Metal Gear Solid 5 Head 2 Head

Publisher Konami
Developer Kojima Productions
Platforms Tested PS4 XboxOne PC
Big Boss returns, punished and looking for revenge on Cipher. But just which platform delivers the best experience and what are the key changes across them? Find out all this and more in our In-depth and detailed Technical Analysis.

Visual Fidelity


After Konami very commendably had a comparison up before release showing all versions we know the PS4 renders at the same 1920x1080 resolution as the prior Ground Zeroes, but here the XboxOne takes a large increase over Ground Zeroes from that games 1280x720 resolution now seeing over 50% improvement at 1600x900 it means the machine has to render over half a million more pixels per frame, a decent and welcome improvement, but does it come at a price?.. We shall see.

This improved density helps smooth out the sub pixel shimmer from thin lines or grills at oblique angles, along with specular edging on metals and wet surfaces, overall a decent polish on the last games relatively poor IQ on the XboxOne. Backed up by a similar looking FXAA pass from that game. It is always great for still pictures and a very cheap ( meaning quick and light in GPU budget ) solution that fits into most games as it is a post process pass but like most Anti aliasing solutions implementations can and do vary. It's biggest weakness is that it can appear to muddy textures and it has no temporal element so from frame to frame the noise is not cleaned up which gives that wavy, shimmering look at points. But the display is still very clean and this is greatly improved by its temporal resolution being supported with its 60fps rate which is a big plus for image clarity. It is not perfect and can still have some larger areas of instability but it never really distracts or impedes your play or enjoyment. The solution is given more material to work with here due to its increased resolution so it performs better than GZ in conjunction with the incredible lighting model contained in the game.

In Fox Engine Kojima productions have made not only a very impressive and versatile engine as seen from its showings from Pro Evolution soccer, PT and here in Metal Gear Solid but also its ability to scale across hardware specs and platforms. From what we have already seen on the PS4 version we know it can improve in the console space and then again it can scale up to far more powerful PC set-ups offering up improved LOD levels, light sources, post effects and even render at 4k/60fps. Not only that but from the previous very solid launch on PC that had very few issues and ran across most medium level gaming PC's well. Having a decent choice of options, this has been increased further which I will cover in more detail later in the article. What all versions homogeneously share is the same linear lighting system and texture work that splays out such a mesmerising playground before you that genuinely feels alive and natural. From the diffuse structure of the Afghan rocks, to the fresnel specular bounce of motherbases platform's everything looks and portrays its physical properties accurately as the Physically based renderer that is at the heart of the engine works with all these energy conservation techniques from direct and in-direct light bounce allowing all the objects to react to the same light source in its own unique and correct way. From the coarse army fatigue fabric, to the highly reflective hospital tiled floors. Skin also portrays this incredibly well, allowing sweat to appear within scenes and gameplay and then later light to diffuse into and across it such as the moonlight here.

 This also happens throughout the game as the fully dynamic time of day and weather system combined with its very integral linear lighting model which allows the game to display such a vast scale of light from one end of the spectrum and daytime to the other, combined with its core specular and diffuse reflectance properties. This is a rough example of what the engine actually does, you see to create such a realistic looking world it all revolves around the lighting reaction within. The engine can work in a much greater range than a normal TV or monitor can display, enabling them to capture all materials with a very high or actually long exposure ( in camera terms this means the shutter is left open longer to gather the low intensity light ) this is combined with the objects and areas luminance affecting how much detail is kept or lost. This is handled through a new set of processes within the pipeline involving gamma decoding and gamma correction, colour correction is vital in this model as I described in our The Order 1886 technical analysis . They captured as many materials as they could this way and then touched up by hand to deliver its correct physical properties and accurate RGB value for display.

