Returnal is the eighth PlayStation exclusive title to make its way to PC gamers after a year of exclusivity on the PS5 and it’s clear from the few hours I’ve played it, that PlayStation’s quality control for PC ports is among the best in the industry.
Returnal, at the time of writing this, is one of a handful few PC ports of a PS5 exclusive, giving us a peek at what lies ahead for the scalability of titles developed for the current console generation. The game’s debut impressed many with its use of haptic feedback from the Dualsense controller, seamless loading, and procedurally generated arenas. A lot of that was, as hinted by developer Housemarque, possible due to the increased processing power of the console, with its super-fast custom SSD being a key factor in streamlining the memory streaming process. On PC, it’s hard to predict what hardware a gamer has installed, making the process of scaling things down, or up, challenging. To that end, Returnal’s PC port is excellent, running better than the PS5 on similar hardware while rendering extra detail.
Returnal Console Performance vs New Changes
The PS5 version of Returnal was a curious case, as the game’s final 4K-targeted image output went through several layers of upscaling and reconstruction. From what we know, the game was rendered at 1080p upscaled and then reconstructed to 4K via checkerboard rendering. On PC you can choose any resolution you want to render at, and then use any of the 4 included upscaling/reconstruction techniques you want. The launch version of Returnal on PC includes support for NVIDIA DLSS, NVIDIA NIS, Intel’s XeSS, and AMD’s FSR 1.0.
The graphics menu is easy to navigate, with real-time changes to rendering in the background, requiring no unnecessary reboots. The PC version includes ray tracing in the form of RT shadows, reflections, and…audio. Yep, that’s right! This marks the first time I’ve seen a game include ray-traced audio, which is optional, and by my benchmarks doesn’t seem to affect performance too much. Speaking of audio, Returnal on PC also includes support for Dolby Atmos, 5.1, and 7.1 surround sound mixes. The game’s audio settings menu is one of the more expansive ones I’ve seen in recent years, allowing you to customize everything from dynamic range to speaker tuning for bass and treble!
The PS5 version didn’t offer any additional performance profiles, running at a dynamic 4K 60fps at all times. On PC you get the flexibility of choosing your refresh rate, capping the frame rate, and so on. Returnal was built on a customized Unreal Engine, and like many UE games, I was concerned about shader compilation stutters that have plagued a lot of PC ports lately. Thankfully, the game compiles all shaders at launch, but that doesn’t mean that stuttering is completely gone. In certain areas, particularly meant for loading assets, there are tons of micro-stutter.
Excuse me, what?!— Rahul Majumdar (@darthrahul) February 19, 2023
Lord help me this kind of sudden stutter/frame drop has only happened in co-op a couple times.
GPU usage shooting up suddenly (dlss), is this some kind of bandwidth issue? Playing on an SN850 so drive speed can't be it.#ReturnalPC pic.twitter.com/og728Xf0fR
But coming to PC also has numerous benefits, with community-created mods being one of the more interesting ones. Within days of Returnal’s release on PC, we already have gameplay-changing mods that enable alternate jumping and dashing behavior. These mods affect the gameplay experience deeply, and from my testing also work perfectly in co-op sessions. Speaking of co-op, I ran into some pretty horrendous stutter where the frame rate dropped to single digits for an entire combat encounter, and I still have no clue what the cause of the problem was.
The new release also includes all previously released DLC content, such as the Tower of Sisyphus and the co-op modes. The co-op mode works just as intended, and I only had a couple of cycles glitch out. The player tethering also works perfectly fine, with the game teleporting you to your partner (or vice versa) if you both get too far from each other. This happens instantly, with no obvious loading-related bugs from what I’ve seen, but then again I was playing this game on a WD SN850 SSD (faster than the built-in PS5 drive) with 32GB of RAM, so your mileage may vary.
The game was already pretty great looking on console, with Atropos making for a unique setting and Selene’s unreliable point of view adding to a sense of mystery and dread. On PC, the addition of higher detailed assets such as texture quality and resolution, lighting, particle and model quality only make the setting come alive even more. Since we’re not dealing with somewhat-wonky upscaling, the world looks sharper and in focus, with the adjustable field of view helping to make it all the more immersive.
Playing Returnal with a keyboard and mouse is just a perfect feeling as if this was the intended way to play it in the first place. All input settings, along with the HUD, are fully customizable, but I found the default settings just fine. If you have a PlayStation account, you can connect to it in-game to get rewards such as new suits, continuing PlayStation’s recent trend of rewarding double dippers. Now if only we had cross-play with PS5 players in the co-op mode…
Returnal PC Performance Benchmarks
I played Returnal on a PC equipped with an Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060 Ti and an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU paired with 32 GB of RAM. By my estimates, the system usually is able to match the PS5’s graphical demands and performance on almost any game, and the same can be said here.
Here are some quick benchmarks at 1080p, Ryzen 7 3700X, RTX 3060 Ti, 32 GB RAM, installed on a WD SN850 NVMe drive.— Rahul Majumdar (@darthrahul) February 17, 2023
Clockwise L to R:
High, no RT
Epic, no RT
Epic with RT
Epic with RT and DLSS.#ReturnalPC pic.twitter.com/0YA4Kr5Z2o
The game includes a benchmark sequence that tests various graphical workloads in one complex scene, with the resulting graphs telling you exactly what bottlenecks your system is running into. I absolutely love this benchmark system and hope more PC games adopt a similar feature. It seems the system requirements shared by PlayStation are, as always, quite flexible. Another quality-of-life feature is the in-game performance UI, which accurately reflects the frame rate, CPU, GPU and VRAM usage metrics that line up accurately with third-party tools such as RTSS. Loading times are really good too, with the game always loading directly into your last saved state if you use the “suspend cycle” function.
Here’s a look at my benchmark results across various presets at 1080p:
- “High” Preset, no ray tracing, no upscaling — 104 fps.
- “High” Preset, “High” ray tracing, no upscaling — 79 fps.
- “Epic” Preset, no ray tracing, no upscaling — 90 fps.
- “Epic” Preset, “Epic” ray tracing, no upscaling —70 fps.
- “Epic” Preset, “Epic” ray tracing, DLSS quality — 89 fps.
Of course, my RTX 3060 Ti is a fairly capable 1440p card, and framerates can easily soar above 60fps on the higher presets. I played it at 1080p to pair it well with my high refresh rate monitor since Returnal is a game that requires perfect input response. At 4K I had to lower the settings to the console equivalents, but thanks to the excellent DLSS integration it managed to do just around 60fps with the right tuning.
Like with any other PC game, you can combine DLSS with DLSR to get even better image quality without sacrificing performance. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t support Nvidia Ansel/Freestyle like God of War, so you’ll have to rely on manual reshade installs to change the game’s look in real time. Overall performance looks pretty solid to me, with enough options to play around with. The only detractor here is the micro-stuttering, which will hopefully be addressed soon with an update.
Returnal on PC is a mostly excellent port, only let down by micro-stutters in its current build. The amount of in-game graphical scalability is respectable, with more options like FSR 2 coming soon. The additional features, audio mixes, and graphical scalability, combined with proper Dualsense controller support make it the optimal version to run through Atropos and break the cycle yet again.
REVIEW COPY PROVIDED BY PLAYSTATION.