Having taken a close look at all four console builds of Kingdom Come Deliverance, one thing is clear - this is a highly demanding game built on an engine that traditionally favours PC hardware. Xbox One X comes out on top with improved performance and a 1440p resolution, but frame-rate dips to the low 20fps region on all versions, with long initial loading times and abundant pop-in across the board. The good news is that the PC version solves a number of those problems, provided you have sufficiently capable hardware. Yes, perhaps not surprisingly, bearing in mind the CryEngine roots, this game can push even the most powerful kit to its limits.
It's also a great example of a game that benefits immensely from running from solid state storage. The console versions take anything from 53 seconds (Xbox One X) to almost two minutes (PS4) to complete their initial loads. On PC, the experience is transformed. Blink and you'll miss it: within one second, you're at the front-end menu. From there, it does take five seconds to actually load a save game to the opening village - but again, that's a huge saver on the 28 second wait on an Xbox One X, or 44 seconds on a base PS4. And this is from a mainstream SATA Sandisk SSD, not a cutting-edge NVMe drive.
As you may expect, solving the console's performance issues is very much down to individual settings and hardware, but the good news is that Kingdom Come Deliverance is built to scale - not just on today's technology, but tomorrow's GPUs too. In terms of CPU requirements, simulation is pushed hard here, with the title delivering an open world design similar to Homefront The Revolution, but pushed to the next level with dense forests and complex AI-driven cities.
Conceptually, Kingdom Come Deliverance is an intriguing proposition. What if the Elder Scrolls formula were transplanted across to a real-world location, steeped in history? And what if Skyrim's less than state-of-the-art technological underpinnings were replaced with one of the most powerful game engines on the market?
As the debut project from Czech developer Warhorse Studios, this ambitious, crowdfunded RPG uses the CryEngine technology - as seen in the likes of Ryse, Prey and Homefront the Revolution - but with a Skyrim-style canvas of terrain to explore. From beautiful, dense woodlands to idyllic early 15th century European villages, there's a grounded, almost photorealistic look to the world in many areas. The big difference next to a game like Skyrim though, is the swapping out of fantasy elements for a more historical setting. Dragons and magic are out, and the focus here is on a brutal power struggle in the Kingdom of Bohemia.
It would be remiss of us not point out the controversy surrounding this title based on the attitudes of Daniel Vávra, the lead developer, whose views speak for themselves in both his social media and this Kotaku interview - aspects of which are reflected in the game content, and may give pause in considering it for purchase. It's a topic Eurogamer will address in its review, but the focus for this Digital Foundry piece is its technology and performance.
With the arrival of the upcoming firmware 5.5, Sony has introduced a new option - system-level super-sampling. It addresses a key frustration for PS4 Pro users hooked up to 1080p screens: the lack of access to high resolution support on a range of games.
Take Metal Gear Solid 5's recent Pro upgrade for example: if you own an ultra HD display, you gain access to higher resolution rendering. This should have benefits for users of 1080p displays too via super-sampling - a brute-force form of anti-aliasing that can offer some beautifully smooth results. However, inexplicably, MGS5 and a small range of other titles completely lock out this support if you only own a 1080p display. It's far from ideal, but with the upcoming firmware 5.5, a solution is now available.
The new super-sampling option is a very welcome addition for Pro users, ensuring that any and all high resolution support previously locked to ultra HD screens now translates into SSAA downscaling on the Pro's 1080p output. It serves to address a genuine grievance users of Sony's supercharged PS4 have had for some time - the notion that they're not getting full access to the complete capabilities of their machine. Of course, there are game modes locked to the 1080p output too, meaning that 4K display users can potentially lose out too. However, there is a solution: owners of ultra HD screens can always switch their consoles to 1080p to access those otherwise locked modes. The opposite simply isn't possible for full HD users without recourse to expensive hardware scalers, like HD Fury's 'Linker', for example.
