Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered: substantial enhancements vs PS4 Pro - plus ray tracing at 60fps
An excellent revamp of a classic game.
While Spider-Man: Miles Morales was a key launch title for PlayStation 5, the next-gen remaster of the webslinger's first outing is well worth checking out. This isn't just the PS4 Pro version operating at a higher resolution: there's a bunch of visual improvements from new assets, refined lighting and of course, the addition of hardware-accelerated ray tracing. Indeed, a recent patch has added support for RT at 60 frames per second - an enhancement present on both of the Spider-Man titles available for PS5. Developer Insomniac has also solved the issue of transferring save data across from the original PS4 game, making this is an excellent way to continue the story if you never finished the game.
Despite the last-gen foundations, the boosts delivered by PlayStation 5 are impressive. The original PS4 Pro version targets 30 frames per second with dynamic resolution scaling averaging around 1584p most of the time - temporal injection is then used to deliver a clean image when played on a 4K display. On PS5, there are three different visual presentations offer: the quality mode bumps this up to a full native 4K output most of the time though dynamic resolution scaling is in effect and it can drop to near 1512p levels in the worst case. In performance mode, the game targets a near 4K resolution but with more aggressive DRS that results in drops to 1440p. Quality holds up though, thanks in no small part to the same temporal injection technology that worked so well on the last-gen systems.
All of which makes the new ray traced performance mode even more interesting. Just how much of a hit is required to deliver hardware RT at 60 frames per second? Well, it's about more than just a resolution cut but suffice to say that the DRS window is adjusted downwards - lower bounds can hit a minimum of 1080p, but the vast majority of the experience plays out towards a 1440p upper bounds. It's also worth pointing out that the same stats are in play for Miles Morales, which also gets the same three presentation modes. In effect, the PS5 effect is quite remarkable: up against PS4 Pro, you're getting twice the frame-rate, plus hardware ray tracing with just a small haircut on resolution.
Those are the headline statistics but what I also enjoyed about the remaster is the care and attention applied to the little things too. The intro sequence alone shows additional details added to Peter Parker's apartment, right down to extra noodles added to his discarded takeaway. Texture detail is improved and even geometric detail on his web shooters is significantly increased, alongside quality boosts to a range of objects in the scene. Even simulated glass caustics are added to jars. It's the kind of embellishment you'll only see in a side-by-side against the PS4 Pro game, but it highlights some of the care and attention that has gone into the remaster. Improved assets are deployed throughout the entire game.
Then of course, there's the new Peter Parker model. We won't dwell on the changes to the character itself, more that we're seeing technology deployed in Miles Morales back-ported to the original game. The vastly improved hair rendering from the new game is present and correct on Spider-Man Remastered, and not just on Peter Parker. Characters also have improved skin shading and teeth. Some of these enhancements are applied to the in-game characters as well: sub-surface scattering, for instance, remains enabled even in gameplay - it's an effect mostly used in cutscenes only.
Moving out into the city, Insomniac has significantly retooled lighting, while distant detail is extended, with longer draw distances on vehicles and pedestrians. One of the more obvious things is the continual boost to texture detail - nearly every surface has been touched up, with higher quality assets. What this does is to increase perceptual detail significantly, and the overall boost here extends from the environments to the NPCs too. It's interesting to compare and contrast with Miles Morales - there is an evolution in overall visual quality moving from one game to the next, but Spider-Man Remastered goes a long way into bringing Peter Parker's adventure almost up to the same level.
But it's the inclusion of hardware accelerated ray tracing - and the new 60 frames per second RT mode - that truly sets this remaster apart from the original. Swinging through the city alongside so many glass buildings is radically enhanced thanks to the additional parallax made possible via real-time reflections, and Insomniac's implementation here is fascinating. Rays are traced out to the horizon, meaning that anything logically visible within a reflection will be rendered. To pull this off, however, the game traces into a slightly lower detail version of the city - so not every object is featured at full detail within the BVH structure. However, the effect of using real-time reflections cannot be understated. It's just that this was only available at 30 frames per second - until now.
