Control Graphics and Performance Guide: Get The Inside Track On Ray-Traced Effects, DLSS and Every Other Aspect of The Critically-Acclaimed Game

By Andrew Burnes on August 27, 2019 | Guides Featured Stories NVIDIA RTX Ray Tracing DLSS

Remedy Entertainment has a long history of crafting narratively led, cinematic action games, starting with their 2001 classic, Max Payne. Now, in partnership with 505 Games, Remedy is releasing Control, a third-person supernatural action shooter set in the Federal Bureau of Control.

Ordinarily, the FBC protect the U.S. populace from things that go bump in the night, whilst also covering up their existence, but recently the supernatural has invaded the Oldest House, the FBC's paranormal New York headquarters.

Players investigating the commotion at the FBC take control of Jesse Faden, who just happens to arrive at the Oldest House when it all goes a bit... wrong. Explore, fight, and use abilities to give you an edge. And if you’re the type of gamer who loves to explore every nook and cranny, there’s plenty of Metroidvania-style secrets to discover and exploit as your arsenal expands.

For Control, Remedy has rolled out a new iteration of their Northlight Engine, first seen in the transmedia-enhanced Quantum Break, which marked a new chapter in Remedy’s search for a filmic, cinematic look. Accordingly, Control is super-realistic, with soft, yet detailed visuals, that on PC are upgraded with several lifelike ray-traced effects that take graphical fidelity to new heights.

These five ray-traced effects enhance shadows, reflections, lighting, and more, and when enabled simultaneously complement and improve one another, enhancing every moment of your time in Control.

Dark hallways are illuminated by reflected ray-traced light. Light is colored by objects and diffused naturally. Transparent and opaque surfaces feature realistic real-time reflections. Shadowing is improved. And combat appears more dynamic, with all ray-traced effects applied to fractured marble, broken wood, and other destructible objects.

So get comfy, and prepare to delve into Control's PC settings and ray-traced effects, with examinations of each using interactive comparison screenshots, relative performance charts, and written explainers, giving you all the info you need to tweak and tailor your graphics and performance.

NVIDIA RTX Ray Tracing, Available From Day-1

From the second you start playing Control, you'll have the option to enable five real-time ray-traced effects that greatly enhance image quality and immersion:

Any form of ray tracing improves image quality immensely, but by employing multiple ray-traced effects simultaneously, nearly everything gains lifelike realism. And when your movements, attacks and actions are constantly affecting the appearance of the world around you, you feel more connected to the gameplay, as if your actions are having a real impact.

In Control, much of the environment is destructible, and enemies abound, causing constant changes to lighting, shadowing and reflections. With ray tracing enabled, you'll experience a new benchmark in dynamic graphics, which simply couldn't be attained using traditional rasterized techniques.

For all the details, and to learn how ray-traced effects can affect other game settings, keep reading this comprehensive Control Graphics and Performance Guide.

Control System Requirements

To play Control with ray tracing enabled, Remedy is recommending players equip their systems with a GeForce RTX 2060, or better, 16GB of RAM, and an Intel Core i5-8600K, or AMD Ryzen 7 2700X CPU:

Time-Limited Control GeForce RTX Bundle

If you lack a recommended GeForce RTX graphics card, search retailers for our newest GPU, desktop and laptop bundle, which just happens to include a copy of Control, along with Wolfenstein: Youngblood, a recently-released first-person shooter that will soon be enhanced with ray tracing.

This SUPER FAST. SUPERNATURAL Bundle is available now with qualifying products until September 16th, 2019, at participating retailers around the world. Learn more here.

Control Graphics Settings

Control includes 17 settings, affecting image quality and performance, giving you plenty to configure and tweak in your quest for the definitive experience. For all the details, keep reading.

Far Object Detail (LOD)

In Control's office environments, draw distances never approach those of say, an open world game. As such, Control's Level of Detail option, Far Object Detail, often has little effect on a scene.

In our artificial test below, we've flown far from the game's heroine, who's in the process of destroying the scenery. Dropping from High, to Medium, only a few distant embellishments are culled, along with some shadowing and reflective shine. And up by the ceiling, the fidelity of foliage changes to no appreciable extent, though nearer the camera on the ground level a barrier does lose a literal chunk of detail.

