5 and produce gorgeous games. However, I think it is a good thing that we’re getting closer to the proverbial “wall” when it comes to visuals in games. I would much rather see developers focus on improving framerates, creating truly seamless worlds, or improving AI.
What do you think, readers? Are we reaching “the wall” with game visuals, and if so, what are some ways developers could innovate beyond graphics? Sound off in the comments below.