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14 months later, Cyberpunk 2077 gets next-gen console patch, free 5-hour trial

Virtual Keanu Reeves rests on his laurels after the latest <Em>Cyberpunk 2077</em> patch. But should he get up and do more before relaxing? We look into it.
Enlarge / Virtual Keanu Reeves rests on his laurels after the latest Cyberpunk 2077 patch. But should he get up and do more before relaxing? We look into it.

A surprise Tuesday presentation from game studio CD Projekt Red confirmed that its historically buggy 2020 game Cyberpunk 2077 is finally getting a “current-gen” patch for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles. Then the studio immediately launched the patch.

In a move full of either confidence or desperation, CD Projekt Red celebrated the milestone by offering a free, five-hour trial of CP77 on current-gen consoles. Interested players can now download the game in its entirety for free, though upon boot, a timer will appear at the screen’s bottom-left to indicate how much time remains before the game is locked by a full purchase price. Since this trial doesn’t lock down any of CP77‘s regions or content beyond a timer, players could conceivably speedrun the game; slower players, meanwhile, should know that this timer runs even while the game is paused or in menus. So lean on “sleep mode” or other ways to stop the timer, slowpokes!

Based on my tests of the patch on both PS5 and Xbox Series X, I would say CDPR is being more confident than desperate, though CP77 is by no means ironclad this many months after its December 2020 premiere.

When “ray tracing” doesn’t necessarily mean “ray tracing”

Infographic provided by CD Projekt Red about current-gen console options for <em>Cyberpunk 2077</em>.
Enlarge / Infographic provided by CD Projekt Red about current-gen console options for Cyberpunk 2077.

CD Projekt Red

On the highest-end consoles (PS5, Xbox Series X), CP77 previously worked in a “back-compat” mode that leveraged some, but not all, of the newer consoles’ power. This week’s patch appears to tap into these systems’ full capabilities with more of a performance payoff.

For these two consoles, CP77 now offers two graphics modes: “ray tracing” and “performance.” However, the former mode’s name is misleading. In some games, enabling ray tracing can include anything from a performance-pounding “global illumination” model to a medium-intensity system of more realistic reflections on surfaces like water and glass. Sure enough, CP77‘s PC version offers a wider ray-tracing-effects pipeline. CP77‘s console version does not aspire so much; instead, its ray-tracing mode applies exclusively to shadows and ambient occlusion.

Toggling this 30 fps mode delivers more realistic and dynamic shadows throughout the game that account for multiple light sources, light glowing off of surfaces, and other means of rendering softer, more diffuse shadows. This is particularly noticeable in open-world sections where CDPR isn’t able to cheaply “bake” attractive shadow elements. Depending on the game scene in question, this can have a dramatic impact, as the 60 fps “performance” mode continues to suffer from flat, “glowing” lighting scenes where shadowless objects seemingly hover in 3D space. But the toggle doesn’t otherwise have an impact on, say, traffic density or other graphical aspects. While both modes aspire to a maximum 4K resolution, the actual pixel count of both is reduced by a dynamic resolution scaling system in order to keep frame rates steady.

Hence, current-gen console owners will likely want to opt for higher frame rates—and while both aforementioned consoles apparently hold close to 60 fps in performance mode, each can still dip into the mid-50s during intense sequences full of alpha particle effects. In these cases, Xbox Series X may be preferable due to its support of variable refresh rate monitors, which more nimbly handle sub-60 dips. But perfunctory testing on PS5 didn’t feel annoying or suffer from constant frame-pacing issues. To be clear: both of these systems previously offered 60 fps modes in the past. This week’s patch raises the apparent pixel count for both consoles’ performance modes while also upgrading visual aspects, like draw distance and number of visible vehicles on average roads.

Xbox Series S, meanwhile, has no such mode toggle. The weaker current-gen console locks to 30 fps at a maximum 1440p resolution without any ray-traced shadow support.

Whatever mode or current-gen platform you pick, your CP77 gameplay will benefit from current-gen PCI-e 4.0 storage speeds. That’s because loading times now land closer to the 3-5 second count, as opposed to 12-15 seconds on the previous current-gen versions or 45-60 seconds on last-gen consoles. Curiously, CDPR has elected to add “secrets” around the game’s open world that can only be found on PC and current-gen consoles. Sorry, PS4 and XB1 fans.

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