Last week saw the release of two new games that do not support 60fps gameplay on PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series consoles, Gotham Knights and A Plague Tale: Requiem. Many would argue that one of the biggest gains from the new wave of consoles has been that the majority of titles support 60fps – or even 120fps – which represents a game-changing improvement over last generation’s standard 30fps. The question is why this console of titles does not support this option and if it means the beginning of the end of 60 fps as a standard for console games.
It’s a tricky question to answer, but ultimately I feel it’s inevitable that the proliferation of 60fps support will slow down significantly – not least because so many titles want to take advantage of the full range of features offered by Epic’s Unreal Engine 5, which puts the stage for a new 3D rendering paradigm. We’ve already had our first taste of the kind of fidelity UE5 offers thanks to last year’s phenomenal demo – The Matrix Awakens – based on an early rendering of the engine’s capabilities. Leveraging hardware-accelerated ray tracing capabilities, Lumen delivers a stunningly realistic lighting solution, while Nanite offers a level of geometric detail beyond traditional rendering.
It’s quite unlike anything we’ve seen before, but the point is that the demo runs at an inconsistent 30fps during gameplay, while cutscenes actually run at a literally cinematic 24fps. Both the CPU and GPU go through the wringer here, so simply scaling down the resolution to improve frame rate won’t help much.
At this point, it’s worth emphasizing that this demo is running on an older version of UE5 and our understanding is that the latest version is more performant – and it can only get better. It’s also our contention that developers like The Coalition, guardians of the Gears of War franchise, wouldn’t want to return to 30fps. Other warnings? While so many triple-A game makers may be turning to UE5, there is no obligation to use All of its cutting-edge rendering capabilities combined – the default renderer will always be there, as evidenced by Fortnite, which also runs on Unreal Engine 5. But as the generation continues, if a game is going to support 60fps, it needs to be baked into the design and accounted for on a ways that don’t necessarily apply to the games we’ve played on PS5 and Xbox Series so far.
Why we’ve seen a proliferation of 60fps and 120fps game modes in recent years is largely due to a multi-generational console development period of unprecedented length. A combination of a large installed base of last generation machines, along with their architectural similarities to the new wave of machines has given developers and publishers the ability to create games for old and new consoles in tandem, as opposed to going out in pairs. ports for older machines – which has happened during previous console transition periods. The need to support platforms with processors as weak as AMD Jaguar means that the processing power is immediately there to at least double the performance on the latest console hardware. The graphics side of the equation is still more scalable.
The arrival of A Plague Tale: Requiem and Gotham Knights at 30 fps happens in parallel with these titles not accepts the latest generation versions – albeit for very different reasons. We’ve given our verdict on Gotham Knights, which looks and feels like a cross-gen title even though the Xbox One and PS4 versions were canned. We’ve now also had the chance to play Gotham Knights on PC, where we find a game with profound CPU and GPU usage issues to the point where even a Core i9 12900K paired with an RTX 4090 can’t deliver a sustained 60fps experience and where mainstream CPU favorite – the Ryzen 5 3600 – struggles to even reach 30fps on default settings with ray tracing enabled.
To put it bluntly, Gotham Knight’s 30fps nature on consoles seems to be due to the creator of the game as opposed to the raw capabilities of the hardware. It’s just speculation, of course, but based on what we’ve seen, the brute force power of the new machines is being used to make a game that likely couldn’t run well on PS4 and Xbox One run even at a basic level on PS5 and the Xbox series hardware. By extension, it’s not the best example of why a move to 30fps console gaming might come.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is much more interesting, simply because Asobo Studios’ reputation and achievements are exceptionally impressive. Here we find a game that drives phenomenal levels of detail, beautiful materials and characters, and a remarkable lighting solution. On the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the native resolution is 2560×1440, with time-accumulation to upscale to a convincing-looking 4K, while the Series S runs at 900p with a 1080p output target. 30 frames per second is the target, but the fidelity Asobo is aiming for could see the PlayStation 5 fall short of the performance target.
