Control is Our First Best Look at Real-Time Ray-Tracing and Next-Gen Gaming
Post by nachosjustice @ 03:44pm 17/09/19 | Comments
Other ray-tracing games have impressed with single instances of the tech. Control blows them out of the water by quinteting down on the eye-candy tech.
Whether you’re a PC purist or a multi-platform gamer, you should be excited by the reality that there are new consoles coming next year. Even if you have no interest in buying them, at this point of the current-gen console cycle, now is the time to be a PC gamer.
For starters, this is the period when multiplatform publishers tend to give PC ports the love they deserve, knowing that modern high-end PCs offer a glimpse at potential next-gen console hardware. More important to me when it comes to next-gen, though, is the fact that multiplatform developers tend to develop to the hardware constraints of current-gen consoles.
When that expectation takes a hardware leap next year, expect to see PC gaming to take a leap, too, not just in fidelity, but in terms of gameplay features. Both Microsoft and Sony have emphasised the importance of SSDs for faster loading times, which should translate to fewer elevators-as-loading-screens and forced-walking-to-mask-a-level-load.
Control as seen with both RTX On and RTX Off
The other main thing that’s been teased is ray tracing. Now, given the AMD-based architecture of Sony and Microsoft’s next consoles, and AMD’s lack of ray tracing in its latest PC GPUs, there’s a chance this may well be software-based. If that’s the case, the ray tracing won’t be anywhere near as illuminating as it is on PC right now with an NVIDIA 20-series RTX card.
“Make no mistake, even without ray-tracing Control is a gorgeous game. With ray-tracing enabled, it’s positively stunning to the point where it’s tough to go back to the ‘RTX Off’ setting.”
To date, we’ve seen promising first-gen applications. Reflective surfaces from puddles of water to the barrel of a gun in Battlefield V displaying environment detail both seen and unseen. Revamped real-time lighting in Quake II that is completely ray-traced (I’ll be writing more on this later). Global illumination in Metro Exodus. And some other impressive tech demos you can download for free off the NVIDIA website. They are, in effect, great demonstrations of the tech and the potential that ray-tracing holds in store for players.
But as great as they can look, they pale in comparison to just how impressive the ray-tracing in Control is. Make no mistake, even without ray-tracing Control is a gorgeous game. With ray-tracing enabled, it’s positively stunning to the point where it’s tough to go back to the ‘RTX Off’ setting. After all, Control isn’t the kind of shooter that particularly rewards 144-fps responsiveness – my preference for the likes of Rainbow Six Siege and Battlefield V.
Remedy Entertainment’s cinematic presentation is the perfect match for showcasing just what the fps-destroying tech can do.
When I spoke to NVIDIA representatives at E3 earlier this year, I shared my assumption that ray tracing was exclusively about real-time illumination or reflections. In my mind, developers had to pick one or the other, especially given how taxing ray-tracing is on the ol’ frame-rate. I was told that wasn’t the case. Mind you, it’s come a distance since launch with NVIDIA updates and developer optimisation but, like 4K gaming, it’s really fingers-crossed for 60fps - a best-case scenario.
For my pre-release Control experience, it stuck between 40fps and 60fps with all ray-tracing settings enabled and the overall preset on High. I found that frame-rate to be very, very playable for this style of third-person shooter - especially in comparison to the console release which regularly dips below 30fps without ray-tracing or other high-end PC settings. For the E3 demos, while certain games being showcased on the latest NVIDIA RTX 20-series SUPER cards were focused on one or two applications of ray-tracing, Control was using five. Yeah, it was eye-opening.
Translucent reflections. Transparent reflections. Indirect diffuse lighting. Contact shadows. And ray-traced debris. Even if you’re unaware of what that all means, think of it like turning on five individual advanced visual settings on PC title - each offering up an immediate and impressive visual jump.
More Control with RTX On and RTX Off
As expected, the reflections were the first thing I noticed. Mirrors in games feel like this long-running gag, kind of like explosive red barrels, where they’re either broken, blurry, or reflective of static environments and the playable character only. With translucent and transparent reflections, it’s overwhelming at first, in a way that quickly proves more advantageous than limiting.
“While certain games being showcased on the latest NVIDIA RTX 20-series SUPER cards are focused on one or two applications of ray-tracing, Control uses five.”
There’s a new layer of consideration when it comes to simple tasks like scanning your environment or more complex tasks like gathering information during a frantic firefight. Quickly scanning for information through glass, such as whether a room is worth exploring for collectible items, means scanning past or between the reflective noise.
Similarly, combat encounters are afforded a new layer of strategy as you can see enemies around corners with the right reflective angle. In the same breath, those reflective surfaces can be shot and shattered in real-time, too, removing them as an intel-gathering tool while simultaneously resulting in the kind of ‘Fuck Yeah!’ reflex that comes with this level of immersive gaming.
The indirect diffuse lighting is less immediately noticeable than the obviousness of the ray-traced reflection technology, but it’s another instance of an immersive application of ray tracing. Control may have the appearance of being set in a giant office building, but the expected uniformity of the lighting is often disrupted by the presence or appearance of the Hiss enemies.
They, like me, are fans of red, and the stark contrast between the artificial white lights and the unnatural red makes for an awesome colour palette. The other benefit is shadow accuracy, which makes for clothing that looks more realistic and greater depth to the on-screen imagery.
Speaking of shadows, the overall detail is eerily realistic. Real-time shadows in a regular, untouched office room are worth pausing to appreciate. Similarly, the industrial areas of Control’s Oldest House setting offer new opportunities for shadows, such as chain-link fences, which are a lot easier to notice in the quieter moments.
Control's combat with RTX On - A spectacle of light, shadow, and physics.
But it also means watching someone play ray-traced Control – be it over the shoulder or reviewing captured footage – has that extra level of spectacle during the frantic fight scenes as objects have a tendency to fly around and, like an id-forged booming shotgun, add an extra sense of weight to proceedings. On more than one occasion, I spotted an incoming rocket because I saw the effect of its light-emitting trail before I actually saw the explosive ordnance itself.
“The stark contrast between the artificial white lights and the unnatural red makes for an awesome colour palette.”
Thankfully, Control tends to prioritise rockets when you instinctively mash the Seize key, albeit without specifically aiming at the incoming explosive threat. Missed or returned-to-sender rockets aren’t all bad news, though, because the debris they create lead to the kind of destruction that regularly reminded me of the iconic lobby sequence in The Matrix.
These, like the shadow-casting objects, help add another degree of weight to combat spaces that, even without ray tracing are well-constructed and engaging mini-arenas. As with my rocket example above, there are particular enemy types that are more destructive to the environment than others, and ray-traced debris mean they’re even easier to spot from a distance.
It’s still early days for ray tracing, but Remedy Entertainment’s PC team has drawn an impressive light-emitting, shadow-casting line in the sand for just how much the NVIDIA tech can add to the overall immersion of a well-constructed game. And for the future of console gaming, it’s a look at next-gen right-now.