In a relatively light content Gamescom virtual event, the release of a free 60 FPS upgrade to Horizon Zero Dawn on PS5 was definitely a standout, giving another Sony title a framerate upgrade and dramatically improving the experience. This update is interesting, because unlocking the 60 FPS isn’t as easy with a push of a button, as demonstrated by the release of the PC version last year. It showed that simply removing the frame limiter posed several problems for a game primarily designed with 30 FPS in mind. Simply put, it’s clear that this update required a real effort and it’s likely that many of the solutions in the PC version have made a comeback in this PS5 upgrade. The bottom line is that Guerrilla did it, it works, and it works well.
In reality, what does this update do? At first glance, Horizon Zero Dawn follows the scheme defined by God of War, Days Gone and Ghost of Tsushima in which the graphics are unchanged from the original versions and the framerate is shifted, with v-sync delivering the limit to 60fps. This means that the 2160p checkerboarding solution remains in place, but the PS4 Pro’s alternative to native 1368p in performance mode has been removed because it has become redundant. While there are no improvements to the way the game is rendered, there is an argument that the graphics have been noticeably improved thanks to the improved framerate – simply because checkerboarding artifacts now persist for just one screen refresh instead of two. In a modern LCD, this helps to mix them up somewhat, making them less noticeable.
When it comes to performance, you’re effectively looking at a locked 60 FPS experience that’s almost perfect. Even in backwards compatibility mode, the PS5 offers a substantial improvement over the PS4 Pro – a 2.5x multiplier in computing performance and double the memory width. In previous backwards-compatibility plus upgrades, we’ve seen that this translates to a performance leap that almost scales in line with the boost in computing. Specifically with Horizon Zero Dawn, we only noticed a small drop in an initial kinematics, then it was 60 FPS straight forward. If the game deviates from the 60 FPS target, it should only do so briefly and you may not even notice. I would describe the overall performance as flawless.
It also appears that the 60 FPS improvements found in the PC game have returned to the console, although some of the teleportation effects seen briefly on objects and characters during camera cuts in cinematics remain. A small curiosity is that the cinematic transition time doesn’t match PS4 Pro or PC – possibly an additional fix to minimize the teleport issue.
There are even some nice bonuses in the upgrade besides the 60 FPS upgrade. The official update details refer to improved streaming in backwards compatibility mode and we put this to the test by visiting the area of the game where Guerrilla herself told us is one of the most complicated: Meridian. On the PS4 Pro, running in this detail-rich area causes obvious streaming issues, with both textures and geometry jumping out at you – sometimes noticeably. The great news is that PlayStation 5 completely solves this problem. On top of that, there are improvements in loading times: starting the campaign involves about a minute of loading on PS4 Pro, which drops to 31 seconds on PS5. On PC this takes about 15 seconds with a 3.5GB/s NVMe disk, but regardless, it’s still a good boost.
The only criticism you can make of the update is that it is essentially an upgrade from the PS4 Pro, rather than an attempt to try to bring all the improvements from the PC version to PlayStation 5. The anisotropic filter is very low compared to the PC version, while the interaction with vegetation seen on PC is not implemented. I would also have liked to see some improvements in the level of detail and image quality of hair and other fine goals like vegetation, things the PC version didn’t even address. Lately, we run the risk of this becoming a wish list for a remaster, rather than concluding that it’s a very impressive free upgrade from the PS4 Pro version.
In conclusion, Horizon Zero Dawn is a game renewed by upgrading to 60 FPS. The 30 FPS limit has disappeared, the performance drops of the original version have been eliminated, and background streaming has been substantially improved in areas that previously caused problems. Timing to release the update is also ideal – with Horizon Forbidden West arriving in February, there is plenty of time for PS5 owners to play the original and excellent DLC Frozen Wilds. It’s an upgrade worth checking out.