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Digital Foundry's guide to PS4 Pro game upgrades

UPDATE: Resident Evil 7, Steep, Gravity Rush 2 tested - and Assassin's Creed Syndicate fixed.

Digital Foundry's ongoing mission is to test out all PS4 Pro upgrades in order to get a grip on what the new hardware is capable of.

The PlayStation 4 Pro upgrades are arriving en masse - to the point where it's very difficult for us to keep up here at Digital Foundry. We'll be taking a look at as many games as we can, and since many of the enhancements are simple resolution boosts, we've decided to put together a reference article that contains video analysis and a breakdown of the key enhancements - and 4K purists can also check out a companion article dedicated to native ultra HD titles.

We've moved our workflow on to 4K in order to fully capture exactly what ultra HD compatible formats like PlayStation 4 Pro and PC offer, but YouTube's high levels of compression makes getting a sense of the upgrade difficult in many cases. For that reason, we've recently launched a Patreon that offers access to everything we do in a pristine ultra HD downloadable format - h.264 at the moment, but we're currently researching HEVC for the same excellent quality with much lower download sizes. You can check out a sample at digitalfoundry.net.

In addition to covering as many PlayStation 4 Pro releases as we can, we'll also be updating with relevant patches that improve performance or add other features. We've recently revealed that the likes of Watch Dogs 2, Mantis Burn Racing and Deus Ex Mankind Divided had performance issues not found on the original PlayStation 4 and we're happy to report that patches have been issued for all of them, addressing our issues. In the case of Mantis Burn Racing, a native 4K at a locked 60Hz is confirmed and developer VooFoo Studios has also added HDR support too.

We'll be presenting these updates in the order that we look at them, with the newest coverage at the top of the page. We've had to split this guide into two pages, owing to its rapidly ballooning size, so here's the breakdown of titles.

Page 1:

  • Resident Evil 7
  • Steep
  • Gravity Rush 2
  • Assassin's Creed Syndicate
  • Diablo 3
  • Mafia 3
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
  • Assassin's Creed: The Ezio Collection
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Farming Simulator 17

Page 2:

  • The Last Guardian
  • The Last of Us Remastered
  • Final Fantasy 15
  • Assassin's Creed Syndicate
  • Dishonored 2
  • Hitman
  • Uncharted 4
  • Call of Duty Black Ops 3
  • Battlefield 1
  • FIFA 17
  • Paragon

Page 3:

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • Overwatch
  • InFamous First Light/Second Sun
  • Watch Dogs 2
  • Call of Duty Infinite Warfare
  • Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered
  • Skyrim
  • Titanfall 2
  • Batman: Return to Arkham
  • Mantis Burn Racing

Resident Evil 7

  • Resolution: 2240x1260
  • Additional features: Enhanced lighting
  • HDR: Yes
  • Buy from Amazon

Resident Evil 7 - it's a great game, whether you play it on a conventional 2D screen or via the wonders of PlayStation VR, but it's fair to say that its PS4 Pro implementation has been quite controversial in the wake of our face-off, revealing a relatively slight 2240x1260 resolution bump.

It's not really a deal-breaker as such because the style of RE7 doesn't rely so much on resolution, to the point where the post-process heavy pipeline actually makes pixel-counting the Pro version almost impossible. There are no geometric edges here you can use for a conventional framebuffer analysis and so to bring you the metrics, we contacted Capcom directly to ensure accuracy in our coverage.

As things stand though, there is an additional 36 per cent of resolution in this title and it's backed by very subtle tweaks to the lighting model that appear to have been brought across from the PC version of the game. But the real question is the extent to which native 4K resolution actually improves the visual presentation - for that we will turn to the PC version of the game and we'll bring you the full lowdown on that in due course.

Here's the full lowdown on the visual differences between all versions of Resident Evil 7.

Steep

  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Additional features: Enhanced performance
  • HDR: No
  • Buy from Amazon

There's the sense that Ubisoft went into the Pro version of Steep with the very best of intentions. Boosting resolution would be nice, but concentrating Pro resources on frame-rate would surely be the better bet: doubling frame-rate from the base PS4's 30fps to a full-fat 60Hz experience would be a genuine game-changer for a high-speed sports title.

