While it rarely makes much of a difference what console you play a game on, there is always a question in the back of many people’s minds concerning which version is technically superior. Console parity is something that developers have sought after since multi-console releases first hit the mainstream. Back in the day it was quite obvious which console had the most potential, even if that particular console would eventually end up crashing and burning. The first big console war that took the media by storm dates all the way back to the SNES and Sega Genesis days. At first it seemed like the Genesis was the way to go, seeing how it was a smash hit for about a year or so. Eventually however people started seeing differences between versions of the same game on different consoles. It didn’t take long for gamers to notice that the SNES was more powerful (visually anyway) than the Genesis after that.
Sega wasn’t going to just throw in the towel however, hence the 32x add on for the Genesis was born. Unfortunately even though this did enhance visual performance a bit, the console still couldn’t pull off true 32 bit graphics and didn’t cause too much of a stir in the market. It then became apparent that the only way to get back on top was to release a new console or two, first one being the Sega CD (which was pretty much dead on arrival) and the highly underrated Sega Saturn soon after that. Once again Sega held the title for top dog in graphical power, though this particular console met an untimely end and never really hit its stride in the market. Soon after the Saturn was released, Sony decides to jump in on the action with the original PlayStation as well. Believe it or not the Saturn was able to outperform the PlayStation in many instances despite it being the less successful console, especially when it came to 2D arcade fighting games.
As everyone knows however, Nintendo wasn’t going to sit back and drop out of the console race. Some time after the PlayStation and the Saturn initially hit the market, the Nintendo 64 comes onto the scene in 1997. With both of its main competitors going with a 32 bit design strategy, surely Nintendo would have this battle for graphical dominance in the bag. Nintendo made one fatal mistake however. Both the Saturn and the PlayStation used CD ROM based media, which at the time was very effective when it game to storing data. Nintendo however decided to stick with the old cartridge format, which essentially limited how much the N64 could be utilised. As the Saturn fell further into the bowls of failure, developers slowly started learning how to use the CD ROM based media to their advantage. This lead to games like the Resident Evil series, Final Fantasy, and Metal Gear Solid. Many of these games looked better, if not just as good, as anything the N64 was able to pump out with its cartridge format. Some games on the N64 still looked fantastic though, such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, but there was still one thing that just couldn’t fit onto the cartridge. This of course refers to pre-rendered CG cut scenes.
Games that had these on the PlayStation blew people’s mind at the time, and soon became something that many gamers saw as a key component for any great game (even though they did nothing for the actual gameplay). Furthermore when it came to gameplay visuals, the two consoles had a very specific style. The N64 usually had a smoother looking image with little pixelation when compared to the PlayStation. The PlayStation however supported a more gritty look that would sometimes seem to compliment the textures found in the game better than Nintendo’s approach. Perfect evidence of this can be found on this very site via our retro Head2Head of Resident Evil 2, which also proved that the N64 couldn’t show off CG cut scenes at the same caliber of a PlayStation title.
Towards the end of that generation, Nintendo tried to up their game in a similar way that Sega did with the 32X. The addition of this graphical expansion pak gave the N64 the resources needed to play games like Donkey Kong 64 and the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which did look slightly better than anything the N64 could pump out before. Sega also tried to make one last stand at the end of this generation, but fell flat on its face despite the vast potential that the Dreamcast had. Some time later, the next generation of consoles emerges with the PS2 and the GameCube continuing where the last round left off. However it was neither of these two consoles that commanded graphical superiority. Late into the game, Microsoft steps in with the Xbox. This console had more to offer in sheer power than the other two consoles on the market, but still lagged behind in terms of sales due to the late entry on the scene. Knowing that the next generation was right around the corner, Microsoft rushed out a newer and more powerful console in order to gain an early advantage.
Everyone knows how console parity turns out here, as we are nearing the end of the generation that Microsoft’s newest console kicked off. Nintendo has pretty much dropped out of the graphical dominance race by releasing a tricked out GameCube with motion controls to appeal to casuals at a low price, which did however win the battle of sales. This generation it was Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s 360 duking it out, and what a generation it has been. At first, it looked like the 360 was the way to go due to the PS3′s very unique architecture. However as developers started digging deeper into what the PS3 could do, things got a little more interesting. In terms of exclusives, the PS3 has the best looking games on the console market. No multiplat nor 360 exclusive have been able to touch games like Killzone 3, Uncharted 2 & 3, God of War 3, and Infamous 2. A few have come close, but we have yet to see it actually happen.
In terms of multiplat games however, there just doesn’t seem to be a real loser anymore in many cases. Many games are NEARLY IDENTICAL to one another and the ones that do support a difference only have a few minor details to brag about. If you own both consoles, sure it is always nice to get the “best” version available. But if you don’t, there really isn’t much to feel down about these days. There are still a few games out there that are like night and day such as Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 (performed far worse on the 360), but it is nothing like it used to be in the past generations. Furthermore the human eye can only see so many pixels. With that in mind, perfect console parity should only be about a generation or two away regardless of the specs that each version supports. When that happens, what will be our reason’s behind choosing one console over the other? Will there only be one dominant force commanding it all?
No, I don’t think it will. The difference of tech may not affect visuals in the future, but developers will start focusing on other aspects. For example, AI will be mind blowing. When visuals can no longer be enhanced, other improvements will be taken into consideration. There are some good looking games out now with horrid AI, and I personally can’t wait for this breakthrough to happen. Another thing is console exclusive games and features. The amount of satisfaction when it comes to an online service will go a long way in a world where every version looks the same. In addition console exclusive games are what will really be showing off what each system has to offer, in both AI and gameplay. One might even hope that when visuals are no longer a concern, we might revert back to the old ways where dynamic and unique play styles are introduced with a deep and satisfying storyline. Make no mistake about though, if any console has something exclusive to offer in terms of story or gameplay, it will only be seen through exclusives. While great multiplat games will still exist, I doubt that the developers will take the time to make one version’s AI better than the other. Console parity has come a long way over the years, and soon will be a given in all visual aspects. When that time comes, developers will have to find a new way to lure in gamers to pay them for their hard work. A time where games look like real life AND offer the same diversity as games did in the past with deep and innovative plots, a time I like to call, “The Golden Age of Gaming”. We have experience many different aspects of gaming that will be offered in a future generation of this caliber at different times in the past, to experience it all at once will truly be an experience worth looking forward to.
Disclaimer: This article reflects the views and opinion of Jason R and not neccessarily the entire staff as a whole.