On Low, however, wide scale changes are observed - the number of particle effects are reduced, foliage is removed, objects lose fine detail, and distant signs and other embellishments are entirely hidden.

Interactive Comparisons
High vs. Medium High vs. Low Medium vs. Low

Performance: Ultimately, removing a few bits and pieces affects performance by less than 2 frames per second, though it does noticeably reduce draw distances, while simultaneously increasing pop in and pop out. Because of this, we recommend you leave Far Object Detail maxed out unless you're desperate to improve framerates.

Control - Far Object Detail Performance

Global Reflections

Along with Screen Space Reflections, Ray-Traced Reflections, and Ray-Traced Transparent Reflections, Global Reflections affects the quality and visibility of Control's many reflections.

In the case of Global Reflections, the reflective specular shine seen on metals and other surface types is affected or entirely disabled, though for it to work Screen Space Reflections must also be on.

Interactive Comparisons
High vs. Medium High vs. Off Medium vs. Off

In the scene above, there's little to differentiate High and Medium, and Off looks OK'ish, though obviously less realistic. From a different angle, however, we can see just how significantly the scene is affected by the disabling of Global Reflections:

Returning to the question of High and Medium quality, we're switching scenes and placing our protagonist in front of a strongly illuminated scientific doodad, which is also showing her Screen Space Reflection.

By swiping between the two detail levels, we can see Medium's Global Reflection is blurry, and its visual intensity is reduced - traits repeated across the entirety of Control. And when we switch Global Reflections off, all metal loses its specular shine, greatly reducing realism and image quality.

Interactive Comparisons
High vs. Medium High vs. Off Medium vs. Off

Finally, let's chat about ray tracing. If you watched our Tech Explainer near the beginning of the guide, you'll know that we trace rays a finite distance across a scene - a logical approach that maximizes the visual benefit, enhancing prominent game elements, while keeping ray-traced effects performant. If there should be visible detail beyond a ray's reach, we blend the game’s pre-baked volumetric global illumination with ray tracing, resulting in high-performance hybrid ray-traced gameplay.

With regards to Global Reflections, Ray-Traced Reflections almost entirely replace the effect's approximated specular shine and reflected detail with fully ray-traced, highly accurate reflections. Image quality is bolstered to a considerable degree, and shiny, metallic surfaces and objects are fully reflected on glossy floors and other reflective surfaces.

Performance: In most instances, only a few frames per second separate High and Medium Global Reflections, though when switched off it does deliver a big boost, albeit at a heavy cost to image quality.

Control - Global Reflections Performance

Screen Space Reflections Quality (SSR)

Screen Space Reflection techniques attempt to mirror what's currently on-screen on reflective surfaces. In Control, High and Medium detail levels are on offer, along with a toggle that will disable the setting (as already discussed, switching-off SSR also turns off Global Reflections, which requires SSR to function).

So, what's the difference between High and Medium? Quite simply, the fidelity of the reflection. On High, SSR is pushed to the limit, rendering its reflections with excellent clarity and temporal stability (their quality when the player or camera is moving). On Medium, quality is severely reduced, decreasing reflection visibility, accuracy and temporal stability, as demonstrated below.

Interactive Comparisons
High vs. Medium High vs. Off Medium vs. Off

This reduction in detail is found on every reflection, and the speckling prominently shown in our first set of comparisons can also be seen on other surfaces and surface types, too.

Interactive Comparisons
High vs. Medium High vs. Off Medium vs. Off

Performance: The upside of Medium is the sizable speed-up it brings, increasing performance by 8-13 frames per second in the half dozen areas we benchmarked. And as Medium only runs 2-3 frames per second slower than Off, even low performance PCs can enjoy some degree of reflectivity, greatly improving image quality throughout the game.

Control - Screen Space Reflections Quality (SSR) Performance

Ray-Traced Reflections

Much of our world is to some degree reflective. Look around you right now - aged hardwood floors reflect light and show coarse object reflections; rough white walls reflect light; and pretty much anything that isn’t matte black to some extent reflects light and/or detail. But without this subtle reflectivity, which we observe every waking minute of every day, immersion and realism in games is greatly reduced.

