One of the most worrying trends when it comes to multiformat game releases is the intense focus on which version is ‘superior’ – by which, I mean “which has the best graphics”, because that’s basically what it amounts to. I can understand those who own both consoles wanting the version which has the fewest visual issues (whether it be screen tearing, frame rate, jaggies etc.) simply because the more realistic a game’s graphics get, the more you notice the little niggles – hence the version which looks the best perhaps feels that tiny bit more immersive. Even if the differences are ultimately negligible.
It’s happening right now, as people analyse the 540p visuals of Alan Wake. Some insist that it’s one of the best-looking games of the generation thanks to its incredible lighting and shadows, and the post-processing effects like anti-aliasing, while others talk about its sub-HD resolution, dodgy textures and blurring. And Rockstar’s upcoming open-world western Red Dead Redemption is set to be the hot topic of the coming weeks, not just for its apparent brilliance, but because the PS3 version is notably rife with jagged edges and lower-res visuals.
Now personally, I don’t really care too much one way or the other. For the most part, I’ll buy the 360 version simply because I prefer that controller. I may occasionally plump for the PS3 game if that’s been widely regarded as the better version, for whatever reason. But if there’s one thing that would sway me towards one ahead of the other it would be if one has significantly shorter loading times.
It’s baffling how many people are not prepared to accept a few poorly-textured backdrops or jagged lines but will happily tolerate load times during gameplay of well in excess of 30 seconds (longer in some cases, even in a few AAA titles). For me, that’s more ruinous than any amount of presumed graphical shortcomings. My gaming free time is tighter than ever – why should I spend a significant percentage of it staring at a screen waiting for a bar to fill or an area to load? Especially when there are tons of bite-sized gaming morsels out there that you can play without worrying about downloading patches or sitting through mandatory install times.
I do wonder if all these firmware upgrades, essential HDD installs and excessive load times are partly responsible for the trend towards free online gaming, or the slightly worrying statistics which suggest that the majority of a game’s players never reach the end. Especially when you’re talking about a game as comparatively short and briskly-paced as Gears of War 2. Remember back in the day when all you had to do was plug and play? Perhaps that’s partly why retro remakes often do so well – they remind us console gamers of a time when you didn’t have to wait for a game to load, install or update before you could get on with the simple business of playing.