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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare RTX Breakdown - Real-Time Ray Tracing in Gaming's Biggest Franchise
Post by nachosjustice @ 01:22pm 02/01/20 | Comments
Shadowy improvements that are often so subtle you have to go searching for them.

After being blown away by Control, it’s tough to go back to lacklustre implementations of ray tracing. Scratch that, implementations that don’t feel like a generational leap forward. Remedy Entertainment went all out with Control, including multiple bits of enhanced eye candy via ray tracing that makes it impossible to want to play that game with ‘RTX Off’. Once you’ve experienced the beauty of it turned on, the added environmental depth that transparent reflections bring, the increased detail in the lighting and shadows, ‘RTX Off’ in Control is a noticeable downgrade.

There have been admirable instances of ray-tracing before Remedy’s effort, with the reflection-based future kicking off with the still impressive Battlefield V. Though, the sheer number of reflections and how it plays into the mechanics don’t hold a flame to Control’s transparent use of reflection technology and underground facility vibe. Then there’s the handling of global illumination in Metro Exodus, another excellent example which created a seamless feel to both indoor and outdoor environments.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - RTX Highlights

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is even less impressive than these earlier implementations, with the key word being ‘subtle’. Truth be told it’s a little bit frustrating for NVIDIA RTX owners, especially after Remedy set a new benchmark of what to expect from the tech with Control. At the very least, Modern Warfare’s ray-tracing is a disappointment. The catch here of course is that it's the developers who choose which ray-tracing components to implement, and which they leave by the wayside.

For Modern Warfare, it’s more about what’s been left out than what’s been included, and you can sum up what it has in one word: shadows. It’s the kind of ray-tracing feature that absolutely adds to the realism for which Modern Warfare is gunning, but it’s also something that feels like you have to go out of your way to notice. There’s an extra level of detail, for sure, most noticeably in little things, like enhanced plant shadows (instead of just a black blob), or the ability for light-casting items to also have their own soft shadows. Or, in some cases incorrect shadows will disappear entirely. The shadow detail in Call of Duty is impressive no doubt, but it’s not the first thing that jumps out at you when you fire it up.

Infinity Ward’s favoured realism over any potential gameplay advantages for RTX, is most noticeable when it comes to character shadows. With ray tracing on, character shadows have a softer and more realistic look with less definition, whereas ray tracing off gamifies shadows in the kind of way that makes them look like their own Peter Pan-like character silhouette. This, in turn, makes them easier to identify with ray tracing off - and better for multiplayer. If you’re looking to spot enemies around light-source-producing corners - remember to turn those rays off. This same logic carries over to weapons, too.

It all seems to serve the logic of ‘60fps at all costs’, which isn’t a bad thing given that playing CoD at frame rates lower than 60fps would feel unnatural, but it also feels moot in the highly competitive PC gaming space. The push these days is towards frame rates over fidelity for online play, and the competitive arena is where CoD’s true longevity is found. Ray tracing doesn’t yet have a competitive application, but you can use ray tracing for certain multiplayer modes in Modern Warfare, though all you’re doing is sacrificing potential FPS gains and flirting with potential frame dips.

Really, though, ray tracing is a single-player feature that paves the way for increased immersion. The catch with Modern Warfare is, unless you know exactly what to look for, you have to enable and disable RTX to get an understanding of the mostly subtle changes that come with ray-traced shadows. Assumedly to preserve all-important frame rate, one of gaming’s biggest light sources, the sun, doesn’t cast ray-traced shadows in Modern Warfare. On the plus side the hit to performance is minimal for RTX owners.

Ultimately, Modern Warfare isn’t exactly the kind of ray tracing implementation you’d use to champion the tech if a friend came over and wanted to see what the newfangled eye candy is all about. With a NVIDIA GTX 2080 Super, you can still max out the graphical settings, enable ray tracing and still expect above 60fps (it hangs around 80fps for me). There were times where it dropped below 60fps, but this was mostly during the night-time missions that had multiple ray-traced light sources (which is pretty much par for the course with ray tracing).

In the end it’s clear that performance is the be-all and end-all for Infinity Ward and RTX, and that’s not a bad thing. After all, Call of Duty is a series that’s best played at 60fps at an absolute minimum. But, it’s a shame that Infinity Ward didn’t push the visuals a little harder, perhaps adding requisite disclaimers about frame rate impacts and limiting the higher-end effect to those of us with 2080 cards. With or without RTX, and this is worth emphasising, Modern Warfare is still visually impressive. It’s a looker, with stellar animation, effects, lighting, and detail everywhere you look.

Many of the campaign missions offer the sort of spectacle we’ve come to know from the franchise. But, as we’re unable to see a faint reflection in a car window as we reload a gun, or get to see the glow from fire bounce around the scene in a realistic fashion, it’s no Metro Exodus or Control.
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