Housemarque’s great little masterpiece finally lands on PC after almost two years of exclusive console. Returnal is finally available on both Steam and Epic Games and is ready to suck you into its alienating time loop and frenetic gameplay capable of testing even the steadiest players.
To start this continuous cycle of death, rebirth, triumphs and defeats, you don’t need particularly high-performance machines, thanks to a technical sector designed to provide a highly customizable visual and performance experience. Buckle up, because we’re about to crash into Atropos, both on PC and Steam Deck.
Where were we?
Selene again. Again Atropos. Returnal again. On PC, however, things change quite a bit and “under the hood” we find much more than what is offered on the console counterpart, obviously starting from the visual rendering. The guys at Climax Studios have re-proposed the game trying to improve its graphic impact where possible, without making any deviations from the starting work.
Among the novelties, we welcome the reflections in real time, which add to the skeleton in Ray Tracing already present. Both factors remain optional, as well as the usual complete package that we have already appreciated on other Sony exclusives previously ported to PC. Among all, support for Ultrawide and Superultrawide resolutions and the addition of an almost complete park of upscalers, including the usual VRS, DLSS and FSR. The Frame Generation technology for next-generation Nvidia video cards is not present, while we appreciate the inclusion in the settings of Nvidia Image Scaling, the green team’s spatial and non-temporal upscaler. To play in 4K at 60 fps with Ray Tracing, Sony suggests no less than an RTX 3080 Ti, while without real-time reflections, the younger sister RTX 3080 is enough. In our case, we relied on the full mid-range of the last generation with the RTX 3060 is now tested in a system equipped with a Ryzen 7 7700X and 32 GB of DDR5 RAM memory.
With this configuration it can be complex to get the most out of the Climax and Housemarque proposal but it was still possible to hook up to 4K at 30 fps with the best possible preset and DLSS active on Balanced. In this sense, the exceptional optimization put on the plate stands out to offer a visual impact full of details, lights and shadows, but capable of not burdening the available resources more than necessary.
This aspect is perhaps the least surprising, given that PlayStation 5 had already worked very well to guarantee a stable framerate in the range between 50 and 60 fps, although there was a particularly invasive dynamic resolution to help in the enterprise. On PC this factor can be set aside, focusing on greater and constant sharpness. Thanks to DLSS it is also possible to obtain an enjoyable result with a much higher graphic rendering than two years ago. To be clear, just like for other portings, think of the PC test of Marvel’s Spider-Man, the presets available are many and customizable: starting from Basso to get to Epic, with other solutions in the middle that can be managed with and without Ray Tracing. By comparison, the PS5 presets fall as usual between Medium and High presets, without disturbing the advanced lighting system, with dynamic resolution that aims at a 4K target without ever really reaching this amount of pixels in the rendering.
On PC we have the advantage of being able to maintain constant sharpness in every phase of the game, although the logic of the gameplay requires in a practically mandatory way to reduce latency to the bone and to guarantee at least 45-50 fps.
With an RTX 3060 this is possible by moving up to 1440p with DLSS Quality, if you intend to continue using the Epic preset with Ray Tracing. Otherwise, just turning off the reflections in real time guarantees a significant increase in frame rate even in 4K. To get the 60 frames per second in Ray Tracing and keep them instead it is necessary to switch to the Max preset, which continues to return a superior visual rendering compared to the console counterpart. In UltraHD, however, this standard frame rate can be achieved with Max presets without real-time reflections and shadows.
Steam Deck continua a stupire
Moving on to the appointment with mobile gaming, Steam Deck does not fail to give satisfaction. After a not entirely encouraging impact on Hogwarts Legacy, then improved with the traditional custom optimization update for the Valve console, we are once again faced with a preview build that does not allow us to express the machine’s potential to the fullest but which offers interesting insights into its state and longevity.
Returnal has not yet been “verified” and is therefore not officially recommended as a “perfect” game for the green-checked Steam Deck. The console evidently does not care about this, because it still manages to generate a fairly constant video stream anchored to 30 frames per second, albeit with noticeable drops in the transition areas between one area and another of the adventure. The company has already taken steps to load the ideal game profile specific to Returnal, while in game to guarantee these performances we opted for the minimum quality preset with Balanced FSR. These are not optimal conditions for those accustomed to the surprising results achieved with Elden Ring or Cyberpunk 2077, but Valve’s constant commitment to ensure that its machine is adequately supported will certainly make a difference in the medium term.
In addition to the lower quality, we will lose the haptic feedback of DualSense, a non-negligible aspect of the experience, perceptible instead on PC playing with the PlayStation controller via cable. Good implementation, also precise in the reproduction of environmental elements such as the patter of the rain. The sensory picture is completed by a partial sound reproduction directly from the DualSense speaker, mainly linked to effects such as the activation of the Secondary Fire, the weapons that are loaded and unloaded and the navigation sounds in the menus.
Ultimately, Sony has given us a product that lives up to expectations on PC too: the work done by Climax on Returnal was diligent and precise, as it offers the best possible version of this splendid Housemarque-signed roguelike. Both technically and artistically, this journey on Atropos shines with its own light, perhaps with even more intensity than before.