Since the dawn of the first video game, developers worldwide have pushed the boundaries of gaming hardware. From bustling city life to distant tropical planets, modern games utilise cutting edge graphics to transport us to new and startlingly realistic locales. With each new generation of consoles, graphical quality in video games leapt to new heights, from the advent of 3D gaming to the implementation of high definition.
With the release of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One in late 2013, the power of these new machines was not immediately apparent with a lot of gamers. They looked smoother, shinier and more colourful, but nothing that truly set them apart from their predecessors. There was, and still is however, one feature that developers absolutely love to include in current generation games; water. Or to be more precise, rain. It’s everywhere!
I first noticed this in Infamous: Second Son. Cruising around Seattle as a flailing neon pink monstrosity, I’d noticed it was raining, and as such there were numerous puddles on the ground, rippling from the impact of the falling raindrops. I paused for a few seconds, rotating the camera around to admire the shimmering effects before zooming off again, not giving it a second thought.
Next up was the wonderful Bloodborne. Strolling around the grim world of Yarhnam, the weather never changes. It is always perpetually dark, but it is clear that From Software never intended to include dynamic weather effects. And yet, the ground is riddled with puddles, insinuating that it must have rained at some point, even if the player was not there to witness it. A trend was emerging.
I understand, adding water along with its reflective nature gives the game and instantly more attractive aesthetic. But in the world of Yarhnam, I can’t help but think that other effects might have been more appropriate; a gust of wind rustling leaves across the cobbled streets, or a more pronounced layer of fog obscuring the player’s view. Puddles are fine though, I guess.
One of the more in-your-face examples of rain being used to enhance a game’s graphics is shown in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight. Not only is Gotham City in the grips of a vengeful Scarecrow, it is caught in a never-ending rainstorm. Talk about bad timing. Along with the pools of water on the ground, Batman himself is quite literally drenched. His suit shines as the camera pans around him, and upon closer inspection, you can see tiny droplets of rain cascading down his cowl. It’s admittedly very impressive, and was one of the first examples of a next-gen game truly delivering on its promise of cutting edge visuals.
Similarly to Arkham Knight, Big Boss finds himself caught in torrential rain in Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, the prequel to The Phantom Pain. Tasked with infiltrating Camp Omega, Snake traverses terrain practically flooded with water, whilst the J.J Abrams inspired lens flare illuminates the falling raindrops.
Unlike the previous examples however, Ground Zeroes utilises rain as a tool to both help and hinder the player, reducing the vision of the numerous guards patrolling the area, and also Snake’s own vision. It’s nice that the affect on gameplay was considered, but I’d wager the rain was primarily included as a way to show off the newly revealed Fox Engine.
When Grand Theft Auto 5 was brought to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, one of the prominent features to receive a new lick of paint was, you guessed it, weather effects! Utilising the power of the new consoles, huge puddles now formed in the streets of Los Santos and the pathways of Mount Chiliad. Water would drip from the wheels of passing cars and footsteps would form satisfying ripples. Having played GTA V on the Xbox 360, the step up in graphical fidelity overall was great, but the rain was spot on. Great job, Rockstar!
I think these few examples have illustrated my point sufficiently. Rain is paramount in creating a graphically stunning modern video game. Forget realistic facial features and sprawling landscapes, it means nothing if it doesn’t have rainwater flowing through every orifice! I’m obviously joking, but there’s definitely a trend occurring in the current console generation; developers are obsessed with rain, and they’ll look for any excuse to add it to their game.