Does Quantum Break Manage To Set A New Graphical Benchmark On The Xbox One?

Is it a technical showcase for the console?

Posted By | On 01st, Apr. 2016 Under Article, Graphics Analysis | Follow This Author @GamingBoltTweet

Quantum Break is an ambitious title from the folks at Remedy Entertainment. It’s also in many ways a true union of video games and live action movies, something that the developers and Microsoft have implemented quite well in the game. Right from the day it was first shown off almost 3 years ago, it was touted as a title that will set new benchmark for visuals on the Xbox One in the same way Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is expected to do for the PS4 next month.

So does Quantum Break deliver breathtaking image quality with optimal performance? Well, the answer is a bit complicated but before jump there we wanted to talk briefly about the NorthLight engine. NorthLight is Remedy’s in-house engine which supports a full physically based deferred renderer which essentially means the game’s framework uses a modern combination of rendering and lighting tools along with a multi-scale global illumination methodology. Global Illumination was one of the biggest challenges that Remedy faced while developing Quantum Break. They tried with several solutions such as Voxel Cone Tracing and Light Propagation Volumes, all of which were too resource intensive given the quality Remedy were aiming for. In the end, the developers settled for Irradiance Volumes. This methodology approximates illumination where traditional global illumination algorithms may prove to be too expensive. Long story short, Irradiance Volumes is proven to have good performance. This is especially important in Quantum Break given how dynamic the levels are during gameplay. Furthermore, this method works consistently well for dynamic objects and volumetric lighting, something the game employs liberally.

The engine also employs screen space ambient occlusion along with complex using of screen space lighting, screen space occlusion, screen space reflection, and reflection probes. All of these come together to create a realistic dynamic lighting solution which puts the tech right up there with the likes of The Order: 1886 and Assassin’s Creed: Unity.

Moving on to other facets of the tech employed, the game utilizes a cinematic grain filter along with depth of field and intense blur. The character modeling is simply outstanding in the game. The game employs advanced sub surface scattering along with fantastic and realistic muscle animations, especially during cutscenes. Ambient occlusion has been implemented but as revealed by Remedy during Siggraph 2015, they are rendered at 720p. Fortunately, they seem to be free from any artefacts.

However the heart of the game’s visual prowess is its use of physics, destruction and post processing effects. The NorthLight engine is able to render destruction at reasonable levels with the ability to destroy covers and several objects in the game. It’s definitely not up to the par of say, the FrostBite engine but what is there is remarkably impressive given the complex physics simulation and the continuous time shifting that some of the levels introduce. Time manipulation is the main theme in Quantum Break so one can expect a ton of post processing effects on display when time comes to a standstill. And bullet trails…they look dazzling!

In order to achieve such an intense on screen simulation, Remedy had to make a number of compromises and employ complex techniques to achieve the desired result. Right off the bat you can see pop in issues when you are in an area which has vegetation. Shadow quality isn’t all that great either and dithering can be experienced from time to time. Texture quality looks great up front but some of the details are lost when seen from a distance due to a lower quality anisotropic filtering solution. Furthermore the quality of reflections is mediocre at best. The inclusion of 4xMSAA is a great addition and to an extent it removes all jaggies although at times we can see some of them hovering around Jack’s hair.

Level of detail is also an issue in some places with some objects resolving to their expected state with a short amount of delay. Performance is solid for the most part. The game targets 30 frames per second cap and for the most part, the experience was smooth. But there were times during cutscenes where frame drops can be noticed.

This brings us to the interesting tidbit…the image quality and the resolution this game is rendering at. Unlike other games, the way NorthLight engine renders the game is quite different. In order to explain this in detail, let us take the case of Killzone Shadowfall which uses a method called as temporal reprojection to achieve a 1920 X 1080 resolution. The way this methodology works is that instead of discarding previous frame information, the game’s engine uses the current, past and the past-past frame to reconstruct the image at a full 1920 X 1080p render image. So essentially three images of history pixels of 960 X 1080 are used with a pixel movement algorithm to correctly predict where they will be in the future with a 1080p image used as reference. Obviously this is easier said than done but for the most part it works and the process is only bound to get better in the future.

On the other hand we have Quantum Break which uses temporal reconstruction from four previous 720p 4x MSAA frames. Remedy claims that such a method gets them complex shading and effects, resulting into a cinematic look. This particular solution does not really make it an easy job on getting a fix what the actual resolution is. Several components of the game such as ambient occlusion are clearly running at 720p but there is a good chance that other sections of a particular image may be running at a higher resolution. We analyzed a few initial scenes and it’s clear that at least in those scenes the game is running at a 720p to 900p resolution possibly indicating a dynamic buffer in place. But do note that this may not hold true for every scene out there.

This also means that a combination of 4xMSAA and temporal reconstruction results into a softer image quality during motion and a far better image quality when there is not a lot of motion. For some odd reason, this does not translate into the in-game cutscenes as there is a noticeable bump in image quality. Furthermore, we observed a lot of shimmering and ghosting effects. We are not quite sure about the reason behind this. May be it’s because of the temporal reconstruction methodology where the algorithm is struggling to stabilize the information it has received from past pixels. However it must be noted that this mostly happens during motion.

