Tokyo on PC launches impressive new DLSS competitor –


Ghostwire: Tokyo is a game with many surprises in terms of its technical composition. Developer Tango Gameworks delivered a gameplay concept I didn’t expect, wrapped in an engine that was very different from previous titles, delivering an exceptional level of graphical finesse. Dropping its own idTech-based Unreal Engine 4 was clearly a great catalyst for the team, but I approached the PC version with some trepidation. Many recent PC releases have come with intrusive levels of stutter that impact the experience no matter how powerful your hardware. This is especially common in Unreal Engine 4 titles – and unfortunately it also impacts Ghostwire: Tokyo.

And that’s frustrating to me, because there’s so much to like here from a visual standpoint – especially in terms of ray-tracing features. On PC and PlayStation 5, ray-traced reflections steal the show. RT reflections are applied generously in Ghostwire: Tokyo, most striking on highly reflective surfaces where we achieve a perfect mirror effect. That said, they also apply to duller materials, with a soft distorted look – computationally expensive but adding greatly to the realism of the lighting.

Ghostwire: Tokyo gets the Digital Foundry PC tech review treatment, courtesy of Alex Battaglia.

Considering the amount of neon lights, LED signs and shiny materials, the ray-traced reflections in rainy Tokyo pay off considerably – the only downside being the lack of RT reflections on transparent materials like glass, where the reflections of screen space and the cube cards act as a retreat. It’s a sensible optimization, but I certainly would have liked to see a separate option on PC to add transparent RT reflections for future scaling. RT shadows are also selectively applied, to the point where they’re so rare, I’m not sure it’s worth using the feature in optimized settings.

Even so, the cost of using RT is hefty whether you’re using an RTX or RDNA 2 GPU, but here’s where things go wrong very interesting. The good news is that DLSS is well implemented for Nvidia cards, but Tango Gameworks also includes FSR 1.0 (OK, but not great – still good enough for the developer to use for us on PS5) and TSR – Temporal Super Resolution. As far as we know, this is a UE5 feature, as seen in The Matrix Awakens, but evidence suggests it’s been backported to UE4. Based on my tests comparing FSR, DLSS, and TSR upscaling to 4K from 1080p, the new technology appears to have the same base cost as DLSS and delivers much higher quality than FSR 1.0. It doesn’t match the quality of DLSS on difficult elements – fast-moving objects near the camera like the player’s hands, hair, vegetation or particle effects – but it’s an impressive offering nonetheless.

Tango Gameworks may not be finished yet: according to datamining by Twitter user FPS & Tech Testing, FSR 2.0, and Intel XeSS scaling may also arrive in due course. TSR isn’t as fast as FSR 1.0 in Ghostwire: Tokyo, but it’s a far superior solution worth considering for RDNA 2 graphics card users.

In terms of optimized settings, I started by looking at how Tango Gameworks scaled down the game for PlayStation 5. The overall lighting setup uses Epic’s SSGI ray tracing software solution on both platforms, but a much lower precision version is used on PlayStation 5. Where RT shadows are not used, the PS5 uses the PC medium shadow map preset. RT reflections have the internal resolution PC’s low reflection setting, but the PS5 version seems to look completely different to its duller reflections – perhaps because it’s using different optimizations there, or a different denoiser, it’s hard to say. When matched to low RT reflections, the PS5 uses the Low RT Elimination setting which reduces the range of objects in the reflection. And finally, there’s ray-traced shadows on PS5, which uses the low setting.

Even though the PS5 settings are often in the low/medium range, it’s important to distinguish this label from the actual look of the game – Ghostwire: Tokyo still looks pretty good. In terms of optimized settings, I’ll stick to the closest PS5 equivalents as described here, but with a few tweaks. The console version uses FSR 1.0 for scaling, and I would replace it with TSR or DLSS. Meanwhile, the PS5 has some RT shadows, but I’d say you can turn them off completely on PC to gain performance and lose very little in-game visual makeup.

Optimized settings PS5 HFR Quality Parameters
Motion blur User choice User choice
SSS quality Low/High (no difference) Low/High (no difference)
Global Illumination SSGI SSGI (lower precision)
Shadow Map Quality Average Average
Broadcast quality level 2 Not applicable
Diffusion quality of textures High Not applicable
Laser trace At At
RT Shadow Quality Disabled moo
RT reflection quality moo Lower than PC Low
Slaughter quality RT moo moo
Image processing RST/DLSS FSR 1.0 performance

So far so good, but as I mentioned earlier performance is problematic and that’s because – again – we have a triple-A title that arrives with an unavoidable stutter, presumably and mostly due to shader compilation. To recap, each GPU’s shader code is different and unlike a console, developers cannot provide precompiled code. What happens on the PC version instead is that shaders are compiled and then cached on demand, negatively impacting the quality of experience.

The first time you fire, the first time you encounter a new effect, the first time you learn a new mechanic – it all comes with a unique stutter. Every time something new happens, even a tiny bit different, like interacting with a different form of floating object for example, every new form of floating object has a shader compilation stutter.

I find it pervasive, annoying, and no game should ship like this because it spoils the first experience of the game. The only way to play it smoothly is to have someone else run the game for you first to cache shaders and ensure a smooth experience the second time around. This is hardly a viable solution – and I urge Tango Gameworks to fix this problem, perhaps by pre-compiling the necessary shaders when loading.

I’m baffled by how many high-profile titles ship with this issue and in the case of Ghostwire: Tokyo, it’s such a shame. I think the ray-traced reflections in this game are well implemented. I’m impressed that the game has some nice upgradable options and even delivers excellent image quality on non-RTX GPUs thanks to TSR. However, the stuttering of this game kept me from fully enjoying it – it’s just one of those things I can’t stand. The stutter kicks me out of an experience in a way that doesn’t happen if the frame rate drops a bit. When the stuttering happens, I stop thinking about gameplay and story, and start thinking about performance instead. There are solutions to this problem – so I remain hopeful that something can be done about it.


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