Unfortunately, the reality is that Steep joins the small but growing assembly of performance-orientated Pro upgrades that fail to double frame-rate - despite the 2.3x boost to GPU power offered by the new hardware. Steep targets 60fps but effectively unlocks the frame-rate instead, allowing the engine to run noticeably faster, but still some way short of 60fps, instead lurking in 50-55fps territory.

It's titles like this that make us wonder - why not allow developers the option to invoke an HDTV's 50Hz mode? They've all got them, and it's a trick we often use in PC gaming at 4K - a locked 50fps only adds 3.3ms persistence per frame, and still looks silky smooth. It also lowers GPU requirement significantly and in the case of titles like this, inFamous and others, it could provide a much smoother presentation.

Dave checks out Steep on PS4, Pro and Xbox One - not the most ambitious PS4 Pro upgrade, it has to be said.

Gravity Rush 2

  • Resolution: Geometry-based 4K
  • Additional features: Downsampling for 1080p screens
  • HDR: No
  • Buy from Amazon

Gravity Rush 2 is a fascinating example of how PlayStation developers have access to a range of routes to 4K resolution, and how appealing results can be achieved without having to brute-force out a native 3840x2160 framebuffer. But here's the thing - pixel-counts reveal that the Sony Japan title does indeed resolve full 4K, so what's going on?

Well, one of the techniques available to game-makers is the ability to generate geometry on Pro titles at full 4K, but retain all other pixel processing at native 1080p. The end result is super-crisp edges, but surfaces and effects run look decidedly soft by comparison. It can look rather strange, but deployed in titles like Gravity Rush 2 and Bound, the effect looks great. Performance doesn't appear to be compromised here, although curiously, shadow quality gets a small downgrade. The shadow cascade is more aggressive, so lower resolution shadows are noticeable closer to the camera.

With super-sampling for 1080p owners rounding out the package, Gravity Rush 2 isn't exactly a shining example of what the hardware is capable of, but it is a worthwhile upgrade for Pro owners.

John and Rich sit down to discuss Gravity Rush 2's 4K implementation on PS4 Pro.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

  • Resolution: 1620p
  • Additional features: Downsampling for 1080p screens
  • HDR: No
  • Buy from Amazon

Assassin's Creed Syndicate received a questionable PlayStation 4 Pro upgrade with patch 1.50, which appeared to be running at a visually unimpressive 1440x1620. Horizontal resolution looked awful, to the point where the base PS4 version appeared to resolve a cleaner image in some scenarios. As Pro upgrades go, we couldn't help but wonder what the point was - and what level of QA may have been applied to the work. It looked like a borked attempt at 1620p checkerboarding.

But there's good news. The recently released patch 1.51 offers up a huge visual improvement. Horizontal resolution perceptually doubles, giving us the full 2880x1620 we would have been happy with from the original patch. Performance appears to be very close to the base PS4 version too. So, all's well that ends well. A Pro upgrade for a year-old game always felt like a genuinely nice bonus and it was tough to see the original release fail to live up to expectations. Thankfully, this new patch makes Syndicate well worth revisiting.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate is much improved with its recently released patch 1.51.

Diablo 3

  • Resolution: 1080p to 2160p dynamic
  • Additional features: 1080p super-sampling, ambient occlusion and bloom tweaks
  • HDR: No
  • Buy from Amazon

Clearly sign-posted patch notes reveal the addition of PlayStation 4 Pro support for Diablo 3, with update 1.15 adding "4K support" to this celebrated game. On the face of it, this could mean anything in a world where Overwatch's 4K upgrade amounts to little more than improved texture filtering and a 4K HUD. However, Diablo 3 is a different beast entirely. The title uses a dynamic resolution on PS4 Pro, adjusting image clarity based on how taxing a scene is. So for example, you get a true native 4K for indoor areas, like the New Tristram tavern, and even the Cathedral dungeon with no enemies in sight. A full native 3840x2160 resolution is the upper bounds on PS4 Pro when faced with really basic environments.