 Not only a big change for this generation with more and more games as expected adopting this as the older method was all artist controlled and hand tailored, they would create each texture and object and then tweak to within an inch of its life to get the desired result. A PBR workflow means that this all gets taken away from the artists and instead becomes a far more physics based process that follows light consumption properties, radiosity calculations and reflectance. In simple form the design team no longer create textures as much as they now create materials, then composite these sections from specular albedo reflectance, diffuse, normals etc all allowing the same object that before would look flat in all light sources to now become far more realistic and convincing, all calculated based on these pre-defined rules and material properties. More and more games will adopt this like the forthcoming Star Wars Battlefront and more. But how does all this work within this new sadly to be largely discarded engine but we can but hope Konami decide to licence it, may yet happen.

With the engine being a deferred renderer to allow such an intense lighting model to exist, this decouples the world geometry rendering stage from the lighting element, allowing a scene to have far more light sources and reaction than standard forward rendering. This also requires a bigger memory footprint as an additional buffer is needed ( referred to as a G-buffer meaning geometry) that ,as the engine name method suggests, is deferred until later in the pipeline. Scanning across a scene and creates its own geometry texture store containing amongst others the material ID, roughness, Diffuse Albedo, specular albedo, depth and velocity. The light information is built from the Normal map, specular, roughness, translucency and finally material ID. This is not only per scene but per object, then in a separate light accumulation buffer the specular and diffuse info is stored along with the depth pass data. This is then all combined to create the impressive image, add in post effects along with fog to accentuate depth and atmosphere where needed. The roughness is a key element of the stage mixed with the specular and View dependant roughness process allows lights and surfaces to reflect differently dependant on the surface roughness, distance from light source and camera position. All combined the shaders allow sky to use illuminance creating the ambient light and bounce diffuse correctly, man made lights like the spotlight use luminous flux that allows the point light source to calculate the Light attenuation level ( how it cascades and disperses ) across the scene realistically all these effects of light reflectance, atmospheric scattering, translucency is fully supported on all lights which includes a cheap approximate sub surface scattering pass on skin which seems to be missing from the XboxOne version but present in the other 2 versions with the softer shadows and blurred skin tones. I can also confirm that the day 1 patch to version 1.01 does not change this but it may or may not come in a later patch.

Elsewhere signs of the games cross-gen roots do present themselves, polygon topology is of a more frugal allocation and instead ( like previous games from the team ) rely far more on the texture detail and normal maps to generate the detail where vertices are not in abundance. This would be of a most likely greater density if the game did not have to run on weaker and more importantly tiny memory endowed hardware, it's deferred base will already be eating into its allocation on both the PS3/360 machines. At times the game can look great combined with its Focal length adjusted Depth Of Field which mimics a camera focus and FOV shift, motion blur which delivers well in both cutscenes and gameplay, another calculation from the velocity buffer allowing a very good sample rate at a per object level. But at others it can look like a last generation upgrade with lingering face close-ups but these are few and far between with the overall game being one that delivers some gobsmacking results, early morning in the desert looks sumptuous and of course the same rule applies, wetter is better!. And this lower polygon mesh is an obvious sacrifice as having the team create separate geometry assets would not only be expensive but timely, this is only the real noticeable sacrifice on a visual stance (aside some minor LOD pop in ) whilst helping to promote its base target of 60fps on now gen hardware and allows us to answer the question asked at the start, does this improvement in world scale and resolution come at a trade off in GZ pretty much locked 60 delivery, in short no not at all.

Again another impressive and near faultless display, the only drops seem to happen in the real-time cut scenes ( another key element of all Hideo's engines ) and even these are very, very rare with a low of 44 in a very alpha effect heavy scene ( again another core element of this and previous engines ) but in general play it never really skips no matter if you are sneaking around trying to silent take down a base, or instead go charging in full hand to hand to grab that vital Intel. Again these are stress test scenarios and the dropped frames here are a result of what looks I/O activity with the combat metrics and the strong light source from the fire. Both riding across country or at home in your base it is a near faultless and static 16ms display and in the times it does dip they come in very small scenes at sector points ( bounding box )as you ride most likely for streaming and cubemap/probe intersections or when there is no player control, Hideo and team have delivered and returned to its previous lofty performance heights allowing you to enjoy the game with no hiccups it also enables it to look and feel that bit more impressive at such a rock solid performance. Over 30 minutes of captured footage has enabled me with my own bespoke tool only these handful of drops, resulting in 41 dropped frames in near 20k delivered across a 5 minute run. It is of no concern here at all, if you wish to learn more about the history of the franchise and the engines across the years please check out my in-depth look at the older games across the years in my retrospective sections. This should also help keep you entertained why you wait for my detailed analysis or your own copy arrives.

