The PlayStation 4 was the graphical shot in the arm console gaming needed after the very very lengthy PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 generation, which saw the consoles struggling to meet games’ increasing graphical demands by the early 2010s.
The PS4 impressed right out of the gate, a much-needed remedy to the growing PS360 malaise. Over the course of its life, it continued to deliver great-looking exclusive games and, as it had a technical edge on its competitor, the Xbox One, it was typically the go-to place for the prettiest of pretty console graphics in the mid- to late-2010s.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane to appreciate some of the standout exclusive games that proved the fourth PlayStation’s graphical superiority back in its heyday.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Guerrilla Games’ Killzone series was always notable for its visual presentation. Though its first several entries — the fraught PlayStation 2 shooter Killzone and then two excellent sequels on PS3 — were a little grey and muddy, they were still striking to see in action.
In November 2013, though, Killzone Shadow Fall arrived as a launch title for the PS4 and, while it’s not necessarily the best Killzone from a gameplay perspective, its graphics were a bright, colourful change of scenery for the series and a damn impressive showcase of what was in store for the PS4 graphically. It also ran fairly well, considering how stunning it looked at the time. The framerate was a solid 30fps in single-player, while the multiplayer experience, which has since been shuttered, managed to hit a solid 60 for a welcome change of pace over the perpetually chugging PS3.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Right from the first trailers, Uncharted 4 stunned. While the PS3 chapters of Naughty Dog’s action-adventure series were impressive in their own right, Uncharted 4 rendered Nathan Drake (and his chest hair) with a remarkable fidelity that we now take for granted.
Uncharted 4 didn’t just stop at pretty models. Be it explosions with stunning light, smoke, and dust effects, or the beauty of watching Drake get dragged through splashy, messy mud as he held on for dear life to a rope tied to a speeding truck in one of the series’ best action sequences, Uncharted 4 was a perfect excuse to buy the biggest damn HDTV you could find.
The Order: 1886
There’s no sense in relitigating the quality of The Order: 1886’s gameplay or story, especially when we can all agree that, God. Damn. This game is still a looker. While it’s somewhat of an insult to say a video game looks “cinematic,” The Order certainly earned the more positive aspects of that descriptor.
With a thick, smoky steampunk atmosphere and delightfully detailed gun models, plus so many items to pick up and examine, 1886’s level of detail and visual flair makes what would otherwise be a mostly forgettable, cover-based third-person shooter at least worth looking back on. You can’t deny that view.
The Last of Us: Part II
The Last of Us certainly pushed the limits of the PlayStation 3, but with Naughty Dog set loose on PS4’s more powerful (and dev-friendly) architecture, the raw, visceral emotions on the faces of TLoU’s characters reached new heights of anguish and misery. In a good way, of course.
TLoU: Part II’s vastly improved graphics aided in conveying the narrative through cutscenes, and they also helped sell the beautifully decrepit environments during gameplay. Lush, overgrown greenery surrounded the forever-drenched streets of a fallen Seattle, both telling an environmental story of abandonment on its own, and serving up fresh gameplay opportunities with the new ability to go prone and crawl through the dirt and overgrown grass.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Killzone Shadow Fall might have hinted that Guerrilla Games was through with the muddy grayness of its former titles, but it was Horizon that showed that it wasn’t playing around anymore. Horizon’s sweeping colour palette across a varied open world impressed, as did the exquisitely detailed robotic dinosaurs. (Their glowing eyes were not only intimidating, they made all of us Killzone fans nostalgic.) When you fought them, various parts sparking and sputtering as you shot them off helped sell the action and immediacy.
The first Horizon wasn’t just pretty to look at when standing on a cliff or Tall Neck overlooking the abandoned earth, it was also beautiful in motion. Horizon was a fun game elevated by some seriously pretty PS4 graphics.
inFamous Second Son and First Light
inFamous was one of the many early exclusives that highlighted the vast generational divide between PS4 and its comparatively modest predecessor. Its seamless open world and destructible environments provided a satisfying playground of chaos, and it brought protagonist Delsin Rowe’s powers to life with impressive particle effects.
Its standalone expansion, First Light, was another lovely display of colourful, expressive swirls of neon energy brought to life with gorgeous graphical effects. The world around the characters also shone, with generous draw distance and environmental effects that only enhanced how immersive it was to fly around this playspace.
Ghost of Tsushima
You can easily lose yourself in the visual splendor in Ghost of Tsushima. The elegant use of colour and endless breezes filled with leaves and petals invited the player to wander its map for the sights alone. Or you could just stand in place and look out on the ever-beautiful landscape of this artsy samurai fantasy.
You know an open-world game’s a looker when you’re resisting the urge to use fast travel despite having gone through the same area numerous times already.
Ratchet & Clank (2016)
2016’s PS4 remake of the original Ratchet & Clank hit a level of graphical fidelity that games had long aspired to reach.
In motion, 2016’s Ratchet & Clank’s level of detail sometimes looked just as good, maybe even better than early 3D animated films. And it kept the action smooth, with a relatively stable framerate despite frequently showcasing onscreen chaos.
Well it never became a fully fledged commercial game, the demo for P.T. sure was a phenomenon. Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s ill-fated attempt at a Silent Hill sequel enjoyed a short public celebration in the form of a cryptic, free, multi-faceted demo.
“P.T.” was a genuinely unnerving experience in the best ways, and part of that was due to the graphics being able to make you doubt reality for a second. The visual detail of that hallway likely still haunts many who dared venture through it. Using the ambitious Fox Engine to satisfy director Hideo Kojima’s desires for photorealism, “P.T.” sometimes felt too real for a video game.
Though we would get to see more of that game engine’s strengths with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, P.T. remains a harrowing experience all its own.
The PS4 has finally started to fade into memory now that PlayStation 5s are more abundant in stores. But looking back, it’s clear that developers pushed this machine to its limits with visually stunning titles like these.