Taking A Step Back

As a self-confessed graphics whore, finally succumbing to the lure of the PlayStation 4 and soaking in the near-photorealistic renderings of Need For Speed Rivals truly was a breathtaking experience.  With a gaming history which was heavily grounded in computers rather than consoles, I always found myself on the cutting edge of gaming technology. Even as far back as 1983, when all my friends were spending their after-school hours enjoying dodgy monotone gameplay on their Spectrums, I was feasting my eyes on the pixel-by-pixel coloured sprites of the Oric-1.  Fast forward a few years and you’d find me glued to my seat as my super-powered Amiga with Viper II expansion board blew the competition away with their Windows 3.1 machines.

Even when I jumped from the sinking Amiga ship to the heavily armoured Pentium generation, it was always about getting the best possible performance from whichever beige box sat under my desk and so I would generally spend as much on a GPU as I would on the rest of the build.  Along the way, however, the immediacy of the console took hold and my love for the bulky box of wires was superseded by a discreet black unit which meant that there was no longer any need to scour website after website looking for that one patch which could get [insert any game title here] to run on your particular OS version with that specific video card.  It was now simply a case of hitting that power button, watching the shiny logo distract you from the fact that the machine was actually booting up, then popping in the disc for whichever game you felt like playing.

... and if you give me just two seconds, I'll show you how you can make boobs out of nothing but punctuation!

As fancy as they were, there was no denying that these black and green units were nothing more than under-powered PCs, yet they were built in such a way as to allow immediate gaming.  No tedious installations required, no messing around with badly printed CD keys, just two very simple steps between boredom and happiness: switch on, and insert disc.  It was that immediacy that swayed any format decisions when it came to buying the latest enticement and, for some reason, there was an air of forgiveness over how inferior the gameplay presentation was compared to the comparison shots I’d find on the web.  Where I could see obvious colour stepping and harsh edges, the PC gamers were enjoying smooth gradients and a decent level of antialiasing.  Their anisotropic filtering meant that repeating textures looked considerably better than the blocky patchwork I was being subjected to on my little black box. For close to ten years I stopped lusting after the next great video card, didn’t care about how well shadows and lighting were being represented elsewhere, and never gave a second thought to the advantages of playing with PhysX ramped up full.  I was happy being able to kick back and just enjoy the game, to the point where, for the most part, I was able to produce a mental block on how inferior the graphics were.

Two or three years ago, however, I switched allegiance once again.  A new gaming rig was built, video cards were extensively researched and the result was a system which took photorealism and fluidity to an entirely new level.  The cost of buying games dropped by approximately 25% thanks to the lack of Xbox licensing fee, and my senses were once again treated to the eye candy that I’d become accustomed to in the past.  Giving Steam a second chance was perhaps the best and worst thing I’d ever done – my hard drive hated me thanks to an addiction to taking screenshots, my bank balance hated me thanks to the simplicity of clicking the ‘buy’ button and having the full game shortly thereafter, but it also meant that I was able to immerse myself in gaming once again without the distraction of jagged edges and over-compressed textures.

After building a second rig for the lounge – a mini system – specifically for gaming in 3D, all attention turned to the PlayStation 4 that I mentioned at the start of the article.  I was, for the first time, wandering around the Sony menu system and becoming familiar with everything that it had to offer – an ad-free experience with a focus on gaming.  Sucker Punch’s inFAMOUS: Second Son had me utterly captivated to the point where upon completing the ‘good guy’ playthrough, I immediately restarted in ‘badass’ mode and maxed that son of a bitch out quicker than I had any other game.  At that point, everything changed.

Even though I was drawn to the PlayStation 4 because of the graphics and the processing power – essentially a mid-range gaming PC in a sleeker shell – it was the world of inFAMOUS that left more of a mark.  Days later, the PlayStation 3 was exhumed from its dusty grave where it had lain forgotten almost since the day it arrived in the household, thanks to the arrival of inFAMOUS and inFAMOUS 2.  For the first time in my life, I took my familiar seat in front of the TV and used a PlayStation 3.  It was an odd experience, as I’d grown used to the heft of the Xbox 360 controller – even during PC gameplay – but I persevered with the position of the sticks, grew accustomed to shape-labelled buttons, and made my way through Empire City in the role of Cole McGrath.

At only approximately 40% of the way through the first game at the time of writing, I’m already looking forward to the sequel.  My days drag by as I long for that moment after the kids are fed, bathed, and drifting off to sleep where I can once again make my way through to the back room and fire up that oversized bread bin.  I know that whenever I reach the endgame I not only have the choice of replaying to max out the trophies (time permitting), but also the option to then go on to play through inFAMOUS 2, and perhaps even inFAMOUS: Festival of Blood.  It doesn’t stop there, however, as I’ve also picked up Saints Row IV, Uncharted, Uncharted 2, and am hoping to get Little Big Planet 2, Resistance 2/3 and if the first two Uncharted are as good as I’m led to believe, then I may also add Uncharted 3 to that list.

Other than Saints Row IV, with it not being exclusive, these are all games that I would never have considered playing had it not been for inFAMOUS: Second Son dragging me kicking and screaming into the Sony camp.  I’d seen gameplay footage, knew that I could play them if I really wanted to, as the PlayStation 3 was always there, but I just never had the inclination to do so.  Yet here we are, only months after the release of the PlayStation 4 and this graphics whore is spending more time playing a last-gen console for the first time than its near-PC-quality successor, standing still while the rest of the world moves on, surrounded once again by bad textures and a lack of antialising… and, for some reason, I’m enjoying gaming more than I have in a long time.

Last five articles by Mark R


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