In a Gamescom virtual event relatively light on content, the release of a free 60 frames per second PS5 upgrade for Horizon Zero Dawn was a definite highlight, giving another Sony first-party classic the full frame-rate upgrade and dramatically improving the experience as a result. This patch is an interesting, because unlocking 60fps is not as easy as flicking a switch, as demonstrated by the initial release of the PC version last year. This showed that simply removing the frame-rate cap brought into a focus a range of issues for a game designed primarily with 30fps in mind. Put simply, it's clear that this patch took real effort to produce and it's likely that many of the solutions in the revised PC version worked their way back to this new PlayStation 5 upgrade too. The bottom line is that however Guerrilla managed it, it works, and it works well.
So, what does the patch actually do? On the face of it, Horizon Zero Dawn follows the template laid down by the God of War, Days Gone and the initial Ghost of Tsushima patches in that graphics are totally unchanged from the original release and frame-rate is unlocked, with v-sync providing a 60fps limit. That means that the 2160p checkerboarding solution remains in place, but the PS4 Pro's alternative 1368p native rendering performance mode option has been removed as it's essentially redundant. Despite no improvements in how the game renders, there's an argument to say that graphics have improved perceptually thanks to the frame-rate upgrade - simply because checkerboarding artefacts persist for just one display refresh now rather than two. On a modern LCD screen, this helps to blend them somewhat, making them less noticeable.
In terms of actual performance, you are effectively looking at a locked 60fps experience that is nigh-on perfect. Even in backwards compatibility mode, PS5 offers substantial upgrades over PS4 Pro - a 2.5x multiplier in compute performance and twice the memory bandwidth. In prior 'back-compat plus' first-party patches, we've seen that translate into a performance bump that scales almost in line with the compute boost. With Horizon Zero Dawn specifically, we only noted one slight drop in an early cutscene, then it was a straight 60fps from there on out. If the game does deviate from the 60fps target, it should only do so fleetingly and you may not notice it at all. I'd describe performance overall as impeccable.
It also looks like the 60fps improvements found in the PC game have mostly rolled back into the console original too, though some of the 'teleporting' effects on objects and characters seen briefly on camera cuts during cinematics remain. A slight curiosity here is that cutscene transition timing does not correlate to either PS4 Pro or PC - perhaps an additional fix to minimise the teleporting issue.
There are also some nice 'bonuses' in the patch beyond the 60fps upgrade. The official patch notes talk about improved streaming in backwards compatibility mode and we put this to the test by visiting the area of the game that Guerrilla itself told us was one of the most stressful in the game: Meridian. On PS4 Pro, running around this detail-rich area at speed causes obvious streaming issues, with both textures and geometry obviously popping in - sometimes egregiously so. The great news here is that PlayStation 5 completely solves this issue. On top of that, there are loading time improvements: starting the campaign involves around a minute of loading time on PS4 Pro, which drops to 31 seconds on PS5. On PC, this takes around 15 seconds with a 3.5GB/s NVMe drive, but regardless, it's still a nice boost.
The only real criticisms you can level at the patch revolve around the fact that it is essentially a PS4 Pro upgrade, as opposed to an attempt to bring all of the PC version's enhancements across to PlayStation 5. Anisotropic filtering is very low compared to the PC version, while the vegetation interaction seen in the PC port isn't implemented. I'd also like to have seen some improvements to level of detail and boosts to image quality around hair and other thin objects like vegetation, things that even the PC version did not tackle. Ultimately, this runs the risk of becoming a wish list for a remaster, as opposed to assessing a still very impressive free upgrade for the PS4 Pro version.
In conclusion, Horizon Zero Dawn is very much a game renewed by its 60fps upgrade. The 30fps cap is gone, the performance drops that the original release did have are also eliminated, while background streaming is substantially improved in the areas that caused problems back in the day. The timing of the patch is also great - with Horizon Forbidden West arriving next February, there's plenty of time for PS5 owners to play through the original game and the excellent Frozen Wilds DLC. It's a great upgrade that's well worth checking out.
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