Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart on PS5: that's why we need next-gen exclusives - technical analysis

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart on PS5: that's why we need next-gen exclusives - technical analysis

Ratchet & Clank

In the wake of Sony's announcement of its willingness to develop major first-party titles for both PS4 and PS5, the arrival of Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is at least interesting. The latter demonstrates the capabilities and potential of the PlayStation 5 in a way that a cross-gen title would not be able to and can give us an idea of ​​what the next generation of hardware can offer when a first party developer can. focus solely on it.

Spider-Man: Insomniac's own Miles Morales was an outstanding job for PS4 / PS5 but Rift Apart highlights what is possible when the generational leap in memory, CPU and GPU are wisely employed . And in case you were wondering: 60fps with Ray Tracing on? No problem.

We've all seen the trailers, right? Beyond the beautiful and detailed visuals, the speed of the SSD allows for seamless transitions between completely different worlds (a fundamental feature of the game's gameplay), while the GPU handles an astonishing level of detail. The Ray Tracing capabilities of RDNA 2 are also well implemented, with beautiful high resolution reflection work. The good news is that the final game is actually better than seen in the trailers. In fact, we were surprised to see that the day one patch has further improved the overall quality.

We are proud to present you the technical analysis of Digital Foundry's Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart!

Watch on YouTube. One of the first sequences in the trailer showed Ratchet launching through multiple dimensions in real time. In the original demo there were noticeable performance hitches when areas were loaded and unloaded but it served as an impressive example of what was possible in the game. This same sequence also exists in the finished product and those stuttering phenomena have been completely (or at least largely) eliminated. We noticed an occasional single extra frame on the frame-time graph but the situation has improved significantly compared to the demo. Also, in the test build, these splits weren't drawn within RT reflections - if you look at the final game, instead, you'll see that a great job was done in this respect as well. We think this is worth highlighting as it highlights a case where the final game actually improved the graphics shown in the first trailer.

You want to know how the review code has been substantially improved through the day one patch ? The 'Performance' and 'Performance RT' modes now work more smoothly and it is fascinating to note that RT reflections that previously operated at a quarter the resolution now appear to work with a 4K checkerboarding technique, giving a substantial boost to quality. Really impressive. Similar to Marvel's Spider-Man on PS5, there are 'Quality', 'Performance' and 'Performance RT' display modes but we'll talk about that in a separate article.

Going back to the core topic, it's the SSD game-changing for PS5 and the rift mechanic uses it as an integral part of the gameplay. The most basic type of rift appears during many combat sequences - you target the rift and immediately jump into another section of the map. The rift itself is pulled towards the player and suddenly we are transported to a new location. However, there are other places where portals lead to completely different zones. In this case, the game is rendering two unique viewports and both are complete (motion blur, anti-aliasing, volumetry, shadows, everything is rendered correctly in the two viewports allowing seamless transitions between areas). It is possible to walk between these two areas without any interruption. This same dual-view technique was used to make the Star Wars-style transitions in the real-time cut-scenes. It may seem simple, but in this case, during the transition effect, each viewport is rendered at maximum speed and quality in real time.

The power of the SSD and GPU allow you to render two different worlds simultaneously to take full advantage of the rift mechanics that give the game its name. Things get even more ambitious when it comes to the world known as Blizar Prime. Upon arrival, all that remains of this planet are floating rubble, but by hitting a few large crystals you are instantly transported to another version of this world, an alternate dimension before it was all destroyed. This mechanic has a direct factor in some of the puzzles you will solve on this planet, and the transition between planes is almost instant, with just a quick blank flash. You will need to manipulate elements in one dimension and then return to the other to succeed. Later, you move from one dimension to another halfway through the path, changing the layout of the stage: not only does the game switch between maps but it must also maintain the inertia and position of the character between them. br>
The idea resembles the Effect and Cause mission present in Titanfall 2, where you can switch from one period of time to another with the push of a button: the difference with Ratchet is that in his case you pass between two bespoke maps, only one of which will be resident in memory at any one time. When switching between them, only the character remains in memory, while everything else is downloaded and the new map data is extracted from the SSD almost instantly. There are no tricks here, it's just that fast. Nothing like this could be achieved on last generation hardware - it's a visually striking feature that is fundamental to the way Rift Apart was conceived.