It’s not easy to ignore these issues and it can be distracting when you are following NPCs or when there is not a lot of shooting going on. However once the action begins, the on screen visuals are a sight to behold. Especially the time rush and time dodge powers help the action feel as if it is running at a higher frame rate. It’s within these action sequences the player can forget the annoying shimmering effects and get sucked into the breathtaking visual effects on offer.

So where do we stand regarding Quantum Break on Xbox One? Is it a technical showcase for the console? It comes very close to achieving that but it falls short due to a number of compromises that Remedy made to gain on screen effects. The shimmering and ghosting effects along with the occasional tearing and frame drops are distracting but in no way they are a deal breaker. In some facets such as animation technology and post processing effects, yes, it manages to set new benchmarks. But in terms of image quality and general sharpness that comes along with a higher resolution buffer, Quantum Break falls short. However despite its complex resolution methodology and the compromises in other graphical facets it manages to shine through as one of the best looking games available right now on the Xbox One.

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  • Deeboy

    A simple yes or no would have sufficed. This article just seems like another nitpicking digital foundry mock up. The game looks incredible!!! That’s all that matters. These guys think the number of p’s make a game more or less enjoyable.

    • Orion Wolf

      From Dual Shockers from all places (they gave it a 9/10):

      Surprisingly, the apparently sub-HD resolution doesn’t really impact the game’s visual glitz all that much. Quantum Break is another
      demonstration that numbers are just numbers, and the artistry of a team
      can overcome cold pixel counts.

      Elements like rich textures, effects, shaders, lighting and techniques
      that I would certainly love to hear more about, take front and center
      stage and force pixel-focused equations to take a back seat.

      The audio compartment is close to perfect, with fantastic voice
      acting, an engaging sountrack, and film-like sound effects. Especially
      the acting is delivered in a way that I would easily define on par with
      the best TV shows, or even Hollywood levels.

      Of course, gameplay is king, and gameplay is very, very tight. The
      shooting mechanics are spot-on, making Quantum Break an excellent cover

      Its a sad day when you have a pro Sony/Playstation site giving precedence to visuals/gameplay over resolution unlike an (supposedly) unbiased site like GB.

    • Doggystyle

      Dualshockers isn’t pro Sony. They’re doing everything they can to help the Xbox One survive, even though the console is trying to kill itself off. Their review of QB was a very predictable one. Their reviewer/editor just loves himself to death. He’s always right no matter what the subject, and he seems to think he’s vewwy spethal. According to his overblown ego, every other game site steals their breaking news from him. He’s a real winner folks, and he loves defending MS and the Xbox. Cha-ching!!!

    • Doggystyle

      Was it nitpicking or was it being honest? You want what you want and nobody can change what you want.

    • Deeboy

      Maybe it’s what you wanted but it is not a review. Judging by the other 16 reviews I just read. I can say this with 100 percent confidence. Can you?

    • Doggystyle

      Yes, I can. Now go out and buy the $60 game, and then hope you can resell it for at least $10 after your 8 hrs of playtime, after you finally realize that the overly positive reviews were paid for. Meanwhile the actual smart people are lining up at a Redbox kiosk near you to experience the game and have it back in the slot within 48 hrs at a total cost of $4.

    • Deeboy

      Lol. I bought the game last month. All 121gs of it and I will definitely enjoy it. Meanwhile you’ll be playing with yourself while hoping im not enjoying it. I’ll let you know how great it is and give you a real review you can hate on.

    • Doggystyle

      “Meanwhile you’ll be playing with yourself while hoping im not enjoying it.”

      LOL. I’ll play with myself regardless of whether you’ll be enjoying QB or not. You’re a funny guy. That made me chuckle.

    • Deeboy

      That was my intention to put a smile on your face. Thanks for the opportunity.

  • Counterproductive

    The game looks like it will be good, but because of the mechanics and design of the game, not the graphics. (Or at least not the resolution) But hey, that’s what the PC version is for. Remedy hasn’t turned in a bad game yet, so glad that trend continues.

    • Mark

      Lol! My favorite movie

    • Doggystyle


    • legacy

      Haha that’s how people be looking in gamestop before they get a xbox

    • Doggystyle

      LOL, no doubt. That’s funny!

    • One With Shadows

      Uh, did you see the reviews?

    • Michael Norris

      That gif… Glorious! The game itself isn’t Remedys best work.

  • One With Shadows

    In a word…no.

  • Mr Xrat


    • Truth™ PSVR 960×1080®

      Ruggarell the meltdown when the PC version destroys Unsharted 4 will be hilarious. Especially since Unsharted 4 is no longer 1080P in single player either 🙂

  • Antoine Fischer

    Forza 6 is still the best looking game on XB1 IMO, but I am really enjoying QB. I game on PC, PS4, and XB1, but it’s really exclusives like QB and Bloodborne that make owning each system worthwhile. Those 30 FPS with dips sure can be painful after coming from a smooth 60 on the PC though!


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