The Cross-Generational Bottleneck: Cyberpunk Edition

Cyberpunk 2077 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 Review by Destin Legaire for IGN

While I had just as much fun playing Cyberpunk 2077 on PC as Tom did playing for his review, on the base PlayStation 4 or Xbox One it is a different game entirely. It fails to hit even the lowest bar of technical quality one should expect even when playing on lower-end hardware. It performs so poorly that it makes combat, driving, and what is otherwise a master craft of storytelling legitimately difficult to look at. It is not an exaggeration to say that I’ve felt nauseated after playing because of the terrible frame rate. It really is that bad, and it’s very suspicious that CD Projekt Red refused to provide console review copies ahead of launch.

I’d say it is more than suspicious. It was downright intentional. They knew the state the console version of the game was in, deliberately showed PC-only footage, and took people’s money anyway. CD Projekt Red figured it would be easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

Seeing is believing though.

This is the type of bottleneck I feared for cross-generational games. Cypberpunk 2077 “runs” on 11 different platforms (PS4, PS4 Pro, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PC, and Stadia). From a business perspective, I understand wanting to launch on last generation consoles. There are 165+ million PS4 and Xbox One consoles out in the world. I think it is safe to say the vast majority of purchases this past week were for those platforms. CD Projekt Red spent a lot of goodwill this past week.

Halo Infinite is supposed to run on nine different consoles. I think Xbox will slowly kill off their cross-generation support by running out the clock for the promised two years of support. Sony may have made the right call by not promising all their games will be cross-generational and instead announcing them as they see fit.

I bought Cyberpunk for a couple of my friends for Christmas and now I’m starting to think coal would’ve been a better present.

– Logan Moore via Twitter

I was one of the friends. If he bought me coal, at least it’d work as intended. Thankfully, I can wait until the proper PS5 version is released in 2077.

PS5 at First Blush

Next-gen is finally current-gen. With both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X in the house, I feel extremely happy and excited for the future of gaming. I don’t think it is any secret that I was more excited to get my hands on the PS5 than the Xbox Series X. Finally having the white, curvy monolith standing next to my TV makes the future of gaming a reality to me. Here are my first impressions after having a PS5 for a few days.

The Console

After a tantalizing reveal process led to a surprising console design, the white and black design has grown on me. I think the PS5 is sleek and sexy. It reminds me of the original PS3 with its shiny and curvy exterior.

The disc drive resonates in a low hum when copying data from the disc to the SSD. It’s actually much more prominent than I hoped for. When playing a PS5 game, the disc is solely used to verify the game since all the data is required to run off the SSD. I tried The Last of Us Part II (shocker, I know) and the disc seemed to be constantly running, which left the hum. This somewhat surprised and disappointed me. If you’ve got your speakers turned up or play with headphones, you’ll never notice this while playing. I haven’t put a disc inside my Xbox Series X yet, so I’m not sure how loud it may or may not be.

11/16/20 Update: Turns out that The Last of Us Part II had not finished installing entirely. I realized this when I had to download a patch for Spider-Man: Miles Morales this morning. Turns out that The Last of Us Part II had 30GBs remaining to install. That is why the disc drive was running constantly. I let the game finish installing and after booting the game, the disc drive went silent.

Outside of the disc drive, the PS5 sounds whisper quiet to me, which is exactly what I expected.

The UI reminds me of a fusion between the PS3 and PS4. The biggest change is that pressing the PS button on the controller brings up a small XMB switcher instead of taking you to the home screen. Lots of muscle memory is going to have to be broken to get used to this new UI.

The DualSense Controller

Holding the DualSense for the first time, it makes a killer first impression. Even without powering it on and feeling all the new tech inside, the heft and material quality is top notch. I could easily see this becoming an all time great in the Game Controller Hall of Fame.

Then you play a game and feel the new haptic motors and resistive triggers. This is like the HD Rumble in the Switch Joy-Con but amped up; if it had a marketing name, it might be called 4K rumble. I haven’t been this immersed with a controller since the Wii Remote. Simply magical.