But this is still a Ratchet & Clank game and Insomniac always manages to guess the basics. At the heart of any action game are the characters, of course. Ratchet and Rivet steal the show with a superb level of detail on display. Insomniac has brought to Ratchet its new system of hair rendering, used for the first time in Miles Morales, which allows you to obtain a fine detail in the fur of the many characters that populate the game. It appears to use a combination of threads and shell textures to create various thicknesses of the fur. The main character models, at their highest quality, feature more than 250,000 triangles, not including the hair strands that can significantly multiply this number.

From expansive reflections to nuances in Ratchet's eyes, Ray Tracing is cleverly implemented in Rift Apart. All of this is paired with superb materials for cloth, leather and metal applied to their costumes and a realistic eye rendering system, which features RT reflections and designed to enhance cartoon design. Characters also receive a mix of ray-marched screen-space shadows for the smallest details, combined with traditional shadow maps to better handle shading. Of course there are also full high-quality animations to accentuate any kind of movement. During the cut-scenes, it's fair to say that Rift Apart looks like a pre-rendered movie - the motion capture has been minimized and it shows. You never get the impression of characters moving around wearing a dress, it really looks like a cartoon.

The point here is simple. Insomniac is showing what extra detail means for animated characters like these on a next-gen machine, to the point where Ratchet's rendering on PS5 holds its own against the 2016 CG movie. Yes, there are some aspects of rendering for the films that are not yet possible in real time but the perception is that we are getting very close. But it's not just the main characters who receive such details. Use photo mode and examine any enemies or NPCs around - you'll find comparable levels of quality on display. We were genuinely blown away by how much detail can be found in the minutiae, to the point where the shells left in combat are actually fully detailed models with surprisingly rounded edges and RT reflections.

Yes, Ray Tracing is very present in Rift Apart. Like Spider-Man on PS5, Ratchet makes use of hardware-accelerated RT reflections with materials of all varieties drawing on reflection data. From the large flat mirrored surfaces to the rougher surfaces you'll encounter later - this adds a lot of depth to the world in a way that differs from the metropolis seen in Marvel's Spider-Man. It is really impressive to see how reflections apply to curved glass in this game. It appears that Insomniac has switched to a checkerboard / sparse rendering solution for reflections, so the amount of work has increased but is still within the rendering budget. It's quite a quantum leap.

The hair and hair rendering system adopted for Rift Apart is simply amazing. At this point you should have a good idea of ​​what to expect from the game. Fast loading, RT reflexes, and high level of detail elevate Rift Apart to a level above anything we've seen before in a character action game. It's suitably next-gen, but we haven't talked about performance metrics and image quality, so it's time to tackle that too. First impressions are solid: the Ray Tracing mode at 60 frames per second is very smooth, as was hoped for. The game's fidelity mode at 30fps is the default and is aimed at achieving native 4K. Dynamic Resolution Scaling (DRS) is enabled and has 60% of 4K as the lowest resolution possible. In reality the game maintains 2160p most of the time, dropping to 1800p only when the mood gets most excited.

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The most important factor, below this aspect, is that the image quality is kept clean in motion. Insomniac's time solutions remain in use, being applied to these high pixel numbers to great effect. It is, indeed, very similar to what we saw in Marvel's Spider-Man at launch on PlayStation 5 in Loyalty mode.

The performance in this mode is really as expected: actually, we are looking at an almost flawless target of 30 frames per second throughout the game. No amount of particles affect the frame-rate - it's very smooth, as you'd expect. The only break in fluidity comes from camera cuts during cut-scenes, just like in Marvel's Spider-Man. It's not like performance is dropping, it's more like Insomniac is "saving" a frame to ensure consistency in images.

So with that said, we believe Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is truly a showcase for the next generation of consoles. It's a game that couldn't have existed on PlayStation 4, and just like previous incarnations of the series, we believe it will stand the test of time. It builds on the mechanics first introduced in the 2016 game and improves upon them. It is by far the best game in the series.

It also raises the bar when it comes to storytelling: it keeps the fun vibe of the originals, but it can be said that the studio has gained confidence in its cut-scenes and setpiece direction following the success of Marvel's Spider-Man. This game is a true "event" and a superb demonstration of the potential offered by the next generation of hardware.

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