With the new RT performance mode, there's just 16.7ms to build each frame, meaning that the processing demands are increased dramatically. It's not just about the GPU either - the CPU time required to process the BVH structure also has a significant cost, suggesting that Insomniac has made a lot of changes under the hood to support this. In fact, it seems that the general optimization push to achieve this affects systems in all modes, meaning that some of the slowdown I saw in Miles Morales' performance mode is now gone with the arrival of the new patch.
Obviously though, to achieve 60fps with RT does require some strategic trade-offs. Firstly, the resolution of the RT reflections scales according to rendering resolution. Essentially, reflections appear to be quarter resolution of the main rendering res so, at 4K in fidelity mode, reflections are basically 1080p. When the resolution dips to 1440p, however, reflections are just 720p instead. Looking closely, you'll notice diminished detail as a result, but during normal gameplay scenarios it's difficult to complain as the effect is still highly convincing.
Other changes include a reduction in shadow map quality within the RT reflections - buildings and some objects still exhibit shadows but the resolution is greatly reduced while pedestrians lack shadows entirely - or they're pared back to the point where it's very, very difficult to see them. A completely sensible change in this case. There is also a reduction in the number of pedestrians visible at a distance but it's not super noticeable unless carefully observing the reflections. Even with these cutbacks, however, the presentation is still very impressive and the roughness cutoff is adjusted such that even rough materials exhibit proper reflectivity - and we can't stress enough how computationally expensive this is.
In my original look at Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, I loved the increase to detail and the RT reflections delivered in the 4K fidelity mode - but it's difficult to pass up the chance to play the game at 60 frames per second. With that in mind, the RT performance mode ticks the boxes in essentially delivering the best of both worlds. The increase in frame-rate is welcome and,even with a reduction in quality, ray traced reflections contribute greatly to the experience. More importantly, I feel this is a good sign of things to come for owners of all next-generation consoles. That Insomniac was able to achieve this result in a launch title is truly impressive and speaks volumes about their engineering team but it also suggests that there is perhaps more ray tracing potential here than we maybe initially thought. Whether this level of performance can be achieved with more complex games remain to be seen, of course, but I'm excited.
Of course, we haven't discussed performance yet and that is also key. Based on my testing, the game predominately reaches it's 60 frames per second target. The dips that occur are uncommon and it feels extremely fluid to play. There are duplicate frames on camera transitions in the real-time cutscenes, occasional and mostly unnoticed dropped frames during gameplay. Actual perceivable slowdown is hard to find - especially in gameplay. Miles Morales does seem to be the more complex game, but choosing a mission later on in the game rich in particles, volumetrics and heavy effects work, the RT performance mode still holds up. All told, Insomniac did a great job in hitting and sustaining 60 frames per second with ray tracing enabled. It's not flawless but it's remarkably close to it.
The other side of performance worth mentioning in regards to Spider-Man Remastered is the loading - it benefits in exactly the same way as Miles Morales does in that it's basically instantaneous. Starting the game, fast traveling or loading a save is basically free of any kind of meaningful pauses. Now that we're removed from launch though, and having played more games on both PS5 and Xbox Series consoles, it's clear that Insomniac is ahead of basically everyone else in this regard. If Insomniac's work is indicative of how storage will be utilised in the generation ahead, this is very, very exciting indeed.
I also tested the PS4 to PS5 save transfer feature. It's interesting in that it works just fine and even pops all of your Trophies that were previously earned on PS4, but the actual process is somewhat convoluted. Essentially, the PlayStation 4 version has been patched to allow you to upload your current save state (not all of your manual saves) to the cloud. Meanwhile, Spider-Man Remastered on PlayStation 5 has an import data option that brings your upload across to the new game. It works but it's not really elegant. I gather this is more just a limitation of the PS5's OS setup than anything else and Insomniac had to find a workaround. At least the process only needs to be done once - but one thing to note is that the process is one-way, you cannot bring your PS5 progress back to PlayStation 4.
Ultimately, Marvel's Spider-Man: Remastered for PlayStation 5 really is an excellent piece of work and comes highly recommended. Just about my only real criticism is that there is no physical release for a game that I'd really like to add to my library of titles. Regardless, Insomniac's efforts here are first class, and this remaster is well worth adding to your PS5 collection.
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