Ninja Theory's Devil May Cry reboot courted much controversy back in the day, when the Unreal Engine 3-powered release traded the series' signature 60fps gameplay for a more detail-rich 30fps experience. Only the PC version could power uncompromised full frame-rate gameplay - and in our tests, it made a world of difference.
Fast forward to today and with the new PS4 and Xbox One Definitive Edition, we finally have 60fps DmC gameplay on console. So is the new release worthy of an upgrade for owners of the last-gen game? Well, today we'll be comparing the new PS4 game with the existing PS3 and PC builds - and as soon as we're done, we'll post our Xbox One vs PlayStation 4 comparisons too.
The Definitive Edition subtitle hints at a substantial remastering project, but the reality is rather more mundane. Unlike, say, Tomb Raider, we're not looking at higher poly models, additional effects work or enhanced environments. Instead, what we have here is a close port of the existing PC version with some bonus extras. All of the existing DLC is bundled into the pack, including the Vergil's Downfall single-player expansion and a bunch of new costumes. There's a new gameplay feature too - a manual targeting system that gives players more control over which enemies they choose to attack.
First impressions on loading up the new release are positive: the native 1080p presentation provides a welcome boost in clarity over the 720p last-gen releases, delivering crisp-looking visuals without any heavy blurring of the core artwork. Outside of doubling the frame-rate, the improved presentation is by far the biggest improvement brought about by the revised version of the game. The core assets appear unchanged from the original release, but the increased pixel-count clearly makes the most of the highly detailed art.
Post-process anti-aliasing is in play, although the level of edge detection is less aggressive than the implementation used on the PC and last-gen consoles, resulting in sharper imagery and less blurring of texture detail, allowing the artwork to take better advantage of the full HD resolution. The disadvantage is that there is less coverage across the scene - leading to more frequent jaggies on occasion - but overall, the trade-off is worthwhile for the extra sharpness. Texture streaming is also improved too, meaning less of the slow-to-resolve low res artwork that was an unfortunate signature of Unreal Engine 3 in the last-gen era.
On the flipside, the PS4 game doesn't fare so well when it comes to preserving texture quality when surfaces are viewed from far away or at an angle, partially negating some of the benefits offered by the 1080p presentation. It's another curious example of poor texture filtering at work on the Sony console - there's no anisotropic filtering whatsoever, with a more simple trilinear technique in play instead.
The end result? Texture detail can look rather blurred on PS4, something that certainly isn't a problem on the PC game - and remarkably, even the last-gen versions of DmC resolve more texture detail at a distance. We're still working on our analysis of the Xbox One version of the Definitive Edition, but just a quick look at the game on the Microsoft console reveals a decent level of anisotropic filtering in place, producing a cleaner, more detailed looking game than its PS4 counterpart.
The good news is that the Definitive Edition's jump to 60fps produces a smoother experience that also feels more responsive to play. Attacks flow into each other more fluidly, input lag is reduced, while abrupt changes in character positioning and camera angles also benefit from the massive jump in temporal resolution.
In comparison, while the PS3 version of DmC still delivers a reasonable gameplay experience at 30fps, the appearance of frequent tearing in combination with small drops in frame-rate is a lot more distracting. Ninja Theory did what it could to minimise latency (hence the adaptive v-sync approach) but the bottom line is that the Definitive Edition feels much more like the original titles in the series, thanks primarily to the 60fps frame-rate. For many, that fact alone makes it worth the price of admission - but of course, this is an experience that PC owners have enjoyed for years now.
However, despite the significant improvement, the PS4 version of DmC is not without its issues. The game seems to shift between v-synced gameplay (with some dropped frames), and the implementation of adaptive v-sync in other areas, resulting in some tearing. What's more concerning are the occasional spikes in frame-time where 50ms pauses occur, manifesting as a form of stutter during gameplay. In short, performance isn't as solid as we would like, and that's rather surprising bearing in mind that the PC version of DmC is legendarily light on PC resources. The Japanese instalments in the Devil May Cry series are known for their solid frame-rates - an element the PC version of DmC retained, and we'd imagine that die-hard fans of the series might be just a little disappointed at the minor imperfections that creep in during gameplay.
In most areas, the Definitive Edition is a close match to the PC version operating at a maxed out state. Factoring out the dodgy texture filtering, the overall presentation is remarkably close between the two versions, with only the post-process anti-aliasing, more conservative motion blur and tweaked lighting offering much in the way of comparison points. The work here is competent then, but not really exceptional.
So the question is really to what extent the game is indeed the Definitive Edition it claims to be. Content-wise, there's little argument - this is a compendium of everything DmC-related in one complete package with some minor bonus extras. However, Devil May Cry's core appeal has always concentrated on the gameplay and given the rock-solid frame-rates offered by the PC game, we can't help but feel that this remains the preferable release - even though the DLC isn't bundled. However, bar the odd glitch, the PS4 game isn't that far behind its PC counterpart, and if your only experience of DmC is the Xbox 360 or PS3 release and you don't own a gaming PC, the Definitive Edition on PS4 is perhaps worth a look.
How the Xbox One edition shapes up remains to be seen - however, first impressions suggest improved image quality overall and frame-rates look to be in the same overall ballpark as the PS4 game. We're working double-time to get the comparisons and performance metrics complete and we'll post an update as soon as possible.