Welcome back to Punished Chat! In this edition, I spoke with David Silbert to discuss the first year of the newest generation of consoles, our favorite games so far, and what we expect for the future of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.
Grading the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S in 2020 & 2021
Sam: I have an Xbox Series X, but you have both a PlayStation 5 and Series X, correct?
David: That’s correct!
Sam: So you have all of the experiences, all the everything.
David: I’m entrenched, Sam. Entrenched.
Sam: So how would you grade year one for the new consoles overall, and what grade would you give to each one specifically?
David: If you take it in aggregate—and consider there were COVID and supply chain issues—in terms of development and software it’s been on par with past next-gen launches. So from that perspective, I’ve been pleasantly surprised!
Granted, a lot of the games I’ve been playing on PS5 and Xbox aren’t launch titles or exclusives; they’re cross-gen titles. But the game-changer for this generation (and what makes it novel) is that a lot of the old games now carry over with better graphics and performance boosts. So even if we’ve had to wait a while to play true next-gen fare like Horizon Forbidden West or Halo Infinite, I’ve been able to play Assassin’s Creed Origins at 60 frames per second, and that helps bridge the gap.
Overall, I’ve been impressed by this generation so far, and some of the launch window titles for both consoles have been surprisingly good. I think we’re off to the races!
Sam: I think we’re getting to the point of diminishing returns with each new generation of consoles. Obviously, the tech is better than the last generation, but we still aren’t getting any fundamentally different experiences. That was actually one of my criticisms of the PS4/Xbox One generation, where games were getting bigger, more cinematic, and more detailed, but they weren’t really that different from what we had before. Sometimes, you’ll get a No Man’s Sky, or Destiny, or Sea of Thieves, something that presents something novel, but I think both Sony and Microsoft are clearly focusing on presenting the smoothest, best performing experiences possible. That’s my overall experience with Series X.
In terms of that first year, I’d give the Series X a solid B+, especially now that Forza Horizon 5 and the Halo Infinite multiplayer beta are out now. I’m finally seeing what the newest generation is capable of, and while it is kind of just the next logical step, I feel like I’m always playing a good brand new game on Series X or something that’s been enhanced to the best of its power.
David: I think I would agree with the B+ for Xbox. I’m tempted to give it an A- because of that future value, though.
Sam: I was so close to giving it an A-. It’s like in high school where if you had an 89 grade you’d maybe try to argue with your teacher that you should have an A- instead of a B+. (Author’s note: Sam M. went to the preppiest school full of try-hard nerds who would seriously do this.)
David: I feel like we’re at an 89 too! We’re really on the precipice here, with Microsoft doing and saying all the right things: Xbox boss Phil Spencer being cautious on NFTs, calling out Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, and focusing on preservation and game availability whenever possible.
All the tech stuff with the Series X has been pretty novel, too. Smart Delivery has been, well, smart! And then the value proposition from Game Pass, knowing we automatically get Forza and Psychonauts 2 on day one—that’s huge. Plus, Halo Infinite seems to be shaping up well. I want to give it that A-, but let’s circle back a year from now to see how everything else turns out.
This might be a hot take for the PS5, but I would probably give it a B, not too far behind Xbox. The UI felt unintuitive for me at launch (though Sony’s improved it since), but the launch window games have been solid, from Returnal to Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Plus, Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS5 has been probably my favorite title on the system so far; it kicks total ass.
At the same time, however, we’re still waiting for some of the really big games to drop, like Horizon and God of War: Ragnarok, and I think Sony has said some of the “wrong things” while Microsoft has said the “right things.” But if you’re choosing a new console, you can’t go wrong either way. You’ll get a pretty great experience across both consoles.
Sam: I agree. It’s so early on that there’s no clear winner, and it appears that everyone’s happy with the choice they made. There’s no Xbox One of this generation.
The Biggest Selling Points of the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S
Sam: Moving on, was there a point where you felt like you were truly playing something that felt next-gen? Obviously, the true next-generation titles are probably a few years away, but when did you get that feeling of being truly impressed with the new hardware?
David: On the Sony side, it was right when I received the console. The PS5 itself looked almost like an avant-garde piece of art, whereas the Xbox was a little more practical. But looking at the PS5, booting up Astro’s Playroom… that really gave off the next-gen feel with the incredible DualSense controller and slick audiovisual presentation.
