When the PS4 Pro released back in November, boasting its 4K resolution, enhanced image quality, and general improvements to performance over the standard system, there weren’t many titles noticeably taking advantage of the upgraded hardware. While Uncharted 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider offered some pretty stunning visuals on a 4K HDR display, whether or not this level of improvement warranted the $400 upgrade to the PS4 Pro was debatable. Now, with the fantastic Horizon Zero Dawn just a week away, we’ve finally got a game that shows what the PS4 Pro is really capable of, and one heck of a good reason to pick the system up if you’ve been sitting on the fence. It was the showcase title of Sony’s PS4 Pro event back in September, and after spending dozens of hours in its gorgeous open world, it’s not hard to see why.
Horizon Zero Dawn looks nothing short of breathtaking, and the PS4 Pro is the definitive way to experience it. Walking through forests or lush fields, it’s easy to pick out absurd numbers of individual blades of grass or leaves on the trees, independently blowing in the breeze. I’ve never before seen dust skim so realistically across a dry, cracked desert floor, or noticed small ants crawling up a tree side. These may all seem like tiny, individual instances of the Pro’s power, but it’s when all of these bits are pieced together that Horizon Zero Dawn reaches a novel level of visual fidelity.
Nothing has been overlooked in this world. Everything glistens with a level of polish rarely matched by other experiences, even when playing on the standard PS4. The bright glow of colored lights on machines pierce the deep blacks of the night thanks to the truer, deeper shades that HDR displays can output on any PlayStation 4. Yet, whether you’re taking in a grandiose landscape like the one a little further down this page, or just admiring a nearby tree, playing on the Pro unlocks a slew of visual secrets hidden away on a standard system.
Staring at a range of mountains, or simply standing in a gentle snow shower, the PS4 Pro’s visuals add immersion in in heaps. Mountain tops are clouded with a fine mist, their steep edges more clearly defined through the haze. Frosty white pixels dart and glide across the screen with a natural chaos, but feel more robotic and uniform in their descent on the PS4. Even when staring at rope bindings, the Pro packs in so much detail that you can begin to make out the individual strands plaited together.
This level of detail scales up to the bigger, mechanical beasts. If you jump into a battle with a bird-like Longleg, you can see not only its Concussion Sac (what is basically a super powerful external lung), but admire the netted, breathable material its made of. Staring into the razer-filled mouth of a Rockbreaker, you won’t just see its thousands of teeth; you’ll see the nuts and bolts holding it all together, and the beginnings of rust infesting and dismembering a complex compilation of moving parts. Aloy hasn’t missed out either, with the grain of the wood of her bow and the markings etched into it perfectly clear, and every stitch of her outfit meticulously in place.
Just standing back and admiring a landscape is one of Horizon’s best pastimes. No matter how close you get to the foliage, each shrub and blade of grass retain a level of photorealism unparalleled in a game this generation. From the way light glistens off large waxy leaves to accentuate their internal veins, to the sprawling view distances possible on the supercharged system, every component has an additional layer of visual drama. This in hand, Horizon Zero Dawn on the Pro better delivers a feeling of insignificance — of being just one person in a giant, living, breathing world.
Traversing these environments feels just as satisfying. While it’s all well and good that the PS4 Pro makes Horizon Zero Dawn look incredible in images, it doesn’t mean anything if the game runs poorly. Yet, in motion, Horizon continue to treat. Animations are smooth and fluid – particularly when Aloy is climbing – and the game consistently runs at a high and steady framerate. Even when I was battling a couple of huge machines, laser beams and projectiles filling the screen, the PS4 Pro kept Horizon Zero Dawn running effortlessly, all the while Aloy’s strands of hair flailed behind her in the wind.
All of these tiny details and slight enhancements are incredible on their own, but they come together to provide the most immersive and visually stunning world I’ve visited in a video game for quite some time. And while I’m sure that I’d have enjoyed the experience on a regular PS4, Horizon Zero Dawn pops with a vibrancy and level of detail on the PS4 Pro that makes the system finally feel like a worthy upgrade.