When Tears of the Kingdom is blown up on a big screen, hills are stretched, models are fuzzy, and the environments lack the usual obsession with minor details we see in modern games. Most people don’t care because its art direction is stellar, the sandbox tools are like nothing we’ve seen before, and it runs incredibly well despite seamlessly juggling three distinct worlds. For some reason, gamers aren’t okay with prioritising gameplay over visual fidelity unless it’s on a Nintendo console, as Spider-Man 2’s new trailer was immediately met with controversy for not looking current-gen enough. I have no idea what that means other than gamers wanting a generational leap like PS1 to PS2, but when you’re at the top of the mountain, how much higher can you go?

At this point, graphics are about fine-tuning. We’re not trying to perfect models anymore, but lighting and optimisation, meaning we can have simulated interiors with people peering out of windows and real-time reflections in the glass of skyscrapers. It’s not as immediately noticeable as going from a horrifying mess of pixels vaguely resembling a face to a slightly realistic representation of a human being, but expecting that today is silly. We’ve plateaued, yet the pressure is on for every single sequel and current-gen exclusive to push the graphical envelope when we should be throwing it aside and shifting our focus entirely.

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There’s one major leap left for games and that’s realism indistinguishable from reality. You might get excited at the thought of games looking exactly like movies, but think about it for more than two seconds. Do you want to play a shooter where your targets look like actual people? Do you want to make villainous moral choices in a game where every NPC looks and emotes like an actor? Do you want the outcome of your failed QTE to see a picture-perfect Leon mauled to death? Throw me into a Call of Duty game where I’m gunning down what looks like real people and my interest in shooters will crumble to dust, and I imagine the majority of people would feel similar discomfort. Just look at that horrifying UE5 bodycam game that immediately drew backlash.

Queens in Spider-Man 2.

We’re at a graphical junction. We either push forward and bear through the uncanny valley until we reach skin-crawling realism, or we take a note from Nintendo’s book and focus on expanding what we can do in games, not what we can look at. The PS5 catalog already tells you which route Sony is taking, so don’t be surprised when sequels look like their predecessors.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart has seamless portals that use new SSD technology to bring us into pocket dimensions or old maps without the need for loading times, which have nearly been wiped out across the board. Spider-Man 2 opened up NYC to include Queens, something I doubt the PS4 could’ve handled without excessive load times or cutting corners. The controller we use to play has adaptive triggers and haptic feedback, simulating the feeling of pulling a trigger like never before. Elsewhere, Sony is expanding further into VR with its new headset that boasts finger tracking and built-in cameras. This generation isn’t about graphics and it couldn’t be clearer.

The outskirts of Asgard in God of War Ragnarok.

But here we are. People are arguing online about the quality of water in Spider-Man 2, the fidelity of models, how different it is from the original game, and all these other mind-numbingly pointless things. The game looks good. The first already looked good. So who cares? We don’t need every sequel and generational leap to come with technological innovation that blows the doors off on how realistic things appear—striving for that will bury games in an arms race whose outcome is horrifying and unappealing.

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