Resident Evil Village on Apple Silicon: MetalFX upscaling is a welcome surprise

Resident Evil Village on Apple Silicon: MetalFX upscaling is a welcome surprise

Most Mac game ports are pretty straightforward: take an existing Windows title, run it through a compatibility layer like Wine, make a few UI tweaks, and you’re on your way to a half-decent Mac version. This approach often leads to performance and stability issues, but it’s a fairly easy way to convert a popular game to MacOS. But with the advent of Apple Silicon – Apple’s custom ARM-based Mac SoCs – we’re starting to see a different approach. A handful of popular games have been released or are scheduled to be released for Macs with Apple Silicon, and these are full-scale native versions that use Apple’s high-performance Metal graphics API. This is good news, but even more interesting is that the MetalFX upscaling technology showcased in Resident Evil Village is genuinely good – it certainly looks like a real DLSS/FSR2 competitor.

Resident Evil Village appears to be a fairly unassuming Mac port at first glance. It looks like a feature-rich port of the existing game with little to differentiate it from the existing console and PC versions, but there’s something curious embedded in the settings menu: an option for MetalFX Upscaling with choices for quality and performance. Apple’s first MetalFX demo videos from June didn’t immediately impress, showing remarkably simple content that lacks much in the way of noticeable detail increases in scaling. However, the reality of this shipping game is somewhat different – it is very impressive.

MetalFX quality at 4K compared to native 4K in a challenging scene shows a similar level of detail, despite upscaling from an internal 1080p resolution. This makes it a second-gen upscaler very comparable to DLSS, FSR2 and Epic’s TAAU Gen 5. Unfortunately, Capcom’s TAA implementation on RE8 on PC and Mac is broken and basically doesn’t work, so some of the improvement in direct comparisons is due to the use of the well-functioning TAA supplied by MetalFX Quality. Still, this is impressive stuff and even at 1080p, upscaled from 960×540, we get some good results – perfect for lower Apple Silicon.

The Apple Silicon port of Resident Evil Village gets the full Digital Foundry tech review treatment.

So what’s the catch? MetalFX Quality tends to struggle somewhat with transparencies. DLSS and FSR2 can also exhibit some issues with transparent elements and we see the same issues here. Similarly, vegetation – which likely lacks the motion vector inputs these scalers thrive on – also has problems, with obvious ghosting. At regular viewing distances it doesn’t look too bad, but it’s definitely noticeable and is a significant step down from native rendering. Moving water also creates problems with some water surfaces reduced to a muddy mess, with ugly artifacts that look like streaks on the surface.

That said, MetalFX Quality delivers in other areas. Disocclusion artifacts, for example – where hidden details are suddenly revealed, causing artifacts – are minimal. In fast motion, objects connected to the player’s viewport can take on low-resolution, jagged edge detail, but it’s not a huge problem. And even during very fast motion, anti-aliasing coverage and image detail remained good for the most part, and it was hard to detect any ghosting on the model’s geometry.

So MetalFX Quality seems really impressive. However, I wish we had another MetalFX-supporting game to look at instead. Resident Evil Village has poor AA options on PC, with no support for DLSS 2, XeSS or FSR 2 and a non-functional TAA, so it’s hard to compare MetalFX Quality with leading modern upsampling and image processing techniques. Not only that but Resident Evil Village is an ideal game for upsampling with a first person perspective and lower contrast artwork that minimizes typical visual flaws. Testing the game’s third-person perspective mode might prove illuminating as I suspect camera movement would create quite noticeable edge artifacts around the player character with MetalFX Quality, but unfortunately the necessary DLC hasn’t been released for the Mac version yet.

However, MetalFX has another option on Resident Evil Village, however called “performance”. Curiously, this mode still counts at quarter resolution, just like the quality mode, so a 4K output is rendered at 1080p internally. Unfortunately, the image quality is very poor here. The image is swimming in ugly aliasing artifacts that shift significantly from frame to frame, with a low level of stability. Measured against MetalFX Quality or rendering with native resolution, the shortcomings are obvious. This is a cheap spatial upscaler, similar to AMD’s FSR1 – but not as good.

Of course, image quality is only half the battle with upsampling, so how do the MetalFX alternatives stack up in terms of performance? Unfortunately, testing Resident Evil Village presents some significant issues. The game is so light on GPU resources without ray tracing that both of my Apple Silicon Macs – an M1 Max-based MacBook Pro and an M1 Ultra-based Mac Studio – reached 4K60 quite easily with any upsampling option enabled. This means we have to get a little creative to get an idea of ​​how performance scales.

