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PlayStation 4 launch vs. reality: Don't believe the hype

2:00 PM on 02.20.2013 // Allistair Pinsof

What history can tell us about PS4's launch titles

A new console generation. A new batch of tech demos that mislead consumer expectations.

As perfectly evidenced by Gearbox's recent Aliens demo, savvy game enthusiasts don't take kindly to developers promising one thing and delivering another. The context and circumstances are much different with a hardware manufacturer (Sony) showing tech demos for new hardware, but the sentiment still stands.

With a PS4 tech demo upon us, let's take a look back at how past PlayStation tech demos compare to the respective system's launch titles and PC games at the time. By realizing a common trend between the three, we can get a better glimpse at what PS4's launch titles will actually look like, instead of blindly buying into a flashy tech demo.

PlayStation - 1994

See also: Manta Ray tech demo

PC games at the time:

See also: System Shock

What PSX launch games actually looked like:

See also: Battle Arena Toshinden

What history can teach us:

In the mid-'90s, console and PC hardware were constantly leap-frogging each other, which is perfectly evidenced in the above comparison. Driving and fighting games will always look the best, due to smaller environments, less models, and A.I. to fiddle with. Nevertheless, Ridge Racer looks a great deal cleaner and smoother than Need for Speed on PC (a game used for PC bragging rights at the time.) System Shock never came to PS, but I have no doubt that it could have handled it, considering it ran the brilliant-looking (for the time) Disruptor. All this would soon change with the arrival of Quake and 3D graphics cards.

I can't fault the tech demos for the PS too much, since they focused on very small environments and singular detailed models. The polygonal models of Vagrant Story, Dino Crisis, and Metal Gear Solid would reach similar heights in time, but the launch titles were a good way off from that level of visual tour de force. This would be the last time that a system launch would outshine contemporary PC titles to such a great degree.

PlayStation 2 - 1999

See also: Final Fantasy VIII tech demo

PC games at the time:

See also: Grim Fandango

What PS2 launch games actually looked like:

See also: Dynasty Warriors 2

What history can teach us:

It was incredible to see the dance hall scene between Final Fantasy VIII's Squall and Rinoa realized in real-time 3D, before even watching it as a pre-rendered scene on the PlayStation, the same year. Square would make good on the tech demo with Final Fantasy X, three years later. The launch titles told a different story.

Comparing the dated models and lighting of PS2's launch titles to what was happening on PC at the time, with the Quake 3 and Unreal engine, it really hits home how manipulative and false these tech demos can be. Sure, that's what a game with an old man's face would look like but in what game would that even exist? As detailed as MGS2 was, Max Payne looked comparable (dare I say, better) on PC. PC had the PS2 beat out the gate and continued to pummel Sony's hardware, which never did offer the facial detail of those early tech demos.

PlayStation 3 - 2005

See also: Killzone 2 trailer

PC games at the time:

See also: Battlefield 2

What PS3 launch games actually looked like:

See also: Madden NFL 07

What history can teach us:

Unlike previous tech demos, Sony cooked up a much more accurate batch of tech demos -- if not in performance, at least in representing something that actually resembles games. The target render of Killzone 2 was presented as in-game footage at the time, so I'm still unsure of how to judge it in reflection.

For the first time since the original PlayStation, launch titles compared fairly well with PC. I still can't decide if Doom 3 or Resistance looks better; though, I have my doubts that a PS2 can handle the scale of a max-player-count Battlefield 2 match, upon release. We never did get games that looked as good as the Final Fantasy VII and Killzone 2 tech demos, however.

PlayStation 4 - 2013

See also: Unreal Engine 4 demo

PC games at the time:

See also: Max Payne 3

What history can teach us:

At this point, there is a common link among these that we should recognize: launch titles never look as good as the initial tech demos, but usually look slightly better than the best PC games from the year before.

With hardware specs comparable to a high-end PC, we have no reason to believe the PS4 will be any different. So, dream about playing Crysis 3 and Max Payne 3 with all the bells and whistles enabled, and recognize those Unreal 4 and Square tech demos for what they are: a dream that likely won't be realized until next-next-gen console rumors start appearing on Destructoid's homepage.

Sorry, but that's reality for you.

[Pug image courtesy of Greenpolis]

Allistair Pinsof,
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