With ray tracing we can fix this, because unlike screen space techniques that can only reflect what’s on screen, ray-traced reflections incorporate the entire scene around the character and camera, and can accurately represent objects outside and facing away from the camera's view. This enables 360 degrees of reflectivity, as well the reflection of off-screen and occluded detail. And because rays reach most game elements, virtually everything can receive reflections or be reflected onto other objects and surfaces, creating lifelike scenes that were previously impossible to render.

In Control, Ray-Traced Reflections override Screen Space Reflections to deliver this experience.

Beyond geometry, lighting, shadows and visual effects can also be reflected, leading to the creation of accurate shadowing around objects, more realistic lighting on surfaces, and more dynamic combat encounters. And of course, each improvement is rendered and updated in real time, so as the environment changes so do the effects.

And yes, wet floors do gain unprecedented reflective detail, with pixel-perfect recreations, each adhering to the Fresnel Effect’s reflection equations. Surfaces such as these are the showcase reflection effect in any game, and at the time of writing Control’s are the best in the business.

Below, you can see a clear example of Screen Space Reflections being unable to accurately render a scene - as it can only reflect what the player sees on-screen, the visible portion of the fire extinguisher and alarm is reflected across the opaque surface. In comparison, ray tracing reflects the hidden side, while also improving reflectivity on the wooden wall.

In industrial and scientific areas of Control's Federal Bureau of Control, glossy floors, machinery and ducting are transformed, gaining accurate real-time reflections that reflect all surrounding detail:

Close up, because Screen Space Reflections can't see the display's illumination, it isn't reflected on-screen, affecting the quality of the scene.

During gameplay, you'll frequently find illumination behind and out of view of the camera, and with ray tracing this will reflected around the environment, for a far more immersive experience.

And finally, just for fun, here's an extreme close-up of a Bureau soldier and the ray-traced reflections that are added to his gear (at normal gameplay distances, these are yet another example of subtle, extra reflections that improve realism and immersion):

Performance: Regardless of the game, ray tracing performance is affected by three things:

  • Screen Resolution: Higher resolutions use more pixels, and at least one ray needs to be sent to every pixel every frame to enable real-time ray tracing. Compared to a 1920x1080 monitor, a 2560x1440 display has 77% more pixels, so ray tracing at higher resolutions will be significantly more demanding
  • RT Cores: GeForce RTX GPUs have RT Cores, physical hardware designed to accelerate ray tracing workloads. Each GPU has a different amount of RT Cores, and the more you have the faster your ray tracing performance will be
  • Content On-Screen: Ray-traced programming has evolved to the point where we know what's in a scene, and what's likely to benefit from ray tracing. As such, one cannot put a hard number on the framerate cost of a specific ray-traced effect, as its use and application will vary from location to location. For our benchmarks, we test the most intensive locations to show the maximum cost of an effect, meaning in many instances performance will be higher than shown in this guide

With all of the above in mind, here's how Ray-Traced Reflections measured-up when we looked sideways across the room shown in this earlier example:

Control - Ray-Traced Reflections Performance

Bear in mind, Screen Space Reflections cost 11 frames per second on High, and the supplementary Global Reflections cost 17 frames per second to enable in areas with reflective metals. So, when you consider their combined cost, and the fact that Ray-Traced Reflections is doing 99% of their work at a far higher level of detail, and applying that work to far more of each scene, the performance of Ray-Traced Reflections is in fact comparatively low.

Ray-Traced Transparent Reflections

Adding ray-traced reflections to glass is no different than ray tracing a puddle, if the background is opaque. When it’s transparent, with detail visible on the other side, extra work is required.

The newly-created Ray-Traced Transparent Reflections solves the problem, tracing rays from transparent surfaces to surrounding detail, enabling realistic mirror-like reflectivity without blocking the visibility of detail beyond the transparent surface.

In the comparison below, we see Control’s generalized cubemap reflections replaced with real-time transparent reflections capable of showing characters, NPCs and other dynamic game elements moving across the scene. And as an added extra, we've enabled fractured glass to naturally display these transparent reflections.

