Just when we thought that our coverage of Remedy's Control for next generation consoles was complete, we received a curve ball. Twitter user Another LED pointed out that the game's photo mode also serves to unlock the frame-rate, eliminating the 30 frames per second cap of the graphics mode and opening the door to direct comparisons of ray tracing performance between Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. The results are intriguing, though perhaps somewhat academic.
To put it simply, dipping into Control's photo mode freezes the current game scene and allows you to navigate around with a free camera, letting you pick your best shot at your leisure. No changes are made to the game's rendering settings in the transition from gameplay and those settings are also the same between PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. So, basically, unlocking the frame-rate and ensuring that neither of them hits 60 frames per second (which effectively caps performance) opens the door to a benchmark of sorts - a like-for-like, no holds barred look at how Sony and Microsoft's new consoles power through some exceptionally demanding workloads, rendered by one of the most forward-looking and technically impressive engines on the market.
So, what do the results show? On the face of it, the engine is well balanced to deliver a consistent 30 frames per second in the graphics mode for both systems. We can see this by looking at our now infamous PC benchmark sequence: the Corridor of Doom. We're not quite sure why this one is so demanding on system resources, but it's definitely problematic on PC and its challenging characteristics transfer over to the consoles. Series X renders it at 33 frames per second, PlayStation 5 at 32. This fits the narrative we've seen from the majority of the cross-platform titles we've seen to date - that the two machines are very closely matched. More specifically, in the case of Control, if there's still overhead beyond 30fps in this most challenging of areas, that means we should comfortably coast through the vast majority of the game's content locked at the target frame-rate - likely the effect that Remedy intended.
However, running unlocked does show varying degrees of overhead and based on over 20 matched scenarios, Series X does have a rendering advantage, which on average delivers a 16 per cent lead over PlayStation 5. We go through those scenarios in the embedded video on this page and the variation from test to test is significant - so we should emphasise that the 16 per cent figure is indeed a mean average. Some tests show an even wider margin, others see the situation close up significantly. In the video, we discuss some of the ramifications when looking over the results, but there are some enticing possibilities - CPU tests on the PC version do seem to suggest that locking to 60fps may not be a problem for the Zen 2 clusters within the new consoles and that the limit we're seeing in our tests is GPU-based. So with that in mind, could there be an option to lower resolution, and improve frame-rate while retaining RT effects?
The notion of stacking up extra game options - all of which would need to be developed and tested - may add too much to a smaller developer's workload, but an advanced menu with appropriate user warnings on stability could open up some level of PC-style flexibility that would benefit experimental players in several ways. First of all, trading pixels for frames could potentially deliver a high frame-rate RT experience to console players, something that is only the preserve of PC users in the here and now. Secondly, a configurable frame-rate cap or full unlock (with selectable 60/120Hz display outputs) could also allow users with HDMI 2.1 displays to improve their RT experience, whether that's via variable refresh rate or a 40fps cap in a 120Hz refresh. And finally, there's the notion of forward compatibility - providing options that may not be hugely desirable in the here and now, but could prove hugely beneficial when Control is revisited on the hardware of tomorrow. We've seen a number of games with rendering options that didn't make much sense at launch, but which have proven transformative when revisited on more modern console hardware.
However, in the here and now, the results seen here are indeed largely academic - unlocking frame-rate demonstrates more raw horsepower on the Xbox side in ray tracing scenarios within Control, but even if it were deployed in-game, it would not address the occasional stutter issues exhibited on the Microsoft platform, which is the only noticeable difference we could see between the two systems in our initial tests. Still, there are some interesting results in the photo mode 'benchmark' even if it is still early days. And it's important to keep in mind just how early it is in the current console generation: game makers are still finding their feet with the new consoles, development tools are far from mature and just getting good software out of the door in the current environment is challenging enough as is. Do check out the photo mode though - freeze-framing the game and examining the scene in more detail is a great way to appreciate Control and the visual achievements of the remarkable Northlight engine.
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