The Frozen Wilds is an unmissable tech showcase

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Horizon Zero Daybreak: The Frozen Wilds is an growth for one of many 12 months’s greatest video games in nearly each sense of the phrase. This is not simply extra of the identical – from a technological standpoint, it is a real effort to push on to even better heights, and a formidable evolution of Guerrilla Video games’ peerless Decima Engine. Pushing past the forests and nice plains of the unique expertise, The Frozen Wilds invitations gamers to the northern-most area of the map to discover snow-covered fields and steep mountains. New options are added to Decima to emphasis the brand new environments and climate programs, however the core facets of the know-how are simply as sturdy as they ever had been: from the beautiful lighting to the world class HDR implementation and clean efficiency, there’s little doubt that Horizon stays an exquisite sport.

So the place does The Frozen Wilds innovate? In the beginning is the debut of latest snow deformation know-how. Whereas shifting by areas full of deep snow, Aloy and different entities carve up the panorama in a sensible method, forsaking prolonged indents within the powder. These trails persist for fairly a while after wandering by them as properly. This implies, following any skirmish, you’ll be able to even observe the path of deformation across the battlefield to retrace the struggle. Past this, because the snow deforms in your wake, grass textures turn out to be seen beneath the floor creating the phantasm of snow resting atop a as soon as grassy plain.

Even higher, as Aloy strikes by the snow, her animation is adjusted to match. Her toes realistically kick up snow whereas pushing by it, whereas snowy textures are utilized to her character mannequin. The result’s a convincing sensation of shifting by a snowy panorama that was lacking in related areas featured within the unique sport. That is enhanced additional by the snow showers themselves. Typically thick, the usage of lit snow particles does a wonderful job of constructing simply the fitting ambiance for every scene.

How do you watch Digital Foundry HDR video?


When a game looks this good in HDR, we want to bring you the full-fat experience, meaning that our key Horizon video here was put together supporting high dynamic range. Now, the chances are you’ll be watching this via YouTube on a standard dynamic range screen – in which case, YouTube converts the HDR image to SDR using a technique called tone-mapping, meaning you get a very standard-looking presentation. To watch this video in actual HDR, you’ll need specific hardware.

Obviously, an HDR screen is a given, and mid-range/high-end Samsung screens from 2016 and the newer 2017 models will get the job done via its internal YouTube app. Selected Roku devices – including some integrated into 4K HDR screens – are compatible too. Alternatively you can stream the video from your phone to a Chromecast Ultra to get the desired effect. YouTube has also rolled out an update for HDR-enabled smartphones like the Galaxy S8, S8+, Note 8, LG V30 along with Sony Xperia XZ Platinum. Watch our video on one of these devices and you’re good to go.

Last but certainly not least, for access to the original source file, visit our video download site for Patreon supporters, All of our video content is there to download, offering a vastly improved, pristine experience. Just copy the file to a USB stick, plug it into your 4K HDR display and you’re good to go.

All of this is complemented by a gorgeous colour palette. The artists have carefully selected just the right combination of colours for every scene – from the pink glow of sunrise to the freezing mountain tops, the depiction of dramatic light and colour is top notch here. Another nice addition to the game can be found in pools of water. While the implementation of screen-space reflections still falls short of expectations, these freezing pools and rivers now feature an interactive icy layer across the surface. As you walk through the water, Aloy leaves trails behind not unlike the snowy landscape. These trails are persistent as well – provided you remain in the general area.

A stunning experience, and even more beautiful in HDR, here’s our technical analysis of Horizon’s The Frozen Wilds expansion.

Horizon’s landscape is built on procedural rules, and these impact the icy weather conditions too. When faced with an enemy spouting fire and death, layers of ice on water surfaces appears to melt away – an impressive detail. Each of these new features help to enhance the Horizon experience by creating a more interactive and cohesive world, and following a visit to Guerrilla’s Amsterdam studio earlier in the year, we now have a stronger sense of how the world of Horizon Zero Dawn works.

First, let’s touch on the characters and creatures of the world. The robotic denizens of the world play a key role in defining the look and feel of Horizon and the way in which they engage the player is very important in maintaining this feeling. Each creature is designed to react to Aloy based on a set of pre-defined rules and boundaries. If a distant creature spots the player, it begins to approach to determine if you’re a threat. You can then hide from this threat and avoid further conflict.

