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Far Cry 6 tech review: it looks good and runs well - but needs extra polish

PC, PS5 and Xbox Series consoles tested.

The venerable Dunia engine returns once again for the sixth mainline entry in the Far Cry franchise - and there's a certain sense of a series returning to its roots. Firstly, the latest open world evokes the more lush, jungle terrain of earlier games, while there's also the return of technologies like fire propagation - its omission much lamented in Far Cry 5. While gameplay hasn't progressed significantly, there are a range of new graphics features, along with ray tracing on PC and a focus on 60 frames per second on the latest generation of consoles - but also the sense that the game requires further polish to make it everything it can be.

Perhaps this is the Dunia Engine's last stand, but there's no doubt that Far Cry 6 is still a handsome game and some of the new additions to the engine are striking. For example, the skies are considerably more impressive than prior games thanks to the inclusion of a ray-marched volumetric cloud rendering system. Similar technologies have been seen in Horizon Zero Dawn and Microsoft Flight Simulator to name just two, but the clouds do look good in Far Cry 6, particularly in how they interact with lighting, especially during sunset. There are limitations though, with their low resolution breaking down into noise with fast movement at 60fps.

Less dramatic but still impressive is water deformation, best highlighted when marine wildlife interacts with the surface - but one element of the game I was really looking forward to was the introduction of hardware-accelerated ray tracing features. Unfortunately, this is PC-only, but regardless, there are two key effects here: shadows and reflections. How much they add to the presentation depends on the effect. Honestly, ray traced shadows are a bit of a question mark in their effectiveness, because first of all they only apply to sun shadows - so all indoor and artificial shadows are standard shadow maps. Also, shadows cast by vegetation or alpha-masked transparencies are also just shadows maps mixed into the RT equivalents. Another negative aspect is the fact that RT shadows - along with much of the post-process pipelines - run at quarter resolution. RT shadows are a net gain overall, but the implementation could be much better and the effect is too limited overall.

Far Cry 6 - the Digital Foundry tech review in video form.

Ray traced reflections fare better, offering a good upgrade over standard screen-space reflections, enhancing the realism of surfaces - especially on the retro cars in the game. Immersion is added, especially as the player model is visible in these reflections. However, again, the sense is that the implementation is not as robust as it could be. Reflections do not apply to water surfaces like the ocean, streams and ponds, which still use SSR. RT reflections also don't apply to transparent surfaces like glass, leading to visual discontinuities (the cars' bodywork feature RT reflections, the windscreens do not). And again, we're looking at quarter resolution effects, leading to the 'big pixel' effect and lots of aliasing because of it. Other gripes include partial simplification of the world in reflections and paring back of material fidelity.

Ray traced effects have a simple on/off toggle when the bottom line is that the game is crying out for higher quality modes to future-proof the game, or simply to give the user more choice. That said, quarter resolution effects are not limited to RT only. Particle effects, screen-space shadows, motion blur and depth of field all run at looks like quarter resolution - which presents more problems the further down the resolution chain you go (Series S can look rough because of this) - and there are no quality settings on PC to alleviate this problem. When combined with the blurriness of temporal anti-aliasing, the issue is further magnified.

So how does the game fare on consoles? Series S seems to spend most of its time in the 1080p-1224p range and while you get 60 frames per second, the presentation is not hugely attractive. The general blurriness in the presentation means that hammering down pixel counts for PS5 and Series X is challenging but PlayStation 5 renders in the 1728p to 1872p range, while the Microsoft flagship has a higher resolution window, seemingly in the 1872p to full 2160p range. The real-life implication of this is simply that you get a crisper image on the high-end Xbox console.

Xbox Series S
PlayStation 5
Xbox Series X
The main visual difference between the consoles is the level of sharpness due to dynamic resolution.
DXR Reflections Off
DXR Reflections On
Ray traced reflections on PC offer up visual advantages, but have many quality compromises.
PlayStation 5
Xbox Series X
Consoles generally use the high setting as found on PC for a number of visuals, like volumetric fog here.
Xbox Series S
PlayStation 5
Xbox Series X
Due to a number of quarter resolution effects and TAA, all versions of the game have a soft appearance.

