There was a point – somewhere between the GameCube and the PS3 – that I really began to feel like video game visuals could chill. I’d leapt off a skyscraper in Prototype and had actual vertigo as Alex Mercer plummeted to sea level with his mutated limbs flapping in the wind. It was a crazy sensation. Easily one of the most affecting moments I can attribute to a game’s graphics. When I go back to one of the others, Cloud laying Aeris to rest in Final Fantasy VII, I blink in disbelief at how my mind’s eye had improved on what the game actually rendered. However, in Prototype‘s case, what I remember isn’t too different from what a YouTube replay is showing me. Sony’s recent Spider-Man games have refined Prototype‘s mold and given me vertigo all over again. But the evolution is subtle, perhaps unnecessary. I’m beginning to wonder what would happen if game developers just decided they weren’t going to push that particular envelope anymore.
And now we have The Legend of Zelda: Tears of The Kingdom coming out on the same hardware its direct prequel bowed on. And even that was only a half measure, since the Switch doesn’t appreciably improve on what the Wii U could crank out (which of course got its own release of BoTW). Maybe the AAA series that iterate on an annual basis prompted this feeling? After all, the various Assassin’s Creeds, Calls of Duty, and pro sports titles can’t be expected to evolve their graphics six times per console generation. At any rate, no one is out here expecting ToTK to blow their hair back with ray tracing or AI-assisted frame insertion. Why would they? The average video game player has lived in the post-graphics age of video games for at least a solid hardware gen now.
Some of the most talked about games in the last few years make their visual mark with styles that prove their substance rather than the other way around. Think of Elden Ring, Disco Elysium, Neon White, and Dwarf Fortress (which used to not even have graphics!). A home console entry in a venerated series like The Legend of Zelda almost always used to mark a new milestone in visual possibilities. And would often define the look of the series for that console’s era across secondary or portable entries. Not anymore.
And I’m glad for it! Fans can find equally tangible things to get excited for as they wait for a new release. The last front of the graphical arms race seems to only exist in the GPU market, where, like 8K-capable TV sets, expensive tech sits on their owners’ furniture waiting for content to catch up.
But what do you think? Do you still get excited to see the next benchmark game in graphical realism? If not when did graphics plateau? If so, what still excites you about a new release that begs for a GPU that sells for a K? Tell us in the comments or over at the Boss Rush Discord!