With a maelstrom of effects and a screen filled with enemies, Diablo 3's renderer scales back down to 1080p on PS4 Pro. We tested using a level 70 character running through a hectic Nephalem Rift - and it really represents the lower bounds of what you can expect. In practise, that dynamic resolution actually rests in between 1080p and 4K for most gameplay - you get 1872p in the centre of New Tristram for example, and 1728p in the earlier dungeons. Essentially, it scales up and down so seamlessly, and uses a swathe of different resolutions that are typically much higher than the standard PS4's 1080p. And for Pro users attached to a full HD display - yes, this output is downscaled to 1080p for a much cleaner look.

Performance holds up well, with the dynamic scaler mostly locking gameplay to 60fps with only the most minor of stutter creeping in. However, a three-player session with lots of action on-screen did see the dynamic scaler plummet to 1080p, accompanied by a momentary drop to 30fps - classic double-buffer v-sync. A quartet of high-level characters flooding the screen with magic may have an adverse impact on performance, but overall, we found it hard to shift the frame-rate from the target 60fps.

Other enhancements are thin on the ground - we noted improvements to ambient occlusion and a more impactful bloom effect. However, it's the way that the resolution boost makes the most of Blizzard's intricate artwork that really sells this Pro implementation. It's a beautiful game and if you've not played it, it's well worth a look. As things stand, the game's available in the current PSN sale for Ł15.99 - cheaper than many retail and online stores and a tempting proposition for Pro owners.

A welcome return to the world of Diablo 3, where the PS4 Pro hands in some impressive improvements over the base PlayStation 4 title.

Mafia 3

  • Resolution: 1440p
  • Additional features: 1080p super-sampling, minor shadow quality, motion blur and draw distance tweaks
  • HDR: No
  • Buy from Amazon

Mafia 3's PS4 Pro patch is another example of poor messaging - take a look at the patch notes and there's no mention at all of support for Sony's new console - but to suffice to say that booting up the game reveals an instant improvement, with increased resolution and tweaks to a few of the renderer's settings.

The native 1080p of the base PlayStation 4 title gets a bump up to 1440p, a perceptible upgrade for ultra HD display users running with 4K output engaged on the console. The picture is still soft though, owing to a combination of a heavy post-process pipeline and temporal anti-aliasing. Image quality isn't a revolutionary step forward and nowhere near a native 4K, but it's still a satisfying enough leap over standard PS4 hardware. Pro owners with 1080p displays also see the benefit of super-sampling down from the higher internal resolution - though there is a jarring reduction in quality when the game switches to one of its many pre-rendered cut-scenes, which remain as they were on base hardware.

Visual improvements consist of two minor upgrades - motion blur benefits from more samples, giving a cleaner, smoother look. Shadow quality also gets a small upgrade, but it seems to be limited to spotlight shadows. Overall though, the game's graphical make-up seems much the same - though it seems that LODs have had a minor tweak with road markings drawing in at a greater range on Pro.

In terms of performance, the uneven frame-pacing seen on PS4 at launch is now gone, replaced with a standard 30fps cap utilising adaptive v-sync - so you will see tearing when performance dips under its target. Pro keeps the frame-pacing fix and has no tearing at all, running with full v-sync throughout. However, in the game's most taxing areas, this does result in depressed performance compared to the base PlayStation 4 game - something we shouldn't be seeing.

Overall, Mafia 3's PS4 Pro turnout represents a decent enough upgrade overall, though it's hardly a game-changing revelation. Clearly a good amount of work went into it though, making the complete lack of signposting of Pro support in the patch notes something of a mystery.

A look at Mafia 3's PS4 Pro support, along with updates to the game's output on base PS4 and Xbox One.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

  • Resolution: 1728p to 2160p dynamic
  • Additional features: Quality mode for 1080p users
  • HDR: No
  • Buy from Amazon

Most console titles operate with a 30fps cap, often leaving us to wonder just how much horsepower is left untapped at any given point. Shadow of Mordor is similar to Skyrim in that a native 1080p presentation on base PlayStation 4 hardware evolves into a full-on native 4K on PS4 Pro. In effect, a 2.3x increase to GPU power is producing a 4x increase in resolution - and unlike Skyrim, there's no perceptible hit to performance. There's just one caveat: a dynamic resolution scaler is in play, seamlessly adjusting resolution from 80 per cent of native to full 2160p.

