Insomniac’s Spider-Man was one of the hot titles at E3 this year, with Sony unveiling the game running on a PlayStation 4 Pro connected to a top-end TV, the Sony ZD9 UHD TV, one of the screens. with best HDR on the market. The extended demonstration sequence presented by the developer took us from a fight atop a skyscraper under construction to an epic helicopter chase across the New York skyline. It is a section of gameplay carefully chosen, and not surprisingly, from one of the missions of the main story, able to give us a taste of what to expect from the game from the point of view of destructible environments, game tactics, and how gameplay mechanics allow for intense and impressive physics-based action scenes. The title looked truly sensational: if this is the standard of the upcoming second generation PS4 Pro titles, owners of the ‘super-charged’ Sony console will have something to do.
Digital Foundry sat down with the developer at E3 to take a look at the game, and outside of the demo gameplay the details available were scarce regarding the nature of the game: is it an open world title or not? Insomniac simply stated that he ‘wouldn’t talk about it’ (a media tactic), which didn’t help much. But it must be said that this comparison was useful and exciting, as we can confirm that the beautiful title demo shown at the Sony E3 conference represented real gameplay, and an excellent promotion of the ‘smart’ GPU rendering techniques. , which allow the PlayStation 4 Pro to produce stunning images for ultra HD screens.
Just like in Ratchet and Clank, Insomniac is using a technique called ‘temporal injection’ for this game to resemble a 4K image, in which four million jittered samples are used to reconstruct a frame at 2160. This is not native 4K. but the result looks good on a UHD screen at close range, looks smooth and refined. We don’t find crystal clarity, or pixel perfection, but the game aims to convey a CGI aesthetic, which traditionally is characterized by softer but at the same time rich in detail images. Coupled with Insomniac’s excellent post-processing procedure, the results obtained are compelling enough to simulate a native 4K image, and the cinematic aspect of the game is remarkable, with a blend of natural and supernatural qualities of the characters and environments.
The shader work for the various materials is prominent, with the threads of Spider-Man’s canvas reacting to light in completely different ways whether the surface is made of concrete, plastic or other elements in the world. The physics-based rendering approach works well in conveying a CGI-style aspect to the game, although the world is very stylized, as the demo was set in the vivid and bright daytime setting you’d expect from a colorful game dedicated to a game. superhero. Think CGI accuracy blended with comic book aesthetics and you get an idea of Insomniac’s approach here, and that choice pays off beautifully.
Post-processing is also used extensively to infuse a cinematic feel to the presentation, mainly thanks to depth of field and motion blur. Notably, Insomniac’s implementation of object blur is one of the most jaw-dropping we’ve seen so far, delivering both fluidity and cinematic look to a 30fps presentation devoid of any visible artifacts. A high level of sampling implies that there is no banding effect in moving images, which guarantees natural action and helps mitigate the halving of the refresh rate.
The graphic techniques package is equally valid in other areas as well, such as reflection maps, physics-based particles, and a convincing use of dynamic lighting for projectiles. These are signs that the Insomniac engine is capable of producing remarkably detailed environments without making too many compromises in the quality of the effects, but at the same time this prompts us to ask ourselves a question: how well the graphic quality will be outside of this selection. piece of gameplay?
If Spider-Man embraced the open-world approach, the challenges in rendering would present themselves merciless. Typically, sandbox titles tend to suffer from trade-offs, such as fairly noticeable pop-in and low-resolution shadows, to meet the huge demand for rendering resources for large environments. But these trade-offs are pretty much absent in the demo, with just a couple of instances where the LOD changed as Spider-Man circled through town. But we’re confident about the prospects here: Insomniac has been working it on an open world engine since Sunset Overdrive, and has since had several years to refine its in-house technology to reduce streaming issues in the LOD, and to further optimize. open environments.
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At the end of Sony’s E3 press event, the demo’s major criticism was the apparent linear nature of the gameplay and the inclusion of ‘button mashing’ ‘Quick Time Events (QTEs). Certainly the demo appeared quite scripted with the action moving from one sequence to the next, peppered with fairly direct cut-scenes without tacticism. But we were informed by the studio that players could fall during the helicopter chase, that they could fail some QTEs, and still complete the mission, which suggests that there is some freedom for the player. (a situation that we would have expected to find throughout the gameplay, not just in the mission we have seen).
One thing that clearly shines through is the fluidity of the gameplay, with Spider-Man leaping nonstop here and there, attacking enemies and throwing objects via his abilities and membrane technology. There is a feeling here that despite the player possessing the powers of Spider-Man, they have to contend with the strict rules of the game world. For example, one of Insomniac’s major design accomplishments was to have Spider-man web attachment points towards tangible objects in order to allow the player to fully interact with the environment while moving through it, a nice step forward compared to previous Spider-Man titles in which his web clung to imaginary surfaces placed who knows where beyond the player’s visual horizon.
The difference is evident in the demo, where as you sling through the city you can clearly see the grip points for the lines of the canvas, and also through the manipulation of objects such as cranes, vehicles and crates that are manipulated creating pretty good effects. This helps convey the feeling that the world is there to facilitate various gameplay possibilities, rather than just giving Spider-Man a large environment to explore.
From this point of view, this is the most authentic interpretation of the character in terms of gameplay that we have seen so far, and it is also interesting to note the introduction of new tools such as proximity-based spider web traps. Insomniac has focused on an older Spider-Man here, well versed in his skills having invested time in improving his arsenal of gadgets. One aspect of the character that has often been overlooked in games is the genius of Peter Parker, the proud and nerdy scientist.
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Of the Spider-Man E3 demo, the quality of the animation and its use of engine-driven cut-scenes should also be praised. The animation blending and layering ensure that Spider-Man moves smoothly when jumping and attacking groups of enemies, making combat more realistic than it was in previous titles in the series. The level of fluidity here emphasizes the game’s many interactive tactics, such as the scene where he sneaks and slides through an office building as it is being destroyed, or while trying to stop a free-falling crane from crashing to the ground. In short, the fidelity of the rendering in this case means that Insomniac does not need to make use of the pre-rendered video sequences, and this favors more continuity between cut-scenes, scripted sequences and actual gameplaye.
While the lack of true 60Hz refresh prevents us from doing a detailed frame-rate analysis of this E3 demo, looking closely at the developer’s presentation highlighted solid work overall, with only a few dips occurring at times when Spider-Man ran through a building that was falling apart. Previous Insomniac titles, such as Ratchet and Clank and Sunset Overdrive, generally ran smoothly, so we don’t expect any major problems in this area based on what we’ve seen so far.
Overall, this demonstration represents a solid showcase for the game, and we’re looking forward to seeing the game deliver the high-end graphics we first saw at PlayStation Meeting during the PS4 Pro reveal last year. , even in real time in the actual game. Apart from that, the gameplay is taking shape very well: the pairing of Spider-Man’s skills with the excellent physical system that manages the environments looks very promising. Of course, the demo is just a small sample of the game, so it will be interesting to find out what the rest of the game will be like in terms of gameplay, and especially how the base version of the PlayStation 4 compares to this almost crystal-clear presentation on PS4 Pro. similar to Ratchet and Clank, which is based on the same technology, then there should be no problem.
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