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Face-Off: God of War 3 Remastered

The definitive edition?

The deluge of HD remasters shows no sign of abating - fatigue is starting to kick in, but the allure of prettier, smoother, enhanced versions of genuine classics remains a pretty enticing proposition. God of War 3 Remastered stands apart from the crowd by delivering a full 1080p presentation in combination with performance that is to all intents and purposes locked at 60fps. From a visual perspective, nothing can quite top the experience found when locking resolution and frame-rate to the specs of your display, but even better than that, God of War 3 emphasises how gameplay can be improved via the remastering process too.

Often compared to Uncharted 2 as a technical showcase, God of War 3 remains a benchmark visual achievement for PlayStation 3, offering up levels of detail and graphical polish that firmly established the console's technological prowess back in 2010. The breathtaking opening scene alone, set upon the giant Titan Gaia, still impresses with its sense of scale and cinematic direction. Our initial look at the opening 20-30 minutes of the game last week (and embedded at the foot of this article) revealed a near locked 60fps throughout the entire sequence, with only a single two frame drop manifesting at the beginning of one battle. The impact to gameplay was non-existent, and as result we were looking at the most consistent 1080p60 remaster since 4A Games' superb Metro Redux collection.

Impressively, this level of performance continues throughout the rest of game, with frame-rates rarely seeing any impact at all. And when dropped frames do manifest, interruptions to the gameplay experience remain almost non-existent, to the point where they are likely to go by completely unnoticed while your attention is focused on brutally dispatching the hordes of mythological creatures unleashed by Zeus and his cohorts. As such, gameplay is transformed over the PS3 release, feeling much more refined and significantly more responsive. This the sort of result the remastering process should engender: with this release, there's the sense that the full potential of Sony Santa Monica's original design is finally being realised.

A collection of performance tests from across the length and breadth of God of War 3. The PS4 version is remarkably solid - effectively the locked 60fps we always want from a current-gen remaster.
God of War 3 Gameplay PlayStation 4 PlayStation 3
Lowest Frame-Rate 56.0fps 28.0fps
Dropped Frames (from 21,421 total) 13 (0.06%) 5,947 (27.76%)

To put things in perspective let's take a look at a performance across several locations in the game combining a mixture of combat traversal and real-time cut-scenes. For the most part, frame-rates on the PS3 hover between 35-45fps during combat and QTE action scenes, with metrics approaching the lower end of that scale when the engine is under load. While we do indeed encounter regular moments where gameplay and visual fluidity appear smoother than the standard locked 30fps, judder is commonplace. On top of that, the delivery of frames alternating between 16-33ms intervals has a knock on effect in terms of gameplay - button presses lack consistency in terms of response.

The metrics above tell their own story. Out of 21,421 sampled frames, a mere 13 [UPDATE 24/5/15 11:54: not six, sorry for the confusion!] are dropped on PlayStation 4 - just 0.06 per cent, compared with 5,947 on PS3, a somewhat more noticeable 27.8 per cent. The result is that the remastered experience feels consistently smooth and highly responsive. Button presses react with the same level of crisp feedback each time, allowing for a level of precision not possible on the original PS3 release. Gameplay flows more fluidly, with everything from changing combos to performing time-sensitive QTEs benefiting from the increased, more consistent response.

While combat can easily be taken care of via simple button mashing across both machines, the game's platform sequences require a little more finesse, and this is where the more precise controls make an even more welcome difference. The Chain of Balance stage sees Kratos quickly leaping between collapsing platforms while avoiding falling rocks from above. On PS4 we never missed a single leap, tapping the X button for a second time at the last possible moment to gain the maximum amount of lift from double-jumping, whereas the variable level of controller response on PS3 caused us to fall to our doom on several occasions.

God of War 3 compared on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Use 1080p resolution and full-screen playback for the best experience.

