PS4 Pro Impressions – Witnessing Is Believing

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Showing off a sizable chunk of fresh content from a highly anticipated Sony exclusive like Horizon: Zero Dawn would ordinarily be a pretty big deal, possibly even warranting its own press event. But at this week’s reveal of the PlayStation 4 Pro,  previously unseen gameplay of  Guerrilla Games’ ambitious action-RPG  took a backseat to how the title’s harnessing the polygon-pushing power of the new hardware.

Following the console’s official on-stage unveiling, we got a brand new, up-close look at protagonist Aloy and her post-apocalyptic adventures. As technical director Michiel van der Leeuw maneuvered the agile heroine up a screen-swallowing Tallneck robo-dinosaur, though, he pointed out the surrounding reflections and detailed foliage rather than the fact he just scaled and hacked into one of the game’s coolest creatures.”Our game looks like a BBC nature doc.” he giddily stated.

Of course, van der Leeuw was just doing his job; not so much selling his game, but the potential of the PS4 Pro to make it look noticeably better. Toggling between the demo running in standard 1080p and on the PS4 Pro, he was easily able to show what the latter’s 4K and HDR support brought to the game. The sky stretching in the distance, for example, was bright and beautiful on the PS4. On the PS4 Pro, however, that vibrant beauty was further complemented by even sharper details, wider color variations and, most notably, discernible sunbeams poking through some of the clouds.

Foliage similarly benefited from the increased resolution and rainbow-shaming color palette. Where the leaves on a tree displayed in 1080p would sort of blend together, they’d gain distinct edges and additional crispness when Leeuw toggled back to the PS4 Pro.The results were the same when looking at Aloy’s clothes; areas that looked a bit muted and washed out, popped with enhanced color and detail when 4K and HDR were enabled. Identifying every down-to-the-thread detail on Aloy’s hunting garb might not matter to everyone, but some of those “highly discriminating gamers” Sony CEO Andrew House referenced during the briefing might have trouble settling for standard 1080p once they see what’s possible on the PS4 Pro.

While we expected  to see such PS4 Pro-powered  improvements in a game that’s still in development, we were genuinely surprised when Naughty Dog Senior Community Manager Scott Lowe made Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End–arguably the prettiest game to ever grace a console–look even better. While admitting the game “still looks great” running on the original PS4, Lowe emphasized how the “higher resolution really allows environmental details to pop.” With Drake standing on a beach, Lowe showed us how the sand beneath his feet displayed in both versions; in 1080p it looked pretty damn good, but there was no dying that we could see additional color variations and even individual grains on the PS4 Pro. The results in the water were even more striking, as Lowe swam Drake passed plants and other undersea life that looked more muddled on the PS4.

As our demo of inFamous: First Light proved, Drake’s world isn’t the only one that’ll benefit from a PS4 Pro patch. In fact, the two-plus year old game contained one of the more impressive examples of the enhanced hardware’s eye-popping potential. Using photo mode, the Sucker Punch developer steering the demo captured a shot of protagonist Fetch harnessing one of her neon light-fueled powers. In the original version, the glowing orb swallowed up visual assets we never even realized existed. The protagonist’s hand, for example, wasn’t visible in 1080p, but could easily be seen — in great detail, yet — when viewed with the patch enabled.

While we definitely got a taste of the PS4 Pro’s potential, we look forward to seeing it firing on all cylinders. As Naughty Dog’s Lowe stated about Uncharted 4’s forward-compatibility patch, they’re “just scratching the surface and are excited for what the future holds.” Indeed, if the creators of this generation’s most gorgeous game can make Drake’s postcard-perfect world look even marginally better with the tech, imagine what magic they can work when harnessing all the horses beneath the PS4 Pro’s hood for a brand new game.