The Xbox One X upgrades keep on coming, with Blizzard's Overwatch the latest title to receive 4K support. We went into this one with a certain sense of tredipation: after all, Overwatch's PlayStation 4 Pro support ended up delivering only 4K HUDs overlaid on a regular 1080p presentation. It was a big disappointment at the time, and while users did get improved texture filtering over the base PS4 version along with other minor tweaks, there was the sense that Pro was capable of delivering much, much more.
The good news is that Blizzard has delivered with its Xbox One X work. The patch itself is only a 650MB download, so don't expect a sweeping upgrade in the core artwork to support the 4K standard. What you get in asset quality is already equivalent to the PC's top texture setting, which was already in place on the base PS4 and Xbox One releases. But crucially, what the developer has delivered is a clear and obvious upgrade in resolution, worthy of your ultra HD display.
A dynamic scaler is in play on Xbox One X, and owing to the highly variable nature of the gameplay itself, the range of pixel counts covered is significant. Based on a sample of over 30 still shots derived from a wide cross-section of gameplay, the upper bounds of the scaler are indeed a full 4K. In the opening lobby area, for example, the character selection screen or less demanding spots on each map render at the maximum 3840x2160.
There's a lot riding on Metal Gear Survive in Konami's post-Kojima era, and it's fair to say that reaction has been mixed so far. In a nutshell, this is a wave-based survival off-shoot to the series, set just after the finale of Ground Zeroes. Right off the bat, you're hunting animals and stockpiling water, just to keep your hunger and thirst levels at bay. And similar to the classic Metal Gear Solid 3, you even heal wounds using supplies found on the field. That's the survival bit - once you have your feet on the ground, the focus shifts to scavenging for resource to build weapons, tools and even structures to fend off oncoming hordes of enemies.
It's an unusual twist on the standard Metal Gear formula, though the technical groundwork is a familiar one. Metal Gear Survive brings back the Fox Engine of Metal Gear Solid 5, where the emphasis is still on open-world 60fps gameplay. You start off at a customisable central base with everything you need, and then venture out towards objectives - beacons and distress calls - with barely a loading screen in sight. It's often a seamless playing field, and the only aspect that's lacking - at least so far from what we've played - is the series' usual focus on narrative and cut-scenes. On the gameplay front however, the fact we're already familiar with the engine technology, and indeed controls, makes it surprisingly easy to jump into.
The inherent strengths of the engine are still in effect too: Survive uses post-process anti-aliasing, plus cinematic effects like depth of field and motion blur that fall in line with the last Metal Gear. Once again, open environments are wide sprawls of mountainous terrain and trees, where pop-in is also barely noticeable - in part helped by a pervasive dust mechanic in Survive. Add to that the dynamic time of day cycles and weather, and Survive is feature complete next to MGS5.
Forza Horizon 3 gets an enhanced Xbox One X patch this week, adding a 4K presentation plus other extras to an already visually arresting title. Developer Playground Games has justifiable confidence in this update - to the point that we were invited to its Leamington Spa office for a rundown of the benefits, and handed footage ahead of time. This X patch won't satisfy those looking for a 60fps version of the game - the lock remains at 30fps - but what it does bring to the table in terms of 4K support does impress.
What you get with Horizon 3 on Xbox One X is a true 3840x2160 rendition of the game with no dynamic scaling or checkerboarding in play. Fixing it to 4K is an incredible feat in itself: a quadrupling of pixels rendered compared to a base Xbox One's 1080p, in effect mirroring the efforts Turn 10 made with Forza Motorsport 7. The good news continues when it comes to how that 4K image is presented. Surprisingly, there's enough GPU overhead to retain the taxing, 4x multi-sample anti-aliasing we had on the regular Xbox One, running in tandem with that 4K resolution.
The final image quality when combined with motion blur is superb, and really it's hard to criticise a graphics engine firing on all cylinders in this way. Even so, PC running at 4K and max settings does highlights a few interesting contrasts. In that case you have the option of FXAA on top of the 4x MSAA - which can refine the stair-steps even further compared to Xbox One X. However, on the whole it's only a marginal change, and Microsoft's console pushes a beautifully crisp and clear frame that's a near pixel-match for PC at 4K. It's a phenomenal effort, and the only console title we've seen this generation to apply 4x MSAA to such a high resolution image. For anyone buying an ultra HD TV today, Forza Horizon 3 has immediately become great showcase material.
