Gears of War or simply rebranded as Gears now, is one of Microsoft’s most important IPs. This is not only due to its excellent campaigns or engaging multiplayer components but also due to the series’ knack of pushing visual quality with each new entry.
From the very first instalment back in 2006 to Gears 5, whether it be Epic Games or The Coalition, Gears brings something special to the table. If Gears 3 was the visual benchmark for the Xbox 360 then we have no qualms in claiming that Gears 5 is the technical showcase for the Xbox One, Xbox One X and Windows 10.
2016’s Gears of War 4 was one of the best looking games on the Xbox One and Windows 10. The game got patched for the Xbox One X and it delivered a stunning 4K/60fps in campaign mode, a feat that was simply breath-taking due to how demanding Gears of War 4 was. Gears of War 4 on its own arguably stands tall amongst the best looking games of this generation but what The Coalition has achieved with Gears 5, not only pushes it beyond Gears of War 4 but it makes it one of the best looking games of this generation.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of the tech powering this excellent looking title, let’s take a look at the performance parameters across the Xbox One X, Xbox One and PC versions.
Xbox One X vs Xbox One vs PC Graphics Comparison
Before we proceed ahead we wanted to make a note. On the console front, we analyzed the game’s performance by taking some sample scenes from the game and running it through trdrop, an open source software. Note that this tool gives us a mere demonstration of the game’s performance, because an exact 1:1 representation of performance can only be provided by the developers themselves since they have access to vast of array of tools and profilers. Also note that this analysis only considers the campaign mode.
So, let’s take the base Xbox One version first. This platform is almost six years old and to be honest, it was pretty much out-dated the day it launched (the same “compliment” goes for the base PS4 version as well!). Regardless of being a underpowered platform, Microsoft and its first party studios have somehow managed to deliver some exceptional looking games on it in the form of Gears of War 4, Forza Motorsport 7 and Forza Horizon 4. But Gears 5 is an altogether different beast. To get it up and running on the base Xbox One whilst ensuring it looks great and performs well, The Coalition had to limit the frame rate to 30.
Although, this is pretty much a locked 30 fps experience as we witnessed no drops at all in our testing scenes. The Xbox One version seems to be operating at a native 1080p resolution, however we have a suspicion that dynamic scaling may be in place. Regardless, this is an excellent result on the base Xbox One and although the 30fps limit may be a bummer for some players, The Coalition have done well to maintain respectable visual fidelity when compared to the more powerful Xbox One X and PC platform.
The Xbox One X version is an interesting case. Obviously, in terms of visual fidelity it’s placed between the base Xbox One version and a high end PC. However, it excels in one area where most mid-range gaming PCs will simply falter. The game runs at a native 4K resolution although just like the Xbox One version we feel that there may be dynamic scaling in place. But what will be appreciated by Xbox One X players is that the campaign runs at 60fps, double of what we have on the Xbox One. Once again, just like the base Xbox One version, the game runs at steady frame rate with no drops whatsoever. Overall, this is an exceptional result for console owners and The Coalition has done really well to optimize each version around their individual strengths.
And now, let’s shift our focus on the PC version of Gears 5. Before the game’s release, The Coalition had spoken briefly on how they will support the PC platform with better visual fidelity, frame rates and options. We are pleased to report that Gears 5 on the PC is an absolute visual splendour. It’s our first look into what could be possible on the next-gen of consoles and the future of video game graphics. Although Gears of War 4, too, looked stunning on the PC, the level of detail offered in Gears 5 simply outdoes The Coalition’s previous effort.
Graphical settings include but are not limited to minimum and maximum frame rate, motion blur and its intensity, lens flare quality, bloom quality, screen space reflections, refractions, sub-surface scattering, dynamic shadow quality and ambient occlusion quality. There is also an additional bonus for PC owners in the form of Ultra Textures. Installing them may take some time depending on your hardware but once they are ready to go, the differences are quite noticeable. For our testing purpose, we had this switched on. There is also a handy benchmarking tool that shows players all kinds of parameters in action.
We tested the game on a PC that includes a GTX 1080Ti, 16GB of GDDR4 memory and Ryzen 1700 CPU. Overall, performance was pretty stable at 60fps with every setting maxed out, although we did witnessed some minor drops here and there.
In terms of platform differences, the PC version with everything maxed out easily trumps the Xbox One X and Xbox One platforms. The PC version features superior textures thanks to the Ultra Textures options and better shadow quality compared to the console versions. Between, the Xbox One X and Xbox One, the latter has the advantage of better performance and resolution along with better shadow quality and screen space reflections.
Various Graphical Aspects
As we noted earlier, Gears 5 is easily one of the best looking games of this generation and this is all down to some extensive customization work that The Coalition have done with Unreal Engine 4. The very first thing we want to talk about are the various post processing effects. Everything from firing bullets to throwing grenades and from using chainsaw to enemies getting blown to bits, particle effects has been used generously. The game has a sparkier look and feel to it compared to some of the earlier games in the series, thanks to The Coalition not shying away from using effects wherever possible.
Lightning too has undergone a major revamp in Gears 5. Whether it is enclosed dark areas or well-lit large open world hubs, volumetric lighting has been used in abundance to add a specific mood to the environment. Thanks to a complete adherence to physical lighting, objects like guns, armour or several random materials reflect and refract light in a way that close to their real life counterparts.
Character models employ complex skin shaders which helps them to look eerily close to real life in some cases. Animation work is top notch; from the way the various in-game characters move and react to the in-game proceedings add a sense of realism and urgency in the game. One of the highlights of Gears 5 is it in-engine cutscenes. The Coalition uses in-game assets to render these cutscenes in very high fidelity, ramping up post processing and anti-aliasing in the process. Obviously, the gameplay doesn’t look as good but it does come very close. A custom anti-aliasing solution, possibly MSAA has been utilized to deliver a crisp and clear image across all platforms, although we witnessed some jaggies on the base Xbox One version.
Much has been made out of the open world elements in Gears 5 and although they are technically just that, they serve as a hub to connect two major areas. The open world streaming tech is quite well done and we can’t wait to see what the developers do with it in the future. One of the first open world areas we visited was fully covered in snow, and thanks to a custom tessellation solution it looked pretty amazing.
And we can’t close out this section without mentioning the sound design. The voice acting is pretty much exemplary throughout the campaign, the guns sound great and even the smallest object creating an echo in a dark, silent location has been captured really well.
What The Coalition has achieved with Gears 5 is nothing short of extraordinary. A lot of work has clearly gone into optimizing all three platforms according to their strengths and improving the visual fidelity compared to Gears 4. The base Xbox One version does a decent job of proving a great Gears experience although with performance compromises. The Xbox One X, too, excels with phenomenal adherence to 60fps and a large operating resolution but it’s the PC version that is truly head and shoulders above the console versions. Featuring a wide variety of options and the inclusion of Ultra Textures really sets it apart from other platforms. Regardless of whatever platform you play the game on, you can be assured of one thing. Gears of War is back with a bang!