Two weeks before The Last Of Us Remastered was released for PS4, news hit that the game, an in-house port of Naughty Dog’s original PS3 version, would let players lock the framerate at 30 frames per second. The assumption was that the developers were having a hard time locking the game at 60 FPS, essentially the modern gold standard for most fast-paced action games. In reality, the 30 FPS lock was included because fans requested the option. Turning it on the cap would be the closest possible experience to how the game played on its original hardware.
To a trained eye, the difference between 30 and 60 FPS is as glaring as comparing the resolution of a DVD to one from a higher defintion blu-ray. At double the amount of frames than a standard picture, 60 FPS produces a much smoother looking image. For a lot of games, it’s a great choice — the fluidity translates to control responsiveness, which can arguably lead to more satisfying gameplay depending on what the game’s design is demanding of its players. At the same time, the visuals have the pop of immediacy to them, similar to how soap operas historically have looked like they’ve been shot with old-school camcorders.
Between games and film, the effect is the same. For Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy (and now Ang Lee’s new film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, apparently shot at a blistering 120 FPS), much faster than the movie standard 24 FPS filming techniques were used; few people were fans of Jackson’s 48 frame approach, which traded the rich texture of a traditional film’s look for unheard of clarity and detail at the cost of making the movie look it was a stage play. Games are no different.
Personally, I like playing The Last Of Us in 30 frames. Naughty Dog’s particular cinematic style lends itself naturally to the visualization of a film, and just as in cinema, games running at 30 frames have a rich depth to their picture, as long as the framerate is locked. (The Last Of Us also has higher resolution shadows at 30 frames than when played at 60, which is hardly a deal breaker, though it adds a nice bit of extra detail.)
But most last-gen remasters of games that originally targeted 30 FPS don’t give you the option to switch. It’s understandable to a certain degree. Countless seventh generation games, particularly from their consoles’ twilight years, couldn’t maintain a solid framerate, and anything below that magic number can cause screen tearing and noticeable hiccups in on-screen action.
While performance varies game by game and developer by developer — Sleeping Dogs’ PS4 and Xbox One port somehow hovered between 20-25 frames, for instance — it generally shouldn’t be a hard push for new hardware to make a game run at either framerate standard. (As much as I love the Uncharted trilogy’s PS4 remaster, it would’ve been wonderful to see the same frame lock Naughty Dog included with The Last Of Us.)
The 30-60 debate is a big problem of current consoles as well, for largely the same reasons why it was with last generation’s hardware. Developers tend to overestimate what they can make the firm specs of a current-gen console do. For Uncharted 4 Naughty Dog initially announced it would run at 60 FPS in 1080p resolution, for example, before having to scale back to 30 frames. You know what? That’s just fine.
Much like Naughty Dog’s past games, Uncharted 4 looks incredible, with the studio often pushing the boundary of in-game visuals toward CG territory. Even with its lower frame count it may be the best looking game ever made, which is saying a lot in this era. Not that it would have looked any worse 60 FPS, as they had originally intended, just missing a bit of the cinematic flair that defines Naughty Dog’s filmic aesthetic.
Still, it’s no small number of current-gen releases like, say, Dark Souls III or Assassin’s Creed Syndicate that can’t quite hit 30 FPS with stability, let alone any greater number. Arguing 30 vs. 60 with new releases is more often than not dependent on your choice of platform, given that PCs can trounce their console competition with vastly upgraded setups for the smoothest possible gameplay. On consoles, it can be a total crapshoot whether a developer can make the bare minimum work. And if they can maintain that, great.
There are exceptions. Platinum’s furious, insane action games are great of examples of when you want that extra split-second faster input and smoother animation, and they’ve made it essentially a studio-wide standard. Seriously, try to imagine Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising or Transformers with a 30 frame cap. Or DOOM, for that matter. Some games are just meant to be game-y, and that’s great too.
But your brain can easily readjust, after a few minutes, between 60 frames and 30. When hitting a button on a controller, a games response at 30 is hardly unplayable — if that were the case, most of the titles regarded as classics from last generation would’ve been forgotten as, tech limitations aside, complete failures.
Despite fans disappointment that Naughty Dog was unable to pull off Uncharted 4 at 60, you don’t need a slightly snappier reaction for Drake to pop up from cover or leap from a ledge. It’s not like he feels sluggish below 60. If anything, sometimes the sensation that you’re controlling a movie isn’t such a bad thing.