Recently we were invited by The Pokémon Company and Nintendo to pop down to TPC’s UK headquarters in London to give a build of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet a right ruddy going over. It’s less than a month until launch – and we were informed that the build we played was not the final release build – so how is everything looking as we rapidly approach the 11th hour?
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: in the build we played, performance is not very good. We were really quite disappointed at how the game ran in docked mode, and were unable to test its handheld capabilities. There was plenty we absolutely did like about the game, but we want to cover this hotly queried topic straight away.
The game appears to be running at around 720p whenever you’re in the overworld, with little to no anti-aliasing as far as we can tell, and the maximum frame rate of 30fps is not consistently achieved when moving around the world in a reasonable manner. Objects and characters that are only a few in-game metres from the player run, in busy scenarios, at an even further reduced rate, a technique used by a lot of games to prevent frame drops and poor performance elsewhere, but in this case it’s not enough to keep the master frame rate consistent.
You might remember the recent trailer that showed off a gym challenge where the player had to corral Sunflora, with the Pokémon behaving in a very choppy manner even immediately behind the player; this is indicative of a lot of the busier scenes we encountered. Worse yet this was true with a Sunflora that we encountered in a battle during the same challenge. Our Pokémon’s frame rate was consistent with the rest of the world, but the Sunflora was idly bouncing around at as little as half the rate, possibly lower, and when we tried to switch our Pokémon to another it took a suspiciously long time, as if the game was having to free up some RAM to make space for the next Pokémon’s model. Hmm…
Textures in a lot of the more open areas can be extremely smeary as well. In the main city of Mesagoza (which is not part of the open world and requires a separate loading screen), walls and floors and chairs all practically blur together into what we can sadly only call a mess. The game isn’t pretty in busy, open areas, and yet it still doesn’t manage to maintain a decent frame rate. Frankly, we were gutted with what we saw.
What compounds this even further is that interiors – such as shops, gyms, and the like – not only have much higher fidelity textures everywhere, but also seem to run at a significantly greater resolution with a solid frame rate. We ran into the mentor/rival character Nemona in a gym and her model was absolutely gorgeous, same with the player character. It felt like we were getting a glimpse of what the developers wanted the game to look like, but something – be it funding, the engine, or funding to develop a new engine – was holding things back.
But performance aside, there’s still plenty to enjoy from what we played. A whole host of quality-of-life features have been introduced to streamline the gameplay and make things just feel better. Trainer battles no longer use the ‘line of sight' system, instead requiring you to interact with said trainer in order to kick their level 4 Hopip back to the stone age. A small change perhaps, and although the nostalgia bug in our brain is telling us that the older system was better because it could run on a Game Boy, we can’t deny that this has been overdue for a little while now. All stylings are completely gender non-specific as well, so that haircut and those boots you fancied in Sword and Shield that belonged arbitrarily to the other body type are no longer out of your grasp. Nice.
Caught Pokémon now have this delightful animation when their Pokédex entry is completed: slamming their personalised book of info and jamming it onto the appropriate digital shelf. It just makes catching a Pokémon feel more like an event, you know? Pokémon that are nearby when you engage another in battle remain where they were for the duration, just sort of standing there. It’s slightly odd to see but mechanically means that entering a mass of Pokémon by accident can spell disaster if you’re not prepared, as you’re forced to take them out in succession or do your best to weave your way out. Pokémon are (largely) beasts, after all, you should be made to feel at least a tiny bit intimidated.
We weren’t sure what to make when the new Tera Raids were shown off at first, assuming they’d just be Dynamax Raids with more of a grandmother’s crystal swan souvenir from Bourton-on-the-Water-vibe. Pleasingly although the core concept is the same, the execution is much better. The real-time battling system keeps the tension high and prevents an indecisive opponent from boring the rest of their team to tears. The atmosphere is quite excellent as well, as the Terastallized Pokémon is reflected on all sides of the chamber like it’s trapped inside an enormous Fox’s Glacier Mint.
Multiplayer is also something we were pleased to try out. There’s no laundry list of available activities for you to take part in with your chums outside of battling and trading, but the complete lack of restriction in regards to where you can go means you’re just free to go about your adventure however you see fit, and your friends can do the same at their own pace as well. It’s just nice to be able to faff around with chums.
There’s a lot of passion that’s been poured into the game, which makes it all the more frustrating that the performance is so consistently sub-par. Little flourishes can be found all over the place, such as the onlookers chanting as you whittle a Gym Leader down to their final Pokémon, or your player character shielding themselves from the rain with their arm as your sprint through the landscape. Little details like this are what can take a game from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’, but we just can’t look past how disappointingly poor it performs and looks in a lot of its environments… because it’s everywhere.
We really hope that the final build of the game irons out a lot of the technical shortcomings that we experienced, because the core concepts that the game offers are quite exciting. This close to release, however, we’re dubious as to whether or not things will be ship-shape in time. Keep an eye out for our full review when it goes live in due course — hopefully, we’ll have cause to be singing a different tune.
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