On the Xbox side, I would say it took a little longer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We were talking before about its cool new features like Smart Delivery, where I just put in an Xbox-branded game and I’m automatically playing the best version of it. But that honest “next-gen” feel probably came with Forza Horizon 5. It took a bit to come out, but that game looks really damn good, and probably wouldn’t have been possible on the previous gen.
That said, using Smart Delivery at launch was pretty cool, too. Also, just having Game Pass consistently getting big new titles constantly feels next-gen. That right there is the future of gaming.
Sam: I’m going to break my answer up into two different moments, one from a console standpoint and one from a software standpoint. When I first got the Series X, which arrived at my apartment the day before my holiday vacation last year, I booted it up, downloaded the Series X-enhanced versions of No Man’s Sky, Gears 5, and Forza Horizon 4. All those games downloaded very quickly, and I was blown away at how I not only could go back and forth from each game rapidly through Quick Resume, but they all had the fastest load times. It used to take me several minutes to open up and play No Man’s Sky, but on Series X it barely took 20 seconds. It took FOREVER for certain games to load on Xbox One, and that simply isn’t an issue anymore on Series X.
On the software side, that big “next-gen” moment for me came while playing Resident Evil Village. Just the fact that there were big, cinematic moments of giant monsters bashing you against the wall, and it never skipped a beat or missed a frame. Additionally, every stone, piece of gravel, or brick in the wall was just as detailed up-close as it was from afar. That game was a really stunning, seamless experience.
Out With the Old, in With the New
We may have touched on this already, but what so far has been your favorite feature or aspect on these new consoles?
David: It has to be performance mode, plus the ability to have older games scale up. I never got what PC people were talking about when it came to frames, but now I feel like 60 FPS has to be the standard. I thought when I was playing the Halo Infinite beta, “Why can’t I put this into performance mode?” and then realized that the performance mode for that game is 120 FPS, so it’s almost like I view 60 as the new 30 in terms of frames! It’s started to feel like a must for new games, and I’m glad we have it.
Sam: I agree with that. Part of that is I never personally saw 60 FPS games up close, since I don’t own a high-end PC. When you see 60 to 30 FPS comparisons in a YouTube video, you can see the difference but might disregard how much it actually affects gameplay experience. But then when I saw it with my own eyes, even on a nearly decade-old TV, I immediately noticed the disparity. Now passing several race cars with a Warthog in Forza Horizon feels so much crisper because of those frames. It makes a huge difference, and I didn’t think it would.
Another good example of this was my second playthrough of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I played it originally on a PS4 Slim, and I thought the game was a little buggy and janky but I still liked it anyway. When I played it again on Series X, it felt like a totally new game. It felt like the best possible version of that idea. The lightsaber fighting feels so much better, and that performance bump really matters.
Assessing the Launch Lineups for the New Consoles
Sam: So, comparing this first year to other console’s launch years, I’m thinking it’s already better than the previous generation, because even the first year for the PS4 (which sold like hotcakes for years) was full of decent but forgettable titles like Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son. They’re weren’t bad, but they weren’t significant in any meaningful way. On the Xbox side, there was Forza Horizon 2, but that was also on Xbox 360, and Halo: Master Chief Collection, which had a rocky launch. You had remasters of Tomb Raider and The Last of Us, but those weren’t that old. Anyway, how would you compare the first year of the Series X and PS5 to previous generation launch windows?
David: If we’re keeping it to Microsoft and Sony…
Sam: Well, Nintendo wins most launch windows because they almost always release at least one killer game every time!
David: Right! It’s hard to discuss the Xbox 360 versus PlayStation 3, though, since that extra year for the 360 made things so fundamentally different.
Definitely compared to the last generation, though, I concur completely: We’re far and away off to a better start. And I liked Second Son! But already Insomniac has delivered for PS5, with Miles Morales and Ratchet & Clank making waves and new Spider-Man and Wolverine games on the way. So you’re already getting higher quality and quantity for PS5.
And we’ve come a long way, since the leadup to both console launches was sort of this game of chicken about pricing and availability. There was so much trepidation in the months prior to launch, and then we suddenly knew everything, and it was all so impressive.
Again, no matter which console you have now (or plan to get at a later date), there’s a lot to be happy about and be excited about. I don’t feel like there’s a clear winner just yet. We have some big games coming up soon that could shift the conversation between the two, but it’s already miles better than the last generation’s start.
