Maybe The PS4 Pro And Xbox One X Were A Bad Idea

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Maybe The PS4 Pro And Xbox One X Were A Bad Idea
Image: Kotaku

I know they’ve sold a lot of units — big techy launch things always have and always will — but there was no avoiding the fact that this month’s next-gen console launches felt a little…muted.

Sure, you could blame some (or even more than some!) of that on a global pandemic and associated economic downturn, a little more on an underwhelming slate of launch titles and even spare a little for the distractions that came with a monumental US election.

But even placing those factors neatly to the side for a moment, things still felt off. For a while now video game consoles have been involved in a high stakes game of diminishing returns, each new generation of hardware slightly less ground-breaking than the last. In the 1990s we went from side-scrolling pixels to a universe of 3D in one jump, and collectively lost our minds. By 2013, the gains being made by leaping to a whole new era of consoles were shrinking fast. In 2020 we’ve gone from expensive open worlds rendered in 4K to…more expensive open worlds rendered in 4K.

It’s not much of a jump, and that feeling sure wasn’t helped by the fact Sony and Microsoft released consoles in 2013, but then went and released two more in 2016.

When the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X were released, I was not impressed. For starters, it was some PC-upgrade type bullshit! I bought consoles precisely to avoid having to upgrade every 3-4 years, but here both Sony and Microsoft were, dropping iterative improvements of the same machine only three years after the originals were released.

I wasn’t down with the way this created a tiered system among a console’s userbase, where the same game, running on the same company’s platforms, could offer such different results. Take Red Dead Redemption 2, for example: of the four consoles it was available on, it was somehow both worst and best on Microsoft’s hardware (Xbox One and Xbox One X respectively).

And now, in 2020, I’m even less of a fan, because these half-assed upgrades have robbed me of what little interest I could have mustered for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X among all that other stuff I mentioned up top.

Do you remember back in 2005, when the Xbox 360 and PS3 launched, and the big thing was that they could display in “HD”, and you thought that didn’t mean much and didn’t care, until you played a game on a big screen at 1080p and thought “holy shit this is nice”?

4K is exactly like that. Even as recently as the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X’s launch, I was dismissive of it, maybe because I wasn’t that interested in seeing the same games I could play on a PS4, maybe because I didn’t have a 4K TV at the time either.

I Am Very Impressed With 4K Rocks

I got a new PC a few weeks ago, along with a new monitor. It’s my first new PC purchase since 2015 (I prefer to buy all-new builds vs continual upgrades), and since I never got a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, this has been my first week spent...

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I’ve since got a 4K monitor, though, and it took me about five minutes of playing stuff like Death Stranding and Horizon Zero Dawn at those resolutions to make me say “holy shit this is nice”.

Indeed it’s one of the biggest video gaming tech improvements I’ve seen in years, right up there with SSD load speeds, a transformative experience that had I been seeing it only now in new consoles — at a time when 4K TV purchases are going through the roof now that they’re more affordable — would have made me think, yeah, OK, cool, these are next generation consoles.

Only it’s not, because that card was played back in 2016, leaving this year’s launches to feature stuff like…faster loading times? And some fancy resume abilities? Those are cool and welcome features, don’t get me wrong, but are they really the kind of things that get you excited for a whole new generation of consoles?

They sure aren’t for me. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X came in half-assed and stole that thunder already, setting a precedent where I don’t look at the PS5 and Xbox One X as new machines at all, but simply the next iterative improvement, like the Pro and One X were to the PS4 and Xbox One.

Comments

  • This argument is like saying that everyone should have the maximum tax amount taken out of their PAYG summaries so that everyone can have a bigger tax return at the end of the year, purely because you personally can’t manage your savings. It’s fucking stupid.

    PS4/Xbone released in 2013, unable to do 4K, with ridiculous load times, and more often than not couldn’t do 60fps. Now we have a generational leap whose improved graphics, load times, framerates, and potentially even design (eg: haptics, asset streaming) from 2013 is just as vast as between the xbox 360 and the xbone.

    And the author is arguing that we should have spent the last four years playing at the limits of 2013’s paltry potential, all so that the next upgrade could feel like it was bigger?