The Federal Bureau of Control is chock-full of offices and windows that make full use of this technology, and once you experience it, it’s impossible to return to the cubemaps of old.

Performance: Ray-Traced Transparent Reflections' high-fidelity additions are the most noticeable ray-traced addition, adorning numerous offices and windows in the early stages of Control, decreasing our performance by a maximum of 21%.

Control - Ray-Traced Transparent Reflections Performance

If forced to choose a single ray-traced effect, I'd select Ray-Traced Transparent Reflections, as without them every window and transparent surface has a generalized cubemap that looks out of place in Control's high fidelity, realistic world. Other ray-traced effects offer substantial enhancements and improvements, but only Ray-Traced Transparent Reflections introduces an entirely new feature that's seen time and again throughout the entirety of the game.

Shadow Resolution

Rasterized Shadow Maps bring Control's shadows to life, enhancing innumerable scenes with long, stretching shadows, and other stylistic light-shadow setups that look great.

As with other settings, Low, Medium and High are the available detail levels. And from our testing, we've found that going from Low to Medium improves the quality of shadows on small game elements, like the chair shown in a later comparison, and moving from Medium to High improves larger shadows or those that are displayed far from the shadow caster.

Below, you can observe the improvement to shadow fidelity from High's higher-resolution shadow maps:

Interactive Comparisons
High vs. Medium High vs. Low Medium vs. Low

From t'other end of the scene, we can see improvements to shadow quality and visibility on railings and stairs, along with a few other changes here and there:

Interactive Comparisons
High vs. Medium High vs. Low Medium vs. Low

Up close, with the aforementioned chair, the benefits of stepping up from Low to Medium are immediately evident:

Interactive Comparisons
High vs. Medium High vs. Low Medium vs. Low

Performance: Typically, shadow maps have a moderate performance cost. However, in Control, we found little difference between detail levels at any resolution, in any location, and even with a different GPU. We will therefore be revisiting this testing with the public version of the game once available, just in case something's amiss.

Control - Shadow Resolution Performance

Shadow Filtering

To reduce aliasing on shadow edges, and to improve temporal stability when the shadow or game camera is moving, you can select Medium Shadow Filtering. In the comparison below, there's limited visual benefit, but in-game these thin shadows look significantly better and are far less aliased and flickery when the camera moves.

Performance: Making shadows look that bit better costs less than 2 frames per second.

Control - Shadow Filtering Performance

Ray-Traced Contact Shadows

As discussed, Control’s shadows are formed with rasterized Shadow Maps, which serve its angular, functional offices rather well. When it comes to fine detail, however, they struggle – small and thin geometry is shown at low resolutions or omitted altogether, and objects far from the shadow caster may be barely perceptible.

If you’ve played plenty of games, you’ll know these are common issues caused by shadow mapping’s limitations, and by the necessity for developers to manually balance visibility and quality of shadows against the associated performance and video memory costs.

By enabling Ray-Traced Contact Shadows, we can give the shadow maps a helping hand, tracing rays to light sources to create accurate real-time shadows that improve what’s already there, and to render the detail they couldn’t.

Our comparison above perfectly demonstrates the benefits of ray-traced shadowing: contact hardening shadows with realistic penumbras are cast from each chair; additional shadows are cast around our heroine’s feet, grounding her to the scene; office furniture gains soft shadows; and additional shadows are cast on and around clothes, objects and other game elements.

These naturally and effortlessly enhance shadow maps, ensuring each scene’s realism is improved.

Later, players reach industrial areas deep beneath the shiny, reflective offices. Here, machinery and chain link fences gain shadowing that is otherwise entirely absent.

When the rockets start flying, ray-traced contact shadows can be dynamically drawn as the light-emitting missiles pass through the scene, giving you an extra level of visual refinement.

Control's many offices see their stacks of paper, typewriters, computers, binders, and other objects enhanced with new, realistic shadows:

And our protagonist's super cool leather jacket gets some extra ray-traced TLC, bringing us one step closer to creating a ray-traced CG Jensen: