There has been a lot of discussion about Cyberpunk 2077 over the years, but from our point of view the most exciting thing about the game is the next-generation technology that powers it. Since The Witcher 2, developer CD Projekt Red has focused on delivering cutting-edge visual experiences across platforms, but as we venture from the rolling hills of The Witcher to the streets of Night City, we discover something that goes way beyond anything what the studio has done in the past.

With that in mind, Cyberpunk is one of those rare games that takes full advantage of the latest PC technology to take a real leap in graphics quality – a modern day crysis, if you will. Night City is a dense, multi-story, vertically stretching city built with the latest graphics technology and intelligent visual design. It should be made clear from the start that this is a next generation game, and we have always had concerns about the versions required for the basic console versions. We’ll be taking a closer look at the PS4 and Xbox One versions very, very soon, but we’ll have to do that until then: This is a demanding game that just doesn’t work well on seven year old console hardware.

At its core, Cyberpunk 2077 is powered by CD Projekt Red’s proprietary Red Engine. This set of tools and technologies served as the foundation for The Witcher series, but the move from the previous game to cyberpunk is one of the biggest leaps we’ve seen. The Witcher franchise focuses on natural environments – rolling hills, dense forests, and eerie swamps define the landscape and are beautiful in their own way, but Cyberpunk’s move to an open-world city requires a different approach and the team delivered. The latest iteration of the Red Engine on maximum settings is really something to see.

From top to bottom, Night City’s fully realized vision offers meticulous granularity alongside a tremendous sense of size. The Blade Runner aesthetic is now legendary, but few, if any, games have managed to capture the sheer clutter and density of detail – CD Projekt RED did just that. From the first person perspective, the city presents itself in a huge, multi-layered design. Motorways over sidewalks over shopping streets over markets – there is just so much in the vertical and horizontal design of the city. Each alley is jammed with clutter and detail as thick smoke and mist fill the air. In contrast to most open-world cities, you can completely lose yourself in the world of cyberpunk, and that’s a good thing – at least in my opinion. The navigation is no longer limited to holding forward in the direction of a marked destination, but you make your way through the busy streets, navigating through alleys and towering buildings alike.

The quality of the rendering is sometimes exceptional and that starts with the lighting. Light and the way it interacts with its surroundings remains one of the most important and challenging elements in real-time graphics rendering. The nature of light in the real world is very complex to simulate in terms of computing power – something that has resulted in many creative solutions both offline and in real time. Cyberpunk takes a multi-pronged approach to this problem. On the PC you have the option to activate hardware-accelerated DirectX ray tracing features such as global lighting, diffuse lighting and ambient occlusion, but the game retains much of its visual splendor even without these features.

Let’s start with the greatest source of light of all – heaven. As the time of day changes, the angle of the sunlight is constantly adjusted, and this sunlight has a direct impact on the areas that are in the sun and not in the sun. In an urban setting, structures such as buildings and sidewalks often obscure the sun, leaving shadows in their place. With ray tracing activated, the diffuse lighting is calculated, which ensures that the color information on objects and surfaces is realistically captured and displayed in the entire environment. The sky is treated like a giant area light, which means that shaded areas are realistically illuminated indirectly, but that also applies to sources of emissions such as the city’s numerous neon lights and LED billboards. Using the top-end Psycho option for ray tracing lighting introduces full global lighting that simulates the scattering of light as it radiates from any surface. This means that photons of light ricochet off these surfaces and transfer color information to a second surface – this absorbs and transfers that color, creating a more natural, realistic scene. It simply enhances the already excellent ray tracing lighting effects. when it radiates from every surface. This means that photons of light ricochet off these surfaces and transfer color information to a second surface – this absorbs and transfers that color, creating a more natural, realistic scene. It simply enhances the already excellent ray tracing lighting effects. when it radiates from every surface. This means that photons of light ricochet off these surfaces and transmit color information to a second surface – this absorbs and transmits that color, creating a more natural, realistic scene. It simply enhances the already excellent ray tracing lighting effects.

Ray tracing lighting also enables correct RT ambient occlusion – basically contact and ambient shadows that naturally occur when objects are illuminated by light. This becomes clearest when looking under vehicles – without ray tracing, the area underneath is inappropriately lit and exaggeratedly bright. With RTAO, however, it is correspondingly darkened and realistic. Ray tracing is of course an important feature, but most will probably experience the game without this technique. The good news here is that the game will still look very good then. The lighting of the Red Engine is of course less accurate than ray tracing, but it still delivers impressive results. The main disadvantage is in incorrectly lit objects within a scene that seem almost to glow, but this is not unduly annoying during normal gameplay. The key to all of this, however, lies in the quality of the materials. The Red Engine has been supporting physically based shades and materials for a while now, but Cyberpunk really shows what is possible when used at a high level.

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The goal of PBR materials is to more closely simulate the behavior of light on a surface – basically to find the right balance between rough texture and gloss. That’s one area where The Witcher 3 left a lot to be desired in my opinion. Compared to contemporaries like Assassin’s Creed Unity, the material behavior in Witcher 3 never seemed convincing in my eyes. That changes tremendously with Cyberpunk, because even rough materials such as tiles and cement scatter light over their surface in a realistic way. When you combine the materials with the lighting engine, the result can sometimes appear almost photorealistic.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the reflections, and that’s another important part of the lighting issue. Cyberpunk uses a number of reflection techniques. The high-end range supports ray tracing reflections, but screen-space reflections are also still layered in scenes to enhance each reflection with additional visual information. On reflective surfaces, ray tracing enables razor-sharp reflections that are physically correct. The way they curve and conform to any surface is effective and one can enjoy the surroundings clearly reflected without having to rely on the screen space information. The only downside is that your character in the BVH structure that is used to generate RT reflections

The combination of RT reflections and lighting makes it possible to realistically depict even difficult scenes, but it is the use of volumetric lighting and fog together that really delivers the full Blade Runner aesthetic. Night City is packed with individual light sources, each of which illuminates not only the scene around them, but also the atmosphere itself. Fog and smoke hangs over Night City and the lights around it illuminate it before your eyes. The effect is even more impressive when played back in HDR. The real light pollution fills the night sky in a dramatic and realistic way. In addition, particles are also illuminated by dynamic lights and visible in reflections, which further brings everything together.

