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Digital Foundry's top ten picks for PlayStation Neo upgrades

Boosts to CPU, GPU and memory could vastly improve existing PS4 titles - but which could benefit most?

Since the leak of the PlayStation Neo specs, we've been asking ourselves: just what does this mean for the games? Sony's handbook for developers mandates that all PS4 games developed from October 2016 onwards must have Neo support taking advantage of the improved hardware, potentially with improved frame-rates or even higher resolutions and extra effects.

What's especially exciting about this, is that your existing PS4 library can benefit too. While all existing games will run as standard on the new hardware, it's understood developers have the option to update their existing titles with a 'forwards compatibility' patch, allowing older games to utilise the much more powerful new hardware. This could take any number of forms: perhaps running at closer to PC's top visual settings, or simply tightening up lacklustre performance.

So with that in mind, we thought we'd rank our top 10 PS4 games that we think stand to benefit most from Neo enhancements. Of course, there's a certain degree of wish-fulfilment going on here, but what we have tried to do is approach each title based on what the revised PlayStation hardware could actually deliver. Below, you'll find the complete hardware spec. You'll note that an already GPU-heavy design is skewed even more towards performance graphics, but throughout this list it's worth considering the boost to its CPU is relatively modest.

Base PS4 PS4K Neo Boost
CPU Eight Jaguar cores clocked at 1.6GHz Eight Jaguar cores clocked at 2.1GHz 1.3x
GPU 18 Radeon GCN compute units at 800MHz 36 'improved' GCN compute units at 911MHz 2.3x FLOPs
Memory 8GB GDDR5 at 176GB/s 8GB GDDR5 at 218GB/s 24% more bandwidth, 512MB more useable memory

In terms of judging potential upgrades from existing PlayStation code, we've shied away from the inevitable 'run everything at 60fps' mantra you may expect - as much as we may want it. Just Cause 3 for example clearly struggles to maintain 30fps, and can buckle particularly in physics-heavy scenes. The 500MHz boost to Neo's eight Jaguar cores will help, but it won't magically take us to 60fps; upgrades in this case will be visual in nature, but it would likely stick to a 30fps cap. On the other hand, in DriveClub we have a game that originally targeted 60Hz gameplay, and recent VR version demonstrably proves that it's possible - hence that particular upgrade making the list.

We're sure you'll have plenty of suggestions in the comments - and we look forward to hearing them. But for our take, here's our chosen top ten.

Tom presents a video breakdown of the top ten PlayStation 4 titles that could stand to benefit from Neo enhancements.Watch on YouTube

10. Until Dawn

Until Dawn impressed us with the sheer quality of its motion-capped visuals, using the Killzone Shadow Fall engine to push some of the most realistic acting performances we've seen in a game. It looks beautiful at 1080p, but there is a catch. Even though it is a slower-paced game than most, that frame-rate can cause genuine issues. The action tends to hang just above 20fps at times, which isn't ideal. Given that Neo utilises a much-improved GPU - doubling compute unit count to 36, boosting its core clock to 911Mhz and raising memory bandwidth by 24 per cent - we can expect better.

For Until Dawn, allowing compatibility with a Neo mode would undoubtedly do wonders for performance, and get us a tighter lock on 30fps. Assuming the game isn't horribly CPU-bound, we should see its sub-30 drops smoothed out in this case. Of course, the game already pushes some of the best-in-class visuals on PS4, with eerily lifelike facsimiles of its cast. Backed by its excellent physically-based lighting, the scope for tangible improvement to its visuals is relatively small. It's already in a good place on this front.

Addressing the game's frame-rate would, by comparison, be an much easier way to enhance the experience. Assuming that 60fps is completely off the table, we'd prefer that developer Supermassive caps its frame-rate to a round 30 to remove the jarring fluxes in refresh. Ideally, this would also curb the stutter-inducing frame-rate jumps we currently see to 40fps. It's a great PS4 exclusive - a genuine sleeper hit - and with the arrival of Neo it could play more smoothly than ever before.