The Witcher 3's enhanced Xbox One X patch gives us more than we expected. Two new options are added with this update: a 4K mode that puts the emphasis on hitting a native 3840x2160 at 30 frames per second, falling back on dynamic resolution scaling to ensure a consistent gameplay experience. But the real surprise is the inclusion of a performance mode that prioritises 60fps gameplay, albeit at a much lower pixel-count. On paper, CD Projekt Red's latest release should be the definitive console release, but just how does the package on Xbox One X stand up to the recently released PS4 Pro patch?
Let's talk numbers. The 4K mode is ambitious when considering a standard Xbox One largely ran the game at 1600x900. In Xbox One X's case we're getting a huge boost in pixels rendered with this mode, and even though it's capped at a familiar 30fps ceiling, the engine is capable of hitting 3840x2160 in less taxing areas. Look to the sky, wander around interiors, or explore less GPU-intensive environments, and the game has never looked sharper. However, the catch is that resolution drops in more intensive areas. As an example, galloping around the notorious Crookback Bog - an area renowned for its impact on performance - sees the image resolve to a lower 3200x1800.
Regardless, the result is impressive. While there's a scope for it to go even lower (there's literally a huge open world here with a multitude of possible tests), an 1800p to 2160p range still falls within a perceptual threshold in delivering a superb result on 4K display. By contrast, PS4 Pro makes use of a checkerboard method to push its own 4K image. Side-by-side with X's native output, the checkerboarding technique still works brilliantly, and the only real downside here is a faint stippling effect on moving edges, largely hidden by the game's motion blur.
On the face of it, a Rocket League port shouldn't prove too difficult for the Switch hardware, but it's fair to say that developer Panic Button faced a number of challenges in bringing this title to Nintendo's console hybrid. While not exactly the technological state of the art, it is a game built primarily for current-gen Sony and Microsoft hardware, automatically setting a high bar. Secondly, it's built on Unreal Engine 3 - a technology that Epic Games itself does not support on Switch. And finally, and most importantly, this game is built for 60 frames per second gameplay. Compromising here just isn't an option - it just wouldn't be Rocket League without that silky-smooth response.
The good news is that the port is in good hands. Panic Button also handled the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the title, so the studio clearly knows the game [Correction: Panic Button didn't handle the PS4 version, and the Switch port is a collaboration between Panic Button and original developer Psyonix - apologies for the confusion here]. Additionally, the team also have the required knowledge to push the Switch hardware - after all, they are also responsible for Doom 2016's remarkable port to the Nintendo console (and the same team is also confirmed for 2017's Wolfenstein conversion). The question isn't whether a Rocket League port is possible or not, it's more about how intelligently the nips and tucks are executed to get the game running on a chipset primarily designed for mobile applications.
As things stand, the final product straddles a fine line, and sees Panic Button seemingly reversing the priorities it settled on for its Doom port. Principally, the team targets 60 frames per second above all else. Rocket League's gameplay translates across extremely well as a result, and it definitely feels the part, the frame-rate only dipping when big explosions dominate the screen, or when using one of the split-screen modes. Single-player action and online play almost match the PS4 and Xbox One experience, but this does come at a cost: resolution and visual fidelity.
Destiny 2's Xbox One X upgrade hands in everything you'd expect from a talented studio working with a very powerful piece of hardware, so in many respects, there are no real surprises here. Bungie's long-awaited upgrade essentially takes the existing Xbox One and PlayStation 4 visual feature set and upgrades it beautifully to ultra HD resolution - nothing more, nothing less. In terms of gameplay, the leap to 4K is delivered without any compromises to the established Destiny 2 experience, meaning that the game feels just as solid to play as all of the other console releases available.