Lighting, materials, and volumetrics are key to this next-gen vision, but there’s more to it than that – what this world really sells is the sheer amount of subtleties and screen life. The structures are richly detailed, the LOD management works seamlessly and the streets are often crowded. I can best describe it as having the level of detail you’d expect from a hub area in Deus Ex on a much larger scale. It feels so perfectly designed that as someone who isn’t really into open world games these days, I’ve often found myself exploring the area on foot just to soak up the sights and sounds . It really is that addicting.

Ray traced reflections fit in perfectly with the cyberpunk aesthetic.

Of course, shadows play an important role in the visuals of the game in all areas – Cyberpunk offers a range of shadow options, including cascaded shadow maps, ray traced shadows, and screen shadows. If activated, RT shadows are generated from sunlight and moonlight, while other local lights are used alternatively. This allows shadows to have a variable sharpness based on the distance of the object in question from the player character, allowing for a nice mix of soft and more defined shadows. Contact hardening is also included and applicable – this is standard with RT shadows, but the effect is also provided without ray tracing. Dynamic lights such as car headlights can also cast shadows at night.

So far we’ve been focusing on the city itself, but Cyberpunk 2077 is a narrative game and you will spend a lot of time in it chatting to allies and enemies alike. In general, the rendering of the characters works well – sub-surface scattering, realistic skin shading, detailed clothing, and fluid animation bring the characters to life together. In contrast to the game world, the characters do not set new standards, but are very effective for an open world title like this. There is also an interesting approach with the playable character itself. It may have turned out to be controversial, but cyberpunk mostly takes place from a first-person perspective.

You never see your character from a third person perspective (apart from the driving scenes), instead the game uses tracking shots and hand gestures. In this case, it’s also very interesting because the development team implemented full body awareness – you can see your feet, torso and arms throughout the game, and this allows for some very fluid first-person animation. The cutscenes and gameplay benefit greatly from this, plus there’s a lot of bespoke, context-sensitive motion capture work involved. I find it works – it adds to the feeling of immersion in the game and is something you don’t normally see in big open world RPGs like Fallout 4.

The character rendering, lighting, and animations are top notch – if they don’t quite get the wow factor of the surrounding rendering.

When you jump into a fight, draw your gun and use the dynamic cover system, it feels more like a real shooter than a typical RPG, and the animation work helps to make it look authentic. The same goes for driving – when you get behind the wheel, the first person perspective is remarkably immersive, but you can switch to the third person perspective while driving if you want, and it works equally well. Honestly, at this point it still feels like I’m just scratching the surface of what this game has to offer from a visual and systems perspective, but there are other details I want to mention, for example architecture. The level of detail is high, but it’s the designs of the buildings that make such an atmospheric journey possible. The bizarre shapes and obelisks that dot the skyline are great to look at, while each district has its own character. Exploring Pacifica, a ruined part of Night City, sparked my love for exploring the city – somehow it really makes you feel like you’re alone in a place that was once full of activity.

I want to reiterate for those who are concerned that we are overlooking the situation on the consoles (we will cover all versions, don’t worry) but all of this here is based on the high end PC experience. Even so, there are obvious bugs. The thing is, the extent to which you are affected by the problems varies greatly from machine to machine. I undoubtedly lucky. I didn’t encounter any game-destroying bugs, most of the issues were minor and typically related to faulty animation or bizarre physical events. Sometimes sequences didn’t turn out the way they should, but by and large, Cyberpunk 2077 was solid – at least for me. The performance wasn’t bad either, considering that I actually played the game to the full. In the video on this page, I set the performance to 30fps for consistent playback and maximum resolution, but I actually played at 4K on an LG OLED CX display at 50 to 90 frames per second. Yes, I’m using an RTX 3090 for this, but due to the dizzying demands of 4K resolution, scaling to 1080p or 1440p should bring a lot more mainstream hardware into play. For ray tracing, however, DLSS is fundamentally essential in order to maintain high frame rates. but due to the dizzying demands of 4K resolution, scaling to 1080p or 1440p should bring much more mainstream hardware into play. For ray tracing, however, DLSS is fundamentally essential in order to maintain high frame rates. but due to the dizzying demands of 4K resolution, scaling to 1080p or 1440p should bring much more mainstream hardware into play. For ray tracing, however, DLSS is fundamentally essential in order to maintain high frame rates.

In summary, it can be said that this is a next-generation game, but there is no doubt that you need next-gen consoles or PC systems for a good gaming experience. What we’ve seen so far on the old PS4 and Xbox One machines strongly suggests that the older machines are paralyzed by the lack of CPU power and memory, while the old 2013 consoles also have to make do with limited graphics performance . There will be more on this shortly, but before that I am curious to see how CD Projekt Red tackles the right next-gen console version. Expanding and improving the performance and quality options available in the Xbox One X version would be a good start, but considering how challenging this game is, I wonder whether the horsepower will be available to perform some of the high-end features the PC already offers. Right now we’re also looking to see if we can provide “tweaked settings” for the PC that aim to strike a balance between fidelity and performance – and maybe that gives an idea of ​​where the studio is making the most effective improvements to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox consoles can deliver.

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