Looking Ahead to Gaming in 2022
Sam: What do you think the next year will be like? What are you most excited or concerned about? We already have so many big releases in the next year, like Elden Ring, God of War: Ragnarok, Starfield, and Horizon Forbidden West. Still, I have a feeling that year two is going to be a little weird.
By that I mean we’re going to be seeing games that probably had just started major production right before the pandemic started. They’ve all already been delayed several times, including certain Halo Infinite modes. We also have no idea what the schedules have been like for games that were pretty early in development a couple of years ago, such as Fable and Perfect Dark. So we might start seeing stretches where things might be barren, and not in the way people said this year was barren (Author’s note: this year’s been fine; you just didn’t get a new God of War). I’m excited for this next year, especially to see if any of these big titles are really as good as people are hyping them up to be.
What do you think about all that?
David: I think you make a really good point about the COVID factor, and there’s always the delay factor. It’s like the accordion effect, where you push all the hype and everything together and then stretch it out and realize a lot of these things realistically couldn’t make it here that soon. But I’m particularly excited for games like Final Fantasy XVI and Forspoken, both of which I hope and pray we see more of soon.
There’s plenty of other games I’m looking forward to as well, but realistically half of the games we’re talking about could be delayed anyway. These are all big hitters for me, and while I think 2021 has been a good year for games, there haven’t been a whole lot of generational titles just yet. There have been a ton of good games, but they might all be forgettable in a few years.
Sam: Maybe every good game this year is Infamous: Second Son.
David: Right! But I think 2022 could be incredible, even if just a couple of the aforementioned AAA titles actually make it.
Sam: We also have to consider the reality that the next-gen titles that will really drive things forward probably won’t even come out in 2022. They’re probably not coming for another couple of years. Whenever Elder Scrolls VI comes out, or whatever big game Sony has after Ragnarok, these games are still a ways away.
The Best Games for PS5 and Xbox Series X/S
Anyway, you can answer for each console, but so far what is the best game of this new console generation? I understand that since basically everything is cross-generation or on PC, you have to grade on a curve of sorts, but what has stood out for you the most?
David: I would say my favorite game on PS5 would be Miles Morales. Technically it’s also on PS4, but it did feel like it was designed with the PS5 in mind. That would be my choice. Rift Apart might be the most technically impressive game, since it was made only for the PS5. But if I had to score it, I’d give Rift Apart an 8.5/10. It looks pretty, it plays well, but it actually feels a little more limiting than even the PS2 versions of the franchise.
On Xbox, I’d have to say Forza Horizon 5. It’s the full experience: It looks great, it plays great. It’s a big, pretty blockbuster game where I found myself immediately enthralled. Halo Infinite could end up being this answer in a few days when the campaign launches, but for now I’d say Forza.
Sam: There’s a part of me that believes Halo Infinite will be my answer soon, because I love the multiplayer beta and can’t stop playing it, but that game isn’t fully out yet. I also adore Forza Horizon 5 to death, but my answer for this would still be Psychonauts 2. Technically, the only next-gen version of Psychonauts 2 is on Xbox Series, even though you can play the PS4 version on PS5, but it’s not the same.
The game has an incredible story, and examines mental health in a nuanced way, but it was also a silky-smooth experience. You’re traveling through various machinations of people’s brains in split seconds, and the game never skips a beat. I’ve watched video reviews of the PS4 version of Psychonauts 2 where the reviewer complains a little about long load times and choppy framerates in certain sections. But I experienced none of that on Series X, so in my view that makes it a Series X title first and foremost. And as much as I love other Series X titles I’ve played this year (I forgot to mention Death’s Door, another great Series X game), but my answer has to be Psychonauts 2.
Bringing It Home
Sam: Any last comments on this new generation?
David: 2021 set the bar pretty high, and I think 2022 should be great, assuming everything actually comes out.
Sam: I was initially concerned that we were just going to get more of the same, and that has sort of been true. But it turns out more of the same isn’t a bad thing if you keep getting quality releases! I’m very pleased, and I’m excited to play the worse version of God of War: Ragnarok this year because there’s no way I’m going to be able to find a PS5 in time.
Have thoughts on the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S? Share your favorite games and experiences so far in the comments below!