The opening of the game is typical Hideo mixture of style, horror and his own unique style and methods, highlighting even more how sad it is that we will not see what he would have achieved with the Silent Hill franchise and his big delve into the horror genre, maybe his next game away from the Metal Gear series will let him flex this side that he has dipped into across the Snake tales over the years. It is engrossing, atmospheric and highlighted Hideo's more grown up and personal/intimate direction style now with the real time cutscenes allowing them to flow even more seamless than ever before, even a controller icon is used to draw your attention that you are always in control and could dive back into action at any point and this is all done without a stutter or dropped frame it really is a very impressive showing.

Aside this the console versions look similar, but they are not identical as more sacrifices have been made in the name of framerate and it shows some of the bigger platform gaps. Most striking is the loss of sub surface scattering on skin with the Microsoft machine, it leaves faces, noses shadows all looking rougher and far harsher with the normal maps and Lambert roughness not being blended at all from light penetration, best seen with the game using much close up cinematic work it is a very focal point and one that shows front and centre sadly. In itself being a screen space calculation (meaning it calculates from light direction and visible light sources within the viewport/frustum and works with the multiple render targets taking the depth and diffuse buffer information and applying a blur pass on these while leaving the specular untouched) it is not one of the most expensive effects but in such a small 16ms budget frame every little counts and how.

Texture filtering looks to be the same on both with the X1 looking slightly lower due to its reduced resolution and being equal to PC medium, but both are hardly a high point and at times it ruin the image on consoles, not helped by such a cheap and repetitive texture map for road's. Another example also is the post processing, PS4 seems to run high pretty much identical with low dropping the SSS effect but also dropping the DoF to a lower quality Gaussian blur which the XboxOne keeps at the same high level,so this looks to be a slightly altered level from the PC between medium and high. Motion blur again is between medium and high in XboxOne with PS4 running High. Not only this but motion blur at times in gameplay and cutscenes can be inactive, almost like a dynamic solution for framerate, but this can at times effect both machines but the PS4 runs the higher quality DoF always with the XboxOne again alternating dependant on the scene. In gameplay they both look to be equal on the same high settings as PC, these changes only effect cutscenes from my tests. The list is completed by its again own shadow and AO pass most noticeable in cutscenes as here with the low resolution banding being completely different to the medium solution on PC and PS4, but much of this comes from the light scatter pass that can effect all objects on screen, but other scenes have similar lower quality or missing shadows.Aside this all other effects look to be the same and this leaves the Ps4 setting being as shown with the XboxOne having either one rung down on these or in between them, aside the textures which are the same as very high on consoles, not unsurprising as the game does not use more than 1.8GB of VRAM pretty much all the time from my tests.. They do equal in the low setting of model view and as per Ground Zeroes this is slightly less than Low but not of any real degree but again in this tight budget every CPU cycle counts to hit that 60fps consistently and should be applauded with its LOD being much less noticeable than Ground Zeroes, keeping the draws in check is an obvious PC advantage and console disadvantage.


Performance


Now we have that sorted we can move onto performance and no surprise to see the A10 7850k APU machine comes in a distant last, dropping res to 1280x720 and all settings to low or off capped to 30 it runs pretty solid with some small dips under but still delivers the core aspect of the game at similar levels to last gen consoles. It is close but no cigar.