    Mate. If you want to skip the mid-point of console generations for a bigger, splashier impact and intentionally hamstring how you play games for close to half a fucking decade because you don’t like the idea of buying a new console every 3-4years instead of every 7years, that’s on you.

    The rest of us are glad we were able to play with the improvements we had, when we could, and that developers were able to keep making prettier games instead of being hamstrung by hardware that was frankly obsolete (compared to PC) the day it was launched.

      • I get where Luke’s coming from, but I’m honestly very, very glad that we had the mid-gen refresh in the first place.

        If it wasn’t for the PS4 Pro especially, you wouldn’t have seen a lot more devs release unlocked frame rate modes for the PS4 era. Because of that, those games are now massively more playable on the PS5 — anything hard capped to 30 on the PS4 stays hard capped on the PS5. We could have been waiting months, years even for a properly full library, similar to how the PS4 took a few years to really get off the ground.

        And it’s another technical thing, but because of the PS4 Pro and the XSX, dynamic resolution became a necessity for practically every video game. That’s not only a big help now on the next-gen consoles, but it’s also an absolute necessity for any Switch port these days. Without dynamic res being normalised, you can forget about playing most AA or AAA games on the Switch. Period. They’d be complete slideshows without it.

        Fortunately, we can all have different opinions about things. I’m not the most technically savvy writer in this regard, but I do like digging a bit more into that side of the industry and how games work. And from that perspective alone, the mid-gen refreshes have only been an enormous benefit for the whole industry.

        Giant pain in the arse for devs, totally, but absolutely worth it in the long run.

        • I think that the fact that there are unlocked framrate games as a benefit is a good argument. However, I also agree that the risk is that this is an argument for buying a PC and forgetting consoles. The advantages of consoles can be summarised (IMO) into the following: cost, convenience, and surety that you will not be held-back from games releases over the life-time of the console. Is this technologically advantageous – definitely not (in fact it is specifically not trying to improve the technology, bur puts emphasis on gaining more and more ‘effect’ from the same underlying technology. The problem I see is that people want it both ways… and I don’t think it really works. By promoting X-gen platforms (which is good for consumer access) you are inherently making compromises on performance targets (consumer experience). In the PC world, this is a given, in the same way as the constant struggle with drivers, compatibility, architectural constraints. Were there advantages of a mid-life upgrade for those that did it – definitely. Did it fragment the user-base – 100%. I think the more fundamental challenge Sony has is that they are still constrained by the fact that the architecture in 2013 was still based around ‘generations’… which has put in place performance constraints that actually inhibits improvements… and those architectural constraints may last a long time. MS are also impacted by this – but perhaps less so as they’ve always had an eye towards the PC market (where flexibility has typically trumped specificity and power).

          Will we all survive – almost guaranteed. But for me – I always feel a sense of ease jumping on my simple (one-size-used-to-fit-all console) – accepting that I was giving up the power of my PC… but not having to deal with the constant struggle with configuration that I do in the PC world. That’s a personal choice -and there’s also nothing wrong with wanting a more PC-like experience.

          • Game development is always about performance compromises though, whether it’s PC or console. As mentioned below, I think as long as the amount of SKUs doesn’t get ridiculous, and provided current gen buggers off in two years, consoles will still retain their traditional advantages.

    • yep agree. And lets face it, the PS4 and xbox one were probably not powerful enough to begin with (more so the xbox one). They were never going to be good enough to run games at a decent quality for 7 years.

      Maybe thats where we are at now days. Games are getting bigger and consoles maybe cant last as long as they use to. I guess this generation will be a good test as both consoles have some decent power under the hood. Either way, ill buy the more powerful upgrade when it comes

      • AMD’s tech is in a very different space performance wise now — and even in 2016 — compared to 2011-12 when these consoles were being built.

        Hell, next generation refresh we could be seriously talking about ARM hardware.

  • The consoles are going to be refreshed every few years either way anyway so whats the big deal?

