God of War 3: Remastered Attention 2 Detail Review
Welcome to our technical analysis of the latest remaster from Sony, this time we have the happy chappy Kratos receiving the now obligatory 1080/60 treatment, with the original PS3 version sporting native 720 and an unlocked frame rate this may not be as plain a battle as normal...let battle commence.
As you would expect this is of no change or alteration from the original 2010 release from the PS3. This means that we get to once again take on the role of Kratos as he again is mightily pissed at Zeus for his betrayal and pretty much anyone else that dares fall within his gaze. Ascending mount Olympus and continuing on from the events of God of war 2 it is all out war against the Gods with the help of the Titans this for damn sure is a clash and how bringing the Kratos chapter to a close (Ascention is a prequel).
Cast down into the underworld, Kratos loses the chains of Olympus and must use a new weapon the poignant and in no way obvious blades of exile, which he uses to seek his ultimate revenge against the gods, Zeus and every damn thing that lies in his way, he does not discriminate with anything worthy of death.
This battle, scene, combat including combos, puzzles and level design are all complete carbon copy's of the original and still amazing release.
Having to use your chains/swords in timed fashion and string together multi-hit strikes, increases your skill reward with hit points. Finding new weapons and magic give you extra attacks to use on bigger and badder foes. Even on some puzzle areas which take the form of some simple timing ones to more orthogonal type ones making you work for the next battle to be smacked down on you.
And if you can sum this game up in one word, HUMUNGOUS would be it, it's aim was to be God of wars end on an epic scale, to make everything else come before look small and low key and it achieved it. Even now the original PS3 release still impresses with such screen swamping enemies and more grand battles, riding on the back or arm of cronos as the camera pans back to show the impressive scale and sheer size of the Titans and gods you have to face, in name and stature. This surely is a battle of the gods and Kratos is as bad ass as ever.
Upon its showing at e3 2009 it stole the show, a monster demo in every sense of the word with the team working long and hard to get the slice up and ready for the showing. But they managed to exceed that demo by a good margin upon release improving both visual quality, AA and performance. Sony Santa Monica are another big 1st party studio and compete with Naughty Dog with the most technically and visually impressive games ( a list that has grown since last gen). In God Of War 3 they had the audacious task of having to topple the mighty Uncharted 2 (another game due for a remaster in 2 months so please check out my detailed analysis of the entire Saga on PS4 in October) which for most studios would be mountain to climb not unlike Olympus. But not only did SSM equal it, they bettered it and stole back the crown of top tier Sony dev house at the time.
Even now the original 5 year old (yep) game on PS3 looks simply stunning with some of the largest and most detailed characters placed in a real-time game at the time and some time later. Kratos himself was made up of over 22k polygons it ran this in the game as you see when up close in all the real-time cinematics and QTE sections that adorn some of the even more extravagant boss battles or from afar when ant like onscreen, in Ascention he even has no LOD levels at all. This allows the camera to swoop in and get a full on nosey at the sumptuous detail, animation and sheer extravagance lavished from the studios artists. Side by side with the old PS3 game and the new PS4 game you can see the old game was not lacking and still is not. This remaster uses the exact same models, rigs and geometry from original as it would be 2 costly and problematic to upgrade/change these, with it also not being required as it was not an area that was ever lacking in the first place, but also shows how clever texture use from multiple layers on normals, speculate, diffuse and such all add to to create such an impressive model without a huge polygon budget. For example Kratos was nearly have the polygon count of Nathan Drake in Uncharted 2 which again ran with only a 0 LOD version for in-game play and realtime cutscenes.
Textures for the original have seen a substantial increase, as would be needed with the resolution receiving over a 200% increase from the PS3 release at 1280x720 into the now PS4 1920x1080. As you can see from the walls behind Atheos or armour of Kratos the normal map resolution has seen a similar improvements, along with the clothes, walls and other areas all having much higher quality textures. With the original game using 2048x2048 Maps the improvement here comes from the higher pixel density onscreen allowing these already high quality assets to shine. But the texture filtering still uses the same trilinear filtering rather than AF but has the game uses a fixed/artist controlled camera pretty much at all times this is not such as big an issue as many would think and does not greatly distract from the details allowed in the increased textures to be appreciated from the most oblique angle you like, it just gives a slight shimmer or distortion on rare instances but by and large floors and walls all look cleaner and crisper in the new release, but this increase clarity from the resolution spike is tempered by this shimmer due to no AA being applied on them now, touched on later.
