Call it what you will: Resolution-gate; the Great Console War of 2013/2014; bloody nonsense.
While it makes sense to want 1080p games now that we’re in the “next-generation” of video game consoles, resolution alone isn’t that big of a deal.
I came to this conclusion not while playing games on Xbox One or PS4, but while playing some older titles on my PC.
Many older games—titles that launched years ago, back when everyone gamed on those wonderful, gargantuan CRT monitors—have options for 1920 x 1080 (or 1080p) resolution. I have yet to find one that looks better than a modern game playing at 1280 x 720 (or 720p.)
Resolution, it turns out, is just one small factor among many when it comes to the final visual quality of a video game.
On a PC it matters a bit more—you’re only a couple feet from the screen.
On an HDTV sitting across the living room, resolution isn’t as crucial. Yes, pixels are spread out. Yes, native 1080p is better than upscaled 1080p. No, it’s not going to make that much of a difference unless you’re doing a side-by-side comparison.
Texture quality and anti-aliasing are far more important—the fidelity of all the little details, shadows and light, and so forth in a game. Contrast, jagged edges, smooth frame-rates.
Here, too, the PS4 has an advantage over the Xbox One. There’s no running from that fact: The PS4 has more graphical oomph than the Xbox One, plain and simple.
But will it really matter in the long-run?
As I’ve said previously, many gamers will neither know nor care about the resolutions on each system. Many will not be able to tell the difference unless they have both systems already.
On the other hand, if games continue to look significantly crisper on the PS4, Microsoft may face a messaging problem.
“Even if your average Joe doesn’t know or care how many lines of resolution a game is rendering, the narrative that “games are better on the PS4″ is proliferating quickly, and the sales numbers seem to back that up. When the next Madden and Call of Duty roll around, this kind of performance gap is only going to hurt the Xbox One.”
Of course, Madden and Call of Duty often sell better on Xbox platforms, and I doubt this is going to change overnight. But it could be a problem with other cross-platform games like the next Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, and so forth.
On the other hand, titles like Wolfenstein: The New Order are already being confirmed at 1080p and 60fps on both PS4 and Xbox One, so we may already be witnessing a closing of the gap in that regard. I suspect the gap will continue to narrow, especially with cross-platform titles, while PS4 exclusives will continue to be the best-looking games on consoles.
In the end, it isn’t resolution that sells a system, it’s content. Since Microsoft can only do so much to bring its graphics in line with the PS4, the company will need to double down on creating must-have Xbox One IP.
This is where I think Microsoft is actually doing many things right this generation, with a wide variety of exclusives such as the fantasy world-building sandbox game Project Spark, the parkour action title Sunset Overdrive, and the weird time-stopping game Quantum Break on the horizon—all very different titles from the usual shooters we associate with the Xbox brand such as Halo and Gears of War.
(I sometimes think Microsoft should put together a major JRPG studio just to see if they could make a real push into the Japanese market, if only for the thrill of a new challenge.)
Of course, Sony isn’t standing idly by either, with plenty of its own compelling first-party games in the pipelines, from inFamous: Second Son to The Order: 1886 and a new Uncharted.
And this is the reason I could honestly care less about resolution discrepancies. I want the real fight to take place in the realm of content, to see the Big Three console makers duke it out by making the very best games possible, rather than simply engage in a pissing contest over pixel counts. The Wii U isn’t as powerful as the Xbox One or PS4 either, but the games on that system have been consistently fantastic and, to be honest, look terrific too.
But if we’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s that good-looking games don’t equate to actually good, fun-to-play, well-designed games. Too often that sleek exterior is masking a rather hollow experience.
Let’s hope this generation is about more than just graphics.