We’re several years into the ray tracing generation, which means 3D graphics’ biggest innovation for decades now has a solid pile of games actually using it. If you’ve been wondering why every triple-A since 2018 has forced you down streets full of neon signs and puddles at night at every possible juncture, ray tracing is the answer.
Nvidia’s marketing bluster around the graphics card giant’s RTX technology was quite confusing at first, but now that we’ve all seen it in action and got ourselves hyped up, RTX has become a bit of a byword for advanced graphics. It’s not just that you’ll see super-detailed reflections in the puddles, although you absolutely definitely will. RTX-enabled titles tend to come with a suite of impressive rendering features that push the overall fidelity up to the kind of levels that almost make you feel ok about having spent a grand on a graphics card.
Here are our picks for the best games to experience RTX with. The criteria we’re using here is a double whammy: they have to be fundamentally excellent experiences in the first place, no shiny interactive junk food. And they have to implement ray tracing in a noticeable, meaningful way. Resident Evil 7 is a great game, but its RTX features are pretty subtle compared with other releases.
And Cyberpunk 2077, once the poster boy of the neon-lit puddle reflection, still has a lot of performance issues to tussle with over two years later, so it’s not one of the outright best ways to enjoy RTX. These are.
The master storytellers from Helsinki produce their strangest tale yet in Control, a dysfunctional family drama set in a shapeshifting government institute of paranormal studies where employees float high against the ceiling and chant unknowable incantations in perfect unison. Also there’s shooting.
Said facility, The Oldest House, is one of the best characters of the story, and ray tracing’s used thoughtfully and with thematic consistency throughout its marble corridors, fastidiously decorated office complexes, and caverns where Eldritch horrors lurk. Not only is it gorgeous to take in visually, the ray tracing’s implemented in a way that amplifies the story by making its setting that much more vivid.
Quake II RTX
Id Software’s classic FPS is harder, better, faster, and Strogg-er thanks to the Nvidia RTX makeover treatment. This one really shows what a profound effect ray tracing can have – you’re playing a game from 1997, when the Spice Girls’ career was in full swing, and you’re sitting back and marveling at the graphics.
In truth, it’s not just ray tracing implementation making it look so incredible, but some retexturing too to support all the shiny rays. Still, if it can breathe such life back into a golden oldie and give you an excuse to blast through its many enjoyable brown corridors one more time, that can only be a good thing.
Portal With RTX
We’re running with a theme for this next entry, the snappily named Portal With RTX. This one’s also a collaboration between Nvidia’s Lightspeed studio and the original devs (via making the original assets available and retaining editorial control). And just like Quake II RTX, it shows ray tracing’s potential to transform a space.
The puzzles aren’t any easier for being better lit, but it’s certainly more pleasant to stand flummoxed while surrounded by shiny reflective sci-fi facility panels than boring old 2007 textures.
You can tell developer IO Interactive thought about ray tracing at an early stage in the development of each of Hitman 3’s levels. And not just because one of those levels is a neon-filled cityscape on a rainy night.
The game begins, for example, with 47 scaling a vast skyscraper above the Dubai desert. It’s a perfect opportunity for some ultra-advanced reflections. Then you make your way inside the building, and find the opulence of a high-end hotel rendered better than you’ve ever seen it before. You can almost smell the snobbery.
And so it continues, from gloomy English stately homes to the aforementioned Chongqing neon-fest. Even missions from previous chapters are updated – that catwalk from the Paris fashion show has never looked better.
DICE knows how to fill a space with spectacle, and even though Battlefield V’s an early adopter of ray tracing, it’s implemented well. Icy rivers in Norway glisten in disarmingly romantic fashion, given that there’s a horrendous battle happening on the land right next to them. Car bonnets catch the silhouettes of passing planes. Puddles – and there are as many puddles in this game as bullets – ripple convincingly and capture the horrors of war in their reflections.
So beautiful is Battlefield V, in fact, that you can have quite a lot of fun in spectator mode, far away from the kill/death ratios and the objectives, just soaring around like Stephen Spielberg with a drone.
Minecraft is many things to many people. It’s a survival game, an architectural toolkit, a hangout space, an artist’s easel and a prototypical metaverse of varied experiences from escape rooms to shooters, all built of blocks. The one thing it is not? A graphical powerhouse.
Until you install the RTX update for Windows Edition, that is. Like Quake and Portal, some retexturing has been applied here to ensure the advanced lighting is noticeable and hits surfaces that reflect and refract it in detail. The result is spellbinding – it’s like looking at Minecraft 2. Familiar, but suddenly transformed. It’s the same old blocks, made into a work of art.
Another early adopter of Nvidia RTX technology, 2019’s Metro Exodus has subtler ray tracing implementation that you might see in a modern release. Still, it makes its way onto this list for using ray tracing as just one part of an incredibly atmospheric graphical toolkit.
Your train ride across post-nuclear Russia and Kazakhstan embodies a cold and desolate beauty in every direction you look, and there’s actually a lot of artistic restraint on display in Exodus’ environments.
Rather than drop you into a hall of mirrors with neon signs every five paces, it places you in a world that’s almost monochromatic at times, but when the fog lifts and the natural world bursts through the gloom, it’s breathtaking. It’s a very well-wrought shooter too, melding old-school corridor sequences with more freeform combat scenarios and letting you take a variety of approaches to each fray.
Poor old DOOM Eternal was slightly overlooked when it released in 2020, possibly because we were all so freaked out by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic that we couldn’t face playing a game called DOOM and needed therapy time in Fall Guys instead. What everyone’s subsequently realised is that Eternal is every bit as compulsive, brutish and immaculately designed as the 2016 reboot, and with even better visuals.
Ray tracing casts a sheen across its sci-fi hallways and glass surfaces, and really sells those laser-filled doohickeys that the scientists of these outposts seem intent on building everywhere. You wouldn’t call it subtle by any measure, but the RTX implementation here makes the chaos of each gunfight look that bit more cinematic and bombastic.