First released through Steam Early Access in 2019 before making its way to a 1.0 launch on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms in 2021, Chernobylite has seen several tweaks and additions over the past two and half years. The latest is the release of a free next-gen update for PS5 and Series X|S that brings a handful of graphical and performance updates to the maudlin environments of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
On the majority, Chernobylite is still the same game as when we reviewed it in 2021: “inconsistent … with fantastic highs and frustrating lows.” The graphical and performance updates haven’t drastically revolutionized the core experience. Its story and mechanics are expectedly the same. The tragedy is that these next-gen upgrades follow the same incongruent path as the rest of the game.
Chernobylite PS5 Review: A Tale of Two Modes
There are two modes to choose from in the PS5 and Series X|S versions of Chernobylite: resolution mode and performance mode. Resolution mode targets dynamic 4K at 30fps with raytracing and increased environmental details, shadows, and textures. Performance mode targets 1080p at 60fps with higher graphics quality. Both support faster loading times, and the PS5 version uses the haptics and adaptive triggers of the Dualsense.
To my eye, there’s not much discernible difference between the two modes when it comes to graphical fidelity. Chernobylite’s environments already employ a good amount of detail at 1080p, and many are striking even at the lower resolution. Light soaks through the trees in haunting spindles, and clouds of smoke and toxic gas undulate in and out of ghostly buildings sat in 30 years of radioactive decay.
Foliage and water details are sharp, with wind animations being a standout. While not nearly as detailed as those found in other shooters, character and weapon models are nicely done. I’m not sure anyone expects a monumental improvement over the base game in those departments anyway, as it would call for more than just the addition of new graphics modes.
Oddly enough, changing from performance mode to resolution mode doesn’t provide an eye-popping difference. In fact, it’s almost an imperceptible one on the whole. Raytracing slightly improves lighting and shadows, making night and evening levels particularly stirring. But that’s … about it. I spent a good amount of in-game time trying my hardest to find a “wow moment,” one where I switched between modes and could immediately tell the difference or easily point one out. It just never happened.
What is most noticeably affecting is the difference between 60fps and 30fps. Playing in performance mode makes Chernobylite feel better. It’s smoother and more fluid, making everything from aiming to searching for survival supplies more effective. Playing in resolution mode is sluggish by comparison. Aiming feels downright lethargic, and even with motion blur turned off, assets look soupy when you (slowly) turn, as if they’re whirling in an environment that’s turned into a radioactive morass.
On the topic of aiming, gunplay is made better with the Dualsense’s adaptive triggers. Pulling the revolver’s trigger requires a bit more strength than I’m used to, but it adds a sense of anxious dread to each encounter, whether against NAR soldiers or Shadows. Playing without it feels ho-hum by comparison. Outside of that, the haptics are mostly regular vibrations that add nice touches (like those that warn you of nearby Shadows), but they don’t feel as necessary as the adaptive trigger additions.
The most perplexing thing about Chernobylite’s next-gen updates (at least on PS5, as I’ve not played the Series X|S versions) is that you can’t swap between performance mode and resolution mode in-game. Instead, you must save your game, exit to the main menu, and make the change in the options menu there.
It’s a small problem made more irritating by the save system, which seems to always put you at the point of an autosave even if you’ve made and loaded a manual save. I suppose most players will pick a resolution and stick with it, not changing much at all, but it’s an oversight nonetheless.
Chernobylite PS5 Upgrade Review — The Bottom Line
- 60fps performance mode.
- Adaptive trigger functionality.
- Stable and mostly bug-free.
- Great-looking environments at 1080p.
- 30fps resolution mode makes movement sluggish.
- Resolution mode doesn’t improve graphics quality enough.
- Can’t switch between modes without fully exiting the game.
Chernobylite’s next-gen update is the best way to play the survival-horror game on console despite its unevenness. Aside from some animation slowdown in the loading screens, the game runs at a solid framerate, and perceivable frame dips were nonexistent in my playtime examining the upgrade. Only one glitch saw a stationary soldier clipping through the environment and back again over about 20 seconds before righting himself and moving on.
Now is undoubtedly the time if you’ve yet to jump into Chernobylite on PS5 or Series X|S. To read over our more expansive thoughts on the game, head over to our full review right here, which talks in greater detail about its story and mechanics.
[Note: The Farm 51 provided the copy of Chernobylite used for this review.]