Cyberpunk 2077's new 'Overdrive' ray tracing mode actually kind of looks worse to me

Nvidia has released a new trailer showcasing the capabilities of Cyberpunk 2077's upcoming "Ray Tracing: Overdrive Mode," which it says will make the game even prettier via the addition of path tracing—if you've got the hardware to handle it.

Full ray tracing, as path tracing is also known, "accurately simulates light throughout an entire scene," Nvidia explained in a blog post. "It is used by visual effects artists to create film and TV graphics that are indistinguishable from reality.

"Previous techniques separately addressed ray-traced shadows, reflections and global illumination for a small number of light sources. Full ray tracing models the properties of light from a virtually unlimited number of emissive sources, delivering physically correct shadows, reflections and global illumination on all objects."

Unsurprisingly, path tracing is extremely demanding: Nvidia recommends using an RTX 40-series GPU and DLSS 3 if you want to see the new Overdrive Mode in all its glory. Alternatively, you can try the Overdrive setting through GeForce Now, if your internet connection is up to the task.

Overdrive Mode adds a few new acronyms to Nvidia's already extensive collection: RTXDI (RTX Direct Illumination), which enables thousands of objects in a scene to emit ray-traced light, SER (Shader Execution Render), which "helps GPUs with executing incoherent workloads," and NRD (Real-Time Denoisers), which improve both performance and image quality through unexplained trickery.

But what it really comes down to is, does it look better? On that front, I'm not so sure. I'd be hard-pressed to pick which one looked "better": The halos and bloom in the RTX "on" images are just a little too strong, and of the images demonstrating water reflections, the one with RTX turned off looks more realistic to my eye.

What do you think?


(Image credit: CD Projekt/Nvidia)

RTX Off:

(Image credit: CD Projekt/Nvidia)

I also have to wonder how much we're going to notice the detail in a reflection or the accuracy of a sconce's light cone when we're being chased through these environments by a dozen heavily-armed Paint Boys looking to do us harm—there is nothing quite so focusing as the sound of bullets whizzing a few inches past your skull—but that's a whole different conversation.

Cyberpunk 2077's Ray Tracing: Overdrive Mode is set to go live on April 11.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.