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Fallout 4 on PS4 Pro: the upgrade we've been waiting for?

Plus: Official Pro patch vs boost mode performance analysis.

Fallout 4's new PS4 pro update has landed. As promised by Bethesda's blog, patch 1.14 (also known as 1.9) pushes the game to a native 1440p, adding in expanded draw distances and a higher grade god ray effect. It also improves frame-rates compared to a regular PS4, but we're still some way off a 30fps lock. However there's a twist: by using patches earlier than 1.14, and selecting PS4 Pro's boost mode option, it's possible to achieve smoother results than Bethesda's official patch - although all other Pro enhancements are obviously left off the table.

First, let's consider what the official patch actually adds. The visual upgrade on PS4 Pro is clear, and a pixel count confirms a true 1440p presentation - but similar to titles including Titanfall 2 and Uncharted 4, image quality still manages to impress on an ultra HD display. Just like those games, Fallout 4 features a decent temporal anti-aliasing solution that produces a great turnout overall. As a result, jagged edges are very hard to spot, and certainly compared to the regular PS4's 1080p image, it's a noticeable upgrade.

Another piece of good news: if you're using a regular 1080p TV, Bethesda still has you covered. With this PS4 Pro patch installed, the game renders at 1440p regardless of the screen you have connected, with full HD screens displaying a super-sampled image. The result is much cleaner, and you also get the other visual upgrades bundled in this Pro patch. This isn't a feature to be taken for granted, and many games (such as The Last of Us or The Last Guardian) frustratingly forgo this benefit entirely to only deliver a native 1080p on these displays.

Chief among the graphical upgrades is a boost in the quality of god rays. Both the regular PS4 and Xbox One use a toned down version of this taxing effect, with pixellation visible on edges overlapping with light. PS4 Pro's new patch pushes the quality of this effect closer to PC's high setting; not a perfect implementation by any means, but the higher resolution of the lighting buffer now produces crisper outlines. Edge detail is sharper in spots where light shafts fall in the background, and it's a big enhancement over the regular PS4 rendition.

Just as impressive is the draw distance increase. The best way to show this is in a comparison video (which we've provided below) but a view from the top of the Corvega factory makes for a noticeable bump on the Pro version. Swathes of trees, vehicles, shadows - even distant terrain - are missing entirely on a regular PS4 at this range, but with update 1.14 installed, PS4 Pro fills in the gaps. The end result is a close match for PC's top settings for draw distances. To be clear, the base PS4 still renders all these details when up-close, but PS4 Pro realises these elements at a greater range.

Fallout 4's new PS4 Pro patch given a full analysis, with comparison to the standard PS4 - plus frame-rate tests versus the earlier patch with boost mode enabled.

As an A-to-B comparison it's a satisfying one, and from a visual standpoint it's one of the better uses of Sony's new machine to date, which begs the question of whether the Pro has the horsepower to deliver this at the same frame-rate - or better - than base PS4 hardware. With the move to settings closer to PC's best, plus a shift to 1440p, it's a surprise to find PS4 Pro also benefits from a perceptible gain in performance. Even a walk around the performance-sapping Diamond City is much, much smoother; it's a near-perfect 30fps, compared to sustained stretch at 26-27fps on base PS4.

It's still far from perfect though. You'll still see streaming hitches and stutters around the Commonwealth, especially with a sidekick character in tow. The good news is that complex areas just don't buckle PS4 Pro's frame-rate to quite same degree. Unfortunately, there are still limitations to what this hardware can do, and taking a trip through the Corvega factory has PS4 Pro drop to a similar low of 23fps as the regular PS4. While it's improved overall, this is still a very rough area for the hardware to deal with, and likewise, you get sustained drops to the mid-20s at the top of the building - only 2-3fps faster than the regular PS4.

PS4 Pro's patch 1.14 is a clear improvement then, but it doesn't quite improve frame-rates as much as we'd like. However, there is a potential alternative but only if you haven't already updated. Consider this: what happens if you run Fallout 4 on an earlier patch, without the Pro upgrades engaged, but with the upcoming system software 4.50 boost mode engaged? In theory, this runs the Fallout 4 with regular PS4 visual settings, but with a degree of the Pro's additional horsepower dedicated exclusively to smoother performance.

As luck would have it, we had another PS4 Pro in the Digital Foundry office without Fallout 4's Pro patch installed - specifically, patch 1.12. To be clear, this features no visual upgrades whatsoever, where draw distances, resolution and lighting are exactly as they were on base PS4 hardware. However, the frame-rate results are fascinating when compared to 1.14, and it turns out Fallout 4 does indeed run faster on boost mode without the latest patch installed. In our stress test on the Corvega rooftops for example, the dips to 23fps seen patch 1.14 are eliminated, leaving us with a clean 30fps line on patch 1.12 - provided boost mode is checked, of course.

There is a catch. As you're probably aware, once you have the latest game patch installed, you can't backtrack (unless you want to go all the way back to 1.00 from the disc). Obviously, boost mode is ineffective with Fallout 4 once you have 1.14 installed, as the developer overrides its benefits with bespoke support. In other words, only those who are on versions earlier than 1.14 will see a change with boost mode. The end result is clear though; frame-rates are smoother than we've ever seen on console using this combination. It's a clear example of how much extra strain is put on PS4 Pro's resources when pushed to run at 1440p with all of the new bells and whistles in place.

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Overall, Bethesda puts a priority on visual features over frame-rate with this PS4 Pro support. The new visual features are great, but for a game so notorious for its performance issues, the option to boost frame-rates would have been a nice bonus too. The boost mode is a simple fix, only available to those on the 4.50 firmware beta, and sadly its benefits are nullified by the game's official PS4 Pro patch. As a proof of concept though, it highlights another potential option developers could have offered users: a much smoother version of Fallout 4.

Perhaps there's a case for allowing users to choose boost mode over bespoke Pro support at a system level, but it is worth stressing that Bethesda's work overall here remains impressive - the combination of 1440p, improved god rays and improved draw distance is paired with smoother performance after all, even if a locked 30fps proves elusive. Fortunately, Fallout 4 is unique in its offering of a mod storefront, where it's possible to dial back visual features added with this patch, such as draw distances. For those already on patch 1.14, user-made mods offer a glimmer of hope for those hoping to regain the frame-rates enjoyed on boost mode, but an official solution would be an interesting alternative.

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