Next up is my A10 quad core CPU but now paired with an entry level £100 GPU in Nvidia's 750Ti my MSi model is a decent gaming card and can deliver most modern games at 1080, and it does here very well. But tasked with running at the same settings and performance as the PS4 it falls short and in some areas by a large way. For example in some of the heavier cutscenes what the PS4 runs at a locked 60 it dips to lows of 52, and in most scenes it can falter. But the PS4 also dips and in places more than the XboxOne with reasons already explained, but when it does most of the time the 750 dips more (again some are due to missing motion blur) but some other heavier scenes that are too spoiler filled have identical effects and they dip as shown here or more. But it is in game play where the biggest gaps arise, simply riding on horseback it hovers around the low 50's firefights also and sand storms cause all 3 to dip but far more prolonged on the 750 machine bringing it in behind the rest, dropping some settings or to 1600x900 does solve this though.

My 8350 and 7870 mid range machine comes in with a better showing, not unsurprising due to its superior bandwidth and computation. Cut scenes run around or better/worse than PS4 and in game play it can dip a little bit more. But in much more bandwidth effected scenes it does perform better and of course due to its uncontested bandwidth like the 750 machine you can increase texture filtering over consoles which does help image quality (far more impact full in play than the LOD bump) which can effect performance by a good margin, the 750 can lose nearly 25% of its frame-rate from low to very high.

In the end both machines draw even/close with performance but the bump up of texture filtering and LOD levels means the AMD machine pips the PS4 for second place as it sits 3rd leaving the unsurprising winner as my i5 4690k and GTX970 machine, this can run all setting as high as they can go at a full 60fps with only small drops at points that can never really be noticed in play, come riding, shooting, hand to hand combat or sunglasses staring.

The game is a treat to play and look at, with light being such a big part of the game it uses some nice tricks and techniques (a common traits of hideo's team). Swapping out normal maps and blend shapes on faces or snakes back for emulating muscle movement or creases works well even if it can be noticed more at times.

Dust effects on take downs, horse galloping and others all receive shadows and light particles onto the 2D textures, see as the silhouette of Snake and solder break through the animated billboard. Again simple but effective techniques that all add to the presentation of the game world and its authenticity.

The LOD sounds like a big deal, but in play it never makes a huge difference with even the max having signs of distance swaps, not as much as the lighting. You can see where baked texture light is left on scenery and the dynamic light source is drawn in on consoles at a very short distance. And some lights have no dynamic element at all, and this is true even of the highest settings on PC. But bumping light LOD up on PC enables this to draw out further and overlooking a camp at night can show off far more light sources which is a nice edition and walking around Motherbase you lose the jarring fade in. Other nice features are the soft dispersion of shadows as you walk under a spotlight, it fades in and elongates and then fades out as it disperses away from the source, this works on all versions equally well.


Sound Design


The game also uses sound and processing just as effectively, details like the whooshing of wind past your ears as you run or ride, or directional and attenuation/occlusion of voices as you turn or walk, around motherbase you can overhear your troops speaking in awe of your heritage. Ocelot even knows when you wander to far from his earshot, the sizzle of the sun lens flare as it hits the screen, or the dramatic drum/trumpet when you mount your D horse. To its evocative score complete with escape from New York style keyboard tunes, it would not be a Metal Gear game without them, they all combine along with such an accomplished set of sound effects and design to make battles, army chatter and espionage sneaking all feel immersive and with a great sound system or headphones it only improves more.


Summary


In the end the meat of the game from its visual impact, asset quality, animation,sound It's all delivered and pretty much the same on all 3 platforms so long as you have the hardware. The higher end PC release is the most refined version with the PS4 a rung or two down and the XboxOne just missing a few areas that may or may be noticed by some. But it does not distract from such a vast, open playground that you can and will be smitten by, from its single most realistic lighting model in an open sandbox to its intelligent and dynamic AI making encounters exciting and unpredictable, as you can flank, surprise and even trick them mid conflict, it delivers a fitting end in the Snake's tale as we bid farewell to not only the hero we know but more so the one that created him, delivered in a brand new engine that has shown such potential, scale and scope to enable each machine to be used as best as currently possible. No one should feel they have not got the absolute best Hideo and crew could muster from each with its scalability not adversely affecting its complete presentation and impact, certainly one of the finest games this generation on one of the finest engines, that I can only hope is not also let out to pasture with the series.