Returnal’s PC port is good – but it could be great

Returnal's PC port is good - but it could be great

The PC version of Returnal is just fine for the most part, and certainly beyond most Unreal Engine 4 PC ports we’ve reviewed in the last year or so – but there are still a few key issues to consider. account before making a purchase. All in all, we’re looking at a game that can evolve significantly beyond its PlayStation 5 origins, but there are some issues with ray tracing in particular that I’d like to see addressed. Optimized settings? We’ve got them for you too, but in common with much of the work I’ve put into creating them, you end up getting a visual balance for the game that’s strongly reminiscent of Housemarque’s existing PS5 work.

There’s a lot to praise for this release though and it starts with the first game boot, where Returnal pre-compiles all shaders, meaning no shader compilation stutters during gameplay. fast – just a six-second delay on a Core i9 12900K and an admittedly beefier 35 seconds on a mainstream CPU like the Ryzen 5 3600. There’s still a stutter of two kinds, though. First, running any of the UE4-based ray tracing effects can cause a hitch and stutter that the developers are looking to track down and eliminate. The current working theory, we are told, is that it can be tied to mesh creation. There’s also the traversal stutter – nothing new for Returnal veterans, as it’s in the PS5 version so far. Stuttering when opening doors? It’s a bit off-putting too. Traversal stutter can be minimized with a high-end CPU, but it’s still there to some extent – and it’s much more of an issue on lower-end CPUs.

Then I must say that the reference is terrific. No, it’s not gameplay-based, but arguably its seven scenarios encompass heavier situations than the standard action. What’s really cool here is that as you go through each scenario, the benchmark highlights what the game is testing. The After Action Report for the benchmark deserves praise too: just like Gears 5, you get a full understanding of where the bottlenecks are thanks to the insights it gives you, telling you where and when your CPU is. or GPU was the limiting factor. on which section of the benchmark was causing problems.

Returnal: Digital Foundry’s technical review for the PC version, by Alex Battaglia.

The settings menu itself is another triumph. Similar to Days Gone’s glowing menu screen, the background fades and the real-time game world appears behind the options, letting you see changes to the game’s visual makeup as you go. and as you tweak. In addition, explanatory images and legends if the adjustments made in real time are difficult to capture. On top of that, in the left corner, the game details the CPU and GPU usage at the moment, your GPU’s temperature, its clock rate, and even the amount of VRAM in use – which matches the results found in programs like RTSS or CapFrame X. This is next level stuff!

Image scaling options are extensive, but incomplete. An old version of DLSS is used (you can replace the .dll with a newer version if you wish), as well as XeSS for Intel GPUs. However, only AMD Toolbox FSR1 is included. Nvidia’s NIS is also present, but perhaps more useful for AMD GPUs that support DX12 Ultimate is a truly impressive rendition of Level Two Variable Rate Shading (VRS) – a rare thing indeed. There’s also a basic space upscaler, but a little .ini tweak can kick in Epic’s much more impressive TAAU. Close but no cigar in terms of image upscaling options then, as the lack of FSR2 is frustrating – but the devs tell us they’re not done yet: expect to see FSR2 and DLSS 3 integrated in a future patch.

Yes, there’s an unlocked frame rate and ultrawide support, the latter working well on 21:9 screens – even cutscenes. For aspects of the game that aren’t created for ultrawide, you have a choice of what happens there with menu options: for example, you can make cutscenes pre-rendered 16:9 have blurred backgrounds instead of black bars. It’s impressive, but with a small problem. If you have a 21:10 screen (a 3840×1600 display, for example), the gameplay is in a 21:9 window with only HUD elements extending into the pillared borders on the sides.

Take a closer look to see how the PC improves image quality. And yes, the texture quality settings are indeed the same here.