On the one hand, we expected just that from a machine with the hardware spec of Xbox One X. After all, we've successfully managed to run the PC version on a mixture of high and highest settings at a locked 30 frames per second using nothing more than a Pentium processor and a GTX 970. However, on the other hand, Xbox One X still has much in common with its PlayStation equivalent, and there's the sense that the Pro required some cajoling to get the game scaling well to a UHD panel, Bungie settling on both dynamic resolution scaling and checkerboard rendering for the Sony hardware.
By contrast, Xbox One X delivers a native ultra HD pixel count, presenting us with an interesting comparison point we've only seen in a select few titles - native rendering vs checkerboarding with an otherwise identical presentation. The takeaway here is that PlayStation 4 Pro still passes muster, offering up a clear advantage over the base 1080p rendition of the game. However, in the case of Destiny 2 at least, there's a clear drop-off in quality compared to a pure 3840x2160 output, especially noticeable on foliage and high frequency detail.
It may be the most powerful gaming handheld ever made, but Switch's peak battery life of three hours while running Zelda Breath of the Wild - or two hours 37 minutes at maximum brightness - is the price we pay for this level of fidelity. Thankfully, there are plenty of inexpensive options for extending a play session on the go. Nintendo's use of the USB-C standard opens the door to a range of external batteries, where even a £19 power costing can triple your overall game time.
The Seagate Firecuda is a 2.5-inch 'laptop-size' drive - a 2TB hybrid costing around £115/$130. What makes it stick out? Well for PlayStation users, it ticks a few crucial boxes if you're itching to upgrade the standard hard drive. Until this model came along, we've had 1TB as the maximum size for 2.5-inch hybrid drives. Even with on-board NAND memory to increase speeds, 1TB might still not be quite enough to make an upgrade worthwhile - after all, PS4 Pro ships with the same level of storage out of the box. But the big question is, can this upgrade deliver both a capacity upgrade and a notable performance bump over the stock drive?
With the recent arrival of system software 4.5, PlayStation 4 finally possesses a 'must have' feature that has proved invaluable on Xbox One - full support for plug-in external storage, hooked up via USB. Boosting available hard drive space is now easy and virtually any kind of storage can be attached - but the question is, what's the best way to use this feature?
Long loading times are one of our biggest issues with current-gen consoles. Games are getting bigger, more complex, with ever-increasing levels of details in art assets - but the fundamental basis of storage technology is unchanged since the Xbox 360/PS3 era. Solid-state storage drives are the future, and the question is, can PlayStation 4 Pro - with its brand-new, high bandwidth SATA 3 interface - finally take a good-sized chunk out of the extended pauses between gameplay that are often part and parcel of modern console gaming?
With just 32GB of onboard flash, it's fair to say that storage - or rather the capacity of it - wasn't the number one priority for Nintendo when designing the Switch. It's a moot point however, as the system does come with a MicroSD card slot, allowing for storage upgrades up to 2TB. But in the era of ever-increasing loading times, we had to wonder: does your choice of MicroSD card impact loading times at all? And how does user-side expansion performance compare to the internal storage, and indeed physical cartridges? The results are in, and there are one or two surprises in there.
There are still a number of high-profile Xbox One X titles still in the pipeline (Forza Horizon 3, anyone?) but two significant upgrades arrived in tandem yesterday. Bethesda's Skyrim upgrade looks to deliver a native 4K experience in line with the PS4 Pro version - and we'll be reporting on that in the next day or so - but it's Fallout 4 that seems to be bringing much more to the table. On paper at least, the 4K resolution offers a big upgrade over the existing PS4 Pro release, while retaining and even improving on the draw distance and god ray upgrades seen on Sony's latest console.
Comparisons with the standard Xbox One title are even more impressive though. The original release featured a dynamic horizontal scaler in order to manage GPU load, but still had profound stuttering issues and drops to anything as low as 20fps, even after successive patches. We also noted problems with storage - the Xbox One code seemed to have issues caching player weapons, leading to split-second pauses as the player cycled through his arsenal. It's been a while since we last looked at the game, but straight out of the gate, there's a night and day difference here.
