Days Gone: how 60fps transforms the game on PlayStation 5

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Days Gone is one of two PlayStation 4 first-party titles we’re aware of with some level of PS5 awareness, essentially unlocking frame-rate on Sony’s next generation machine, capped only by the 60Hz refresh of your TV. On the face of it, the upgrade is limited in terms of features, but similar to Sucker Punch’s PS5 work for Ghost of Tsushima, it is transformative in terms of fluidity and response – and it’s a great way to revisit an impressive PS4 game.

In returning to Days Gone, I actually found a title that had evolved significantly since Digital Foundry first covered the game – so while there is a clear PS5 advantage, it’s actually building upon a solid PlayStation 4 version that irons out many of the issues we discovered at launch. Developer Bend Studios received plaudits for Patch 1.61 in particular, which dropped the initial 60GB storage footprint down to just 38GB, consolidating a number of optimisations which drastically reduced the fleeting performance problems we found in the first couple of patches.

Not only that but further content has been added since and I’m particularly taken with the challenge mode, which liberates key gameplay mechanics from the sprawling open world adventure and focuses them into bite-size arcade challenges. They’re also a wonderful way to experiment with Days Gone’s signature feature – the Horde. Based on a prior IGN tech feature, there are actually 40 hordes dotted around the map, each with an entity count that can reach 500. There seems to be a hard-set limit of 300 Freakers in the challenges, but that’s still plenty to be getting on with, and there’s a variety of interesting locations in which to do battle. It’s also the only way I was able to consistently shake Days Gone on PS5 from its 60fps performance level.

A look at Days Gone, with PS4 and PS4 Pro stacked up against the turbo-boosted PlayStation 5 rendition.

To be clear, the 60fps upgrade promised for PlayStation 5 is delivered for the vast majority of play – bar some random singular dropped frames we noted that were so spaced apart that they escaped notice. And in that sense, you get a tremendous boost over playing the game on last-gen systems – stutters in traversal (much reduced from launch) are still present, more noticeable on the vanilla PS4, and these seem to be mostly ironed out on PlayStation 5. It’s only when taking on the Horde that any noticeable drops from the 60fps target are evident – and even then, it requires big explosions to kick in within reasonable distance of a large amount of Freakers for any stutter to kick in. And when it does, it is fleeting.

Challenge mode amplifies this somewhat, but it does so by design in setting up a contained mass of 300 freakers you can ‘funnel’ through the map, taking out swathes of them via napalm molotovs, explosive packages, fuel trucks and of course, the time-honoured red barrel. It’s here where we encounter a momentary, but profound CPU limitation as the console processes the impact of these explosions on so many close-by entities. In like-for-like scenarios, we noted a massive 284ms freeze on the base PlayStation 4 when bombing a full 300-strong Horde, dropping to around 200ms on the PS4 Pro. As the Horde is thinned out, so the stutter becomes less of an issue – presumably as the CPU is less taxed with fewer entities to process. On PlayStation 5, the stutter here drops to 83ms at worst – and in fact, finding this slowdown required multiple runs. Usually, we get a handful of 16ms frame drops and that’s our lot. To cut a long story short: Days Gone doesn’t run flawlessly at 60fps, but beyond the odd dropped frame, it required me to actively engineer scenarios via challenge mode to really give the game any bother. The vast majority of play is silky-smooth.

Beyond the frame-rate boost, this does seem to be Days Gone just as you’ve played it before. Similar to Ghost of Tsushima and indeed Cyberpunk 2077 (but not Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order!), nothing much changes in the transition from PS4 Pro to PlayStation 5. Checkerboard artefacts occur on scene cuts, seemingly confirm 4K reconstruction – just like the existing game – and view distances, shadow quality and other graphical features are a match. The beefed-up CPU and storage do seem to eliminate some pop-in, but this is not a big deal on the older PlayStations either, it’s just a further level of refinement you get on PlayStation 5.

Ghost of Tsushima features a similar upgrade to Days Gone.

And I’m perfectly OK with that: few open world games played out at 60fps in the last generation because the CPU and GPU horsepower simply wasn’t there, but more to the point, the cut to input lag is palpable. Games like Days Gone, The Last of Us Part 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2 feature excellent animation but blending that animation between varying user inputs does add additional latency. Days Gone on PS5 cannot solve this issue, but doubling visual feedback delivers an inherent boost that simply makes the game feel better – especially useful during the panic brought on by the Horde.

Ultimately, doubling frame-rate is the most profound improvement you can get from backwards compatibility – or ‘back compat plus’ as I’d refer to it in this case. And while further enhancements would be nice, the fact is that Days Gone’s visual make-up and feature set is great as is. Some may have hoped for native resolution rendering, but I don’t see the point of it here – Days Gone looks very, very close to ‘true’ 4K as is to the point where I’d much rather see the extra horsepower go into sustaining 60fps as much as possible.

Days Gone is also a part of the PlayStation Collection – a range of excellent games you get by default if you own a PS5 and subscribe to PlayStation Plus, which brings us on to the whole question of PS5 upgrades for PS4 first party titles. Put simply: we’d like to see more of them! Days Gone and Ghost of Tsushima lead the way, but some titles may prove more difficult to upgrade without significant engineering effort. With that said, we have already seen evidence that more of Sony’s excellent first-party titles could receive a similar boost: The Last Guardian and God of War are also in the PlayStation Collection – games that we know can run at 60fps with full resolution on PS5, but don’t… unless you own disc copies of the game, where the gold master code can run with an unlocked frame-rate. But for digital downloads, and those looking for patched versions of those games with the various improvements they bring, bespoke patches are required – and I hope to see them roll out in due course!

Face-off

by Richard Leadbetter, Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Source : Eurogamer

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