Volition has always been known for pushing technology, with its game Decent even beating the revolutionary Quake to a full 3D engine. In this Saints Row reboot, technology has remained a core pillar to build on. Using an improved proprietary engine, Volition has added the big-ticket item for this generation: ray tracing – or ray traced ambient occlusion to be precise, but more on that later. The current generation console versions offer I think the largest mode set I have seen in a console game to date. We are looking at the PS5, Xbox Series X and S, and PC, as well as the Xbox One X to give you a flavor of what the last gen versions offer.
Modes of Play
All platforms offer a fixed set of resolution outputs, with no drops below the output levels noted. Due to the number of modes, it would also suggest the engine does not currently offer a dynamic resolution scaling solution. Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 offer five fixed modes along with two that enable you to turn ray tracing ambient occlusion on or off, totalling seven permutations for each console. There’s two 1920x1080p modes, two 2560x1440p modes, and a single mode for 4K. This means you can pick your preference: more pixels, more performance or better-quality pixels.
The Series S makes do with a single 1080p mode, as does the Xbox One X, albeit at a higher resolution of 2560x1440p. In addition, they both target 60fps but the success levels differ between them, something true of all console modes tested.. Neither of them offer any ray tracing effects either, leaving Series S owners missing out on most of the features its bigger brother offers.
PC offers two API options for you to choose from based upon your personal hardware configuration: DirectX 11 and DirectX 12, the latter of which I used on all my tests as required to support DXR ray tracing on my RX 6800. Full specifications are below:
- RX 6800 16GB GPU
- Ryzen 5 3600X @ 4.2GHz
- 32GB of DDR4 3200Mhz RAM
- 5GB/s PCIe NVMe SSD
With these specs, we can push these options to the max and see how much the PC and game engine can scale.The Ray Traced ambient occlusion operates within screen space and is only available in the 1080p and 1440p modes on the PS5 and Series X. This is an element of global illumination, in that it emulates the self-occlusion or shadowing of recessed areas, under cars, within doorways, or even on bodies as they contact walls, floors or even themselves. The ray traced quality here adds a good deal of depth and grounding within the game’s objects. It increases the pixel coverage/resolution of the effect as you scale up from 1080p to 1440p, however the setting itself drops from the PC Ultra setting when at 1080p to closer to the PC High setting when at 1440p. A minor change, but noted in my comparisons. The 4K mode does offer the best image quality and clarity of the lot, sadly with no ray tracing present, which is true on both consoles.
From testing all the modes across PS5 and Series X, we have identical outputs and visual parity here from each of the five modes. This includes the screen space HBAO. When ray tracing is disabled, SSR is used for reflections, which hit the PC Ultra level at 1080p and the High level at 1440p. In fact, the 1080p Ultra mode on consoles does appear to be almost identical to the PC’s best, aside from shadows which, although still noisy at times even on Ultra, can be a little cleaner and less dithered on the PC’s best at higher resolutions. The lack of RT reflections does mean that the relatively dithered and stochastic reflection that SSR offers, alongside low-quality cube maps in certain places, can again cause some artifacts within the game’s image.
On all platforms, stippled effects on hair, stubble, and reflections, mixed with the very strong TAA pass the engine uses, gives heavy ghosting of all these areas as things move and blend into each other. Tyres trail on the ground, heads leave strong outlines, and even shadows can band across bodies, cars, or other geometry. This is far from terrible and is only present in certain scenarios, but it must be noted that the IQ can vary from excellent to ok throughout play. This is aided by higher resolutions and the higher shadows PC offers, but never fully resolved. As such, these elements can look worse at 1080p due to the relationship aligned with the target output buffer. The Series S runs many of these effects lower than the bigger consoles, which is evidenced in the side by side comparisons. However, the nips and tucks help it manage a close mirror of those consoles with significantly less power and memory, something which is likely part of the reason it does not offer any Ray Traced effects. Aside from the pixel reductions, RT disablement and small shift in SSR detail, AO, volumetrics, and alpha, all other aspects remain a match. This includes the improved character models that you can design and tweak, the physically-based materials that, although not top tier, are improved and more nuanced and reactive than previous games. From car body reflections, hair fins, skin tones, water surfaces, metals and blood – something you will see a great deal here, although no character destruction or dismemberment is present.
We have a number of modes to cover here, and in an odd choice, all are capped at 16ms – or 60fps. For Series X and PlayStation 5, both 1080p modes do a decent job of hitting that 60fps target. Both can dip below that target, but the Max FPS mode is as close to 60fps to never really stand out and VRR can be enabled if so desired. The Ultra Quality mode can dip into the high 40s on both, with it needing VRR to hide those dips. This is far from bad, but certainly not locked, though due to the size and scale of these types of games, this could be worse in certain scenarios. The main difference between these two modes is that the Max quality offers higher LoD, foliage, higher sampled motion blur, enhanced fresnel lighting, and ambient occlusion ray traced shade. It’s by no means a drastic visual increase, but in direct comparison the reduction in shade, shift in material quality, and other visual differences do stand out. Sadly, the dithered, stochastic pixel sample level it uses is lower than the base output level, and it does stand out as you jump to 1440p, which means you gain a much higher pixel budget for this effect, although it can come at the cost of performance.