Thankfully, the MacOS power options provide a helping hand by letting us use a low-power mode that roughly halves GPU performance on the MacBook Pro’s M1 Max. When we do that, we see that the scaling options have very good performance scaling. At 4K resolution, both MetalFX technologies offer large performance gains. MetalFX Quality is about 70 percent faster than native resolution and MetalFX Performance is about 110 percent faster, which seems to be a fairly consistent improvement across scenes.

Check out Digital Foundry’s previous analysis of Apple Silicon in play.

In the end, I was very impressed with Apple’s MetalFX Quality upsampler. It turns a quarter-resolution image into a reasonably convincing full-resolution one, with minimal artifacts. My only real complaints are issues with some transparencies, which show obvious reprojection errors. I wish we had another big budget title to test here, as Resident Evil Village has significant image quality issues with its other anti-aliasing options. It’s reasonable to expect that this particular game is flattering MetalFX Quality somewhat, especially when it comes to the reconstruction of fine edge detail, but the results are undeniably strong. MetalFX performance? I would recommend staying away from that option.

Resident Evil Village is much more than a MetalFX demo, of course, so how does the underlying game hold up on the Mac? The settings menu generally seems to correspond to the options on PC with some changes and compromises. First, the ray tracing options are disabled. Macs can run RT, but the level of hardware acceleration is unclear and proper API support was only introduced very recently with the latest version of Metal, so Village does not support it. It’s not too much of a loss, but it’s definitely a downgrade from the experience offered on current-gen consoles and decent PCs. There’s also no support for variable speed shading, although I doubt very many people will miss this feature.

Other than these issues, and the change of the FSR1 option to MetalFX, the setup options are the same. There’s still a checkerboard rendering option, and curiously, AMD’s other custom tech, including options for contrast-adaptive sharpening and CACAO ambient occlusion, are still there and seem to work. Measured against the PC version with the same settings, the Mac version looks more or less identical. Beyond some subtle gamma differences, I couldn’t detect any meaningful visual quality changes between the two platforms.

Tests here with the M1 Max Apple Silicon in lower power mode indicate that MetalFX Quality mode increases performance by about 70 percent.

The game itself plays as expected and offers good support for controls, with rumble functionality and smooth analog input. However, I did notice a couple of annoyances with mouse and keyboard input. The menus still don’t have proper cursor support like the PC version, and to close the game you have to enter a keyboard shortcut or force quit as the backspace key isn’t common on Mac keyboards.

When you actually start playing the game, however, you’ll probably notice problems with intermittent stuttering. Yes, it seems the infamous #StutterStruggle with shader compilation is indeed an issue with this game on Mac. For example, my first run through of this episode on Mac Studio in 1080p is a stuttering mess with frequent and intrusive stuttering. However, a second playthrough goes perfectly, at a locked 60fps as you’d expect: shaders have been cached and accessed smoothly – but of course this doesn’t help the first playthrough.

Apple actually offers a completely offline shader compilation option in its latest version of Metal, which compiles shaders when building game projects. With a relatively low number of system configurations, precompiling shaders seems like a pretty reasonable way to address this issue. Unfortunately, Resident Evil Village on Mac doesn’t seem to take advantage of this feature and seems to suffer from deep stuttering issues.

Surprisingly, Resident Evil Village on Mac suffers from shader compilation stuttering – yes, our #StutterStruggle extends even to Mac games. A disappointment.

Outside of the shader compilation issues, performance seems reasonable, but pretty unremarkable overall. My MacBook Pro is usually in the 30-40 fps range at native 4K here, while the Mac Studio is usually 50 fps or higher. A Windows laptop with a 3080M clocks in with pretty similar performance to the Mac Studio. You’d probably expect slightly better performance here on the Mac side, but it’s not completely out of line with Windows performance with comparable graphics hardware. In the end, these numbers are somewhat irrelevant as this game is best enjoyed with MetalFX Quality on Mac.

I would probably recommend running at 1800p with MetalFX Quality on the M1 Max and 2160p with MetalFX Quality on the M1 Ultra. I prefer MetalFX Quality rendering over native rendering in this game, so there’s really no compromise in terms of image quality or stability. Of course, no matter what settings you use, you will experience significant problems with stuttering.

Outside of the interesting MetalFX technology, Resident Evil Village itself is a mediocre port. The game seems to be swamped with shader compilation stubs and lacks the ray tracing found on current generation consoles and PC. If Capcom can fix the stuttering issues, this will be an adequate porting effort, but for now, I’d recommend playing it elsewhere. However, RT aside, at least the basic principles seem to be there when it comes to bringing triple-A titles to Apple Silicon – but this will only be the first step of many required to make the Mac a gaming platform that is competitive with its rivals.

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