Zero doubt: Horizon is THE system-seller for PS4 Pro and 4K TV
UPDATE: Our PS4 Pro console review is now live.
We go eyes-on with the future of gaming.
I'm a man with no interest whatsoever in personal grooming, especially my own. So I'm extremely surprised when I look at Horizon Zero Dawn running on a 4K HDR TV through a PS4 Pro, and utter the following words: "Ooooh, wow, I just LOVE what you've done with her hair!" As soon as it's said, I snap my mouth shut. I get eye-rolls from my travel companions and a few guffaws from strangers within earshot. Adam's hamming it up again.
Uh, no. No I am not. That really just slipped out...
Horizon's heroine, the machine hunting Aloy, has complex ginger locks that are as flaming and fabulous as my involuntary commentary. I haven't paid this much attention to hair since the Tomb Raider reboot, or possibly Merida's hypnotic follicles in Pixar's Brave. And that latter example was calculated over God knows how many hours on a HAL 9000 supercomputer. These next-gen dreadlocks are flailing about and flipping me out in real-time. I'm calling it now: Hair of the Year 2017 (HOTY).
Crazier still, I'm viewing this hairdo in SDR mode (the standard 1080p signal that we're all well familiar with). Apparently, my Guerilla Games minder has yet to flip the switch that will somehow transform this gorgeousness into something prettier still. I snort in disbelief at the notion. The techniques Guerilla is currently using – which you will be able to enjoy on your standard PS4 – are more than impressive enough.
Supersampling is pointed out to me in SDR, a very high-quality anti-aliasing technique/voodoo that lets GG internally render at a higher resolution (close to 4K) before shrinking it down to the final 1080p resolution. What does that mean in your lounge room? More detail survives when everything gets downsized to run on your entry-level PS4, resulting in smoother edges, stabler images, and no jaggies to catch your retinas on.
Just as the drool begins to pool in my mouth, the 4K HDR switch gets flicked, and I have to swallow. All of a sudden, I spot so many subtle details, as if somebody has cleared a blob of Vaseline from my eye. The individual stitching in Aloy's eccentric clothing pops out, and the wider spectrum of colour reveals that she has the sort of pinkish hue that George Costanza might go for. The strands of her hair go from amorphous clumps to bands of strands, and the rocky outcrop behind me changes from what I assumed was a cliff polished to nothingness by centuries of rain to a pock-marked surface popping with cracks and grit.
Impressed, I turn my scrutiny from the micro to the macro. We make a quick pan to the sun, which moments ago was offering par-for-the-course lens flare; now there are God rays slashing toward the camera through a sea of cumulonimbi of much richer depth. I physically get out of my chair and plant my face against the screen and.... yep, I'll be damned... though they have absolutely no business being animated, the wind is gently tussling the leafy canopy of a mountain a number of kilometres away. I can also just make out flocks of robobirds out in that wild blue yonder, and there's even a distant valley featuring a stray tallneck plodding about (think: a Dinobot version of a brontosaurus, but with the saucer part of the USS Enterprise for a head).
Speaking of which, I'm yanked out of my resolution reverie when a nearby tallneck stomps past my little mountain viewpoint. Its sense of scale is nothing short awe-inspiring and had somebody woven in John Williams' Jurassic Park theme at that point, I would not have even questioned it. Hoping to hitchhike, I commandeer a nearby zipline, and sprint underneath some trees that cast breathtaking dappled light onto Aloy.
Having HDR in this moment means the light contrast is stark but none of the details in either the hyper-light areas nor the shadowed parts is lost. Difficult stuff to describe unless you see the game running and rendering at its special 2160p checkerboard resolution (an extremely clever technique that still looks incredible on a 4K TV).
I soon run afoul of a velociraptor-type beastie (complete with the sort of lens flare eye that would make J.J. Abrams horny). Before it can freak out, I get the drop on in it and bust out a running stealth kill. Just as my plodding mark gets clear of the cliffside, I leap out onto its neck Shadow of the Colossus-style, and clamber up to the wide disc that serves as its dome. A hacking moment occurs involving a ludicrously vivid burst of technicolour holograms, and yet again I get a switch back to SDR to compare how much richer it looks running on a PS4 Pro and this marvellous TV in front of me.
The demo ends at this point, and it's probably a good thing. Though I never once felt them gathering, a crowd of 50 salivating games critics has magically materialised behind the demo station, eager for their turn.
A few days ago, I flew all the way to this London “Future of Play” event with one thought in my head: my current PS4 and my you-beaut 1080p telly give me what I need: how much better could this new business really be?
Today, I'm going home with a different thought: How can I legally get away with selling one of my children to acquire a PS4 Pro and a 4K TV? Because it has to happen.