First of all, the resolution boost is very impressive. Bethesda has indeed delivered a 2160p presentation, though in common with the base version, there is a horizontal scaling component, looking to keep frame-rates more consistent (with varying levels of success). Using our Corvega factory stress test, we noted that resolution hits a minimum of 3264x2160 - essentially 85 per cent of the full 4K. We can't test every area of the game, but suffice to say that the game's ultra HD credentials hold up for the most part, with anything between a 1.91x to 2.25x increase to pixel-count over PS4 Pro, depending on the status of the scaler.
The LA Noire remaster is available on PS4, Xbox One and their 4K mid-gen refresh equivalents, but the real story here is the Switch port and the fact that it's the first time we've seen an open word game of this type running on Nintendo's hybrid system. It's also Rockstar's debut title for the console, and we can only wonder what else the publisher has cooking for the system. Could the Grand Theft Auto games be in development for Switch? Is it even possible to successfully port those titles? The LA Noire conversion doesn't have all the answers, but it convincingly reveals some of the challenges any prospective GTA conversion might face.
As things stand, the original LA Noire was built on a custom engine designed with PlayStation 3's Cell processor in mind, and this version was the preferred console edition back in the day. It was quite a sight: PS3 managed to run a massive open-world built around an impressive facsimile of Los Angeles, with fully functioning day-night cycles, weather, physics, wandering NPCs and traffic systems. All this meant a heavy reliance on the machine's unique synergistic processing units - SPUs - and the end result is that the Switch version, reliant on just three available ARM CPU cores operating at 1GHz, can suffer from some obvious drawbacks.
But let's start with the good news. On Switch, you get a fully playable version of LA Noire, with a large, detailed world to explore - unlike anything we've seen before on a handheld. Surprisingly, this also renders at 1920x1080 when connected to a TV via docking - much like the base PS4 release, in fact. However, a dynamic resolution technique is in play, meaning Switch scales the pixel output based on rendering load - and at stress points that means a low point of 1440x1080. In other words, the game lowers its resolution on the horizontal axis alone, and faced with a busy street, it drops to 75 per cent of the full pixel-count overall. Still, even at 1440x1080, Switch is still resolving far more detail than PS3's native 1280x720.
Recently, we dissected Bethesda's intriguing conversion of Doom for Switch, dubbing it the 'impossible port' - a full-on triple-A engine somehow cut-back, massaged and finagled onto Nintendo's hybrid console. The Skyrim conversion may not be quite so impressive in terms of its sheer ambition, but it's clearly far more successful from an execution standpoint. Yes, there are compromises when the title is stacked up against its PlayStation 4 counterpart, but it delivers where it matters - and where Switch offers a unique experience - in handheld play - it is simply excellent.
First unveiled in Nintendo's very own reveal video for the Switch hardware, Skyrim was clearly included as a statement of intent from the platform holder - to show that third party support would be strong, and that top-tier titles were in the offing. That initial footage certainly looked compelling, and the final product delivers on the promise. This is a feature-complete version of the game, making extensive use of the Creation Engine's many quality sliders to squeeze the title onto Nvidia's mobile chipset.
Let's kick off by talking about resolution. While docked, Skyrim operates at a native 1600x900, while playing in mobile mode shows us the first sign of compromise. When we looked at the Switch port at Gamescom, everything indicated a native 720p resolution, but the final code reveals more: a fairly basic form of resolution scaling designed to sustain smooth performance. Under load, resolution drops back suddenly to 896x720 - 70 per cent of the native pixel-count.
Wolfenstein 2 is one of the most exceptional graphical showcases of the generation so far - a 60 frames per second shooter with beautiful dynamic lighting and shading, GPU-accelerated particles and a state-of-the-art post-process pipeline. However, it does have one weakness: performance. PS4, Pro and Xbox One can't quite lock to the target 60fps and all console versions lack the slick fluidity of the Doom 2016 reboot, running on the same engine. Which begs the question - can Xbox One X power past the frame-rate issues of the other console versions, and to what extent can it improve on PS4 Pro's impressive visuals?
