On June 11th, Sony revealed the final design of the PlayStation 5 hardware, and showed a long list of trailers to tout the power of the machine. In a reversal of the current generation’s initial graphical power disparity, the PS5 has less-capable graphics performance than the Xbox Series X on paper. Sony is hoping to make up for that by pushing storage and loading performance further than any previous console.
The storage pipeline on consoles has long been neglected, as they’ve continued to rely on slow mechanical hard drives and optical discs. That’s about to change in a big way with the PS5 and Xbox Series X both featuring fast SSDs as their primary local storage devices. Sony is taking this even further with specific motherboard optimizations and their own custom SSD design, claiming that they’ll be able to load games faster than the competition, and stream in large worlds with near-instant speed.
In theory, this means console games will no longer have long obnoxious load screens or have to segment their worlds or limit the number of onscreen assets in order to prevent loading hitches. In practice, it’s unclear how it’ll work out. The Xbox Series X will also load games faster than current hardware, but if its performance lags behind the PS5 in real-world scenarios, third- party game studios may have to design around the lowest common denominator.
Sony’s first- party studios won’t have to think about the complexities of multi-platform or multi-generation releases, and thus stand the best chance of flexing the power of the PS5’s loading speed. The trailers for Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart show this off with aplomb, and hint at what this fast custom storage pipeline could mean for future game designs.
The main trailer for Rift Apart features a breathtakingly- gorgeous chase sequence with multiple portal transitions into different expansive worlds. The characters are sent flying between dimensions in a couple of seconds, and each area is filled with dynamically animated characters and packed full of detailed surfaces. In the blink of an eye, the game loads up more assets and characters than some full games contain. The chase sequence is not the main mode of play, but rather an example of what some of the game’s set piece action sequences will look like.
A more recent video features an interview with the game’s creative director, Marcus Smith, and shows some non-chase gameplay footage. The clips are packed with classic Ratchet and Clank action, but also feature new portal-based mechanics to constantly remind the player of the beefy performance under the hood of their new console. These sequences feature the responsive action gameplay the series is know for, but at a much higher level of fidelity. Smith also details how the game will use the new feedback tech featured inside the DualSense controller.
I’m really excited about this game. I came to the Ratchet and Clank series later than some. The first entry I dove into was Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction on the PS3, back in 2007. After loving that game, which was also a technical marvel in its day, I bought used copies of every PS2 entry and powered through them in a week. Since then, I’ve been a big fan of the franchise. It has a perfect balance of Mario-style platforming action, and snappy third- person combat that recalls some of the better shooters and character action games.
I think that Rift Apart is one of the best examples so far of what will hopefully make the PS5 different to its Microsoft counterpart. The upcoming console generation is more to me interesting to me than the current one, from a technical differences perspective. Right now, even with the powered up “Pro” consoles, we’ve still got two different takes on the exact same underlying hardware specifications. In the next generation, with Sony focusing more on storage performance and Microsoft going all-in on raw GPU power, we might see some actual differences in game design, particularly out of first-party exclusives. I look for Sony to produce more games that capitalize on their fast loading tech, and Microsoft to push new graphics technologies harder like real-time raytracing and enhanced GPU particle systems.
For my personal tastes, the focus on storage speed and data processing is the right way to go. Resolution, frame rate, and graphical effects do all help sell the immersion of a game, but Sony has achieved remarkable things with checkerboard rendering and temporal anti-aliasing on the PS4 Pro, and game graphics are already stunning. I have no doubt Sony will double down on these technologies in the coming generation to help make up for resolution differences. If I’m forced to pick between a few extra pixels and faster overall loading performance, even if it’s just a second or two, I’m probably going to pick the faster loading. Those seconds add up over hours of gameplay.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart looks like a fun, vibrant, rollicking time. It has a totally opposite tone to most of the impressive big budget exclusives Sony is known for, and it truly does look better and more dynamic than many CGI movies. It’s the PS5 exclusive I’m most excited for, and I can’t wait for its (presumed) 2021 release date.