Until Dawn is an exceptional title, but its technical shortcomings are self-evident. A Neo upgrade would be an easy win for this PS4 exclusive.Watch on YouTube

9. Bloodborne

Bloodborne is another PS4 exclusive in need of some attention, though you can of course apply this to Dark Souls 3 as well. If Neo's rumoured Polaris graphics architecture comes close to GTX 970 or R9 390 levels of performance, we might have some serious wiggle room here to improve the game. As a case in point, we've seen the likes of Dark Souls 3 on PC - a game that shares Bloodborne's engine - run at a full 1080p60 on max settings with a 970. Meanwhile, the lesser GTX 960 struggles at max, but can hit 60fps when dropped to console settings. Given Neo's sizeable GPU upgrade, the graphics overhead should be there to get the job done.

Visually, there's little you could bargain for in terms of upgrades, short of some additional bespoke effort via From Software. It already runs at 1080p on PS4, and taking Dark Souls 3 as a comparison point, PC's best settings only add higher-grade shadows and motion blur over the PS4 edition - and even these are tricky to catch. But the biggest thing we miss when moving from PC is its smooth playback.

Now, a jump from 30 to 60 is a huge ask, but it's not as radical as it first sounds in this case. Our PC testing shows From Software's engine scaling well across most configurations, and even a Core i3 paired with an overclocked GTX 750 Ti gets us between 35-50fps on console settings. With all the potential of Neo's boosted CPU clocks and its 2.3x increase to GPU compute power, we could be within grasping distance of that top-end refresh on both Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3.

The Old Hunters DLC was our last look at the state of Bloodborne performance - it's not bad but based on the Dark Souls 3 PC experience, it could be so much better.Watch on YouTube

8. Star Wars Battlefront

One stipulation of Neo-supported games is that they must have the same feature-set as the standard PS4 version of the title. Gameplay options have to match - so in Battlefront's case, we won't see a boost to 64 players in Battlefront, over the current 40 limit. However, what we can ask for is pretty cool.

Many Frostbite 3 engine titles run at a native 900p on PS4, including the upcoming Mirror's Edge Catalyst. It's a fair compromise on the current PS4 setup given the scale of these battles across Hoth and Tatooine, in order to keep frame-rates steady. But with that extra memory bandwidth comes a chance to increase the pixel count at no cost to performance; we could at least see a boost to a full 1080p on the Neo-spec PS4.

This applies to all DICE games to use the engine so far, and for Battlefront it would make shoot-outs across long distances slightly clearer. In fact, it's already something we have in the game's split-screen survival mode on console - a native 1080p that means no upscaling to the image. We're eager to see it, and looking at what else PS4 is missing from PC's top settings, we could reasonably ask for a boost to the console's texture filtering, and raise its shadow quality beyond the medium preset. Even if the core gameplay must stay the same, these are nice bonuses.

DICE did a great job with Battlefront optimisation, though Neo could easily address the resolution issues of the PS4 game, while improving effects quality.Watch on YouTube

7. DriveClub

DriveClub was originally intended to run at a full 60fps, but eventually - and disappointingly to some - released in 2014 with a 30fps cap. However, based on its visual ambition, the trade may well have been justified. The graphics in the final game are hugely improved since the E3 2013 build we played, with a deferred renderer that pushes some beautiful physically-based lighting, global illumination, and proper screen-space reflections.

With the weather patch, it's an even more stunning title, but that 60fps target was seemingly abandoned in order to double down on graphical quality. However, the PlayStation VR build we played at the last Paris Games Week flaunted a tempting alternative. In VR mode, the game runs at a full 60fps (per eye via interpolation) on standard PS4 hardware - albeit with dialled back visual effects. Assuming the 500MHz boost to CPU clocks is enough, Neo's superior GPU provides the muscle needed to provide a zero compromise approach to both update and graphical fidelity.

The only question is this: with Evolution Studios closed down - and its staff moving to Codemasters - is there anyone left to carry out the Neo enhancements? For racing enthusiasts this could be a genuine game-changer, and it's one we'd love to see.

