Returnal Is Sony’s Most Impressive PC Port Yet

There are few games I look forward to these days as much as Sony’s PC ports. It seems strange, considering they’re all old PlayStation games I’ve already played, but Sony puts so much effort into these ports that they’re practically new games. All of the PlayStation Studios games on PC are industryleading in features and customization, exceptionally well optimized, and able to leverage the full power of your beastly gaming rig – and Returnal is no exception. In fact, Returnal represents a step up from even Sony’s most impressive PC ports, like Marvel’s Spider-Man and the Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, thanks to its suite of customization options and benchmarking tools the likes of which I’ve never encountered in any PC release – PlayStation port or otherwise. Returnal establishes an incredible standard of quality for PS5-to-PC ports, and if Sony can keep this up, it’s going to end up dominating the PC market in a way no one ever could have expected.

Deathloop launched simultaneously on PS5 and PC, but Returnal is the first PS5exclusive to make its way to Steam and EGS. As you might expect, the specs are pretty demanding. If you’re looking to push Returnal to its absolute limit with 4K @ 60fps and ray tracing, you’ll need at least 32GB of RAM, a 3080 Ti GPU, and the latest 12-core processor. That’s about as monstrous as gaming PCs get today, but luckily you don’t need the highest of high-end machines to get Returnal running at a smooth 60fps. If your PC is less than five years old you shouldn’t have a problem getting a nice stable frame rate.

I’m running an RTX 3070 with 16GB of RAM on a modest Ryzen 3600x, but I’m playing in 32:9 super ultrawide on my 40” Samsung Odyssey G9, which is a 5120X1440 resolution – significantly more than 1080P. Still, with a little tweaking I’m able to play on medium settings at a fairly smooth 70fps. Adjusting my settings was easy thanks to Returnal’s robust customization options.

When you first launch the game, it’s able to do some quick math and recommend graphic settings that should work for you. I started on the default medium setting as it recommended and found it to be totally playable, but I was distracted by the occasional frame dip, so I started tweaking. Incredibly, Returnal has a built-in benchmarking tool. It runs a game simulation that throws enemies, particle effects, volumetric fog, and fast-moving objects at the screen, then spits out an analysis to show you exactly how your PC performs under each specific condition. That tool revealed that heavy fog was liable to make me drop frames, so I tweaked the quality of fog in the video settings and immediately made my frame rate more stable. It probably even saved my life in the Phrike boss fight, considering how foggy that arena is.

This is such a valuable tool for a game like Returnal. While it’s tempting to bump all the reflections and flashy effects so you can savor the game’s atmosphere, a few frames can be the difference between life and death in this fast-paced bullet hell. You will want to get your FPS as high as possible without sacrificing the visuals too much. It’s a tricky thing to balance, but Returnal is packed with tools to help you dial it in. On top of familiar upscaling tools like DLSS and AMD FSR – which have been featured in previous PlayStation Studios ports to great effect – Returnal also features dynamic resolution scaling, Nvidia Image Scaling, and VRS, which dynamically renders different areas on screen at different qualities depending on their importance. If you think DLSS is witchcraft (and it is) wait till you see what NIS and VRS can do. With some experimenting, I was able to squeeze an extra 20 frames out with VRS with minimal compromise to the image. You’ll have to play with these screen optimization options to find what works best, but they can make a huge difference to your performance.

Every time I’ve played a PlayStation PC port, I’ve made the claim that the inclusion of ultrawide aspect ratios improves the gameplay. Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted’s stunning vistas, as well as Spider-Man’s crowded skyline, are all enhanced by wider displays. It feels like these games were meant to be played in 21:9 or 32:9 because of the way the ultrawide brings out their best features. I can’t say the same for Returnal though. While those games are all about the freedom of movement, exploration, and visually stunning landscapes, Returnal is, in many ways, the exact opposite. Its environments are claustrophobic and oppressive and, though it features eye-popping backgrounds and skyboxes, you’re never afforded the opportunity to stop and enjoy them. Ultrawide doesn’t support Returnal in the same waySony’s other games do, and it may even be a detriment at times. The curvature of the screen creates an unavoidable distortion that elongates objects on the edges, which can be bad news when the screen is filled with colorful balls of death.

I don’t think ultrawide elevates Returnal the way it does Sony’s other games, but it certainly doesn’t make it worse. When you hit that flow state and you’re moving from room to room maxed out on adrenaline and exterminating everything in sight, the edges of the screen fade into the periphery. In those moments, you do get an immersive benefit from the ultrawide. And while the cutscenes don’t always support Ultrawide (a common problem with all of Sony’s PC ports) it otherwise does feel fully integrated. Not only can you scale the UI to your preferred position and adjust the screen safe zones, but you can also customize what is shown on the sides during 16:9 cutscenes, and what you see at the edges when you open your map. It’s a little detail, but it shows how much thought was put into the port in order to transform it from a PS5 to a PC game.

Surprisingly, mouse and keyboard controls fundamentally change the experience of the game. Failure and repetition is baked into Returnal’s narrative and gameplay loop – obviously – but I’ve been trivializing the combat encounters thanks to the precision of M+KB controls. Even though I’ve played the game before, I didn’t expect I’d be able to get through the first three zones without a single death. I have to dance around the point to avoid spoilers, but simply put, you have to die in Returnal to understand the point of Returnal. If you’re an ace that can breeze through your first playthrough on M+KB, I recommend sticking with the controller. It has great DualSense support, so you’ll even get all of the PS5’s cool haptics.

Returnal is one of my favorite games ever, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the PC port to see how Ray Tracing and an obscenely high frame rate can unlock its true potential. This is a highlypolished and thoughtfully designed port that exceeds my already-high expectations, but contradictingly, might actually be a worse experience, depending on how you play it. Returnal isn’t a popcorn spectacle the way so many other Sony games are, and you don’t need all the bells and whistles to truly appreciate it either. It doesn’t get the credit it deserves as the star of the PS5, and the PC port just makes it more apparent how perfectly designed and executed it is on the newest PlayStation hardware. It’s nice to have more, but in this case, more doesn’t always mean better.

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