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PATTERN RECOGNITION

Cyberpunk 2077 and Control give a glimpse of just how good PS5 and Xbox Scarlett games will look

Next-gen consoles are on everyone's lips, but under lock and key. But if you know where to look, there are a few glimpses of what's to come.

CYBERPUNK 2077 was one of the most talked about games for a second E3 running, as the huge dystopian sci-fi RPG starts to come into focus.

The demo being shown off behind closed doors introduced Johnny Depp’s character, a digital ghost haunting your consciousness.

It also gave glimpses of how the game will play, with the player being able to go through the story dismembering practically every foe they meet, or going through the entire story without ending a single life.

While it’s coming out on PS4 and Xbox One next April, it’s also going to be a proper next-gen game too.

That’s because, as was revealed as the show started, it supports the one graphics technology that the PS5 and Xbox Project Scarlett consoles will have that separates them from the current generation.

Part of the behind-the-scenes demo, this screenshot offers glimpses of what next-gen tech can do

CD Projekt Red
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Part of the behind-the-scenes demo, this screenshot offers glimpses of what next-gen tech can do

We know Halo Infinite, the biggest next-gen launch title confirmed so far, will be released on Xbox One too, with the extra horsepower of the Scarlett version filling in a few gaps in the world and adding a thick layer of varnish on top thanks to ray-tracing.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare is going to use the technology too when it comes out this Autumn.

Control is one of the very first games to use all the different elements of ray tracing that are out there right now, and the difference shown in the video at the top really is night and day compared to current-generation consoles.

Playing Control in a private session with Nvidia we had the ability to effectively turn next-gen graphics on and off at the click of a button, and the difference was stark.

Light seeping in through a skylight, lighting up fog and smoke, with panels offering a realistic glow

CD Projekt Red
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Light seeping in through a skylight, lighting up fog and smoke, with panels offering a realistic glow

What is ray tracing?

RAY TRACING is a simple idea that can have a huge impact.

You can do lots of  things with it, but the most important aspect is that it lets you make lighting that looks right.

It’s the difference between high-end CGI you see in movies and the sort of graphics you normally see in games.

In games, up until now, developers have had to use tricks to show things like reflections and shadows, because it just took too much power to work out what they would really look like.

For a movie you can use much more processing power, because it doesn’t matter if it takes an hour to work out what everything in a 15-second clip should look like, because you just play it back afterwards.

The technology is simple – the computer literally traces the path of each ray of light, and works out how everything should look from there.

The upshot is things that just look right.

Control, coming this August on PC, is the first game to use all four key ray-tracing technologies for graphics at once and gives a proper look at what next-gen graphics should look like.

Transparent reflections, for instance, might not seem like much — but they are key to making glass look like glass.

If you’re looking through a window in real-life you can often see the reflection of what’s behind you in it, or you can see yourself in the glasses of someone you’re talking to.

Shadows suddenly look crisp and tie directly to the objects they’re attached to.

But also, indirect lighting suddenly becomes a factor. Light comes rought corners naturally, and can interact with water properly.

Suddenly everything looks much more real, and it’s got to be seen to be believed.

Games are just starting to harness the power of ray tracing on PC, with Control’s offering just the beginning.

Polished concrete floors shimmer, reflections off irregular surfaces suddenly look right, and you can really tell you’re getting a glimpse at what the next generation of games are going to be able to do.

You can see from the screenshots dropped for Cyberpunk when they revealed it would support ray-tracing on PC thanks to Nvidia some of the little details that will make a huge difference.

In the top screenshot, there are a couple of little details, for instance, that show what’s to come – and we’ve blown up a section below so you can see what it really means.

The reflection of the yellow poster in the middle, for instance, shows detail where it’s reflected in the glassy puddle, but just throws off a diffuse yellowy light where it’s reflecting off the rougher floor.

The corners just inside the doorway are much darker than the rest because the lights can’t reach around there.

A closer look at the lit-up posters and the light they cast

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A closer look at the lit-up posters and the light they cast

This section was shown briefly in a behind-closed-doors demo seen by The Sun that didn’t have all these technologies turned on – and that makes it clear how much of a difference it’s going to make in the rest of the game.

Dark corners that are actually dark, reflections that change part-way through as the surface changes, and lights that actually illuminate what they’re meant to illuminate.

Crawling through a ruined shopping mall, exploring the dingy markets and driving down city streets will all look radically different.

In the leaky and neon-soaked world of Night City, this is going to make a huge difference and make anyone playing it on PS4 and Xbox One start saving their pennies to see the real vision of Night City.

This early screenshot didn’t use the technology – if it did, you could probably see a subtle reflection in the screen of the operator, and the shadows would be significantly more accurate

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This early screenshot didn’t use the technology – if it did, you could probably see a subtle reflection in the screen of the operator, and the shadows would be significantly more accurate

Along with the death of loading times, it is this technology that defines next-generation graphics, and it is tantalisingly close to reality.

Control is coming out this August, Modern Warfare is due out a little after that, Watch Dogs is due out next March and Cyberpunk is coming in April.

If you want to see next-gen graphic tech in action then, you’ll have to play on PC using an Nvidia graphics card.

The latest ones have dedicated hardware for ray-tracing and so can apply the techniques smoothly at high resolutions, while older ones have to cannibalise computing power it would otherwise use for other things and so suffer something of a performance hit.