A breathtaking visual experience, DriveClub's 30fps update is the only area we'd like to see changed. We've enjoyed 60fps gameplay in its VR build, and PlayStation Neo hardware offers a window of opportunity to make it happen for the existing release.Watch on YouTube

6. Metal Gear Solid 5

It's hard to complain about a game that's already running at a native 1080p, runs at a native 60fps and offers a fully open landscape to explore. However, the PS4 version does look somewhat barren compared to its PC incarnation. Draw distances for lights and terrain are reined in on console, and if Neo could offer up one big improvement beyond any prospective resolution boost aimed at 4K displays, it would be in delivering a richer, more impressive world.

Draw distances on plants, shadows and even some geometry are curtailed on the console versions of the game, a necessity in order to keep the current PS4's 60fps performance level on target. Assuming that the Neo hardware upgrade delivers GPU performance comparable to GTX 970 and R9 390, all of the finery of a maxed-out PC experience is well within reach. It opens the gates to broadened levels of detail across the game.

Likewise, the PS4's current, blurry texture filtering can finally be upgraded to the 16x anisotropic filtering we see on PC. It's hardly a game-breaker for MGS5 in its current state, but these are worthwhile extras - and there are more you could suggest. There has always been a strong affinity between PlayStation hardware and the Metal Gear Series and it seems somewhat apt that Sony's new technology could play host to the definitive MGS5 experience.

Both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hand in remarkably solid frame-rate across the experience in this test, but Neo spec stands to bring a full-fat PC experience to console.Watch on YouTube

5. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

A solid frame-rate is more crucial to Call of Duty games than most titles - the breakneck pace of the action demands a fast visual response and ultra-low latency controls. But Black Ops 3 does struggle to nail a firm 60 on PS4 when the effects really fly, especially in its visually ambitious, but ultimately compromised campaign mode.

Treyarch took steps to address the performance deficit by implementing a dynamic resolution, dropping pixel-count below 1080p where necessary to adapt to engine load. On a standard PS4 it helps Black Ops 3 to achieve this performance during shootouts - but there's an opportunity here with Neo to have it fixed more consistently at 1080p60.

It should be an easy win on the most advanced hardware and something we could ask of shooters like Killzone Shadow Fall as well. In either case, the vastly improved GPU should be able to propel both single-player and multiplayer modes to a silky-smooth 60fps - a gap that's already close to being bridged.

Treyarch has a reputation for really pushing its engine, and this often results in depressed performance in its campaign mode. We'd really like to see more powerful hardware get the job done properly, especially in a series that demands a consistent 60fps.Watch on YouTube

4. Uncharted 4

Everything we've seen of Uncharted 4 oozes quality, with set-piece after set-piece showing Naughty Dog are at the top of its game. No doubt, this sets a very high visual watermark for PS4 - one of the best-looking games we've seen, built to squeeze as much from the current hardware as possible. But compromises are in effect; the single-player originally targeted a full 60fps in early E3 demos, but the end product settles for a capped 30fps. This is how we played the PS3 trilogy at the time, but it's a shame a full 60fps solo adventure isn't possible on the standard PS4.

Enter Neo, and there's a chance to deliver the original performance target here. In fact, the multiplayer mode already runs at a fairly solid 60fps based on the betas we tested - with Naughty Dog rightly deciding on frame-rates as a priority for competitive play. However, the one cutback there is a resolution drop to 900p.

With the arrival of the Neo configuration, there's plenty of wiggle room to improve Uncharted 4 in both aspects. An uncompromised 60fps across both modes is high on our wishlist - and given the project's original intentions, it's one of the more feasible options for a Neo-focused patch post-release. Alternatively, with Naughty Dog at the controls, we would hope to see the new hardware really pushed - perhaps beyond just resolution and frame-rate upgrades.

Naughty Dog's Uncharted 4 binned off its 60fps aspirations for single-player mode by introducing a 30fps cap, seen here during the E3 demo. Could Neo take it back up to the originally planned 60fps?Watch on YouTube

3. Grand Theft Auto 5

Ok, this is a fairly big one - and based on PC benchmarking, it's hard to envisage Rockstar cracking 60fps on console hardware, owing to a sometimes brutal CPU overhead. Rockstar's open-world engine takes a lot of processing power, and even with a 31 per cent increase in clock speed to the PS4's CPU cores on Neo, we strongly suspect it won't cut it. We're happy to sit at 30fps however, if it means we qualify for some extra eye-candy.

