Watch Cyberpunk 2077's RT Overdrive Mode Bring An RTX 4090 To Its Knees Without DLSS

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Polish developer CD Projekt Red seems to be among the few game publishers of decent size that understand the PC market: once you release a game, it doesn't vanish from the market after a few weeks, months, or even years. It stays in shops, and people will continue to buy it if there's a reason to do so, like the major technology updates that have hit The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 since their respective releases.

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Despite that the terms "ray-tracing" and "path tracing" are academically synonymous, NVIDIA seems to have decided that it will use "path tracing" as a keyword to describe games that are no longer rendered with a hybrid raster-and-RT paradigm and instead "fully ray-traced." Indeed, as that phrase implies, ray-tracing applies to every single light source in Cyberpunk 2077 with RT Overdrive enabled.

To tell you the truth, Cyberpunk 2077 can already bring a GeForce RTX 4090 to its knees in its "Psycho" ray-tracing mode. That mode is really just one step removed from the "RT Overdrive" mode that is releasing on April 11th. "Psycho" ray-tracing uses RT effects for ambient occlusion, shadows, and global illumination, but the RT Overdrive mode is taking the idea to its logical conclusion by performing every last lighting and shadow calculation using ray-tracing.

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In other words, rather than being a special lighting effect applied only to certain lights by the game developer, lighting in RT Overdrive mode is fully simulated by "modeling all properties of light" from "an unlimited number" of lights. That doesn't just include streetlamps and neon signs, but even tiny light sources like a burning cigarette, as well as reflected lighting bouncing off of surfaces.

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The sunlight correctly bounces off the floor and lights the stack of cardboard here.

NVIDIA says that the new mode will deliver "physically-correct shadows, reflections, and global illumination on all objects." This is impressive when you apply it to something like Minecraft or Quake II, but it is an entirely other level of insanity in a game like Cyberpunk 2077. If you haven't played the game yet, its environments are ludicrously detailed despite existing within a fairly expansive open world.

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There's little direct light hitting these objects, but RT Overdrive correctly lights them using bounces.

The comparison video released on the official NVIDIA GeForce YouTube channel seems to compare the game without any ray-tracing at all against the new RT Overdrive mode to emphasize the difference, and that's sort-of unfortunate, as we'd like to see it compared against the game with "Psycho" ray-tracing to see the difference there. It will assuredly still be quite significant.

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Sunlight shines through a crack in Night City's oppressive skyline.

Judgement of how "good" something looks is always subjective, of course. With that in mind, some folks seem to prefer the non-RT presentation, and that's understandable. Eschewing physical accuracy and realism in favor of a certain visual style or theme may be preferable to some—to say nothing of the performance gains to be had by doing so.

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Indeed, as you might expect, this is going to come with an even larger performance penalty than the game's current ray-tracing options. In NVIDIA's own video, the framerate drops into the teens when trying to play this mode on a mighty GeForce RTX 4090 in 4K resolution. However, enabling DLSS Super Resolution upscaling as well as DLSS 3 Frame Generation apparently takes the same daytime street scene from about 17 FPS to over 120.

While the video promotes DLSS 3, we actually suspect that the largest part of the performance uplift here is coming from DLSS Super Resolution, as the performance of ray-traced effects scales in a worse-than-linear way with screen resolution. Frankly, it's incredible that the RTX 4090 can even run this mode at all in native 4K UHD.

Interestingly, it doesn't look like RT Overdrive will necessarily require a GeForce RTX 40 series GPU. NVIDIA says that it "recommends" such a card for the mode, and certainly the high RT performance of Ada Lovelace (particularly given the optimizations in this mode for the architecture, including the use of Shader Execution Reordering) will mean that those cards dominate performance-wise, but it does look like it may be possible to attempt RT Overdrive on other high-end PC hardware—just don't expect it to come to current-gen consoles. We'll see about giving it a test when the update hits on the 11th.