Horizon Forbidden West is one of the visual showpieces for the PlayStation 5, making it easy to forget that it’s also on PlayStation 4. And according to Guerrilla Games, that translation was no easy feat to the point where some features were almost cut.
The Horizon Forbidden West PS4 almost didn’t have flying
As reported by GamesIndustry.biz, certain team members from Guerrilla Games spoke about the open-world RPG at Develop:Brighton, an event focused on the game development community. Art director Jan-Bart van Beek talked about how the studio tried to push the envelope with the sequel, which then led to hitting technical boundaries on the aging PS4. He said the flying feature, which players unlock at the end of the game, almost got taken out as a result.
“A large part of [keeping the momentum up from the first game] was also adding the two layers of exploration, underwater as well as aerial,” said van Beek. “Those were very, very challenging from a technical point of view. It was almost up until the last moment that we didn’t know whether we could support the flying on PlayStation 4. We were like, ‘Do we need to cut the whole feature of the game? That’s going to make such a mess’ but we got it to work. We sacrificed some coders to the gods.”
Angie Smets, who was studio director and executive producer at Guerrilla but is now head of development strategy for PlayStation Studios, expanded on goal to get the PS4 version up and running.
“In the early part of the project, it was really hard to get the focus on the PS5 and push the quality bar there, and in the second half it was really hard to get the PS4 to catch up,” said Smets.
Technical director Michiel van der Leeuw went into more detail. He stated that the studio had to juggle making Forbidden West look like a showpiece for both the PS4 and PS5, while still making it clear how much better the PS5 version looked.
“We pushed the quality bar because we knew it had to look so much better than other PS4 games, but we also wanted it to look significantly better on PS5,” said van der Leeuw. “We wanted it so that in every Horizon screenshot, you could see the difference. So there was the clouds, the vegetation, the cloth, skin, and we had to look at all these elements and see what we could do because if you had a screenshot, you should always be able to tell which version it is. And I think we succeeded.
“The problem was we made a PS4 game I’m super proud of, but then we made the PS5 game so much better that a lot of people said, ‘Actually, I want to play it on PS5 so I’ll wait until PS5s are available because I don’t want to miss out.'”
Some of this echoes what Guerrilla previously mentioned on the PlayStation Blog before the game’s launch. When noting of the PS5’s extra features, lead character artist Bastien Ramisse explained that the PS4 port wouldn’t be compromised.
“We actually developed and tested the game simultaneously on both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, because it’s very important to us as a studio to ensure PlayStation 4 players get an equally immersive experience,” said Bastien in that old post. “With our knowledge from Horizon Zero Dawn, we knew that we still had some unexplored resources that could push the realism and quality of our character assets forward; it’s great to now be able to tap into that knowledge and experience for the sequel.”
Guerrilla didn’t mention the Burning Shores DLC during the Develop:Brighton panel, which is only on PS5. Game director Mathijs de Jonge previously implied that the expansion’s final battle wouldn’t be possible on PS4 without compromises since it required “a LOT of memory and processing power.”
The Horizon Forbidden West PS4 port was praised for its visuals, even despite the superior PS5 version. Digital Foundry’s comparison noted that the PS4 iteration had fewer features, less detailed textures, more pop-in, a weaker depth of field effect, and less noticeable clouds, but stated that it looked better than Zero Dawn and that Guerrilla “successfully served both user bases” on the two systems.