How far we've come. Back at Gamescom 2018, the Digital Foundry team was hugely impressed by 4A Games' real-time global illumination technology, powered by the ray tracing hardware acceleration made possible by Nvidia's RTX 2080 Ti. There was just one problem - Team Green's top-end GPU struggled to sustain 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution, and if the this card was struggling, how would the lower-end cards compare? Thankfully, the final game possessed a revelatory increase in performance, and the goalposts have shifted dramatically, to the point where we wondered: can the 2080 Ti lock to anything like 4K60? And just what kind of ray tracing experience can you get on the RTX 2060, Nvidia's least capable ray tracing model.
Remember the days when key technological innovations in gaming debuted on PC? The rise of multi-platform development and the arrival of PC technology in the current generation of consoles has witnessed a profound shift. Now, more than ever, PlayStation and Xbox technology defines the baseline of a visual experience, with upgrade vectors on PC somewhat limited - often coming down to resolution and frame-rate upgrades. However, the arrival of real-time ray tracing PC technology is a game-changer, and 4A Games' Metro Exodus delivers one of the most exciting, forward-looking games we've seen for a long, long time. It's a title that's excellent on consoles, but presents a genuinely game-changing visual experience on the latest PC hardware.
The PC version of Metro Exodus is a genuine game-changer for graphics technology - a vision of the way in which developers can take real-time rendering to the next level. In some respects, it is this generation's Crysis moment - where the current state of the art is pushed to its limits, and where we see an aggressive push to deliver a taste - and maybe more - of next generation graphics.
The station is abandoned, the platform crowned with a mountain of junk. There are books, pieces of furniture, newspapers, broken bicycles, busts of forgotten heroes - objects of the old world, collecting dust. Maybe objects remember too? At this station, people see things. Artyom had a vision of two old men, discussing god and fate, smoking shisha, while a cat lazily napped alongside. Homer saw things the way they were - the platform bustling with commuters in rush-hour, the polished ghost-like carriages gliding along the rails. And Hunter saw himself, or at least a part of himself he'd prefer not to recognise.
Barren wastelands. Decrepit and abandoned towns. Desolate landscapes ravaged by time and trauma. Recognisable landmarks slowly but surely reclaimed by nature after our demise. Games have consistently embraced the post-apocalyptic setting. It invites excitement, apprehension and a deep curiosity, and plays on the thought-provoking hypothetical, the 'what if?'. And when these post-apocalyptic environments and landscapes are incredibly detailed, they can result in great efficacy and power.
Nvidia showcased a number of ray tracing titles at its GeForce RTX launch and it was 4A Games' Metro Exodus - alongside DICE's Battlefield 5 - that impressed us most with its implementation of ray tracing technology. In fact, RTX on vs RTX off within the 4A title demonstrates the challenges and opportunities of the new hardware: right now, it seems we need to choose between remarkable realism and accuracy with a significant performance overhead, up against lighting based on established techniques - less accurate but still good-looking and much faster. Which will prevail?
In a restaurant somewhere in sunny Los Angeles County, 13 years ago, two old friends were having lunch. Wine and conversation were flowing. They remembered how they'd met at LucasArts in the 90s. They weren't there to talk business but they did because video games were their bread and butter. One of the men, Jack Sorensen, was reeling-off job opportunities he knew of - he being executive vice president of worldwide studios at games publisher THQ. "THQ Australia?" he enquired. But the other man, Dean Sharpe, didn't seem interested. He had closed his own studio Big Ape Productions a couple of years earlier, dropped off the radar and taken a break, and now he was ready for something new. But Sharpe wanted a challenge.
One of the most memorable reveals of the last year's Microsoft E3 media briefing, 4A Games' Metro Exodus seemed to offer a formula that looked too good to be true - a successful transition of an established linear shooter into a similarly well-crafted open world epic. One year on, having spent a few hours hands-on with the game, there's the sense that the promise suggested by that stunning demo has been fulfilled. Exodus is indeed Metro as we know it, but built within a more open-ended environment, with all the opportunities that offers.
The people behind gritty survival shooter Metro Exodus are designing the game to be the best of the Metro series and the best of the STALKER series - combined.