Would, say, a 1080p performance mode be possible for this title for the premium consoles? After all, if the Series S delivers 900p30, the notion that the Series X – with a supposed 3x improvement in GPU power – could deliver 1080p60 doesn’t sound outrageous. At this point we must consider that developers who is it not targeting the latest generation of console CPUs can already challenge the Zen 2 cores with their latest wares. Our friend at the brilliantly named Analog Foundry presented their version of A Plague Tale optimized settings for use on an RTX 3070 paired with a Ryzen 7 3700X CPU, based on the same Zen 2 architecture as the consoles. this clip suggests that performance may drop into the mid to high 30s, likely due to CPU limitations as the GPU is clearly underutilized. Based on the pictures, there is a cost to running these thousands of rats.
The goalposts have shifted with Asobo Studios choosing fidelity and visual performance over performance – but there’s a twist via support for 40fps on 120Hz displays. Sony’s first-party studios have championed the use of 40 fps fidelity modes for much of their recent output, including Uncharted: The Legacy Collection, Horizon Forbidden West and The Last of Us Part 1. The trend was kicked off by Insomniac Games with its Spider-Man titles and Ratchet and Clank: Rift in Time showed off the feature. The reason 30 fps exists in the first place is that it cleanly splits into the 60Hz refresh rate of most displays – the same frame persists across two screen refreshes and looks consistent. 40fps is the logical progression for the new wave of 120Hz monitors: the screen refreshes three times per game frame and it gives a much smoother look than 30fps.
This may sound strange when you “only” get 10 extra frames per second but the frame rate is not linear, the frame time is. A 30fps game refreshes every 33.3ms, a 60fps game refreshes every 16.7ms. If you aim for 40fps, you’ll end up in the middle with a 25ms per frame endurance. It may well be “just” an extra 10fps, but it looks so much smoother because it’s in the exact midpoint between a 30fps and 60fps presentation.
To illustrate why frame time is a more useful performance metric than frame rate, consider this: the difference between 30 fps and 60 fps is 30 fps, but so is the difference between 90 fps and 120 fps. The improvement in frame time – which is essentially how you perceive the flow of the game – drops by 16.7ms in the jump from 30fps to 60fps. However, increasing the frame rate from 90 fps to 120 fps only reduces the frame time by 2.8 ms. Faster is better, but as frame rates scale, actual noticeable improvements in performance quickly enter the realm of diminishing returns. Likewise, dropping the frame time from 33.3 ms (30 fps) down to 25 ms (40 fps) is much more of a gain perceptually than the frame rate figure suggests.
The Plague Tale: Requiem does not support 60fps but if you play the game on a 120Hz monitor, the frame rate target will change to 40fps instead. In short, you could well describe it as the “performance mode” of the future – opening the door to smoother, more responsive gameplay even if it’s not quite “full fat” 60fps. It’s hard to describe how effective it is unless you see it in action, but unfortunately I don’t think A Plague Tale: Requiem is the best showcase for the technology as the frame rate is still noticeably variable, even with VRR. It targets 40fps/25ms but it’s not locked.
However, the Insomniac titles are well worth a look to see how well it works when performance is consistent. I’d also recommend Horizon Forbidden West, where you see a straight trade-off between visual clarity (40fps fidelity mode) and smoother gameplay (60fps performance mode). The “40 vs 60” numbers look sharp but the truth is I’d be happy to play the game at either setting – and so by extension, if 40fps was the only option available for “higher performance”, I’d be happy with the presentation and would hardly feel deficient.
So as the generational malaise gives way to titles that only cater to the current consoles, we should expect to see fewer titles running at 60 frames per second – it’s inevitable. 60fps is no longer an automatic given, it becomes a design element that developers must work around and plan for more diligently. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I think the biggest surprise is that we’re already seeing CPU-challenged titles. In the case of Gotham Knights, it’s hard to see why a relatively basic open world causes these problems but look at A Plague Tale: Requiem’s multitude of rats, or examine how CPU-intensive Unreal Engine 5 is right now (even on high-end PCs! ) there are valid reasons why 60fps might not be achievable – and ultimately we have to trust the developers to deliver what’s best for the game. And if performance is truly a top priority, the PC platform will always be there for you.
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