The truth is that Wolfenstein 2 looks exceptional on both Sony and Microsoft's premium consoles with a very similar graphical feature set, but in terms of achieving that native 4K target, it's Xbox One X that puts in a more convincing showing. 2560x1440 is the peak output of the Pro, rising to a full-fat 3840x2160 on X, meaning a 2.25x increase in pixel-count that surprisingly remains in place in many areas of the game. However, dynamic resolution scaling is in effect on both systems, with the Microsoft console more prone to deviating from its peak 4K output.
Taking an in-engine cutscene as an example of a like-for-like rendering scenario, Pro retains its 1440p peak, while Xbox One X drops its output by 10 per cent to 3648x2052. There's more variability in resolution on the Microsoft console, but we're still looking at a 103 per cent increase in pixel count when scenes are matched. Clearly, this is not insignificant, and along with other results seen recently in Diablo 3 and Assassin's Creed Origins, there are echoes of the PS4 vs Xbox One launch divide. The end result in this case is a much clearer image on Microsoft's machine, despite the more frequent fluctuations in resolution.
Cited as an example of ultra HD gaming on Microsoft's list of Xbox One X enhanced titles, Diablo 3 is an evolution of Blizzard's good work on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game. The same principles are in place: the game targets a native 2160p presentation, but utilises a dynamic scaler to lock to the target 60 frames per second, adjusting the pixel count on the fly to ensure consistent performance. And just like the PS4 Pro version, Xbox One X benefits from a smattering of visual enhancements too. But the question is, just how close are the two versions? And to what extent does Xbox One X's higher spec translate into a closer lock to a native 4K?
What's clear is that as good an upgrade as the PS4 Pro version is, Xbox One X goes one better, with a much closer lock on the target 4K resolution. In PS4 Pro's case, a full 3840x2160 is only hit around interior areas, like the bar at New Tristram, or small dungeons. But in practice, Sony's machine tends to run at lower numbers in the town itself - while Xbox One X hits 4K almost perfectly throughout.
To put some hard figures to this, overlooking New Tristram right at the start with a new character, sees Xbox One X delivering 3840x2160 - the full 4K experience - while PS4 Pro kicks off at 2880x1620. In like-for-like situations, that's a 77 per cent increase in resolution in favour of the Microsoft console, before even touching a button. Things start to change as we head towards New Tristram's gates, and the resolution adapts on both sides.
Developed by Machine Games, Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus is a true, generational leap in visual design over the franchise reboot in 2014. From the first frame of action, the standards are clearly kept high - in large part owed to the technologies included in its id Tech 6 engine. The physically-based materials, the dynamic lights, shadowing and GPU-accelerated particles all deliver a clear upgrade over what we've seen in the engine's previous incarnation. Visually, the developers have handed in a masterclass on par with the recent Doom reboot, though it's fascinating to see what another Bethesda studio is capable of producing with the same toolset.
It's the upgrade over The New Order that stands out most however - which was based very much on the virtual texturing delights of the id Tech 5 engine that powered Rage. Fundamentally, the upgrade in technology marks a shift from the pre-baked lighting and shadows of the original to a beautiful, fully dynamic lighting model. On top of that is the use of a massively expanded post-process pipeline. Visual tricks like bokeh DOF, object and camera motion blur, HDR bloom, film grain and temporal anti-aliasing all make a return from Doom 2016. All of these elements combine to effectively create an almost filmic quality to each frame.
