Tech Interview: Metro Exodus, ray tracing and the 4A Engine’s open world upgrades

February 17, 2019
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Remember the days when key technological innovations in gaming debuted on PC? The rise of multi-platform development and the arrival of PC technology in the current generation of consoles has witnessed a profound shift. Now, more than ever, PlayStation and Xbox technology defines the baseline of a visual experience, with upgrade vectors on PC somewhat limited – often coming down to resolution and frame-rate upgrades. However, the arrival of real-time ray tracing PC technology is a game-changer, and 4A Games’ Metro Exodus delivers one of the most exciting, forward-looking games we’ve seen for a long, long time. It’s a title that’s excellent on consoles, but presents a genuinely game-changing visual experience on the latest PC hardware.

The game is fascinating on many levels. First of all, as we approach the tail-end of this console generation, it’s actually the first title built from the ground up for current-gen hardware from 4A Games – genuine pioneers in graphics technology. It also sees 4A transition from a traditional linear-style route through its games to a more open world style of gameplay, though the narrative element is much more defined, and missions can be approached in a much more Crysis-like way. Think of it more as a kind of ‘wide’ level design, as opposed to an Ubisoft-style, icon-filled sandbox. Regardless, this transition requires a massive rethink in the way that the world of Metro is rendered and lit, while at the same time maintaining the extreme detail seen in previous Metro titles. And remember, all of this has to work not just on the latest and greatest PCs and enhanced consoles, but on base Xbox and PlayStation hardware too.

And then there’s the more forward-looking, next generation features within the game. Real-time ray tracing is now possible on PCs equipped with Nvidia RTX graphics cards, and while what we saw at Gamescom was highly impressive, we were looking at 4A Games’ very earliest implementation of ray tracing, with frame-rates at 1080p dipping beneath 60 frames per second on the top-end RTX 2080 Ti. And this raises an obvious question – how would lesser cards cope? The answer comes down to 4A revising its RT implementation, revamping the technology to deliver equivalent results to its stunning ray traced global illumination solution, but doing so in such a way that allows for all of the RTX family of GPUs to deliver good results.

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