Sony knows how to make decent looking games. The platform architects/magicians the company has working away behind the scenes know their stuff, and whatever dark magic they’ve spun in making all the silicon and metal communicate and summon the graphics we’ve had on the PS5 exclusives is serious business. The best in the business, actually – the only thing I’ve seen that rivals Sony’s first-party stuff is the as-yet-unreleased Final Fantasy 16 (and we’ve got to wait for June for that).
The downside of PlayStation’s push into graphical superstardom is the millstone of the PS4 around its neck. Yeah, sure, the PS4 Pro is still a punchy bit of kit, but it’s aging. And the base PS4 can barely keep up with games designed for it, let alone current-gen concessions that only exist because a worldwide component shortage threatened to eat into Sony’s margins.
God of War Ragnarok, Gran Turismo 7, Forbidden West – what were once seen as key PS5 exclusives also launched on PS4. And Sony was cagey about announcing that during development, too, because it knew people wanted ‘true’ next-gen games. To be fair, those first-party PS4 games were superb, and I’d go so far as to say they’re even highlights of that console’s library, but there was that sense that their existence could have been holding things back.
But, as Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, Herman Hulst, said: “you can’t build a community of over 110 million PS4 owners and then just walk away from it.” So we’ve seen the PS4 sit on the coattails of the PS5 since the new-gen console launched in 2020. And it’s only now we’re beginning to see the gap between generations widen again. Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is the first major first-party content drop to focus solely on the PS5 since Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
And you know what? It’s astonishing.
Whether you’re spending minutes at a time getting lost in the dense, highly-detailed textures of Aloy’s new Californian environment, or booting up photo mode once again to study the way her face responds when she’s talking to her crush (yes, really – she’s no longer some weird sexless player-robot!), the game performs sublimely and looks amazing on the PS5.
Of course, one of the main new mechanics in the base game revolves around water – so there’s plenty more aquatic spelunking (complete with a thoughtful new ‘thalassophobia mode’ for those that fear deep water, no less) to sink your teeth into. Down in the briny deep, the way light scatters through the surface and diffuses onto the florae beneath the waves is unlike anything I’ve seen in games to date – even dedicated subaquatic titles like Subnautica and Below Zero have got nothing on Horzion and its Decima Engine artistry.
I can’t really put my finger on what’s better than the base game. Aside from the more tropical locale that just feels warmer, and richer (like how going on a summer break feels versus your grey old hometown, y’know?), the DLC package just feels more premium. Like taking a sip of a premium imported lager, and not your local 4% pisswater. Or tasting a prized bit of chocolate from a boutique chocolatier and not tasting the oily, grainy sludge of Dairy Milk’s latest travesty of a recipe. Maybe it’s the DLC’s sunlight, maybe it’s because I’ve got Aloy in some new threads, maybe it’s because I’ve thudded my razor-tipped arrows into the vulcanised rubber chests of different machine beasts, but the whole thing feels better. Richer. More dense. More alive. That’s the power of the PS5, I guess.
We already know that Sony is trying to phase out first-party PS5 games by 2025. Sony itself indicated that, as of the 2025 financial year, “50% of its titles will be available for PS5, 30% for PC, and 20% on mobile”, with PS4 nowhere to be seen. If the result is more experiences like Burning Shores (graphically, if nothing else) then I am glad: there’s a time and a place for cross-generational titles, but some three years after a console’s release is not it.
The PS4/PS5 transitionary period has been a good one, and seeing God of War Ragnarok run on a base PS4 has convinced me that magic is indeed real, but after seeing what Burning Shores can do when Guerrilla and PlayStation stack all its resources into just one platform, I’m finally ready to see the PS4-shaped albatross slip from the publisher’s neck and sink like lead into the sea. We’ve waited long enough.