However, based on our pixel counts, this title is spending the vast majority of its duration at full 4K, even in the midst of intense action in the game's expansive open world. It's a remarkable upgrade for an already impressive game, and it's not restricting its enhancements for owners of particular displays. Two modes are on offer, designed for those who favour quality and those who prefer the resolution boost. The good news is that both modes are available to all Pro owners regardless of the attached display - just as it should be.

So what does the quality mode actually deliver? Truth be told, the enhancements are minimal, mostly manifesting in a much improved draw distance, reducing the amount of pop-in as you traverse the environments. However, the standard mode still handles this aspect fairly well, so the 4K resolution mode is our pick for this title, whether you have an ultra HD display or a full HD TV (where super-sampling resolves much of the title's aliasing issues). Two years on from release, Shadow of Mordor still holds up nicely - and on Pro, this title is well worth revisiting.

While Shadow of Mordor implements dynamic resolution scaling, in actual fact, it spends most of its time running at native 4K.

Assassin's Creed: The Ezio Collection

We'll get the bad news out of the way first, because it's actually quite unbelievable. The Ezio Collection pulls off a creditable 30fps lock at full, native 2160p on all three of its component titles - if your PlayStation 4 Pro is attached to a 4K display. However, we were stunned by the fact that if you don't have an ultra HD screen, the game elects to bust you down to native 1080p - leaving Pro owners with absolutely no advantages over base PlayStation 4 owners. It's situations like this that really highlight that all Pro implementations should be available to all users, regardless of what displays they might happen to own.

So what of The Ezio Collection itself - and the quality of the remastering on each game? Well, it's a fascinating chronicle of a three year period of the last-gen era that saw radical technological progress. Assassin's Creed 2 and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood show their age: the Pro's pristine 4K presentation highlights some of the low quality textures and low-poly environments. The two older titles - AC2 in particular - also look poor in terms of animation and character fidelity, especially in cutscenes. However, it's fascinating to note that Revelations still holds up rather well: there's a clear technological leap here in all areas that would carry through to AC3 and Black Flag.

Actual remastering work on the collection is minimal. Improving geometry and textures would have effectively required this remaster to evolve into a full-on remake, but we would have liked to see aggressive shadow cascades and pop-in addressed. The technological limits of the era are often on full display here. The Ezio Collection is a touch disappointing, but it's the disregard for Pro owners using 1080p screens that really rankles here. Why wasn't downsampling integrated as standard?

The Ezio Collection runs at native 4K at a flawless 30fps on all titles. But it's only really Revelations that holds up in the current-gen era.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

  • Resolution: 2160p checkerboard
  • Additional features: Super-sampling down to 1080p, enriched visuals or unlocked frame-rate at native 1080p
  • HDR: No
  • Buy from Amazon

The latest Rise of the Tomb Raider patch propels this title back into contention as one of the very best PlayStation 4 Pro titles money can buy with lots of love for both 1080p and 4K display owners. Patch 1.05 introduced visible jitter via improper frame-pacing but this is fixed with the recently released 1.06 update.

The standard PS4 title is absolutely beautiful and developer Nixxes has an excellent checkerboard 4K mode that demonstrates just how effective this technique can be. Unfortunately, larger 'hub' areas like the Geothermal Valley and the Soviet Installation can see frame-rate drops beneath the 30fps target. It's not a huge problem outside of certain stress points and overall it's still our preferred mode for playing this title, whether you're using a 1080p or 4K screen. On a full HD screen, the super-sampling implementation sees a huge visual upgrade - poor anti-aliasing is the main issue with the title's native 1080p modes, whether you're playing on a standard PS4 or on Pro.