In terms of expandability beyond the PlayStation 5, it’s image quality that’s easily the most noticeable difference – click the image above for a closer look. The console version has a native resolution of 1080p, using a combination of time scaling and checkerboarding for its rebuilt 4K output. The PS5 outperforms native 1080p, but we didn’t find it as impressive as Epic’s TAAU solution with upscaling from the same base resolution. Native resolution rendering and DLSS offer a massive detail upgrade over the PS5, even on the same settings, but even DLSS at 1440p in balanced mode offers noticeably more detail than the game’s console render. There’s also configurability on the other hand which gives PC users the ability to “turn off” the grayer look of the PS5 game.

Beyond that, upgrades are more situational, but RT reflections and shadows are interesting. Looking at the reflections first, it mainly affects the water. On PS5, water tends to be perfectly transparent with occasional very slight screen space reflections. Ray tracing enhances this by adding full reflections from any angle and I generally think it makes the game look better. It does however look different and as this is a standard UE4 effect there are imperfections with some object lights not lining up perfectly with the main view render. RT shadows? There’s realistic falloff, with shadows closer to the object casting them sharper, but those shadows are limited to those cast by the moon – and many light sources are placed by hand, seeing no benefit from RT.

Other updates? Well, the volumetric resolution is higher, but really it’s the improved image quality options and support for a wider range of PC hardware that makes this port shine over the console of origin. As you can see from the optimized settings below, the best balance between visual fidelity and performance essentially comes from mirroring the PS5 graphics feature set as closely as possible. I’d recommend watching the video embedded above for a deep dive into how each basic setting scales and where PS5 gaming fits into the mix.

PC Optimized Settings Approx PS5 Settings RT Reflections Off Off RT Shadows Off Volume Fog High High Medium Ambient Occlusion Custom (Low/Medium) Model Quality Epic Epic Particle Quality High Shadow Quality High High Lighting Quality Epic Custom (Epic) Quality Epic Epic texture

Beyond these optimized settings, I recommend DLSS for Nvidia RTX users and XeSS for Intel Arc owners. However, with no FSR2 support at this time, owners of AMD RDNA2/RDNA3 GPUs may wish to try a combination of dynamic resolution scaling and VRS. VRS alone can provide around a 13% performance improvement in darker scenes, with little or no loss in quality. For Nvidia GTX users and owners of older generation AMD GPUs, VRS won’t work, so DRS alone is the best way to go (Nvidia gamers with GTX 16xx class GPUs should still be able to access VRS though) . The only downside here is that dynamic resolution scaling with active v-sync doesn’t work – but we’re all using VRR PC monitors at this point, right? LAW?

So, we’ve covered optimized settings, but what about optimized audio settings? In what could be a first, Returnal leverages RT hardware for ray-traced audio (a feature also built into the PS5 original). My hearing isn’t great, but there is a difference, but it costs around 4% of the performance of an RTX 2060 Super running at optimized settings. There are also less consistent frame times with this added option – which seems to be the case if any or all of the RT features are enabled, as I mentioned earlier. My advice? Until the devs have a patch, I think it’s best to keep RT disabled.

In summary, there’s so much to like about Returnal on PC, aside from its lack of FSR2 at launch and its stuttering issues. The settings are great, the benchmark is top notch, and both of those things should be emulated by other developers. The image quality upgrades alone are worth looking into, even if you’ve played PS5 before, while the option to run at 120fps or higher seriously transforms a game like this. . I honestly felt a little overwhelmed playing the game on PC – I didn’t die during my gameplay run for the b-roll I collected for the video, up to the third biome, something I don’t could ever achieve with a PS5 pad.

But that was the result of playing on a high-end processor and with ray-tracing deliberately disabled to avoid the stutters associated with it – and nothing can overcome the traversal and door-opening stutter. As good as this port is, these issues are problematic on mainstream CPUs, so I’d recommend holding off with a purchase if you’re on a mid-range rig, where the downsides are magnified considerably. On a high-end processor, I can recommend the game as is, with the caveat that ray tracing is disabled. Based on my conversations with the developer throughout the review period, I’m optimistic of positive results in resolving my issues with the port as it stands, and we’ll do our best to keep you posted. aware of progress.

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