4K Gaming is here, and it’s going mainstream. Sony and Microsoft have jumped aboard the hype train, pushing out (or announcing) consoles designed from the ground up to sit at the centre of 4K entertainment systems. There’s a lot of hype around these devices, but ultimately they only provide a timely reminder (in particular with Xbox Scorpio) that if you don’t have the substance to back up to gorgeous visuals, it’s all for nought.
Everyone seems to be talking in the wider entertainment world about 4K at the moment. From movie studios to television, 4K is the flavour of the month and they really want you to invest in it. Which is why it’s no surprise to see Microsoft and Sony fumbling over each other to get to the front of the class – why wouldn’t they?
Their audiences have proven time and time again that they’ll invest in whatever gimmick they push out, so long as their marketing is up to standard. Remember PlayStation Move? Kinect? 3D gaming on PlayStation 3? These were all touted as huge boons for the consoles when they landed, yet within time their significance diminished – because as the initial gloss wore off, it became clear that these weren’t experiences that gamers wanted. So now both company’s are aggressively courting the 4K market, why do I find myself indifferent to the entire thing?
Perhaps it’s because, as things stand, the illusive gains seem somewhat superficial. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro doesn’t even give you the full 4K experience, instead scaling up. There’s no telling if Xbox Scorpio will deliver on its promise of the full, non compromised, 4K experience. Hardware specs indicate so but, until we see it in the real world, we won’t know. Marketing spin tends to distort the reality. If it doesn’t, then what’s the point in the device other than act as a way for console manufacturers to get more money quicker?
Even then, it’s hard to get excited for what amounts to a graphical upgrade. I’m more excited at the prospect of playing games at 60fps on consoles than I am at playing them in a higher resolution. The huge amounts of power don’t seem to fix the fact that Scorpio and PlayStation Pro are not essential to the console experience, in particular when console manufacturers are going out of their way to stress that you can still play all your games on the standard devices.
These new devices feel handicapped by the existing consoles – trapped by the demands that games scale according to devices. Ultimately giving gamers choice means that these consoles will never fully realise their potential unless they’re allowed to break free – which for Xbox Scorpio is a tragedy. Xbox One hasn’t been a failure, but Microsoft’s commitment to the console in the long-term means that it’s robbing Scorpio of the chance to really shine and take advantage of its new break. It also makes buying these luxury new products feel futile. Why shell out $400 for a console that plays games you can play on a $200 device?
This point about graphical fidelity only shins through more in recent times when you realise that consoles with less power are delivering the goods. Playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch reminded me of how integral a solid core experience is to a game. Yes that game is blighted by smudged textures and stuttering frame rate, but its arguably forgivable when the core experience is just so fun. Compare this to the likes of Gear of War 4, which looked amazing for the most part – I had to force myself to complete the campaign mode. The reality is that 4K has to up it’s game in terms of gameplay, otherwise what’s the point?
It’s a shame because I remember the leap from PlayStation 2 to Xbox 360. I remember seeing Forza Motorsport 3 on the Xbox 360 launch and being amazed by the graphics. “This is the future” I found myself saying at the time, yet since then that moment of “wow” has never really occurred again. For me, graphics haven’t made that same
4K gaming is certainly the future and is here to stay. But right now, I’m not convinced by the benefits. Maybe as prices drop and as consoles begin to offer something unique in the area, I’ll be able to jump aboard. Right now though, the endless chase for better graphics isn’t worth the asking price for me. I suspect others don’t feel the same, and that’s fine. But until Microsoft up the quality of their game exclusives – it’s a case of beauty over substance.
On it’s own, 4K just isn’t a big enough selling point to get me on board with these new consoles.