Our final part rounds off what is coming in the future for the PS4 and PS4 PRO, and how they are all set to push visual barriers on consoles.
The ninth generation is most certainly on its way. Microsoft just about confirmed that with its talk of multiple consoles being under development. With Sony, while there hasn’t been official word on the PS5 (or whatever else its likely to be called), the games on display at Sony’s conference seemed to speak for themselves. While some, such as Ghost of Tsushima were confirmed as running on PS4 Pro, it’s hard to conceive of others, particularly the likes of Cyberpunk 2077 running on the PS4 Pro, let alone the base PS4, without some heavy compromises from what was displayed during our hands off impressions.
And considering the release dates—2019 and beyond—it’s not a far stretched assumption that some of the titles shown will, at the very least, be cross-gen outings. With the incredible fidelity of some of these titles, we wouldn’t be disappointed even if they were cross-gen: it’d only go to show the extent to which developers can coax even better visuals from the ageing eighth-gen hardware spec. In our final part of this four part series, let’s have a look at some spectacular late/cross-gen first party PlayStation titles, and just what sets them apart from the rest, visually.
Releasing next month, Marvel’s Spider-Man gives us an impressive look into the full capabilities of the PS4 PRO. Insomniac are at the helm here: with Spider-Man, they’re pushing for a cinematic, CG-like look. This comes through in the artwork, with photorealistic lighting layered over ever so-slightly stylized characters and environments for a distinct, soft presentation which holds up well at 4K when using the PRO. Spider-Man ticks all the usual boxes, with physically-based rendering, high quality material shaders, and dynamic lighting. A particular highlight here is the exceptional postprocess pipeline. Standout implementations of depth of field and per-object motion blur highlight the game’s CGI aspirations and—the motion blur in particular—lend additional fluidity to action and combat.
The PS4 makes use of temporal reconstruction to achieve quality output in 4K. Using 4 million samples—half the 8 million pixels displayed on 4K display, Insomniac hands in image quality that’s a tad soft, but could pass itself off as decent 4K presentation. This is again helped by the soft, CG-like aesthetic targeted here, with a smooth, aliasing-free image taking precedence over razor-sharpness.
Moving ahead, The Last of Us was a real looker on PS3. The PS4 remaster goes to show that, with just a bump to resolution and some basic enhancements, it could hold its own in the current-gen. The Last of Us 2 does exactly this—except you’d have to extrapolate well into the 9th gen to accommodate the sheer richness of the visuals here, which are only topped by an unprecedentedly detailed animation system. This technology has a name: motion matching. How it works, essentially, is that hundreds of possible animations are put in a pool and those that are contextually most appropriate are drawn as and when by the system, resulting in animation that is both dynamic and fluid. Apart from this, The Last of Us 2 features Naughty Dog’s staple rendering features, with volumetric and indirect lighting, physically based rendering, and, of course, incredibly high quality character meshes and texture work, something we’ve come to expect from them.
Next up is yet another bigger from Sony. Though not quite from first party, Hideo Kojima’s next big game will be a PS4 exclusve (and will come to PC sometime in the future if initial reports are to be believed). We still don’t know what the heck Death Stranding is all about. But that hasn’t prevented Kojima’s annoyingly mysterious title from looking fantastic. Guerilla Games’ Decima Engine—last featured in Horizon: Zero Dawn—makes its return here. Kojima evidently partnered with Guerilla to utilize their tech. That this was the right decision becomes evident seconds into the E3 trailer.
One of Decima’s highlights is its use of procedural generation for the layout of objects and foliage. This was used to good effect in Horizon: Zero Dawn to create dynamic open world environments at a relatively low development cost. Considering that Kojima’s working with a larger team than before (300 according to a report), Decima’s procedural generation techniques would go a long way towards fleshing out Death Stranding’s world with incidental detail. Guerilla’s much-vaunted GGX per-pixel lighting solution also makes its debut here in Death Stranding. Considering Kojima’s pedigree, other core aspects, such as the near-photorealistic, mo-capped character models can be taken for granted. A standout feature in this respect is the hair rendering which appears to build on Horizon’s fantastic implementation of TressFX.
Next up is Days Gone and it has a firm February 2019 release date. Compared to its initial revealed the game doesn’t seem to be at at risk of appearing like vapourware. While visuals do hold up to its late-gen counterparts, Days Gone’s ace in the hole is its crowd-simulation tech. As many as 1000 of the games Freakers—its term for zombies—can be rendered onscreen at a time. SIE makes use of the Unreal 4 engine in Days Gone, a somewhat unusual choice for a first-party Sony dev. However, this does mean that Unreal 4’s considerable feature-set carries right over into the game. Furthermore, as seen in the E3 trailer, Days Gone features a considerable degree of environmental destructibility and physics, allowing for dynamic minute-to-minute interactions with the world (and with those Freakers). We have some concerns how performance will hold up during the game’s more intense situations but we are optimistic.
And lastly we have Ghost of Tsushima, a title that looks amazing both from a technical and aesthetic standpoint. Even though it was explicitly shown running on a PS4 Pro, this was a title that really had us wondering about the near-future of gaming: Was this a cross-gen title? Could a base PS4 hope to run it without significant cutbacks? Whatever may be the case, Ghost of Tsushima is without doubt one of the most visually arresting titles of this generation.
Sucker Punch’s earlier work on PS4—inFamous Second Son was hailed for its particle work. This is taken to a whole new level in Ghost of Tsushima—the E3 demo showcased hundreds of individual leaves whirling in the wind. Draw distances are also spectacular: even in most intensive open world titles, detail levels and foliage are noticeably pared back in the mid to far distance. In Ghosts of Tsushima, thick grass rolls on for impossibly far distances. Physically based rendering and dynamic lighting are on full display, capturing the finer details of armour, crumbling edifaces, and muddy, rain-streaked terrain. While The Last of Us 2 raised the bar for heavily focused narrative experiences, Ghost of Tsushima offers a truly paradigmatic exceptional, macro-level detail even out in the open world.
As we come to the conclusion of this four-part series, let’s reflect for a moment on Sony’s greatest strength, its strong first-party titles. While Microsoft continues to muddle through with a few flagship first-party series like Forza and Halo, with the expectation that third-party game sales will compensate, for Sony, Playstation has always been a platform, not just the hardware, but the quality games that’d encourage you to buy in. PlayStation exclusives have always looked and played great—but in the past two generations, with Sony laying claim to the stronger hardware platform (barring the mid-gen refresh in the form of PS4 P), PlayStation exclusives have helped reshape expectations about what is possible, in terms of graphics and gameplay in a console game.