So how does it know to search for the player and what determines its behaviour? The video on this page visualises the process, but essentially, the enemy has a two-stage vision cone – the first, larger yellow cone represents its alert stage while the red barrier triggers an immediate reaction. If the player hides in long grass, the enemy is forced to search, and if it physically bumps into the player, or spots you within its immediate sphere, it switches to attack mode. This basic logic is applied to different enemies across the world with adjustments made based on the enemy type.

But what makes this more impressive is the pathing logic – the enemies can seamlessly navigate across the terrain while avoiding obstacles, but these obstacles can be adjusted in real-time. If an adjustment is made to the terrain, the AI can dynamically react and avoid this in a realistic manner complete with reaction animations and sound.

So we have some minor insight into how characters and quests might function but what about the visual make-up? Horizon features supremely detailed character models with very high triangle counts and a complex hair and clothing system designed to allow these elements to react naturally to physical movement.

When you break down the model into a wire frame, the sheer level of detail on display becomes evident. All of the characters in Horizon are modelled to an exceptionally high standard, in order to give the developers the freedom to use whichever characters they want at whatever prominence they want. The Frozen Wilds introduces new characters, but variations of older models are also present too.

Then there’s the lighting and world itself. It starts with the phenomenal skybox. Guerrilla had a staff member pouring most of his time into studying cloud behaviour and rendering to find the optimal solution. Cloud formations and movement are accurately rendered, to the point where the cost per frame is relatively high – especially when clouds are in full view. However, this cost is carefully factored into Horizon’s overall rendering budget.

John and Rich visited Guerrilla earlier this year to talk tech with the Amsterdam-based team. Here, the discussion focuses on how the studio pushes the PS4 Pro hardware.

World lighting is interesting as well. Horizon makes use of pre-calculated global illumination but to make this work with its dynamic time of day system, the engine blends between six different lighting bakes as the day progresses. This is combined with other lighting passes to effectively give the impression of real indirect lighting with moving sunlight. Horizon also uses a multitude of lighting passes in building each scene, starting with emissive or glow lights such as the sky followed by local direct lights such as these torches. This is then followed by the static indirect lighting and sun bounce passes before the sun and sky are rendered. Next are reflections of light across the scenery just before the final texture layer is presented.

Naturally, all of these systems are used in both The Frozen Wilds and the original Horizon experience, since they share the same world and the same core underlying technology. But what’s impressive about everything here is how well it all runs. On a PS4 Pro using the high resolution 4K mode, The Frozen Wilds turns in the same generally smooth level of performance as the original release (which has actually improved still further with additional optimisations since we first looked at it). The game simply feels great to play as a result. Horizon is built around an engine hard-coded for 30Hz, but the excellent motion blur implementation really helps here in giving a smooth, consistent experience.

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That mentioned, it is not excellent. We examined the growth on PlayStation four Professional and located that when utilizing the high-res mode, there have been occasional frame-rate drops. That is the place the efficiency mode comes into play. This was added shortly after launch and lowers the decision from a checkerboarded 2160p to a local 1368p to safe a extra sustained 30fps lock (depth of subject and volumetric passes improve in high quality too). This mode was designed so as to add an extra 10 per cent of overhead to the sport whereas pushing native decision as excessive as it will go. The final feeling is that this does certainly handle this type of drop. Nonetheless, when many of the sport is already locked at 30fps, our recommendation can be to stay with the excessive decision 2160p mode – although customers of 1080p screens could prefer to attempt each and see which they like.

Whichever method you play, you are in for a deal with. The Frozen Wilds reminds us of all the things that was nice with the unique sport, whereas taking each the title in new instructions. There’s the sense that the artists and designers have been unleashed to create probably the most hanging open world environments you’ll be able to expertise. Every part from the density per scene, the selection of color, the fluidity of the animation and quantity of belongings actually impresses right here. We have seen a whole lot of massive, open-ended video games this 12 months but it surely’s clear that Guerrilla Video games stands on the prime of the business with its efforts. Even with the rising sense of open world fatigue, we discovered that the world and lore was attention-grabbing sufficient to hold us by the sport, whereas the standard of those visuals and the solidity of the presentation is unparalleled. For us, Horizon Zero Daybreak is a vital launch – and The Frozen Wilds genuinely provides additional to the expertise.

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