For reference, again we can draw upon the developer's existing work with the PC build. The very top settings offer us extras like improved object LODs, higher precision shadows and an increase to grass density. It's also a great opportunity to break past the limited texture filtering currently in use on PS4, where we can now expect something closer to 16x anisotropic filtering. These are all aspects that sit on the GPU-side of the equation, where we'll find the bulk of the hardware upgrades on the Neo spec.

Besides these four main areas, there's also potential in bringing over PC's advanced settings - allowing us to see shadows projected from power lines and aircraft overhead. These are neat touches we'd like to see on console, but where it starts cutting in to the game's 30fps lock, it's preferable to avoid these extras to ensure performance is kept in line. As one of the highest profile console titles, it's already in great shape on PS4. But with some extra GPU power on tap, we think it could go one better.

Our last look at Grand Theft Auto 5 concentrates on patch 1.09, where Rockstar finally addressed most of the streaming issues that resulted in PS4 performance drops.Watch on YouTube

2. The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 is potentially one of the biggest benefactors of a Neo patch. We've seen this game go through multiple updates to address performance, and even months down the line, CD Projekt RED is clearly keen to improve the console experience. Certainly, frame-rates around notorious hotspots like Crookback Bog can be improved - an area that's GPU-bound thanks the heavy use of performance-sapping alpha transparencies. However, beyond that, matching PC's top-grade visual settings is a viable option if the GPU headroom is adequately expanded.

In this case the PC gains are worth bringing to PS4. Texture quality at its best preset is bolstered in parts of the game, while draw distances for shadows and foliage are much broader. With the PC's higher-precision water simulation also included (creating more minute ripples around boats than the current implementation) the console experience would be entirely complete. The one extravagance we can't feasibly expect is Nvidia's Hairworks mode; an altogether taxing feature that simulates Geralt's hair movement, and also the mane on his stead. For the rest, it's fair game.

Neo's upgraded CPU clocks also stand to aid performance around Novigrad, rife as it is with processor-taxing AI, and lots of environmental object streaming. It won't smooth over every hiccup, but it's reasonable to expect a tighter grip on 30fps across the board. We've covered this game across many updates - from its launch patch right up to 1.10. If the developer's on board for Neo support, we could see some worthwhile improvements here overall.

The Witcher 3 analysed in its patch 1.10 iteration. CD Projekt RED prides itself on excellent post-launch support, and utilising PlayStation Neo's strengths would be the icing on the cake.Watch on YouTube

1. Final Fantasy 15

Our number one pick is Final Fantasy 15, a game with huge potential that we hope to see flourish come release. The game's decade-long development limbo is almost at an end, and a September 30th launch is thankfully locked in. The question is to what extent the developers can improve on the questionable technical showing we've seen from its two demos. Based on the recent Platinum sampler we can expect some beautiful art design and cutting-edge rendering techniques - but sadly a lot of it is currently marred by its technical delivery on PS4 hardware (and indeed Xbox One).

The improvements on a Neo spec would ideally be on two fronts; image quality and performance. The 20-30fps range in frame-rate is the more pressing issue of the two, though we'd be glad to be rid of a dynamic resolution, and keep a firm lock on 1080p. We would hope for some level of optimisation by launch on the standard PS4. However, it's safe to say that Square-Enix has a mountain to climb in addressing the shortfalls we've witnessed thus far.

The technical metrics we've seen to date don't sit well with the game's action-orientated combat, but the Neo spec PS4 is in a healthy position to address it. There's perhaps a sense the Luminous Studio engine isn't a perfect fit for PS4 in the first place, but by brute force, Neo's beefier hardware specs should hopefully offer the horsepower required to get the job done if that optimisation effort falls short.

The Final Fantasy 15 Platinum demo saw the developers test out a dynamic resolution scaler on both PS4 and Xbox One - but it does not seem to fundamentally address much in the way of gameplay performance.Watch on YouTube

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