The Forerunner demo: six graphics modes to choose from, but what do they do?

The Prophecy was one of the most exciting early demos for the PlayStation 5. Based on a brand new IP and developed by Luminous Productions – the Square Enix development group that produced Final Fantasy 15 – expectations were high and the early footage definitely impressed. Now, after several delays and two and a half years of additional development, Forspoken is finally here, or at least a demo version of it. Ahead of the game’s January 2023 release, Square Enix has released a lengthy playable trial on PS5, allowing players to complete a variety of open-world content. We were interested to see if the demo lived up to the initial media promise and also how the six visual modes compare.

First of all, I think it’s worth noting that the Forspoken demo is not like most other game demos. This is a pretty substantial taste of the entire game, with several hours of content spread across a large area. Narrative is kept to a minimum, but you get a good sense of how the game actually plays – and I generally liked what I saw. The battles are fast, fluid and reminiscent of battle sequences in pre-rendered Final Fantasy media. It’s relatively easy to control, combining basic attacks, a dodge and a mix of special abilities, but the fights feel amazing in motion. It feels a bit like the combat from Final Fantasy 15, but with a greater focus on real-time combat and with a lot more polish.

A closer look at the Forspoken demo, via the medium of streaming video.

The action is definitely the visual highlight of this demo as well. There are many great combat animations that flow smoothly into each other with many custom animations for common actions such as dodging depending on player positioning. Each move is punctuated by an explosion of particles, which feels satisfying, especially for the screen-filling special attacks. Square Enix has made valiant attempts to emulate the acrobatic combat from their CG movies in other games, but this is the closest effort yet.

Exploration is just as frenetic. The player features a “magical parkour” system that allows you to slide through environments at high speed by pressing the circle button. Jumping through areas is just as easy, although the animations are context-sensitive and can feel a little unpredictable. It might not be quite as successful as the combat, but it’s more interesting than your typical open-world fare – and a fun traversal system is essential to building an entertaining open-world game. Superhero games, like Infamous, seem like a clear inspiration for some of these abilities.

I think Forspoken is a pretty neat title, judging by what we’ve seen so far – but there are some definite issues as well, including some I didn’t really expect to see from a current-gen exclusive. This is an early teaser, but I found lighting to be a mixed bag – sometimes beautiful, but with some issues with inconsistent lighting and light leakage in the interior.

Quality, RT and Performance modes present themselves very differently. There are different resolution measures, but when it comes to the content itself, quality mode gets additional geometric detail. Otherwise, the differences are relatively small.

Distant shots across the open world also look a bit flat, due to the lack of distance shadows (something the ray-traced shadows option doesn’t fix), while screen space reflections and associated fallback for cube maps can be unconvincing. For a cross-generational game, these issues won’t stand out too much, but Forspoken is a current-gen-only title, with releases only announced for PS5 and PC. Beyond the assets, which appear to be a cut above a typical last-gen open world title, it’s hard to imagine Forspoken in the same league as some of the other major current-gen releases, or among the more capable cross-gen ones. fare.

Of course, it’s important to note that we’re seeing a small, early part of a presumably much larger game, and the final game could improve significantly from this preview. Additionally, the Foresaw is definitely still a pretty title, especially in the heat of battle when particles are flying – but so far I feel the jury is out on the effectiveness of the overall package.

Still, the Forspoken demo is remarkably full-featured – and that extends to the graphical options, where six different presentation modes are offered, three each for 60Hz and 120Hz displays. Looking at the 60Hz modes first, all three are the same. Between the performance and quality modes, the only meaningful difference seems to be an improvement in environment density at a distance – LOD values ​​for far away geometry are better, although only noticeable in head-to-head comparisons. The ray tracing mode is generally equivalent to the performance mode in terms of visual settings, so the remote geometry is slightly reduced. Beyond that, it’s surprisingly hard to spot evidence of ray tracing during typical gameplay. Shot after shot looks almost identical to the performance mode – and as the video reveals, the effectiveness of the RT shadows is questionable.

The RT mode is not particularly effective in the demo. The typical benefits of RT shadows in terms of realism and distance don’t seem to present themselves too strongly – if at all – in the demo. Click on the images for higher resolution.

Beyond these differences, the only visual difference between the modes is image quality. In stills, the RT and quality modes look very similar, with a fairly 4K-like presentation. Performance mode is smoother and visibly less detailed in comparison, although it’s not a huge difference. AMD’s FSR2 is most likely used to reconstruct a lower resolution image into a higher resolution image, and the amount of scaling varies from mode to mode. Performance mode is usually around 900p internally, RT mode is usually around 1000p or so, and Quality mode clocks in at about 1296p in most of the images I tested. The pixel count seemed to vary from image to image, so dynamic resolution also seems active.

If I had to guess here ahead of the full release, I’d say the RT and Quality modes are reconstructed to 4K and the Performance mode is reconstructed to a lower target resolution. The image is uniformly blurry in performance mode, and certain 2D elements also appear visibly less sharp, indicating a lower HUD resolution that is likely in line with a reduced-resolution reconstruction target for 3D content. Image quality is generally quite good, and many of the reconstruction issues are masked by motion blur, which was disabled in early Forspoken displays but is present by default here. Some alpha effects have a visible low resolution, but overall the game presents a sharp image, although we will have to wait for the final code before drawing any real conclusion.

Frame rates in this demo are erratic, although this is not unexpected for an early sample that is likely based on old code. In performance mode, the Forerunner often drops frames during traversal, and is very often below 60fps during matches, with readings around 40fps at worst. The quality mode and ray tracing mode are more consistent, although they target 30 frames per second. Traversal is a solid 30fps in these modes, and matches are mostly 30, though they drop significantly at times, with both modes hitting similar framerates during intense moments.

In 60Hz modes, quality and RT measure 30fps, but can drop with heavy effects. At 120Hz, the presentation is very similar and performance mode still targets 60fps – but there should be lower latency. On top of that, the quality mode shifts up to a target of 40 fps. Interestingly, all the 120Hz modes seem to outperform their 60Hz equivalents.

The modes available at 120Hz output are a bit more interesting. The performance mode is fairly unassuming – the target frame rate is still 60 frames per second, with drops around 40 frames per second at worst during matches. However, both the quality and ray tracing modes now target 40 frames per second. They drop in combat, but not quite as hard as at 60Hz, coming in at around 30 frames per second at worst. Traversal appears to be a locked 40fps, so overall the performance level is significantly higher than the 60Hz option. All of these modes appear to use similar visual settings to their 60Hz counterparts. It is possible that the internal resolution is reduced somewhat to achieve higher performance targets, although the actual final image across the 60Hz and 120Hz mode variations looks very similar.

Square-Enix deserves praise for the Forspoken demo. This is a large playable part of an upcoming big budget release, available for free with no strings attached. Once you get the hang of the combat, I think this is one of the more exciting action RPG battle systems out there, at least when it comes to visual splendor. I’m also very impressed with load times which are essentially imperceptible at 1.3 seconds, whether you’re joining the game from the main menu or using fast travel. We’ve seen games load quickly on current-gen consoles, but this feels lightning fast, matching or exceeding the speed of the fastest-loading titles.

But moment-to-moment pyrotechnics and no-wait loading aside, Forspoken doesn’t seem to take advantage of current-gen consoles as well as many other recent games. There are a handful of key areas for improvement where I hope to see some progress once we get our hands on the final code. Performance is also shaky in this build, although it’s hard to judge at this early stage. To Square Enix’s credit, after putting about eight hours into this demo, I can’t wait to see how the final game turns out. But I also hope that the finished code builds on this sample to create a more visually mature experience.

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