Why the return of 30fps console games is inevitable

Two new games were released last week that don’t support 60 frames per second on PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series consoles, Gotham Knights and A Plague Tale: Requiem. Many would argue that one of the biggest gains of the new wave of consoles was that the majority of titles support 60fps – or even 120fps – which is a game-changing improvement over the last-gen’s default 30fps. The question is why this series of titles doesn’t support this option and if it marks the beginning of the end of 60 fps as the standard for console gaming.

It’s a tricky question to answer, but ultimately I think it’s inevitable that the spread of 60fps support will drop significantly – not least because so many titles are trying to take advantage of the full range of features in Epic’s Unreal Engine 5 , which sets the stage for a new 3D rendering paradigm. Thanks to last year’s phenomenal demo – The Matrix Awakens – which is based on an early rendition of the engine’s capabilities, we already have our first taste of the kind of fidelity that UE5 offers. Lumen leverages hardware-accelerated ray tracing capabilities, delivering an amazingly realistic lighting solution, while Nanite offers a level of geometric detail beyond traditional rendering.

It’s very different from anything we’ve seen before, but the point is that the demo runs at an inconsistent 30fps during gameplay, while cutscenes actually run at a literally cinematic 24fps. Both the CPU and GPU are put to the test here, so downscaling the resolution to improve the frame rate doesn’t help much.

The latest DF Direct Weekly covers the entire Gotham Knights/Plague Tale 30fps situation.

It’s worth emphasizing here that this demo is running on an older version of UE5 and we assume the latest version is more powerful – and it can only get better. We also claim that developers like The Coalition, custodians of the Gears of War franchise, would be reluctant to go back to 30fps. Other caveats? While so many triple-A game makers may turn to UE5, there is no obligation to use it Everyone its cutting-edge rendering capabilities combined – the default renderer will always be there, as evidenced by Fortnite, which also runs on Unreal Engine 5. However, as the generation progresses, if a game is going to support 60fps it has to be baked into the design and addressed in a way that doesn’t necessarily apply to the games we’ve played on PS5 and Xbox Series to date.

Much of why we’ve seen an increase in 60fps and 120fps game modes in recent years is due to a cross-generational console development phase of unprecedented length. A combination of a huge installed base of last generation machines and their architectural similarities to the new wave of machines has given developers and publishers the opportunity to develop games for old and new consoles simultaneously, rather than distributing underperforming ports to older machines – as was the case in previous console transitions. The need to support platforms with CPUs as weak as the AMD Jaguar means the processing power is immediately there to at least double performance on the latest console hardware. The graphics side of the equation is even more scalable.

The arrival of A Plague Tale: Requiem and Gotham Knights at 30 fps comes alongside these titles Not Get last-gen versions – albeit for very different reasons. We’ve given our verdict on Gotham Knights, which looks and feels like a cross-gen title, even with the Xbox One and PS4 versions canned. We’ve also now had the chance to play Gotham Knights on PC, where we find a game with pervasive CPU and GPU utilization issues, to the point where even a Core i9 12900K paired with an RTX 4090 can’t afford a sustained 60- fps experience and where the mainstream CPU favorite – the Ryzen 5 3600 – struggles to even hit 30 fps on default settings with ray tracing enabled.

Gotham Knights doesn’t just fight on consoles – it’s also heavily CPU limited on PC for some reason, as shown running on a mainstream rig. Not even a Core i9 12900K paired with an RTX 4090 can fully overcome the issues.

To put it bluntly, the 30fps nature of Gotham Knights on consoles seems to stem from the game’s authorship, as opposed to the raw capabilities of the hardware. It’s just speculation, of course, but based on what we’ve seen, the brute force power of the new machines is being used to make a game that probably wouldn’t play well on PS4 and Xbox One, even a basic one Level on PS5 and Xbox series hardware. More broadly, this isn’t the best example of why a transition to console gaming at 30fps could be coming.

A Plague Tale: Requiem is much more interesting simply because Asobo Studio’s reputation and achievements are extraordinarily impressive. Here we find a game that highlights phenomenal attention to detail, beautiful materials and characters, and a remarkable lighting solution. On PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, the native resolution is 2560×1440, using time accumulation to upscale to a compelling looking 4K, while Series S runs at 900p with an output target of 1080p. 30 frames per second is the goal, but the accuracy Asobo is aiming for could mean the PlayStation 5 in particular falls below the performance target.

