Alan Wake 2 is a great game – a class act of fine art – and while it still looks good on consoles starting with the Xbox Series S, it’s only on high-end PC hardware that you can see Remedy’s masterpiece at its best. Not at all thanks to hardware – accelerated ray tracing, path tracing and DLSS 3.5 ray reconstruction. The question is: do you need top-of-the-line hardware like an RTX 4080 or RTX 4090 to get the most out of the experience? Well, it’s definitely a tough experience, but we’re happy with the results we got with the RTX 3080 and its closest 40-series equivalent, the RTX 4070, both running at 1440p output resolution. Of course, these settings may provide similar scalability on other RT-capable GPUs, although your performance capabilities may vary.
Then there’s scalability, but first let’s take a look at each RT feature and what it actually does. Direct ray tracing lighting essentially adds RT shadows to all light sources. Alan Wake 2’s default shadow maps can be temporally unstable and vary depending on distance from different values of shadows, resulting in a noticeable “popping” sound as you progress through the series.
Point shadows also have uniform sharpness, whereas in real life shadows are sharper the closer they get to the light source and fade with distance. This is related to another problem: not every object casts a shadow. RT Shadow in Alan Wake 2 solves all these problems and avoids the common problems of other games that have this effect. For example, RT shadows don’t move very often. It’s particularly incompatible with items like plants, but that’s not a problem in this game.
Next, let’s discuss the tracked indirect light, which accounts for the significant increase in RT reflection quality in Allan Wake 2. On the surface, it has all the benefits of other RT reflection implementations in other games.
Without RT, reflectance is calculated based on screen space information. As good as it sounds, when the information isn’t on the screen, there’s nothing to add to the visible reflection, creating an annoying visual barrier. This means that panning up/down while viewing a lake, for example, will cause the reflection details to disappear as the reflective content leaves the screen area.
However, in Alan Wake 2 you can see that even light sources behind the player (eg, sunlight coming through a window) can reflect in the viewport quite differently than with the SSR option. For example, light appears in the reflected glow of a painted door, while the window itself may be reflected in the glass of a framed picture. The width of the reflection can also be affected by the difference in glass.
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Alan Wake 2 also features diffuse lighting in path tracing, meaning that light still reflects off matte surfaces. Aside from some interesting side-by-side comparisons in the video above, the effect can be quite subtle — and that’s because Remedy appears to be integrating path tracing into its existing global illumination solution. It’s great for a non-RT bass, but as you’ll see in the video, it makes a lot of “bugs” and doesn’t “fit” any tracks.
The advantage is that players who don’t use path tracing get nice diffused global illumination in the game, and technically path tracing may require less noise reduction, but the disadvantage is that path tracing inherits visual errors from other GIs. The solution works with this. Because of this, unlike the path tracing switches in Cyberpunk 2077, turning it on and off in some scenes doesn’t change the look of the game much.
Lastly, I’m a bit conflicted with how the lighting is set up in Alan Wake 2. I like what path tracing does for specular lighting, but the way it affects diffuse lighting mixed with other GI systems means it’s more error prone. Fragile and less accurate. However, path tracking makes the game look much better at the micro level, as other GI systems can’t work meaningfully there.
|Advanced RT settings||Ziel: RTX 3080 1440p||Ziel: RTX 4070 1440p|
|Reconstruction by judgment||a||a|
|indirect light||a||little bit|
|Transparency is light||a||little bit|
Given the optimized settings, I wanted to choose the RTX 3080 as an example GPU because it is very popular and still very powerful. For example, at the same PS5 settings we see almost double the performance, but adding path tracing options with DLSS ray reconstruction drops performance to around 30fps. The good news is that the RT options are scalable, allowing us to nearly double performance while retaining the bulk of the tracking glory. This is a very complex topic, so I recommend you watch the video to see in detail the cost of running each basic RT function and how we decided on these optimized settings.
I also ran parallel tests with the RTX 4070 as it offers 3080-class performance, but I found that it was actually 14 percent slower than the 3080 at PS5 settings. However, if you run it with the full path-tracing suite compared to capable DLSS beam reconstruction, the tables turn. The RTX 4070 now outperforms the 3080 by 26 percent. And that’s before considering the DLSS3 framework build, which looks and works very well in this title.
Finally, I wanted to touch on DLSS Ray Restoration, which I recommend to Nvidia owners, although many of the problems I saw with Cyberpunk 2077 still exist here. Moving reflections are reconstructed much better than the standard denoiser, although the standard denoiser is relatively smelly. The same applies to fast light changes, which appear faster and more natural with beam reconstruction – they react noticeably faster.
|Non-RT settings||PS5 performance mode||Medium preset for PC||Quality Mod for PS5|
|Post processing||little bit||hoch||little bit|
|Volumetric light||little bit||Mediation||Mediation|
|Quality volumetric light||little bit||Mediation||Mediation|
|Global Light Quality||Mediation||hoch||hoch|
|Shadow accuracy||little bit||Mediation||Mediation|
|Universal reflection||little bit||little bit||little bit|
|Screen space reflection||little bit||little bit||little bit|
|Distance object description (LOD)||Mediation||hoch||hoch|
|Density of scattering material||Mediation||Super||Super|
I will also say that with Ray Reconstruction the game feels less artificially sharp than Cyberpunk, but the problem still exists. A great place to demonstrate this is on character faces, where normal map transparency combined with ray reconstruction sometimes cleans up the clutter beneath the game’s surface.
Another aspect I’d like to see improved in ray reconstruction is the tendency towards oversharpness. The lower the internal resolution, the sharper it is. The DLSS presets below make it more visible and give the game a stripped-down look in certain lighting conditions. Ray reconstruction is as transformative as DLSS 2, but for the same reasons it is clearly a first-generation technology that needs further iterations.
However, I’m a big fan of Alan Wake 2’s RT and hope the 30 minute video I’ve put together helps explain how the game can change on both a micro and macro level, while also showing the absolute top-tier hardware isn’t necessary. – but it definitely helps if you’re looking for a high frame rate 4K experience.
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