Beyond the substantial performance upgrade, the other main improvements with the remaster are centred around the jump to native 1080p over the standard 720p found in the original PS3 release, along with a change of direction in anti-aliasing. In particular, the custom MLAA solution used on the original PS3 game is ditched, with PS4 studio Wholesale Algorithms opting to use plain old multi-sampling instead - 2x MSAA to be exact. On the whole, image quality remains quite similar to the PS3 original, but the use of multi-sampling produces fewer artefacts on fine details and shiny surfaces - areas where the post-process MLAA is ineffective (it only works on the pixel-based elements of the scene, rather than in the actual geometry itself). The low contrast nature of the game and reliance on chunkier polygonal details also helps to maintain the clean appearance of the PS3 version.

However, in terms of delivering a graphical upgrade over the original, it appears that there has been little in the way of actual improvement to the core assets. Instead, the developers rely on Santa Monica Studio's original artwork to provide an additional boost in detail levels at 1080p, rather than reworking the original assets. Usually, the jump to full HD resolution results in compromised texture quality as the original assets were never really designed to operate at higher pixel-counts, but this isn't the case with God of War 3. The extra precision on offer delivers an instantly noticeable boost that benefits both texture details and geometry-based elements of the game. Intricate aspects of the characters - such as the indentations and curves on Kratos' armour - are resolved to a higher standard, along with fine details on distant scenery, which tend to pop out more cleanly than before. In short, the extra detail was always there - it's just that the higher resolution here makes the most of the original assets.

The leap to 1080p unlocks higher quality assets that might otherwise only be visible up-close on PS3. It seems that that the extra resolution allows for the engine to choose the highest quality mip-map levels for textures across large portions of the scene, with background details visibly benefiting from a healthy boost in high frequency information. Up-close, the differences are less pronounced due to the maximum quality LODs chosen across both formats. This also results in extra level of sharpness to ground textures despite neither version of God of War 3 featuring anisotropic filtering - a trilinear solution is deployed across both platforms, though the appearance of higher quality mip-map levels on PS4 means distant texture blur is somewhat reduced. On the whole, the added resolution on PS4 certainly adds more clarity to the look of the game, and the difference is certainly large enough to count as a noticeable upgrade for owners of the original game looking to double dip with the PS4 release.

PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
God of War 3 Remastered offers up a native 1080p presentation with improved image quality over the PS3 original. The boost in resolution brings out an extra later of clarity to existing art, with small details and intricacies appearing more prominent. Check out the environment detailing to the left here.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
The same core artwork is used across both versions, though the jump to 1080p resolution allows for more pixels per texel on PS4, resulting in better mip-map selection on more distant scenery. Here we see how the rocks in the background feature lower resolution textures on the PS3, whereas close-up details sport the same artwork quality.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
God of War 3 uses trilinear filtering across both platforms. However, the engine deploys higher quality mip-maps on PS4 resulting in less blurring of ground textures.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
God of War 3 uses plain old multi-sampling on the PS4 remastered version (2x MSAA). This provides a little more sub-pixel coverage over the custom MLAA solution used on the PS3 original, leading to fewer jaggies in motion. In still screens the upscale on PS3 helps to blur over these artefacts, but this doesn't have the desired effect during gameplay.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
MSAA performs best on long edges and chunky details. Here we see how the mountains and statue in the background appear relatively clean despite the low levels of coverage on offer. Shader aliasing is still an issue though, causing shimmering across normal-mapped surfaces that feature a specular component.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
Lighting effects get a mild increase in bloom on PS4. Here we see how the searing heat of the charred remains is more strongly displayed on the remastered version.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
Video cut-scenes remain completely unchanged on PS4, and are rendered at the same 720p resolution seen in the original PS3 game. However, scaling quality appears decent enough to avoid any overly harsh artefacts. That said, these elements are visibly softer than the native 1080p real-time visuals and the difference is noticeable.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
Alpha-based effects such as weapon trails, smoke, and fire appear unaltered in the God of War 3 Remastered. Some of these effects feature a distinctly last-gen feel to them, but at the same time successfully help to spruce up combat scenes.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 3
Depth of field is carefully used in God of War 3 in order to avoid excessively blurring over the detailed environments during gameplay. Instead, the effect is mostly deployed for cinematic effect or to help generate a sense of scale in certain scenes. This allows the core visuals to remain sharp with elements only appearing noticeably out of focus when the develop wants to focus the player's attention on specific details.