Lighting has also increased both from shadows resolution quality from characters and shadow maps within the environments, but also the range of light to dark has now been improved again solely due to the bump in pixels in play, see here in the AO shadow of Kratos head as he turns, or the far more defined specular map now on the wall, the game also has additional composite layers like this wall that are most due to a Streaming bug on the PS3 version, but again these pop up on occasions throughout the game, allowing all the asset work to be appreciated.This can be best noticed and demonstrated within the early underworld section with the new range allowing a far more linear spread from shadows and reflectance on objects. Cut scenes show the same level of improvement in facial Ambient Occlusion across nose, face and necks. The aliasing has been improved with the increased map resolution which in addition to the bump in resolution allows these sequences to look even more impressive in quality. This is helped by the games pretty much solid 60fps performance in these and game play ( aside the poor choice of the same 720/30 pre-rendered in-engine sequences that jar greatly now as they look blurred and muddy after coming off the much cleaner real time ones, even if they sport greater alpha effects and particles at times).
With the old game also sporting a 60hz engine this meant that for this remaster no changes to animation key framing or sample rates were needed, and overall in this regard it never feels a true leap from its older gen release. Instead a more refined and polished version, certainly worthy of the remaster tag. This is evident with the realtime scenes running behind on the PS3 due to the dropped frames affecting its runtime.
But with the improvements that all mirror the kind of increase you saw throughout the mid to tail end of last gen on multi-platform PC releases (so long as you had the spec). Resolution higher, framerates improved, texture quality, shadow quality and lighting resolution all seeing very nice but not game changing increases overall. And here with the visual presentation of the game it all has that same familiar feel, everything is now much cleaner, shaper and more refined, with the blur of the older games 720 res being removed now (well in-game at least). But some changes have happened the MLAA solution that worked on PS3 works by sampling multiple areas per pixel it was another example of how Sony In-house tech team like ICE create tools but also how the studios also cross-pollinate this tool set and tricks get shared and used between teams and games. This was its first use in anger and the solution was not only applied After the E3 showing which went some way to improving the quality from that already impressive showing, but it was also partly hardware based in that it was farmed off to the PS3 powerful SPU's away from the GPU which did not have the resource spare. With the PS4 GPU having a hardware based AA (MSAA or EQAA options on console and AMD GPU's). Having a feature in hardware is much faster and far more efficient than a sofware solution, but it takes time to get a fully workable solution in place and not all options will work with your chosen render path, clock cycle budget or even artist choice, when it comes to the messy and as I said in my Star Wars video very much influx at present AA solutions their simply is No One Size Fits All.
But here without the SPU's and the most likely relatively small Program team from wholesale algorithms and tricky pixels (also just completed the Journey port) among some others would not have had the time or inclination to migrate this (as the bespoke nature of any SPU code makes for a very complicated translation, as per Naughty dog work for TLOU) instead the much easier solution of using 2xMSAA works well enough to clean up the edges. Which are now much better than the original due to its resolution bump and also now having a edge detection solution applied where before they had none. But also the old PS3's morphological sample allowing partially filled pixels to be more accurately detected and appropriately coloured it means that you get less noise creeping in than the PS4 which has no additional cleanup applied on textures and relies on its amplified resolution increase, delivering an even cleaner display but with some shimmer not seen on the PS3 which comes at more texture blur from this and the lower resolution,that is appreciated if not revolutionary. But you can appreciate the technique on the geometry as seen here with Kratos armour, but all these like everything with the remaster is all a simple case of programming only.
