In the bloody confusing aftermath of the PlayStation 5 stream, Sony confirmed that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Horizon Forbidden West are also launching on PS4. After believing in generations it seems that Sony also believes in its PS4 install base.
It’s no secret that I have voiced concerns about Xbox’s own public promise to support cross generational support for its Xbox consoles. The wider the range of supported hardware, the more work it is for the developers and the more it can limit the upward potential of the game. Now Sony has promised three major first party titles are cross generational.
This is great (just like it is for Xbox) for those consumers that don’y want to or can’t upgrade to the next gen consoles. You aren’t left behind. Nintendo has done this before with popular Zelda titles. It is definitely a win for consumers.
My concern stems from the development process. I may not know the ins and outs of making a video game, but I do know hardware is the determining factor in how far a game can go technically. When Xbox says that Halo Infinite will be playable across six different Xbox-focused platforms and then the practically infinite (heh) possibilities with PC, there has to be restrictions in the game’s design to make it work. It’s been like this in PC gaming forever.
Sony touted a belief in generations and making experiences only possible on new hardware. This gives devs the highest possible ceiling to shoot towards. Then after the PS5 price reveal, Sony announced that some of their new PS5 games would also be launching on PS4. I can just hear the cassette tape rewinding.
It would be entirely foolish for Sony to ignore their install base of 125+ million PS4 consoles. They never were just going to flip a switch and stop supporting their second best selling console when the PS5 launched. It’s the same as Nintendo with the DS, Wii, and 3DS.
Are these new games built on PS4 and crammed with PS5 enhancements or built PS5 and then scaled down for the PS4? It feels like to me that these have to be scaled up from the PS4 based off loading specifications of the PS5 SSD. The PS4 physically cannot match the performance there, creating a huge limitation.
Spider-Man makes sense to me. As I’ve previously pointed out, Insomniac and Spider-Man in particular have had a long lead time with the PS5 and its technology. It does strike me as odd to not announce this compatibility back when Miles Morales was announced. Either way, it’s a slight blow to the list of reasons to snag a PS5 at launch.
Sackboy also makes sense. I can’t imagine this cute platformer is really pegging the PS5 hardware for all it’s worth.
Horizon Forbidden West on the other hand; what a total surprise! I think this reveals quite a bit about Aloy’s next adventure. Right off the bat, I think that Forbidden West is a Spring 2021 game. Pair that with God of War in Holiday 2021 and Sony has a strong first year of PS5 titles. This also indicates that Forbidden West does not have game design and/or mechanics that require the PS5 hardware like a game like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and its instant world traveling mechanics.
This doesn’t mean Forbidden West is not goingn to take advantage of the PS5’s SSD or ridiculous I/O speeds or the 3D Audio Tempest Engine. I’m sure the game will run at 4K (possibly 60fps since it will be on PS4 too?). It’ll look and play great.
What it does mean is that Guerrilla is developing three versions (PS4, PS4 Pro, and PS5). They are automatically shackled by the restrictions of the eight-year-old PS4 in how far they can push their design. It also means more time for testing, optimization, and fixing bugs. They have to pour their time, energy, and focus into three versions instead of one. That is a developmental hurdle.
It still is a good transitional move for consumers, if the PS4 versions run and perform well. It would be a real mess if they PS4 versions ran poorly and weren’t even worth players’ time, but I highly doubt that’ll happen.
A key difference between Xbox and PlayStation here is the longevity of this cross-generational support. Xbox flat out promised first-party titles for two years. Sony has promised three launch window games. This gives Sony a blank check to fill in, either with more cross-gen titles or full-blown PS5 exclusives. God of War is a good option for the semi-near future. What check will they write Kratos?
Xbox could and probably will back out of this two year promise with some games. It’s already had questions pop up around it. Frankly, I think Xbox needs to cut ties with hardware support for Xbox One and somehow transition those consoles (Xbox One S and One X specifically) to xCloud boxes. Then, their hardware cap is mostly removed freeing up developers.
At some point, this bottleneck will naturally close. The PS4 will look at the rabbits by the river while the PS5 stands behind it and talks about the great farm where all the PlayStation consoles go. The same will happen for Xbox and the console cycles will go on. Heading into the next generation though, I’m not as confident of a shift transition as I was earlier this year. It was much easier when Cell architecture was involved.