    Over time manufacturers develop ways of refining the manufaturing processes and cutting costs so they will always release a newer version of that generations console because it makes sense to do so both for the customer and economically for the manufacturer.
    This process fixes any costly mistakes made in the previous version (such as rrod, heat issues, noise, power draw etc) and also reduces the size of the console and amount of components thus reducing servicing costs and manufacturing costs for them. This is passed down to the customer as well.

    We’ve seen it all before with the PSone, PS2 Slim, PS3 Slim, PS4 Slim, Xbox 360 S, Xbox 360 E, Xbox One S, etc.

    So the way i see it why not also have any performance enhancements the updated technology and refinied processes can offer if they are going to update the console anyway?

    I personally would rather see another Xbox One X than another Xbox One S?

  • Bring it on. For anyone with more than a casual interest in gaming we DON’T want to wait 7 years for better technology. 3 year cycles are just fine.

    • As a counter to that – have a look at the Spiderman, GoW, TLOU2 on PS4 (I run the slim version) – I have to admit that I’m damn impressed what they could do with the hardware they had… and at least that’s partly down to the fact that they were developing for a well defined bit of kit. Admittedly they were also building for the Pro, so it clearly can work as long as the number of SKU’s don’t go stupid.

      Don’t forget that for a lot of people they don’t have the ability to constantly update hardware… that’s one of the reasons why they went console. In the end it all depends on how the devs support it…. but I’m sure we’ll see plenty of examples with the gen-transition where the ‘last gen’ versions are going to struggle. I guess that’s unavoidable though.

      • Oh yeah, the squeeze absolute magic out of those systems in their lifespan. It’s pretty amazing. But I don’t really see a problem with optional mid-cycle refreshes to give people better frame rates, quieter consoles (redundant now? etc. As long as the OG units are still supported.

  • You do have a point, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the existence of Pro consoles to blame. Yeah this generation would have felt more like a generational leap without them, but we’re still at that point of diminishing returns regardless, especially for the many of us still on 1080p displays.

    The new consoles are noticeably faster, but they’re not substantially prettier, and that was always going to be a hard thing to sell people on. Even as massive tech nerds, my partner and I aren’t just still happy with our PS4 Pro for the time being, we’re still happy with our Xbox One S too. As long as we can still buy new release games on PS4 Pro, I don’t feel like I’m missing out, and if the last generational shift is anything to go by we should see a pretty lengthy cross-gen period.

    Hell, our Nintendo Switch systems certainly aren’t going anywhere any time soon either.

  • Nicer visuals, virtually no load times, incredible haptics, quieter machines – I had my “holy shit, this is nice” moment.
    I think if you’re counting only on the graphics to be significantly better, then that’s a real shallow perspective of gaming as a whole.

    • Same with me, it’s the most hyped I’ve been for a console launch in a long time. I wasn’t disappointed. While I haven’t experienced the major ‘wow’ with graphics (Bugsnax is the only actualy PS5 game I have, apart from NMS and BL3 updates), Astrobot wowed me with the controls, the nostalgia and the incredible details.

    • Yep. I don’t get it. Because there isn’t “new” exclusive games? Most games at last gen were cross gen releases. This gen games aren’t everything at launch

  • the consoles should be refreshed more often than they are. the fact my 4yr old pc can still game better than the brand new just released consoles shows just how far behind they are.

    • There is literally no way your 4-year-old PC can “game better” than a PS5 or Scarlett unless you, at some point in the past two years, upgraded it with a RTX graphics card, in which case it isn’t quite a “4-year-old” PC anymore 😉

  • With you on this Luke. I have over 2 grand in cash set aside and usually buy all consoles upon release. Now? I haven’t bought either and probably wont until they give me a reason to. And I can’t see a reason to in the near future either with bugger all on the horizon really.

    Uprezzed PS4/XBONE titles that load quicker just won’t cut it lads. A launch needs to be more than that. They should’ve waited.

    Might upgrade my Quest 1 to the Quest 2 instead.

  • I’m more into PC. Love my 3080. But this just seems like another article where an author says the opposite to what everyone else is saying, so that their article stands out and poeple read it. Don’t like it, don’t buy it, I didn’t. But don’t write a whole article whinging about it either.