The same and in some ways to an even lesser degree can be said for the frame rate increase. With then original sporting the standard method of uncapped framerate of the GOW games it means that it spent much of its time running in the mid 40,s although it very rarely hit or held a stable 60 it ran well enough to feel smooth and responsive in play. The remaster again refines this experience with a now pretty much solid and capped 60 rate, meaning no matter the size of the ass to kick the game and engine holds a solid tick rate of 16.7ms across the board, give or take a frame here and there. The lowest dip I capture with my bespoke performance tools is down to a lowly 56 in a stress test across over an hour of heavy action, QTE and real time renders and Medusa was always a head turner so seems appropriate. In contrast the PS3 version across the same set of gameplay analysis never hits this high level aside the much lonelier interior sections with its highest achieved rate of 60 hit for a moment but spending most of the time some 19 fps slower in the high 30's. This means that the average rate has now increased from 41 to 59 near 20fps or 60% greater from this isolated comparison, across overall play this is indicative of the improvement. If we play the percentage game and throw in the resolution increase we have a game that is displaying over twice the amount of pixels in ,at times, twice the frequency. A very good and solid display of how to deliver a true remaster with solid metrics.
But it also serves a great example of the chase for the hollowed 60 or even 120hz and what it means. With my frame time realtime graph showing a flat line meaning that every 16.7 Ms the PS4 is delivering a fresh and complete frame. The PS3 can be seen is never so flat, with each peak showing where a frame has taken longer to be delivered, with them both running a full V-sync that stops tearing this means that the frame time goes from 16.7 into the next refresh cycle of your display, 33.3ms. The wider or more rippling you see this line going up the more judder or inconsistency you will see or feel onscreen, as they get closer you can see the line looks to move down with spikes up being drops, the nearer to 30 it is the line looks more cantered here with spikes down meaning delivered faster than 30. The ideal is a flat even delivery either every 16 or 33ms (which you can see the smooth change from realtime into cutscenes) but so long as you stay around the 40's as this section from the PS3 release shows, it can still feel smooth and more like 60 than 30. Side by side here in view and play this section never feels substantially smoother on the remaster even though over the next minute of this sequence it will deliver over a 3rd more frames. But it does feel more consistent to a tangible degree and this helps control somewhat so is ,as always, an appreciated improvement.
But as can be seen from earlier examples and again here the game on PS3 is not always or even most often in this lull of onscreen action, so it is the consistency of performance rather than the increase that makes this remaster a good portion more enjoyable as it allows the fps to never once in play or scene hinder your view or enjoyment. Delivering ,bar a few isolated instances from my analysis, a rock solid 60fps which feels great.
Going back and viewing the old PS3 release again after all this time enabled me to really appreciate its sheer magnificence, style and technical wow factor even more so in hindsight. This is a game that released in 2010 and yet shows off techniques and effects more common now. The sheer scale, and damn right jaw dropping visual punch is helped by the games fixed Camera allowing the developers to take more liberties with the engine and rendering so as to best use the resource onscreen, something they managed to improve even further still with Ascention. It also shows how far ahead SSM where with its extensive use of Post effects like In game Depth Buffer aware DoF, object Motion Blur, blended normal maps, procedural animation like the Serpent or cloth, animation in general including Kratos face all makes a game that even now does not look dated, helped by superb art direction and brilliant cinematography. And this really makes me eager to see just what SSM and the now returned Corey Barlog (fresh from his spell at Crystal Dynamics as he worked on the Cinematic's for the Tomb Raider reboot) will achieve on the PS4 with its migrated and I am sure vastly improved engine. Kratos even now is still one of the most impressive characters to grace a gaming screen and this remaster has allowed us a small taste as to what the huge wealth of talent at the studio will deliver with its first PS4 release.
GOW 3 remastered is yet another solid improvement from a last gen game, given Chance to shine even brighter on much more powerful hardware under a fresh layer of texture, light and native resolution along with the much lauded 60fps meaning any deaths or combo ending mistakes can firmly fall on your own crack handed skills than any lag induced performance.
Far more worthwhile to the plethora of new to Sony gaming than anyone who had played the original on PS3, but for the £25 or $40 it can be picked up for the price is better placed to make this a possible library filler for all PS4 owners of the urge to crush some skulls and snap some spines in the cleanest and smoothest version yet, until we are once again thrust into war with the Gods and whatever SSM has in store for us in the next chapter... My body is ready!