Speed

Spider-Man loaded from the PS5 menu to gameplay before I could finish sipping my orange juice. – Me

Set Up

Set up was smooth. The PS5 also lets you use your phone to log in, just like the Xbox Series X. One cool part was being able to install a disc-based game while the console did its own updates. Makes it much easier to jump right into playing once set up is done.

Astro’s Playroom

2018’s Astrobot’s Rescue Mission is not only one of PS VR’s best games, but VR as a whole. Now the next Astrobot game comes with Astro’s Playroom preloaded on every PS5.

There has not been a pack in game this delightful since Wii Sports. It proves how unique the DualSense controller is. It also doubles as a wonderful celebration of PlayStation’s history. Every reference I recognized and connected with slapped a silly grin on my face. Asobi Team proves their innovative platforming design once again. Never underestimate the power of PlayStation.

Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered detailed – PlayStation.Blog

Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered detailed by James Stevenson for the PlayStation Blog

Public confusion about upgrade paths and access aside; Holy cow! Taking a two year old game and slapping a new *code* of paint on it is yielding incredible results. I am so flipping stoked to see ray tracing on my own TV and games. I am curious what the final resolution will be for both the “Performance Mode” with its 60fps and the normal 30fps mode.

The other big news is the entirely new face of Peter Parker. Like, Insomniac cast an entirely different face. It’s wild.

This does bring us to one of the bigger changes. In order to bring the best performances to players with our next-generation Marvel’s Spider-Man games, we have recast the face of Peter Parker. We loved working with John Bubniak on the original game; however, to get a better match to Peter Parker/Spider-Man actor Yuri Lowenthal’s facial capture, we have cast Ben Jordan to be the face model for Peter Parker on the PS5 console. He looks incredible in-game, and Yuri’s moving performances take on a new life.

The technical reasoning makes sense. It’s hardly a secret that Insomniac is working on a proper Marvel’s Spider-Man sequel. Building this next-gen model of Peter is the right call for the development process, especially if Peter makes an appearance in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s just strange that Peter now looks younger than Miles. Sure, the comparison shots in that particular tweet show Miles one year after the events of Marvel’s Spider-Man, but it’s not like Miles was a spring chicken in that game either. I wonder if they tweaked other main characters like Mary Jane or Miles. Heck, did Aunt May get the younger treatment?

Next-Gen SSD Storage Options and Pricing

Best Buy went ahead and listed the custom 1TB SSD memory card for the Xbox Series consoles for pre-order at $219.99. The hardcore gamers will have to pay nearly half the console’s price (or nearly the whole console if buying a Xbox Series S) to double their storage. It’s a steep price to pay to manage your solid state drive less often.

Expanding the PS5 SSD storage is a different story. Mark Cerny revealed that users could expand the storage themselves with NVMe SSDs. The catch was, they’d have to wait until consumer NVMe SSDs caught up with the speed of the PS5’s own SSD. Cerny said that Sony would provide a list of recommended drives when they become available.

It sounds like Samsung’s NVMe M.2 drive that uses PCIe 4.0 has the speed, according to The Verge back in September 2020, with read/write speeds of 7,000MB/s and 5,000MB/s. Those particular drives have 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB (the 2TB model is supposed to release later this year). Those are currently priced at $89.99, $149.99, $229.99, and the 2TB doesn’t have a price yet.

Leaving upgrades to the user definitely gives them more options, but can lead to confusion, especially if the installation is tricky. Swapping the PS4 or PS4 Pro hard drive was simple, but we have no idea how easy that will be on PS5. Xbox users can use traditional hard drives, if they are USB 3.1 or USB 3.2, but they will only run and play older games. Xbox Series console games and features require the custom SSD.

It reminds me of SD cards for cameras or the Nintendo Switch. I buy the size I want for the price I am willing to spend. 1TB SD cards run roughly $350~, but a 128GB micro SD card is roughly $20~ and is perfect for my Switch.

I could also see the cost of the NVMe drives going down sooner, since they serve a wider market. More competition to drive the prices down. The Xbox 1TB drive is currently made solely by Seagate and is a proprietary drive, which could lead to it keeping its current price for longer. Either way, upgrading the storage on these next-gen consoles is going to be a tough pill to swallow for the first year or two.

The Cross-Generational Bottleneck

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.