Beyond resolution, quality settings on visual features is a very close match between the two consoles and it looks to me like Ubisoft has made intelligent trades in lowering precision in specific effects while still delivering what looks like a high-end PC experience. Volumetrics, texture filtering, water and shadow quality are equivalent to PC on high settings, while geometry quality seems to sit between PC's medium and high offerings. Although very subtle, PS5's geometry quality level does seem to be very slightly higher than Series X's.

So when it comes to PC optimised settings, I recommend using the console-equivalent settings and making a few further changes. I'd opt for the high environmental detail setting which lowers the range of artificial lights in the game world, as well as using the using the high terrain setting which minimally decreases the distance of higher detail terrain deformation. What did surprise me is that the road quality setting from Far Cry 5 has gone, meaning that road texture filtering detail levels are very low and not even GPU control panel tweaks can return a higher level of quality. Another issue with optimised settings for PC is that dynamic resolution scaling is not working as it should - and this is a key technology for achieving a smooth frame-rate. I go into this in more depth in the video, where sometimes it seems to help in improving frame-rates, but in other scenarios it can actually reduce performance.

While consoles do mostly run at 60 frames per second, there are some problems here too. First of all, there's camera stutter on the console versions of the game meaning that when performance is consistent, controller movement does not look smooth when panning. This is not a problem on PC. Beyond that, all consoles do run at 60fps for the most part - except in highly dynamic scenes where the camera rapidly pivots or something graphically expensive hits the screen suddenly, but this isn't a big deal generally. However, traversal stutter has always been an issue on PC - certainly from Far Cry 4 onwards - and it's still here, and now extends to the console versions too, accompanied by intrusive screen-tearing. It's an issue on PC too, solved only by turning down settings to the minimum and throwing a lot of power at the problem - which is not ideal.

Both PS5 and Series X suffer from screen-tearing issues, especially when Dunia's traversal stutter issues kick in.
Console Equivalent Settings Optimised Settings
Shadows High High
Texture Filtering High High
Volumetric Fog High High
Water Quality Medium/High High
Terrain Quality Ultra High
Environment Detail Ultra High
Geometry/Vegetation Medium/High High
Dynamic Resolution 60 (it works!) 60 (if it works!)

I found another issue with the PC version and it involves VRAM utilisation when using the optional HD texture pack. According to release materials, 11GB of video memory is required for these textures at 4K while using ray tracing, which proved to be no issue at all for the 16GB Radeon RX 6800 XT. Of course, the competing RTX 3080 has issues as it is a 10GB card - but it's not as straightforward as it sounds. VRAM utilisation here never exceeds 8.6GB, meaning that the full 10GB of memory is not used. In other scenarios, I found that the RTX 3080 would only allocate 7.9GB of memory and the HD textures never loaded. This doesn't look right to me.

My final gripe concerns the in-game cutscenes, which seemingly run at 30fps while the rest of the game runs at 60fps. It's not ideal but it's not the first game to do this and it will not be the last. However, what makes it even more jarring is that particles and other effects may still run with unlocked updates, while animation frame-pacing can also show jittering artefacts. The game's presentation suffers as a result.

In summary, Far Cry 6 is a good-looking game and I like many of the visual upgrades, but I'm less happy about other aspects of the game. The Dunia traversal stutter is present on all platforms I tested, and while I love to see RT effects added to new games, I'm disappointed at the strangely limited implementations and the locked low resolutions Ubisoft has deployed here. On top of that, I can understand why post-process effects may be running at a lower resolution - but I'd have liked to have seen options to restore them to full resolution on PC, and perhaps to add all of this plus RT to a 30fps console quality mode. There's a lot to like in Far Cry 6 and perhaps the emphasis in this tech review has been on the areas that fall short, but ultimately it's difficult to avoid the sense that a few more layers of polish could have had made a big difference to this release.

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About the Author
Alex Battaglia avatar

Alex Battaglia

Video Producer, Digital Foundry

Ray-tracing radical, Turok technophile, Crysis cultist and motion-blur menace. When not doing Digital Foundry things, he can be found strolling through Berlin examining the city for rendering artefacts.

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