Despite its id Tech 6 underpinnings, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus takes it in its own unique visual direction. There's a beautiful use of depth of field in particular, and those GPU-accelerated particles work well to lend the game's futuristic weaponry a sense of heft. From the automatic machineguns, to the 'Laserkraftwerk' laser cannon, each spews out a burst of particle effects with properties for radiosity - impressing a great sense of impact on the world. Tying in to Wolfenstein's dystopic setting, the volumetric lighting streaking across each metallic corridor works well for building atmosphere - something Doom's 2016 reboot in 2016 pushed quite heavily as well. All combined, it creates a bright, but often dense and claustrophobic air to each of Wolfenstein 2's levels.
While we can draw conclusions about PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X from their respective specs sheets, real-life comparisons are somewhat thin on the ground right now. Microsoft's new console should offer a comprehensive improvements owing to more memory, higher levels of bandwidth and a big compute advantage, but to what extent will it actually matter in the homogenised world of multi-platform development? From an extended look at the Gamescom build of Shadow of War running on Xbox One X, the signs are looking good for the green team's new hardware, with an immediately obvious, comprehensively improved presentation - possibly the most dramatic boost we've seen to date.
Make no mistake though, as we've previously discussed, the PS4 Pro version of 'Wardor' is no slouch. Its dynamic resolution averages out at around 1620p over the base machine's full HD, while geometry draw distance and shadow LODs are improved. However, even after upgrading to the latest patch 1.04, the Pro still exhibits many low quality textures that stick out like a sore thumb - especially noticeable on ultra HD displays.
Implementation of the PC version's 4K texture pack would have done wonders here, but clearly the limited 512MB of extra RAM available to Pro developers isn't enough to house the top-tier assets. And that's the most immediately obvious difference between PS4 Pro and Xbox One X versions of the game - what sticks out right away is that texture problems on PS4 Pro are eradicated. Through sheer capacity via Xbox One X's 12GB of GDDR5 memory, Shadow of War offers a dramatic improvement in quality: for example, ground textures get a clear resolution bump from the soup-like results on Pro, offering a sharper, clearer presentation.
Monolith Productions returns with the follow-up to 2014's superb sleeper hit, Shadow of Mordor, with the ambitious Shadow of War. In three years, it takes us from the Lithtech engine to the new Firebird Engine - upgraded code that now supports larger-scale battles, and an expanded Nemesis system. Having checked out PS4, Xbox One, and PS4 Pro renditions this week, it's clear there's a pecking order to which looks and runs best. Ahead of the Shadow of War's Xbox One X support, PS4 Pro inevitably comes out on top on the console front - but with only a month to go, is the bar set high enough on Sony's 'supercharged' console?
The truth is, Microsoft hosted an event a few days ago where we could go hands-on with the X version, and tackling that - and indeed the PC game - is our next port of call, but for now, the available consoles are our focus. Even so, the PC version is worth mentioning, in showing how Monolith handles 4K support. Essentially, PC users running at 4K need to download two add-ons to get the most out of the game. That comes in in the form of a 4K cinematics pack - a 25GB download that replaces all pre-rendered cutscenes with higher resolution movie files. This is available to PS4 Pro users too - and well worth downloading if you're playing on an ultra HDTV. Just go to the PSN store, download, and make sure it's installed in the add-ons section.
Sadly, this is where PS4 Pro's support for 4K assets ends - it's just the cinematics that get a boost and nothing else. On PC meanwhile, there's also a 15GB 4K textures pack on offer, which brings a more exciting upgrade to the actual, in-game visuals. It's a VRAM intensive option, but one that bumps up texture resolution across the board - giving crisper, more detailed surfaces that better fit a 4K output. Tellingly, the minimum requirement for 4K textures is a 8GB card like the GTX 1070, or R9 390 - each with a high level of VRAM that goes beyond the usable memory available on PS4 Pro. It explains its absence on all console versions - at least, until we see Xbox One X's support.
First it wasn't happening at all, but now it's a reality. The Witcher 3's PS4 Pro patch 1.51 landed this week, finally giving us that coveted 4K support, and what CD Project Red describes as a slight performance boost. It's a tiny update in size - just over 100MB - but the impact is huge for PS4 Pro owners. To what extent is 4K delivered with the update, how does it stack up against the base PS4 version, and what do 1080p display users get from the deal? And finally, how does the new code compare with the full fat PC experience?
