The next generation of console gaming is here and with it, a new allotment of buzzwords. Frame rate is one of those words and for good reason. Consoles can finally present games at an acceptable frame rate, meaning fewer stutters and more responsive gameplay. A solid frame rate is an unstated standard going forward, but the PlayStation 5’s frame rate support is less than stable.
The Xbox Series X consistently hits higher frame rates while the PlayStation 5 is more erratic. Gamers have come to expect 60 frames per second and fans should be confident the PlayStation 5 can constantly achieve that without worry. However, at this point, both backward compatible and new PlayStation 5 games target a frame rate of 30 to 120, making 60 frames a hopeful notion rather than an accepted standard.
Frame rate vigilance, specifically for some console gamers, is a new phenomenon. They played games at 30 frames per second while PC gamers gloated about their superior gaming experience. Some console players suggested frame rate doesn’t matter because they can’t see the difference between 30 and 60 FPS.
Everything changed when the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X attacked, because, of course, there’s a difference between seeing and experiencing. Thanks to the current generation of consoles people are experiencing 60 FPS for the first time. Once PlayStation gamers swung across New York City at 60 frames, they never went back, at least most of them.
Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales was the first PlayStation 5 experience for many people. Before launching the game, they’re greeted with a difficult decision: performance or fidelity. In fidelity, players could see Miles’ reflection when perched alongside a building, but his movements were choppy, therefore decreasing gameplay enjoyment. Most gamers opted for a smoother gameplay experience even if it meant losing Sony’s beloved ray-tracing.
All of a sudden console gamers care a lot about frame rates as evidenced in the Horizon Forbidden West gameplay demo. The upcoming PlayStation exclusive looks promising, but it was noticeably presented in 30 frames per second. When Aloy dodged a melee strike, the frames would chug, ultimately downsizing gameplay fluidity. After the 14-minute gameplay demo, 30 FPS started trending on Twitter as gamers discussed its viability in 2021. Of course, arguments flew every which way, but the point is: a 30 FPS demo sparked a trending conversation.
Of course, Horizon Forbidden West will have a performance option that favors frame rate above visuals. Still, Guerilla Games advertised gameplay in 30 FPS, which could signify a couple of things: Sony would rather show off resolution instead of FPS and the PS5 has difficulty managing higher frame rates.
The first makes sense from a business perspective because the higher resolution will always look better to the casual consumer. They’ll see the sun rays reflecting off a tumbling ocean and metal glistening from a distance, causing them to bask in the movie-like quality. That’s the same reason most of Sony’s first-party games target 30 frames per second.
Horizon Forbidden West, Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart, and Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales were initially advertised at 30 FPS with the 60 FPS option getting little fanfare. The issue is that Sony won’t commit to the PS5 as a high frame rate machine, causing confusion and misinformation. When Sony touts ray tracing above FPS, gamers start to believe the company isn’t supporting their most desired feature.
On the other hand, Microsoft is touting high frame rates for both Xbox Game Pass and major exclusives. Halo Infinite was advertised at 60 FPS from the outset while its multiplayer component runs at 120 FPS. It’s a striking comparison to Horizon Forbidden West’s 30 FPS revealing the priorities of each company. Even though the Halo Infinite gameplay demo was met with criticism, Microsoft stayed true to their 60 FPS standard.
This puts Microsoft in a superior position when it comes to public perception. The FPS heavy framing helps Microsoft look attuned to its audience and paints the PS5 as an inferior machine. It also adheres to the idea that Phil Spencer’s Xbox is “for the players.” PlayStation’s dedication to fidelity reveals that they’re adhering to audiences outside of hardcore gamers whereas Microsoft’s consistent 60 FPS promotion reaffirms their commitment to a target audience.
With all that in mind, this issue may go beyond an advertising problem. Even though most PS5 exclusives offer a 60 FPS option, third-party and backward compatible games struggle to reach that threshold or beyond. In all fairness, Devil May Cry 5, which consistently targets 120 frames, runs better on PS5 than Xbox Series X, but the sheer quantity of Xbox games receiving an FPS boost is hard to ignore.
We’d be remiss not to discuss Mass Effect Legendary Edition. Commander Shepard’s space-faring adventures run the worst on the PS5. It’s unclear why this is, but Mass Effect runs at 60 FPS on PS5 as compared to 120 on Xbox Series X. In fact, Xbox outnumbers PlayStation with 120 FPS games by a large margin.
The PS5 supports 11 120 FPS games while the Xbox Series X supports about 72. Adding dirt to the wound, the Xbox Series S supports about 56 games at this high frame rate. Not only does PS5 struggle with the superior 120 FPS, but an assortment of games don’t even hit 60. Several of Sony’s best exclusives still run at 30 FPS on the PS5 including Bloodborne and Horizon Zero Dawn. This is a shame because the time-sensitive difficulty of Bloodborne would benefit greatly from such an FPS boost. It’s too bad that 60 FPS games are a special occasion on the PS5 instead of a commonplace.
Returnal, the roguelike by Housemarque, does give us hope. It’s a Triple-A Sony exclusive that manages a consistent 60 frames per second. As a result, Returnal is highly regarded as one of PlayStation 5’s best exclusives. If Sony continues to support projects like this then their FPS problem will become less apparent. Until then PlayStation remains in an unhealthy relationship with one of gaming’s most wanted commodities. Sometimes they get along and other times they’re butting heads, a sad state of affairs that leaves fans questioning Sony’s priorities and, oftentimes, missing out on quality gameplay.