Talking Point: How Much Do Format Face-Offs Really Matter?
Posted by Sammy Barker
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from the abundance of animated Ron Paul images being posted around the web today, it’s that it’s most definitely happening. The expiration of Battlefield 4’s next generation review embargo inevitably brought with it more drama than a daytime soap opera overnight, with epic NeoGAF threads, social network meltdowns, and even clarification posts taking centre stage. But while the response to the first round in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s ever intensifying battle has been undeniably entertaining, how much does it all really matter?
The word from the trenches is that Sony’s impending system is on the front foot when it comes to raw horsepower. We’ve more or less known this since lead architect Mark Cerny proudly projected the words 8GB GDDR5 RAM during February’s big PlayStation Meeting press conference, but now we’re finally starting to see the differences. DICE’s upcoming first-person shooter runs at a higher resolution on the Japanese giant’s format, and has a much more stable framerate. And word has it that this won’t be the last third-party game to boast an advantage on the PS4.
It’s a massive turnaround from the PlayStation 3, which for large chunks of the past seven or so years has come out worse in console comparisons. An awkward architecture meant that, while first-party studios such as Naughty Dog were able to push the platform to its absolute limits, external studios had to invest significant resources into development in order to get their titles approaching anywhere near parity with their Xbox 360 counterparts. In cases such as Bayonetta, which barely ran on Sony’s system at all, this was front page news.
But despite the hundreds of Digital Foundry articles and forum posts, how much did the PS3’s supposed inferiority really affect your purchasing decisions? If you’re reading this website, we’re going to assume that you did the majority of your gaming on the Japanese giant’s black behemoth – but did you ever wish that the foliage in Mafia II looked like its Xbox 360 companion, or lament the fact that Red Dead Redemption lacked a few lines of resolution? These are big differences in screenshot comparisons, but they’re hardly the end of the world when you’re engrossed in a game.
The reality is that comparison articles – for all of their worth – tend to exaggerate the differences between systems. The reality is that we don’t play games under test lab conditions, with identical images running side-by-side in slow motion so that we can pick out the texture discrepancies and debate the number of framerate hiccups when an explosion occurs on screen. In most cases, we simply play, and hopefully enjoy, our games. Granted, there’s always the desire to be blown away, but does knowing that a title has improvements elsewhere impede that?
With next generation consoles representing a significant investment for all but the most financially flush consumers, we respect that there’s a desire to get the best bang for your buck. After all, who wouldn’t want to buy the most capable machine on the market? We also appreciate that those lucky enough to own both systems may want to purchase the strongest version of a specific multiformat title available. But if technical performance is really that important to you, then perhaps you shouldn’t be dabbling in the console world at all.
With the more open PC platform easily upgradeable, and Steam providing a quality ecosystem for gamers to play in, it seems curious to us that anyone would want to debate the differences between Battlefield 4’s resolution on the PS4 and Xbox One, when the humble computer is perfectly capable of flawless 1080p. Yes, we understand that there’s an element of technological knowhow attached to gaming on more customisable rigs, but it stands to reason that anyone affected by resolution differences would know their GPUs from their CPUs.
We’re not trying to downplay the story that’s surrounding both Sony and Microsoft’s next generation systems at the moment, and nor are we even attempting to shrug aside the emerging hardware advantages of the PS4 – we just can’t help but feel that the reaction has been a little bit exaggerated over the past twelve hours. If the Japanese giant’s impending platform turns out to be the best place to play most third-party software, then that’s fantastic – but we spent the majority of the PS3’s lifespan with “inferior” multiformat releases, and thoroughly enjoyed them all the same.
Do you use format face-offs to decide which version of multiplatform games to buy? What impact do you think that the PS4’s emerging hardware superiority will have moving forwards? Compare your opinions to ours in the comments section and poll below.
Has a console comparison ever impacted your purchasing decision? (44 votes)
Yes, I regularly switch platforms due to visual and performance differences
I have reconsidered my purchase in the past, but only in extreme cases
No, I tend to buy games on my preferred platform regardless of differences
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