It's PlayStation 4 launch week - in the US at least. For the UK and Europe, the next generation doesn't start for another couple of weeks, while Japan is months away from the arrival of Sony's latest hardware. To help bridge the gap, we're happy to provide some 1080p60 download video of the key Sony first-party exclusives: Killzone Shadow Fall, Resogun and Knack.
We've captured the video and encoded it in such a way that you'll get a taste of the next-gen experience by playing back the video files on your PC or, for the full living room experience, you can watch on PlayStation 3. That's pretty much exactly what we did a couple of weeks ago when we shared some of our Battlefield 4 footage, the difference being that we've adjusted encoding settings on a per game basis to better suit the material. We've also had to limit download options owing to the insane levels of bandwidth the videos managed to consume last time we did this - about 9.7TB in total from many thousands of users, and that's only from one download source, excluding day one data, where we lost the logs. So if the Mega download links don't work out for you, please use the torrents this time around and help spread the load and ease the downloading burden.
In order to give this article value if you aren't intent on downloading gigabytes of video data, we've also included performance analysis on each of the three games, kicking off with Killzone Shadow Fall. Current Metacritic scores for the game are good, if not stratospheric, but if you're a Digital Foundry reader, we can give the game our wholehearted, unreserved recommendation. After watching the video, we hope you'll agree. Guerrilla is really pushing the envelope here - the materials-based deferred renderer seamlessly blends pre-computed and real-time dynamic lighting using techniques that will quickly becoming the standard on next-gen console. It's native 1080p and the engine makes the most of the full HD resolution in terms of beautifully high resolution artwork and stunning effects. Combine that with a scale and scope not seen in any other Killzone title before and we have a game that stands as our pick for the best single-player PS4 launch title (64-player Battlefield 4 has to take multiplayer honours).
Performance-wise, we have two videos to share - a dip into the beginning of the single-player game along with excerpts of multiplayer action supplied by Guerrilla. Frame-rate hovers between 30-40fps generally in the campaign, while multiplayer varies between 40-60fps, averaging out clean in the middle across the run of play we see here. We played multiplayer extensively at Guerrilla's studio in Amsterdam - while we're not generally keen on unlocked frame-rates, with Killzone Shadow Fall you do get a clear input lag advantage and the experience feels very, very good. A crushing schedule is holding us back from completing our deep dive on the game, but having just unpacked the assets supplied by the developer, we can guarantee you something truly special next week. In our tech articles we are usually outsiders looking in - Guerrilla embedded us into the studio for one remarkable day, allowing us to talk tech with the leads for each of the major disciplines within the game. It was an experience we can't wait to share with you.
Moving on from the Guerrilla epic, we turn to Knack. You can see where Mark Cerny and his Japan Studios team were coming from. In the age of the triple-A 'experience', a void has been left in the market for games that appeal to players of all ages - the video game equivalent of the Pixar movie, if you will. The power of PlayStation 4 opens up an enticing possibility - the ability to render something approaching cartoon CG entirely in real-time, with the player fully in control of the proceedings.
Let's be clear, the development team hasn't striven for any new landmark in graphics technology here. Mark Cerny described Knack to us as a "small game", but it still weighs in at over 30GB - a lot of that presumably occupied by the 1080p video cut-scenes that provide much of the narrative experience. Close-up character moments (including the climax of our download video) all appear to be rendered off-line, meaning that the more challenging animation systems don't need to operate in real-time, while higher quality models can be brought to bear with no impact on frame-rate.
What is generated in real-time is a bit of a mixed bag. Environments range from the simplistic to the mundane, with just a minority of levels - such as the goblin fortress - suggesting that the engine is capable of much more. Unfortunately, gameplay is rather monotonous, effectively introducing the player to a range of different opponents across any given level and simply adjusting the environments and the combination of those enemies. If this is a game for kids, Knack almost feels as though it is talking down to its audience - a far cry from the pitch-perfect Lego games, which have the depth and the accessibility to appeal to an enormously wide cross-section of the gaming community.
Many who've seen Knack tend to be put off by its perceptibly poor frame-rate. The curious thing is that the game usually runs in the 30-40fps area. Once again we're seeing what happens when a game refreshes in a haphazard manner, with little consistency - the resultant judder often gives the impression of a game that is running at a much lower frame-rate than the actual reality of the situation.
Watching Knack, you may wonder where the PS4 magic comes in. Mark Cerny's focus on the utilisation of the PS4's GPU compute capabilities is indulged a little here - principally in the make-up of Knack himself. A collection of bric-a-brac 'relics' suspended in shape by a mysterious energy source, Sony's new creation is brought alive via some nice tech - his body bending, contorting, expanding and contracting according to the physics model. Special abilities also see really nice effects work based on GPU compute - watching Knack's component parts spinning around in a whirlwind is a particular highpoint.
Best of all is the way in which Knack grows from the size of a child's toy into a full-on raging colossus, able to absolutely dominate sections of the game through sheer stature and power, smashing enemy tanks into smithereens in an almost Hulk-like manner, battering his way through a massive array of destructible scenery. It's here that there's a small sense that you're getting some kind of taste of the next-gen power that the PlayStation 4 offers, but it's used sparingly and often inflicts a significant frame-rate hit. Imagine a Knack sequel divorced from the samey platform beat 'em up routine we see in this debut offering, with gameplay built around an enhanced version of the physics engine - now that could be interesting.
Finally, we come to Housemarque's Resogun - the Finnish developer's take on the classic Defender, reworked with dazzling, voxel-based special effects. There's little we can add to our prior Digital Foundry vs. Resogun feature, which we thoroughly recommend reading for lead programmer Harry Krueger's take on the new Sony hardware and the unique way it is utilised in the firm's maiden PS4 outing. This is a supremely playable slice of old-school arcade gameplay, dressed up in the kind of next-gen visuals that the PlayStation 4 excels at.
Back at Gamescom in August, the game looked seriously impressive, but there were clearly some performance hiccups that marred the super-clean 1080p60 refresh. The good news is that Housemarque's optimisation efforts have paid off - we've played through three of the five worlds available in the limited time we've had with the system and performance analysis confirms absolutely no drops in frame-rate during gameplay whatsoever.
Only the end-of-stage apocalypse showcase gives the engine pause, where performance dips down 30 per cent to level out at 40fps. We can't help but wonder what the effect would have been if Housemarque had locked at 30fps instead - this is exactly what happens in Burnout Paradise, for example, where the panel-rending vehicle-on-vehicle crashes operate in slow-motion, just like the effect in Resogun, but run at 30fps instead of the standard 60. It's a nit-pick for sure, but pretty much the only time we see any kind of impact on the fluidity of the game.
So that's where we are at the moment. Next-gen console gaming is finally here - and we can't help but note a little cynicism about the launch line-up and much controversy about the review scores. Speaking from an entirely personal perspective, we've not yet sampled the entire launch line-up, but if someone gave us a PlayStation 4 along with Killzone Shadow Fall, Battlefield 4 and Resogun, we'd be absolutely thrilled: each of these games offers up an immense, high-quality experience that is simply unparalleled on current-gen console - and that's what it's all about.
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