Killzone: Shadow Fall Tech Analysis

Guerrilla’s debut PS4 title is a visual feast with a few drab sides here and there.

Posted By | On 26th, Nov. 2013 Under Article, Feature


If there’s one franchise that has been associated with cutting edge visuals, it’s Killzone. While the first game flopped in its endeavour to be a Halo-killer, Killzone 2 on the PlayStation 3 displayed a visually splendid game that, for its time, could compete with some of the biggest PC releases like Crysis. Even Killzone 3 took it to another level by inserting new environments, weather effects and elements into the mix. Now, we have Killzone: Shadow Fall, a PS4 launch title that introduces a brand new world, a 1080p resolution and a variable frame rate hovering over 30 frames per second free of the refreshes seen on other titles. However, it’s safe to say that images don’t do the game justice.

Killzone Shadow Fall (3)

"The visual feast continues when you reach Vekta City, which was first unveiled at February’s PS4 reveal event. Real-time reflections and lens-flare mix with real-time lighting (which relies on localized cubemap reflections) and volumetric fog, backed up by an impressive draw distance."

The visuals impress from the first chapter itself. Whether it’s the raindrops and the ever-so slightly cold haze or the dawning sun light which casts blinding lens-flares over the horizon, Guerrilla Games is on a mission to impress. It’s almost enough to ignore the facial animations, which come off as a bit stiff. Character models are well done and detailed in this chapter, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that expressions could be more detailed. At least movement animations look mostly natural.

The visual feast continues when you reach Vekta City, which was first unveiled at February’s PS4 reveal event. Real-time reflections and lens-flare mix with real-time lighting (which relies on localized cubemap reflections) and volumetric fog, backed up by an impressive draw distance. Once again though, there are somewhat mixed results when it comes to the character modelling. Soldiers and side-characters look good enough but NPC civilians are oddly lacking in detail.

This isn’t to say that games like Call of Duty: Ghosts do a better job and considering that Shadow Fall is a launch title, it will definitely take more time before we see a consistently high level of quality. Nonetheless, it just sticks out as odd every now and then.

Killzone Shadow Fall (5)

"The lighting model is physically correct, utilizing both pre-computed and real-time sources, with all materials supporting translucency and the Fresnel effect (which means that the behaviour of light when passing through different refractive objects is accounted for)."

Guerrilla Games revealed that Shadow Fall utilizes deferred shading, with HDR and linear space making up the entire pipeline. The lighting model is physically correct, utilizing both pre-computed and real-time sources, with all materials supporting translucency and the Fresnel effect (which means that the behaviour of light when passing through different refractive objects is accounted for).

Environmental textures look more realistically detailed than on Killzone 3 thanks to the increase polygon count (with character models boasting 40,000 polygons compared to the latter’s 10,000 polygons). If that weren’t enough, the engine also supports deferred lighting and shadowing of all particles, which helps reduce the number of particles needed to generate a specific effect. Pretty and efficient, essentially.

Technical director Michiel van der Leeuw also revealed earlier that the original build of the game was 290 GB, due in part to the presence of high-resolution textures that simply aren’t made for lower or “competing” systems. This size was also due to the larger scale maps and even after compressing all that data down to a 40 GB install size, the sheer breadth and detail of the game is amazing. Some simplistic areas pop up now and again that harken back to the old buildings of Killzone 2 in design.

Killzone Shadow Fall (3)

"Small touches such as muzzle flashes on your weaponry, different light reflecting off your guns, detailed dust and smoke effects, individually rendered pieces of glass, realistic foliage and individual shadows for the same that are bereft of any shimmering usually seen in PS3/Xbox 360 games, and much more all add to the experience."

Overall, the environments are beautiful when it counts and the wreckage you’ll come across gives off an almost destructive elegance compared to Killzone 3. Small touches such as muzzle flashes on your weaponry, different light reflecting off your guns, detailed dust and smoke effects, individually rendered pieces of glass, realistic foliage and individual shadows for the same that are bereft of any shimmering usually seen in PS3/Xbox 360 games, and much more all add to the experience.

Some of those effects, such as the lens flares, are actually artist driven. Ambient occlusion is included as well along with FXAA (Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing). The latter is interesting because it doesn’t need much processing power and can achieve an anti-aliasing effect applicable to pixel shader effects as well as ordinary pixels. The downside is that textures lose some of their sharpness thanks to smoothing out jagged edges, but that doesn’t seem to be apparent throughout the game.

The ray-tracing in the game is actually a mix of several features including temporal reprojection, hierarchial buffers and colour buffer convolution to achieve successfully covers up any rough edges, along with faint shadows. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without viewing the game with ray-tracing off. It gives a whole layer of quality to environments though, especially in Vekta City.

Killzone Shadow Fall (1)

"Overall, Killzone: Shadow Fall is one of those games you turn to when you want to really show off the power of the PlayStation 4."

That variable frame rate is indeed different depending on which mode you play. While the single-player mode boasts of more than 30 frames per second, multiplayer frame rates varies a bit higher up to 60 frames per second. The frame rate is stable throughout, hovering over 30 FPS most times and only taking a hit when there’s a lot going on in the form of several enemy AIs, explosions, drones and bullets flying everywhere. There’s no jittering apparent as with Knack, whose frame rate refreshes produced the same, and we appreciate Guerrilla’s work all the more for it.

Overall, Killzone: Shadow Fall is one of those games you turn to when you want to really show off the power of the PlayStation 4. The kicker is that most developers haven’t even begun to efficiently utilize the power of the console. With so much already achieved so effectively – despite the odd knock here and there – it will be truly amazing when Guerrilla Games gets its hands on the compute function in the future.


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  • Shu

    “The lighting model is physically correct, utilizing both **pre-computed** and real-time sources”

    Pre-computed = full baked textures, not half-baked 🙂 All for steady 30fps

  • Victor

    As a PC gamer who also got a PS4 this week, I can say this game looks amazing, only Crysis 3 on Ultra settings on my PC beats it – really good achievement by the developers for a launch title on a console.

    • Hugo Stiglitz

      When I got it I had to compare it to Crysis 3 as well (my PC and PS4 are hooked up to the same display) and I actually think Killzone looks better than Crysis on Ultra. At least the single player I mean. The multiplayer doesn’t look quite as clean

  • Nintendo Fan 4 Lif3

    does graphics technology get better than this? 😀 (that’s rhetorical and a compliment to the game, not looking for a direct answer, but feel free to point out some effects that are missing from screenshots that may enhance it that aren’t in the game. thanks)


 

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