Days Gone on PC: a quality port that surpasses the console experience - technical analysis

Days Gone on PC: a quality port that surpasses the console experience - technical analysis

Days Gone on PC

Sony has promised us the arrival of more PC conversions of their stellar first-party development production and while Horizon Zero Dawn has shown that this is a far from simple process, Days Gone is on another level.

The updates have been strategically chosen but they are all quite effective and the performance appears solid on both Nvidia and AMD hardware. As if that weren't enough, there are a couple of implementations in this game that we really hope to see on other titles as well, especially in terms of configuration. While we're not getting the definitive package (there's no Ray Tracing, and sadly, there's no DLSS support either), there's no doubt this is a solid and frankly impressive port.

Starting the PC version of Days Gone, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a simple conversion from PS4 Pro. The game is based on Epic's Unreal Engine 4 and we were happy to see that Bend Studio updated the PC version to include the latest version of UE4 (software-managed RT global illumination may be preferred over standard ambient occlusion technology used for console versions). Essentially, the appearance of light bouncing off various scenarios is emulated in the screen-space environment offering a richer presentation with more realistic lighting and more effective shading.

If light hits a red surface, for example, some measure of that "redness" will brighten its surroundings as needed. Sound familiar to you? The Coalition has opted for a similar update for the Xbox Series X | S and PC versions of Gears 5 using the latest UE4 engine updates and adding it to the existing code base. The old SSAO is still there and guarantees that authentic console look, only now it simply comes with the 'high' setting for in-game lighting.

Digital Foundry analyzes the PC version of Days Gone (and it's a really impressive conversion!)

Watch on YouTube. The second biggest improvement that the PC version of Days Gone gets over the console editions is to be found in the quality of the textures. In direct comparison, the improvement from the higher quality assets is quite easy to see and affects almost all textures that can be found in the game, definitely improving the overall appearance. It's hard to tell which PC settings match the quality seen on consoles in the past. None of the graphics presets seem to align with the PS4 version, which is even lower than the lowest texture streaming option on PC.

Beyond global lighting and texture quality, the latest visible update over the PS4 Pro version comes from resolution and, basically, it was inevitable: Bend Studio used checkerboarding to allow a 4.2TF Radeon GPU to produce a good presentation, designed for 4K displays. With the increased power available on mid-range gaming PCs, users can go native instead, which means more overall clarity and no checkerboard artifacts on items like hair. Likewise, post-processing is no longer affected by that type of technique, so all effects like motion blur, screen-space shadows and whatnot look much better, with no aliasing artifacts. Depth of field no longer looks squashed and blurry, which also means there are no more low-resolution contours around the features.

The other updates featured are more subtle but still appreciated. Volumetric lighting and clouds can be done at a higher resolution on PC, while level of detail settings can be increased. With the 'very high' vegetation preset you can see much more detail in the distance. Also in this case the console version seems to use a customized setting: the visual distances present on the PC are completely absent on the console but the level of detail in the vicinity of the camera is more similar to the 'Very High' preset than to the 'High' one. . It is an interesting compromise. Shadow quality follows a similar path, where 'High' is very similar to PS5 and 'Medium' and 'Low' appear lower in comparison.

Native resolution image quality removes all artifacts related to checkerboarding (such as those present in hair, for example). Without checkerboarding, the game's post-processing effects can break free of many of the visual artifacts seen on consoles - take a look at the aliasing around the motorcycle light. Texture resolution also appears superior on virtually all game assets (as can be seen on this advertising sign). The PC version also adds global screen-space lighting in the 'Very High' preset while PS5 appears to be using the 'High' one with SSAO. Beyond the picture quality, PC gaming now spends significantly less time loading than consoles, even in comparison to the PlayStation 5. For video games, in general, a loading time of 9.5 seconds on a fast SSD NVMe for PC takes 33.5 seconds on PS5, so we're assuming this is an area where backwards compatibility isn't tapping into the new console's full storage potential or CPU power. This is also reflected in gameplay moments, where PS5 also features some loading screens between gameplay and cut-scenes. Meanwhile, when playing on PC, a simple screenless fade to black is used to mask the loading, so as not to interrupt the flow of the action too much.

