Philippe Ringuette-Angrignon @ Gamasutra: "We've all heard it before; since the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation, our games' color palettes have moved towards desaturated tones. I'll try to explain why this has happened, and focus on one of the less obvious reasons.
Since textures are now of higher resolution, dirty surfaces such as rusty metal, rocks, muddy grounds, damaged concrete, etc., can look pretty good. On top of that, using specular highlights implies metallic or wet materials.
Dynamic lighting coupled with normal maps leads us to make environments where surfaces are not flat; we're more likely to make damaged or rocky surfaces to get that extra detail in our environments now that our shaders allow us to, and metallic surfaces to make specular highlights and normal maps more apparent as the lighting moves over the surfaces. So by default, the new tech leads us in a certain direction. We could make some nice looking clean world, but it would imply new challenges to overcome."