There was some excitement when Blizzard announced that PS4 Pro support had been implemented for its superb shooter, Overwatch. This was quickly followed by confusion when it appeared that the enhancements added were minimal to say the least. Indeed, to the naked eye, improvements during fast-paced action seem almost non-existent. Well, after breaking down the new update, we think it's fair to say that it's certainly one of the least impressive Pro upgrades seen to date.
A pixel count of Overwatch video captured at native 4K shows that it's definitely still using a native 1080p resolution - really, far lower than we were expecting. We decided to get in touch with Blizzard itself for a statement on what exactly this Pro patch does, if anything, and a spokesperson replied:
"Primarily, Overwatch players can expect improved performance in 1920x1080 resolution on PlayStation 4 Pro. We've also made several minor improvements that take advantage of the console's capabilities, including better texture filtering and UI enhancements."
So there you have it. It's a disappointment of course, given we already had 1080p on the standard PS4. This used a dynamic resolution, but rarely did the original hardware drop below that 1080p framebuffer. In terms of image quality it's underwhelming, and if you were expecting 1440p or even 1800p upscaled for your ultra HD TV, you're out of luck. Equally, If you were hoping for an upgrade to PC's epic settings, you should also prepare for disappointment.
That's not to say no effort had been made though - because brace yourselves. While Pro is rendering the game natively at 1080p, the comment about the UI relates to the fact all health bars and portraits are now drawn at 4K. Yes - 4K HUDs overlayed on top of all the 1080p gameplay. Of course, it doesn't make a bit of difference to overall image quality on gameplay elements, and the game still has the same level of pixel crawl as before. The 4K overlay is simply a token effort, and so we wondered if graphics settings on PS4 Pro were enhanced in other ways?
To start, texture filtering is indeed improved and PS4 Pro now looks just as good as the PC version running at its top anisotropic filtering settings. However, the core artwork itself remains unchanged and other improvements to effects work are minimal to say the least.
The PC version had several advantages at top settings, like higher quality shadows, more accurate reflection mapping and a smoother depth of field effect. While checking to see if PS4 Pro matched any of these points, we came up empty-handed - with one exception: depth of field does get a small upgrade. The standard PS4 version uses the lowest quality effect, adding a heavy blur behind the character selection screen. The Pro effects sits between the base PS4 and the PC version at its maximum setting.
As for frame-rates, it's business as usual on PS4 Pro. You wouldn't take anything less than a locked 60fps - and that's precisely what you get, lining up with the standard PS4's performance profile. There wasn't much to complain about in the first place, and if there's one silver lining to PS4 Pro's conservative visual boosts, it's that performance was never at any real risk with this patch.
Overall then, PS4 Pro gets native 1080p gameplay at 60 frames per second. It's embellished a little with 4K overlays and text, higher quality texture filtering, and an improved depth of field. Clearly, the potential for a Pro upgrade is much bigger than this, and Blizzard may need more time to optimise for 60fps at a resolution like 1440p, or even to try its hand at checkerboarding. Overwatch does look exceptional running at higher resolutions, but it's all wishful thinking for now.
But it does make you wonder what the thinking was at Blizzard in adding this Pro support; while proper texture filtering and a 4K HUD are nice things to have, it hardly seems worth the time and effort. The net improvement during fast-action gameplay is minimal to the point of non-existence. The developer has a penchant for rolling out upgrades and improvements to its games post-release, to tweak and refine over time, so maybe this is just the first, experimental wave in the enhancements to come. All told though, it's difficult to shift the sense of disappointment when support in such a key title amounts to so very little.