At 1440p the High FPS mode is close to the 1080p Ultra mode levels of performance, with again both machines being almost identical on the points and levels of dips below 60fps. This is my preferred mode as it still offers a decent level of visual quality, with reductions on visual settings present but not drastic. The compromise here makes it the best balance of quality, clarity and performance, with the second 1440p mode still hitting a possible 60fps level, but can dip into the 30s for prolonged areas on both consoles, meaning VRR is of no use here most of the time and it can feel like a 30fps title in long open areas as you race through the countryside or blow stuff up. I would suggest the team offer a 30fps option in the menu that can be toggled for all modes, thus giving players even more choice on what is already a superb level of options for a console game.
Finally, the 4K mode, which believe it or not, still targets 60fps is almost never out of the 40s and can even dip just below the 30s in very brief moments. As such most would think this is a 30fps mode, and it really should be as the results here show a game that is heavily GPU bound with some further cutbacks on the visual levels in the menu but ultimately runs approximately 22% slower on both consoles than the 1440 High Quality mode at over twice the resolution. Not a surprise and something we will see on the PC tests.
The Series S has a single 1080p mode and its performance is worse than the Series X and PS5 consoles in the 1440 High Quality mode. With it never hitting 60fps in my tested sections and often being in or around the 30s, it’s certainly enough for me to suggest that a 30fps cap option here or a 900p resolution could make a significant boost to this console’s performance levels. Again, VRR can help but will not resolve the lower bounds it can hit. As such you are left with a close visual match to the bigger consoles but a clear divide in fps.
The Xbox One X backs this up and shows the engine still needs some work to reduce the cost of certain effects, pixel fill rate and bandwidth looking to be core areas of demand. As such the 1440p output means we can see frame rates dip under 30fps, which should be added as an optional toggle. The unlocked frame rates can hit the high 30 and very low 40s, but it is often well inside the 30fps zone. Again, not so frequent to be annoying, but things such as fast travel across the country can cause the console to struggle, resulting in us seeing things popping in very close to the camera, likely using that adaptive foliage mode. It does not look that far removed from the best on PC and console and in fact, looks visually better than the Series S due to the higher resolution and almost identical visual settings. But expect this to be the best last gen version of the lot due to the Xbox One X being the most capable console from that generation.
Even on my Ryzen 5 3600X and RX 6800, this current build is very demanding on PC and console alike. With the PC set to 4K and max settings, performance levels drop far below the 60fps dream and explains why we see the levels we have on consoles across all modes. As such the 1440p/maximum is my recommendation for this level of GPU, based on the launch day build, and 1080p/maximum for mid-range level GPUs such as the RX 6700 or RTX 2070 and below. If you cut back to the levels of the consoles, then 1440p with a 60fps target is also possible.
What the PC maximum offers is the cleanest visual package of the lot. Some of the heavy dithering on shadows and noisy pixels we can get in strong contrast areas are much more stable and at times fully resolved. TAA passes are still heavy and colour banding, shadow acne and other visual blemishes – some of them clearly rendering bugs that could potentially be fixed in a future patch – still occur. The demands here mean that to get close to a 4K/60 Maximum you would likely need an RTX 3090-level GPU, and that is still not a guarantee.
Saints Row has been away for a while, and this reboot still manages to feel both familiar and like a new entry in this established series whilst offering significant technical improvements in key areas. Loading is one area that is a let-down, with no real use of the SSDs or compression elements of the new consoles. Loading can take 25+ seconds, which is far from slow, but in this modern age it already feels lacking. The ray tracing can improve both the materials and construction of scenes with it being a good choice to add into this improved engine. That said, the impact to performance even on a higher-end PC may not be worth the cost it takes to run at greater than 1080p resolutions. The current gen consoles run many of the settings at High or the highest and achieves a close match for the PC in many areas. Scene geometry for example is often High on Series X and PS5 in all modes and runs Medium on Series S. Aside from the materials, animation, and effects suite the game offers, it cannot hide the skeleton of the old game that lies beneath. From Havok physics integration and rag doll deaths to robotic AI, short shadow cascade draw, heavy pop-in across all formats – even on PC at Max settings – and a generally noisy and demanding engine, many players may be expecting more than their machines will deliver, at least at launch.
The new Saints Row title is an experience that should not be missed out. It is a new take on the franchise and provides the player with a gratifying experience and a considerable upgrade from the previous titles. The only issue was that the game did not take advantage of the next gen technologies and provide the players with a visual treat in the game. However, one of the main requirement for purchasing a title is the fun element and Saints Row is jam packed with that. The bugs and glitches can also get extremely annoying at times, but there was nothing that couldn’t be solved through patchers. Saints Row is a game with immense potential and room to be a lot better.