Hi-Fi Rush Tech Review: a visual treat indebted to comics and TV cartoons
Hi-Fi Rush is outstanding. Announced at Microsoft’s Developer_Direct showcase last week and released immediately thereafter, the game is a highly creative effort by developer Tango Gameworks. There are action, platforming, rhythmic, and side-scrolling gameplay elements, all held together by an incredible sense of style and bold visual choices.
This is a wild, daring game that succeeds on almost every level – and it’s also a feast for the eyes. It’s also the first major first-party Microsoft title in over a year, ending an ongoing drought for Xbox exclusive software. Today we’re taking a look at Hi-Fi Rush’s daring flair and beat-matching brawl action, and trying to get a feel for what this game is all about.
Before delving into the technical nuances, let’s explain how the game works. It’s truly thrilling from the start, a snappy character action game in which you dodge, attack, parry, jump, grapple and unleash a variety of special abilities, all actions beautifully animated and super responsive. On a fundamental level, it’s not that different from something like Devil May Cry, but the key is that most in-game actions work better when timed to the background clock. For example, attacks receive a bonus when performed on the beat, which is conveyed through the idle animations, game environment and UI, and music. Similarly, enemy movements correspond to musical moments, helping you anticipate their actions. The system never feels overwhelming and quickly becomes natural.
Hi-Fi Rush also looks special. It essentially mimics the look of flat 2D animation within 3D game content, featuring cel-shaded characters with bold, uneven outlines and dramatic, colorful designs reminiscent of TV cartoons. Animation is also key, with characters’ movements updated at 15 fps to give the movement a hand-drawn, staccato quality. For production reasons, key animations in 2D television are often animated “in pairs” or between 12fps and 15fps, which proves to be a great match. In gameplay, however, the animation is in overdrive to improve playability.
There’s a kind of animated expressiveness in the way characters move that I love; Everything appears to be based around a series of key dramatic poses, just like traditional 2D, making the game conform to animation conventions. The only real giveaway during the cutscenes is that the characters maintain perspective correct detail and proportions, which wouldn’t be typical of hand-animated 2D. The camera animation is also updated at full speed, which looks good, for example during scene pans, but can look a bit awkward in the few moments with cascading, rotating camera movements.
None of this would work well with a traditional material pipeline and lighting model, so Hi-Fi Rush makes universal use of cel shading. The characters outlined in black are generally lit with just two bands of light, while environments have a bit more variability. In general, however, texture detail is kept to an absolute minimum. This sets Hi-Fi Rush apart from most other cel-shaded games, as titles like Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, and even Jet Set Radio still use more realistic rendering for environments and background detail.
Environments in general showcase some of the game’s more inspired artistic choices. Real-time lighting details are masked into cartoon-style halftone patterns that are clearly visible in bloom and in screen-space reflections. Ambient occlusion is rendered as hatched patterns. Real-time shadows have a rounded appearance and feature animated transitions between different shadow cascading layers. The outline shader is also active throughout the environment geometry, creating nice thick black silhouettes. Backgrounds are often rendered with bold 2D art instead of geometry. And there’s so much ambient animation pounding through sections at all times, again all in sync with the beat.
Hi-Fi Rush has fairly simple model details and complexity in these environments to make them look consistent and easily navigable, but it fits the style of the game well. My only issue here is that most of the levels have a kind of industrial feel to them and they mix up a bit – especially in the middle half of the game, despite the more impressive levels at the beginning and end.
If any of Hi-Fi Rush’s visuals didn’t work, the game’s overall aesthetic would be fundamentally compromised. This isn’t like your typical 3D game, where you can rely on complex lighting and a richly detailed world to overcome artistic inconsistencies. Tango Gameworks made many bold decisions in the basic construction of this title – and their boldness was rewarded with an absolutely stunning game.
All that careful visual design in the world wouldn’t give the game a proper hand-drawn look if Hi-Fi Rush looked like a ragged mess, and again, the game impresses. Picture quality on the Series X is basically impeccable, with a super-sharp, super-clean 4K presentation throughout, while the Series S looks softer but still superb at a static 1440p. This is pretty much the best-case scenario for a console version, and is reflected in above-average image quality on both machines. There are also a few subtle adjustments to the Series S, with lower range shadow quality and lower foliage density, but other visual adjustments appear to be closely aligned.
Both consoles aim for 60fps and consistently achieve that, without any framerate drops on the Series X and only with an occasional 16.7ms frame drop on the Series S, which most gamers probably won’t notice. Combined with the game’s subtle but high-quality motion blur, it feels very smooth and responsive on both computers.
The game also runs great on PC, avoiding the shader compilation stutter epidemic that has infected many recent Unreal Engine 4 releases thanks to the use of a precompilation step at boot that seems to work well. We only detected potential stuttering for the first 30 minutes on a Core i9 12900K and RTX 4090 system, and that wasn’t particularly severe at 50ms.
PC also has the potential to significantly improve picture quality over consoles, with options for Temporal Super Resolution, XeSS, DLSS and Unreal’s FSR 1. All temporal upsampling options are capable of creating more image detail than standard TAA at native resolution, but XeSS and DLSS also show fewer problems with disocclusion than TAA. Other PC staples like ultrawide support and running at unlocked frame rates are supported, although field of view customization isn’t currently available. The game appears to run well, and given the plethora of upscaling options and generally reasonable system requirements, it should be able to hit a consistent 60 or 120fps on many machines.
I could spend all day discussing Hi-Fi Rush – it’s just that good. The game oozes style and was clearly created with impeccable craftsmanship and attention to detail. Its moderate running time, around 11 hours for me, is packed with high-quality cutscenes, tailored gameplay segments, comic-book level transition sequences, and proper 2D animated cutscenes that pay homage to Hi-Fi Rush’s inspirations. I can’t think of any other recent titles that so thoroughly nail a 2D animation look. It’s particularly impressive because it’s a full 3D title, both in gameplay and graphics, so it can’t rely on a fixed-angle camera to hide its 3D elements.
Everything else that I don’t have time to go into detail on today – the writing, the character designs, the particle effects, the music, and the UI – is all top notch. This is a polished new game with novel gameplay concepts and interesting art that breaks everything – you really couldn’t ask for more. It almost feels like a missing member of Capcom 5, an experimental, stylish game that breaks convention to achieve something special. It definitely has a sixth-gen console sensibility, reminiscent of a time when unusual concepts were more likely to get the green light, particularly from Japanese studios.
Dropping the game out of the blue on Xbox and PC was definitely a risky decision, but if anything it only adds to the qualities mentioned above. And there are no significant bugs or performance issues that I’ve noticed across all platforms, which is an achievement in its own right. Most players will likely tackle this one on Game Pass, but I think it deserves a full disc release at some point – especially given the licensed music it uses, which could limit its digital shelf life.
In my opinion, this is an early contender for Game of the Year and undoubtedly one of the most compelling games we’ll see in 2023. Hi-Fi Rush is an absolute bang – and everyone should try it.
https://www.eurogamer.net/digitalfoundry-2023-hi-fi-rush-tech-review-xbox-series-x-s-pc-a-bold-visual-treat Hi-Fi Rush Tech Review: a visual treat indebted to comics and TV cartoons