The current generation of consoles, ushered in when the PS5 and Xbox Series X debuted in 2020, has been a messy one in many ways. The consoles themselves have been hard to find, and — with the ballooning costs of game development — few publishers have been willing to go all in with fully exclusive titles. So we’re left with games like Horizon Forbidden West, a tentpole release for Sony, which will launch simultaneously on the PS4 and PS5. Sometimes, this doesn’t turn out so well, like the disastrous cross-generation launch of Cyberpunk 2077. But that’s not the case here: the latest Horizon plays great no matter which PlayStation you own.
To test this, I played through the first few hours of the game on both consoles; a launch version of the PS5 and a base PS4 model. In terms of pure visuals, the difference is negligible. Textures on the PS5 are smoother, there’s more detail in some scenes, and overall, the image looks cleaner and has much-improved lighting. There’s some noticeable pop-in on the PS4, particularly during cutscenes, but no major graphical hitches; these issues are also a bit more noticeable when you’re moving very fast on one of the game’s mounts and the world is speeding past. The most glaring difference in my experience (because it’s something you’re looking at constantly) is that Aloy’s hair looks more realistic on the PS5, particularly as it moves around while she’s jumping. In fact, when you put images of the two versions side by side, it can be hard to tell which is which.
Here are a few spoiler-free screenshot comparisons from the first five hours of the game:
Really, on the PS4, Forbidden West looks and feels a lot like its predecessor. Which isn’t a bad thing: the original Horizon was a beautiful game, and its sequel features a broader range of machines to battle and environments to explore, so it’s still very pretty to look at. It should also be noted that both Forbidden West and its predecessor were built using the same engine, which was also used for games like Death Stranding.
There are, of course, other benefits to playing on a PS5 beyond pure visual fidelity. Like many games on the platform, Horizon Forbidden West has two graphics options: one that favors resolution, another that offers a higher frame rate. As with most action games — whether it’s Control or The Last of Us — Horizon really benefits from the smoother gameplay that comes from support for better frame rates. It’s particularly noticeable when you’re in a hectic fight, with multiple enemies attacking and firing projectiles while your character rolls around firing arrows. Forbidden West doesn’t run poorly on the PS4 in my experience — though it will probably make your console’s fan get loud — but playing with an improved frame rate is a very welcome change in that regard. (It’s possible that there are some late-game moments that are dramatically different between the platforms, but, at least early on, the PS4 holds its own surprisingly well.)
You can see the PS4 version in action in the gameplay trailer below:
Elsewhere, the upgrades are less noticeable. You get some nice feedback in the PS5’s DualSense controller when firing an arrow, but it’s nothing as groundbreaking as the realistic rumble and tension on display in Astro’s Playroom. I also didn’t notice a huge difference in load times between the two versions of the game.
Last month, Sony released the Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, which bundled two PS4 games — the excellent Uncharted 4 and the even-better spinoff The Lost Legacy — for its new console. The upgrades for the Uncharted collection are very similar to what you can expect going from the PS4 to PS5 with Forbidden West: it’s a little bit prettier and a little bit smoother, but otherwise, the games are nearly identical.
This might be disappointing for PS5 owners looking for a killer app to show off their expensive console. There aren’t any of the neat PS5-exclusive tricks like instantly loading worlds you’ll find games like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. But the fact that the game runs so well on both is generally great news for the increasingly multiplatform PlayStation ecosystem, especially with future blockbusters like God of War: Ragnarok utilizing a similar cross-generation strategy.
For more on Horizon Forbidden West, which launches on February 18th, be sure to check out our full review.