We can confirm our first report in terms of basic image quality - what you get on PS4 Pro is 2160p image, achieved through checkerboard rendering. Technically, the console is rendering out half the number of pixels compared to a true 4K image - essentially 1920x2160. Horizontal resolution is cut, and the result is a little blurrier than you might expect from the real deal. However, PS4 Pro's checkerboard technique attempts to mitigate the quality loss using pixel information from the previous frame - and in a still screenshot, it creates a respectable illusion of a full 3840x2160.
The end really justifies the means, and PS4 Pro looks visibly sharper, cleaner than a regular PS4 image at a native 1080p - the one caveat being that motion blur shouldn't be disabled. Doing so unravels the effect just a tad and image integrity can be compromised, noticeable on high contrast edges. Downsampling on Pro for 1080p users looks great meanwhile: in fact, a standard PS4 looks almost raw and lacking in anti-aliasing on foliage elements, which this patch cleans up beautifully on Pro. Whether you run the machine with 1080p or 4K output selected, you enjoy a better image all round, and the upgrades in visual settings apply in 1080p mode too.
We've been waiting for this for a long time. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was one of the key titles we were looking to see upgraded for Sony's super-charged PS4 and finally, ten months from the system's release, patch 1.51 with full Pro support finally dropped today. The question is, has full 4K been delivered? On top of that, has anything else changed or seen improvement?
We've only just started to look at the upgraded version of the title, but it's pretty clear from the outset that CD Projekt RED is using checkerboard rendering to boost the presentation of the game from its native 1080p on base hardware. This technique effectively sees the developer render a 1920x2160 framebuffer in a checkerboard configuration, typically filling in the gaps using information from prior frames.
It's proven particularly effective in games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Destiny 2, with little in the way of artefacts visible to the naked eye - it's an excellent technique for a GPU better suited to 1440p gameplay to achieve a good presentation fit for a 4K screen. The Witcher 3's implementation varies in quality - thanks to the high pixel density and 'sample and hold' blur found in LCD technology, the game scales up well to ultra HD displays.However, while some titles even pass muster on close-up screenshot inspections, the Witcher 3 isn't quite so effective and it's actually easy to spot tell-tale checkerboard artefacts. If you play the game with the default motion blur mode active, the break-up is hidden more effectively.
Star Wars: Battlefront 2 is set to have a far more engaging multiplayer than the original 2015 reboot. At DICE's headquarters in Stockholm I had the chance to check out four competitive modes: a chaotic 40 player Galactic Assault game on Naboo, and the recently introduced space dog-fighting of Starfighter Assault. Now, I'd already seen these two demos from E3 and Gamescom, but the Arcade mode's survival mission, and 8v8 Strike mode on Takodana were new. And it's in the Strike mode in particular that DICE's efforts to bolster the multiplayer portion of the game became apparent.
The visuals are still incredible, obviously. The forest of Takodana, for instance, is proudly recognisable from The Force Awakens; a sparser thicket than Endor, but with plenty of room for cover behind rocks and trees. The centre-point is Maz's castle - if you'll remember, the place Rey finds the light saber in the film; a structure of pale stonework and an array of flags that again show DICE's expert ability to capture the tone of a film location. In this smaller Strike mode incarnation at least, the 8v8 setup also means refinements to its core gameplay are easy to spot. It's also, of the four modes, where I had the most fun.
I won't admit to being the biggest fan of the original. Star Wars Battlefront had a lot going for it in its authentic visuals and sound design, but without a proper campaign mode (addressed in this sequel) it lent heavily on its online play to entertain - all of which I found repetitive after a few days. Of course, the series isn't meant to be Battlefield with a Star Wars wrapper, and in this sequel, DICE still steers clear of the physics-based sandbox style of its military shooter. Even so, Battlefront 2 addresses two issues I had with the original's depth, by pinching a few pointers from DICE's sibling franchise - and it's all the better for it.