In other areas, developer Wholesale Algorithms makes several changes in how certain effects are handled - we sees some interesting changes to better suit the 1080p resolution, but not exactly a dramatic overhaul overall. Once again, the idea here is to extract as much as possible from the original art, tweaking a few select areas where necessary. Shadows get a boost in resolution to avoid looking noticeably blocky (though some stair-stepping is visible when these elements are viewed up-close) and there are also fairly mild increases in bloom used to enhance the way environments and effects are illuminated. Other elements seem unchanged: post-process effects, such as depth of field and motion blur are comparable to the PS3 original, and similarly, alpha-based elements are also unchanged. Smoke and fire continue to feature a flat appearance, though the use of contact flashes, weapon trails, and particles still work well in sprucing up combat.

Cut-scenes are also left untouched, besides receiving a 1080p upscale. While the resizing process is of a reasonably high quality, the lower quality presentation does stick out somewhat - we're still at 30fps and the upscaling is noticeable. With the additional power available on PS4, it's a shame that Wholesale Algorithms and Santa Monica Studio were not able to render these scenes in real-time for this remaster. Overall, it's a small blemish on what is an otherwise excellent presentation. Even 1080p60 video re-renders of the original movie sequences would have made a big difference - after all, this was the approach that Naughty Dog undertook in The Last of Us Remastered.

Our only other gripe concerns the new photo mode option. The feature worked well in The Last of Us, with full camera control allowing us to capture every last grizzly detail when taking a shotgun to the head of the Infected. However, photo mode in God of War 3 Remastered feels like more of an afterthought. While it's possible to edit pictures after they are taken, the lack of camera control in-game means that getting the desired angle can be tricky. There's no option to pause live gameplay and adjust the angle for stylistic effect, limiting the potential for personalising your pics. In terms of shot composition, it's not really a huge improvement over taking straight up screenshots using the PS4's standard share feature.

Our initial God of War 3 performance analysis, based on the initial Gaia level, once again highlights the superb consistency in the PS4 remaster's frame-rate.

God of War 3 Remastered: the Digital Foundry verdict

On the face of it, God of War 3 Remastered appears to be nothing more than a straight-up port of the PS3 game, with its enhancements mostly coming from its full HD resolution upgrade and much higher, more consistent frame-rate. However, in this case, the lack of any substantial 'remastering' isn't actually a big deal - Sony Santa Monica's PS3 debut still holds up well today with a mixture of solid art design and impressively directed action sequences that still provide plenty of exciting moments.

Auto-defaulting assets to the best quality versions on offer goes a long way in making up for the lack of enhanced artwork, but what's clear is that the move to what is effectively a full 60fps lock is the major component that elevates the gameplay experience. Not only is God of War 3 now more pleasing from a visual perspective, it's actually a little less frustrating to play in its platforming areas - while combat is more enjoyable overall. If there are any doubts or regrets about the package, it comes from the sense that the developers didn't quite push the game to the full extent of its potential: the video cut-scenes could be better, while the small extras we do get, like the photo mode, fall a little short.

But these are minor gripes overall - this is a solid release. More pertinent is the value argument: we can't help but wish that Sony had released God of War 3 and Ascension together in one pack - if only to counter the inevitable and somewhat justified argument that the company is charging £30/$40 for what essentially an old game, produced with only a fraction of the original's budget. It's a lot of money for a game you may well have played before, but whether you invest now or wait for the inevitable discounts to kick in, at some point we highly recommend picking it up.

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About the Author

David Bierton