If you're willing to accept the sub-optimal AA, the Pro's unlocked frame-rate mode sees performance touch 60fps in the more linear levels, dropping to around 40fps in the hub areas. The variance isn't quite our cup of tea, but we're sure there will be others who will appreciate it. The enriched visual mode retains 1080p image quality but adds improved PureHair tech, better texture filtering, more realistic reflections, higher LODs, sun soft shadows and more dynamic foliage.

Rise of the Tomb Raider patch 1.06 sees developer Nixxes remove the frame-pacing issues added in 1.05 - it's now right back up there as one of our favourite Pro titles.

Farming Simulator 17

  • Resolution: 1080p/1440p/2160p
  • Additional features: Enhanced mode for 1080p users with extended view distance
  • HDR: No
  • Buy from Amazon

Having been taken aback by some of the more lazy PlayStation 4 Pro upgrades recently, it's remarkable to see Focus Interactive's Farming Simulator 17 - developed by Giants - hand in one of the most comprehensive Pro upgrades seen to date. We'd heard reports of just how comprehensive this support was, so went ahead and bought the game to check it out. Users of full HD displays get the choice between a high frame-rate mode and enhanced visual quality, while owners of 4K screens can choose between native 1440p and 2160p display options. You really can't fault the developers for effort here, and the results stack up nicely.

First up, let's tackle the full HD options available. In standard rendering mode, Farming Simulator 17 racks up a completely flawless 1080p60, while opting for the enhanced mode can see stress-points drop to around 55fps, introducing judder. However, both options still manage to outperform the standard PlayStation 4 version, which features the same resolution and the standard mode's visual feature set. Of the two options available, we'd stick with the standard visuals. Draw distances are pushed out in enhanced mode, but it's really difficult to actually see any improvement.

There's a straight choice between resolution and frame-rate when moving to the higher resolution display modes. The 1440p option offers the best balance overall, dropping frames occasionally but still handing in a mostly smooth presentation. However, 4K isn't bad at all - mostly operating north of 50fps but dropping down to the mid-40s in, um, crop-heavy scenes. But the point is that the developers has pulled out all the stops to offer choice to the Pro user - up to a point at least.

The one glaring omission is the lack of down-sampling support. Those 1440p and 4K rendering options are only available to owners of ultra HD screens. And that's a real shame, as offering this option would - in our opinion - provide better value for the full HD gamer compared to the less than impressive enhanced 1080p mode. We're hopeful that the developer can address this, but in the meantime, there are actually two takeaways here.

Firstly, Farming Simulator 17 offers up one of the most exhaustive range of Pro upgrades seen to date but perhaps more importantly, while the game itself is obviously not a triple-A tour de force, we were quite impressed by how comprehensive and polished the simulation actually is - it even supports mods, tweakable field of view and HUD scaling. And it's fast too, not just in frame-rate terms but in its lightning-swift user interface and - yes - the ability to instantly skip past intro logos. Overall then, obviously Farming Simulator 17 isn't standard Digital Foundry fare, but we went into this one with an open mind and came away having had a lot of fun.

Farming Simulator 17 has one of the most surprisingly comprehensive Pro upgrades available.

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In summary, PlayStation 4 Pro is a curious piece of hardware. At best, with titles like Ratchet and Clank, FIFA 17, Infinite Warfare and Rise of the Tomb Raider, we're looking at a machine capable of handing in a viable 4K gaming experience. Meanwhile, it's interesting to note just how many games are coming in with a 1440p framebuffer. When we built a PC with a GPU running to the PS4 Pro's graphics spec, this did seem to be the natural resolution for the hardware, but we didn't quite expect to see so many titles appear with this exact pixel count.

That said, it is early days for the new console, and developers have been sharing their higher resolution techniques and technologies, so we fully expect to see improvements generally across the months as game-makers become more au fait with the new hardware. In the short term, it's also been heartening to see many developers take our criticisms about sub-par performance onboard, releasing timely patches to address the issues. We'll be keeping this guide updated frequently, so look out for more analysis soon, and remember that we have a big bunch of additional analysis of Pro titles on the next page

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