  • Yeah, no. I’m happy upgrading every few years. If you’re not, don’t. I enjoyed playing games on my One X for the last 3 years, and that was my choice. The platform holders still supported the original models. No loss for people who stuck with their original systems. But obviously they’re not getting the benefits ofvthe mid gen refresh enhancements.
    Nothing wrong with giving people choice.

  • The iterative console jumps didn’t really deliver ok 4k, nor did they do anything for load times. This current generation is far more transformative than that of the X1X/PS4P and has so far impressed me far more than the PS4 or Xbox one generation did. At the average screen size these days and given the distance most people sit from their screen, 4k is far less “next gen” than the current focus on 60fps with dramatically reduced load times and I say this as an owner of a 77″ 4k screen. Looking at what is possible with an SSD in Ratchet and Clank – Rift Apart for instance, or with the Unreal Engine 5 really shows why this is and will be a major generational leap forward, more so than anything since the X360/PS3. Even just at launch, I’m here playing Demon Souls at locked 60FPS in dynamic 4k HDR with next to no loading times, and I gotta say, its stunning.

  • I agree with everything the author said, and with what most of the comments are saying. Yes, the PRO and X have robbed some of the drama of the launch of a new console.

    I remember playing GTA III for the first time and being blown away by the open world, the civilians etc. I remember being a little blown away by the upgrade to X360, and things like HD etc being more common. Again, GTA-IV was a big part of that.

    Because it’s actually the developers and their content creation that give the ‘wow’ moments, and actually, that’s a wonderful thing. Content creation is everything.

    At the end of the PS3 and X360 life cycle, Rockstar put out GTA V, a technical marvel. Playing Watch Dogs on PS4 was a significant downgrade in so many ways by comparison. The same thing is happening in this generation, with Red Dead 2 and The Last of Us 2 on PS4 PRO being absolutely AMAZING technical achievements, with nothing on the new consoles really coming close to matching them as yet.

    As time goes on and developers learn how to really push these new systems, we’ll no doubt get our jaws dropped again. Maybe GTA 6 will be the one to do it.

    • Ray tracing is a technical marvel? No fake loading screens isn’t nice? Being able to jump into a game where you left off in under 10 seconds from cold boot isn’t impressive?

  • I’d also add – it’s hard to get excited about a new console generation that you can’t ACTUALLY buy in to. I’d be much more excited if there was a PS5 on the horizon for me, but – it’s not. So many of us are in the same boat.

    Like so many people, I’ve got the $$$ ready to buy one but who knows when that will be? It doesn’t feel like the consoles are REALLY released if you can’t even order one, let alone walk in to a store on the weekend and buy one on a whim. It would be cheeky for Sony or MS to be advertising these things too much at the moment with no ability to buy, which might be what we’re seeing.

  • The author simply needs to understand that hardware improvements have also slowed and tend to be slowing.

    There was always going to be a point where the next generation did not offer the dramatic leaps that previously existed and it seems we have hit or are approaching that point regardless of whether the beefed up PS4 and XB1 consoles existed or not.

  • The difference between PS4 pro and PS5 is night and day. The difference seemingly between the two Xbox less so (simply because of how similar the controller and UI is, but gaming feels completely different)

    Games like GoT show why the PRO was an important step, and for me proved that the life of consoles going forward are going to be shorter. While upgrading only costs like a few hundred with a trade in, it is still much better value than buying a new graphics card or processor every few years.

    • Factoring in that the cost to upgrade after trade-in is basically the cost of two or at worst three new games, it’s pretty hard to argue that there’s some towering, insurmountable cost barrier between upgrades.

  • I agree with some of this article, I think the PS4 Pro was unnecessary but the Xbox One X was a great piece of hardware, especially in comparison to the original Xbox One.

    Hell, I’d consider getting an Xbox One X right now if they swapped out the hard-drive for an SSD (I guess that’s what the Series S is for).

    Might biggest issue with this generation is the buy-in is too pricey atm, specifically in regards to the 4k TV that many suggest you pair with the new box.

    That’s at least $1600 overall at a minimum, that’s pretty expensive just to play Demon Souls (demon souls does look pretty insane though).

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