Optimized settings? We used an RTX 2060 (not Super) and played at 70% 4K resolution (1512p, similar to PS5 with checkerboarding). We paired the graphics card with a Ryzen 5 3600, one of the most popular mid-range CPUs of the past couple of years. Only two settings have much influence on performance and the first is lighting. At higher resolutions like this, the RTX 2060 gains around 15% performance in all scenes by going down to the 'High' setting which turns off SSGI and replaces it with SSAO (which can be an acceptable loss, perhaps) . Don't go any further, though, as key features like reflections, screen-space shadows, and even aspects of the game's lighting itself are omitted, which we can't recommend.

Another potential optimization is in the volumetric lighting setting, which can be dimmed from 'High' to 'Medium' to achieve universal 8% extra performance. Again, however, don't go down to 'Low': while it may seem effective in some scenes, this reduces the quality of the clouds to a much less attractive level. Aside from those choices, the rest of the game's settings put you below what happens on console (which is the developer's original view, after all). Interestingly, the game uses very little VRAM even at higher settings, so there should be some flexibility in retaining the higher quality textures on older GPUs.

Performance is very good. At settings similar to those seen on consoles and with a resolution of 70% 2160p (1512p effective), hardware of the caliber of an RTX 2060 can easily handle 60fps for most of the duration of the game. Finally, it would be remiss of us not to point out how good the options menu is. For one thing, it is very fast and navigable with the keyboard or mouse without necessarily requiring one or the other and there is also support for the controller. Second, it takes full advantage of the fact that the mouse is a pointing device that makes scrolling unnecessary (so, like your one-time favorite RPG inventory, you'll see every option without having to scroll). Aspects like this may seem like trifles but triple A PC games can still get these things wrong, making menu navigation an irritation rather than a joy as it is here.

In fact, the graphic menu strikes like this. so many high points that we hope other developers take note. For example, all graphics options adhere to the left side of the screen and the menu is completely transparent, which means that any tweaks and changes you make happen in real time. You can literally see what is changing as you change it and that is reflected in the continual updating of real-time metrics in the top right - great! For the experts, you have an immediate understanding of the impact a graphics option has on performance (how much GPU resources you are spending on an effect by increasing the setting, or how much you are recovering by lowering it). This is the best options menu we've seen since Gears 5 and Gears Tactics and I really hope it becomes the standard model for the future.

Performance? They are very good. With graphics settings similar to those seen on consoles with higher quality textures, an RTX 2060 manages to keep 60fps at a resolution between 1440p and 1512p in most scenarios. Only the most intense scenes of the Horde cause problems and you can find them quite easily for testing purposes by diving into the challenge mode, which acts as a strong benchmark for your PC. During our tests we found that opting for these optimized settings over the maximum alternative results in a noticeable 21% performance boost.

The interactive menu for graphics settings is a feast for the eyes. Looking at the more modern mid-range GPUs from AMD and Nvidia (such as the RX 5700 and RTX 2060 Super), we noticed that the performance is virtually identical in cut-scenes, although Nvidia is better in the detailed game scenes. For example, in a cinematic that ends by looking at an open area full of zombies, the 2060 Super outperforms the RX 5700 by 14%. In less extreme scenarios, the gap shrinks to something like 4%. Days Gone is a DX11 title, so it is questionable whether AMD's DX11 driver is hindering performance in this case.

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Ultimately, then, the porting of Days Gone is good but not perfect. A bug we found on all tested PC configurations relates to game speed. For some reason, moving around on the bike or even walking in environments can cause the speed of the game to slow down and then quickly return to normal. When this happens, the game appears to have performance issues but, in reality, Days Gone produces perfect frame-rates.

Interestingly, it is precisely the speed of the game update itself that is the problem - there is the illusion of dips and stuttering even though the performance is actually stuck (we also tested at 30fps). This doesn't happen on PS4 Pro or PS5. The second bug is about some decals on the ground, which seem to project to the wrong depth. Hopefully, these are simple problems to solve.

In conclusion, however, this is a successful release in our opinion. Adjustable resolutions, frame-rates and ultra-wide support are there, as well as an editable field of view. Users can get rid of checkerboarding, enjoy higher quality textures, and improve overall lighting and visual distances. Performance is good and the amount of obvious bugs and problems is very low. Still it is an excellent conversion overall and we highly recommend you give it a chance.

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