For example, would a 1080p performance mode be possible for this title for the premium consoles? After all, if the Series S delivers 900p30, the idea that the Series X could deliver 1080p60 – with a notional 3x improvement in GPU performance – doesn’t sound outrageous. At this point, we must take into account that developers take this into account are not Targeting last-gen console CPUs may already be challenging the Zen 2 cores with their latest wares. Our brilliantly named friend from Analog Foundry presented his version of A Plague Tale, settings optimized for use on an RTX 3070 paired with a Ryzen 7 3700X CPU, based on the same Zen 2 architecture as the consoles. This clip suggests that performance can dip into the mid to high 30s, likely due to CPU limitations as the GPU is clearly underutilized. Based on the footage, running these many thousands of installments comes at a cost.

The Digital Foundry verdict on A Plague Tale: Requiem running on consoles.

The goalposts have shifted as Asobo Studio has opted for fidelity and visual performance over performance – but there’s a twist with support for 40fps on 120Hz displays. Sony’s first-party studios have championed the use of 40fps playback modes for a majority of their recent releases, including Uncharted: The Legacy Collection, Horizon Forbidden West, and The Last of Us Part 1. The trend was spearheaded by Insomniac Games launched with Spider-Man title and Ratchet and Clank: Rift in Time presented the feature. The reason 30fps even exists is that it splits cleanly into most displays’ 60Hz refresh rate – the same frame persists for two screen refreshes and looks consistent. 40fps is the logical progression for the new wave of 120Hz screens: the screen refreshes three times per game frame, offering a much smoother look than 30fps.

This might sound strange when you “only” get an extra 10 frames per second, but the frame rate isn’t linear, the frame time is. A 30 fps game is updated every 33.3 ms, a 60 fps game is updated every 16.7 ms. If you aim for 40fps, you’ll land right in the middle with a persistence of 25ms per frame. It might be “just” an extra 10fps, but it looks so much smoother because it’s right in the middle between a 30fps and 60fps presentation.

To illustrate why frame time is a more useful performance metric than frame rate, consider this: the difference between 30 fps and 60 fps is 30 fps, but so is the difference between 90 fps and 120 fps. However, the improvement in frametime – which is essentially the perception of game flow – drops by 16.7 ms when jumping from 30 fps to 60 fps. However, increasing the frame rate from 90 fps to 120 fps only reduces the frame time by 2.8 ms. Faster is better, but as the framerate scales, actual noticeable performance improvements quickly enter the realm of diminishing returns. For the same reason, slashing frame time from 33.3ms (30fps) to 25ms (40fps) is perceptually far more of a win than the frame-rate numbers suggest.

Moving to 40fps on a 120Hz display could well become the standard for higher performance in the future. In this video we explain why developers choose to support it – and why it works well.

The Plague Tale: Requiem doesn’t support 60fps, but when you play the game on a 120Hz display, the framerate target shifts to 40fps instead. In short, it could well be described as the “performance mode” of the future – opening the door to smoother, more responsive gaming, even if it’s not quite a “fall fat” 60fps. It’s hard to describe how effective it is unless you see it in action, but unfortunately I don’t think A Plague Tale: Requiem is the best example of this technique, as the frame rate is still noticeable even with VRR is variable. It aims for 40fps/25ms but isn’t locked.

However, the Insomniac titles are worth a look to see how well it performs when performance is consistent. I’d also recommend Horizon Forbidden West, where you see a clear compromise between visual clarity (40fps Playback mode) and smoother gameplay (60fps Performance mode). The “40 vs. 60” numbers look strong, but the truth is that I’d love to play the game on either setting – and if 40fps was the only “higher performance” option available, I’d be happy with the presentation and would hardly miss out.

As the cross-gen malaise gives way to titles that only appeal to current consoles, we should expect fewer titles to run at 60 frames per second – it’s inevitable. 60 fps is no longer taken for granted, but is becoming a design element that developers need to be more careful about and plan for. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I think the biggest surprise is that we’re already seeing titles facing CPU challenges. In the case of Gotham Knights, it’s hard to understand why a relatively simple open world is causing these problems, but looking at the multitude of rats in A Plague Tale: Requiem or examining how CPU intensive Unreal Engine 5 currently is (even on high-end PCs!) there are valid reasons why 60 fps might not be achievable – and ultimately we have to trust the developers to deliver the best for the game. And when performance really is your top priority, the PC platform is always there for you.