We’re finally getting to see more of the launch wave of PlayStation 5 titles, with Insomniac revealing a first look at hardware accelerated ray tracing effects in Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. A huge improvement is clearly evident in reflections from the tallest skyscraper to the smallest puddle, but bafflingly, the reveal was met with some vitriol on social media. Artefacts and compromises were highlighted, with some even suggesting that we weren’t seeing ray tracing at all. The reality is clear though: hardware RT is an emerging feature on brand new consoles developers are just getting to know, it’s computationally expensive so compromises are inevitable – and what we’re seeing here is very impressive stacked up against similar hybrid RT implementations seen in the PC space.
In terms of Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS5, there are two rendering modes – a 4K quality mode pegged at 30fps, alongside a 60fps performance mode. The former shows obvious RT reflections but ray traced ambient occlusion is also mooted for inclusion. This is harder to identify in screenshots or in videos, but in general, ambient occlusion adds shadows into scenes to simulate the darker effect in nooks and crannies where light bounce is more muted. From what we can tell from the released footage, the 60fps performance mode sticks with the screen-space reflections seen in Spider-Man on PS4 – the key limitation being that only detail in the camera view can be reflected, leading to many visual discontinuities. Skyscraper reflections drop back to much rougher approximations based on captured cube maps that change according to height.
RT is a revelatory improvement here, but some people don’t seem to be impressed. It’s true that the resolution of the RT reflections is lower – perhaps quarter resolution compared to the main image. Others weren’t impressed that certain objects seen on-screen aren’t represented in the reflections, leading to suggestions that what we’re seeing can’t be ray tracing. Meanwhile, the leaves in trees appear much reduced, while reflections also miss some shadows. As I see it, all of these characteristics make a lot of sense and are unsurprising. What we’re seeing in Spider-Man is the simple result of the fact that RT has multiple performance sensitive steps and developers have a limited rendering budget for ray tracing. I’ve tried to rationalise this into four distinct steps.