Returnal: a visually great game and a true showdown for PS5 - technical analysis

Returnal: a visually great game and a true showdown for PS5 - technical analysis


Housemarque has finally launched Returnal on the market, a shooter with an incredible horror atmosphere that has literally kidnapped us since the first game. It is a 'bullet hell' shooter with a metroidvania design and roguelike mechanics.

If we combine these ingredients with a history and an aesthetic taste that blend the influences of H.R. Giger to Sci-Fi elements of films like Sphere, Solaris or Prometeus, what you get is an original, intense and recognizable experience. However, Housemarque has not been satisfied with this but has also elevated its latest work thanks to the usual technological excellence that, over the years, we have come to know.

In a certain sense, what we are facing is the natural evolution of the company's previous works. While there has been a complete shift to Unreal Engine 4, the same care has been taken in creating super-fast-paced scenes, enriched with a multitude of GPU-managed details (and there are so many that it's hard to believe).

Even the smallest actions in the game are technologically significant, to the point where even opening a door results in a realistic trail of dust being released. We loved, among other things, the teleportation effect, when the character dissolves into bits of matter which are then projected as energy into the next location before assuming their original form again. The game is filled with physics-based particle effects, to the point where you can see the enemy carcass disintegrating as you walk through it.

Alex Battaglia and John Linneman share their impressions of the excellent Returnal of Housemarque.

Watch on YouTube. The brilliant artistic design is thus reinforced by an absolutely valuable effects: the dust clouds are equipped with realistic physics, the rain appears convincing and the volumetric lighting projects intense beams of light from the moon that stands out in the sky. There are many references to the classics of the sci-fi genre, but we particularly appreciated the fog effects at the ankle and knee height that recall Alien's egg incubation areas.

If you are a regular reader of Digital Foundry, you know we are fascinated by the rapid adoption of ray tracing in games, to the point that the very inclusion of this type of hardware accelerated effects in consoles seems miraculous to us. Returnal also supports it, which, at least initially, left us puzzled: it is clear that there are no RT reflections but only standard screen-space effects. Ambient occlusion, for its part, also sees what appears to be a conventional implementation of screen-space effects. The PlayStation Blog claims that RT was employed for lighting, which made us think it might be some sort of implementation of the much-discussed global lighting via ray tracing.

After contacting Housemarque directly, We've received some answers: PlayStation 5's RT hardware is used to accelerate global illumination processes in order to speed up the work of a software system, rather than to obtain results directly. A similar system was used for Nvidia's RTXGI, so we were curious if this type of technology had been used, in any way, to create Returnal (RTXGI is an integral part of Unreal Engine 4 by now). Housemarque also told us that the PS5's RT hardware has been used to take Returnal's 3D audio to the next level: even the ambient acoustics are managed through ray tracing.

Particle effects , managed by the GPU, help to create an absolutely brilliant overall aesthetic. Ultimately, the end result with Returnal is a visually rich and utterly stunning third-person shooter, a true next-generation take on the genre; is the first next-gen console exclusive game that has managed to blow us away. There is very little that can be criticized but, wanting to nitpick, we would say that the aiming operations via the controller are a bit demanding: we can not help but think that playing with mouse and keyboard would have made the even better experience. The image quality is also a bit underwhelming.

Before we talk about the data, it is really necessary to point out that Housemarque is pushing the new GPU to the maximum. Really at the top. The aesthetic of the game is so complex and rich in effects that it requires a certain level of compromise. Sony advertises this title by saying it runs in dynamic 4K, a generic term the company has used for all kinds of upscaling solutions in varying quality levels. Basically, Returnal operates at a relatively low internal resolution, so it uses a couple of techniques to improve the quality of the output. It starts with a temporal reconstruction at 1440p, followed by a checkerboard to arrive at an output at 2160p.

The end result is a presentation that looks better than the native 1080p but it's really hard to call it '4K', regardless of dynamic scaling. The overall image quality, from time to time, can appear a little fuzzy or grainy on the go, due to the use of TAA upscaling and checkerboarding processes.

Frame-rate can drop up to 50 / 55fps but the game manages to run at 60 frames per second for the vast majority of the time, even when the most complex visual effects come into play. If we look at the final result, however, we can say that it was worth making those compromises, especially when considering an essential factor for the success of the game: the frame-rate at 60fps. A high frame-rate is critical for these types of games, and Returnal's performance is generally great if not quite perfect.

Most read now

The Last of Us Part II 'reviewed' by Xbox is an unmissable pearl, an internal document to be discovered

'Naughty Dog still seems not to be able to make a decent gun fight '.

Resident Evil Village for PS5 and Xbox Series X / S face to face in a video comparison

This is how the Capcom title turns on consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

Xbox Series X / S RPG? Microsoft is developing 'at least' ten games
"A Thousand!" (cit.)

There may be slight uncertainties during gameplay and small dips may occur when heavier particle effects come into play. However, let's be clear that we always remain in the 50 / 55fps territory. The dips are visible when they occur but negatively affect the experience which always remains quite fluid and satisfying. However, this highlights that VRR (variable refresh-rate) support could be truly transformative for the PlayStation 5, as it would iron out all the minor issues we encountered during our testing.

We strongly recommend that you make this yours. game. With all the recent speculation about the hypothetical remake of The Last of Us and the apparent cancellation of the Days Gone sequel, Sony's perception (right or wrong) is that the company will focus on producing big blockbusters in the next. future.

Returnal does not belong to this category but it is nonetheless a brilliant title, as well as yet another spectacular success for Housemarque. It is a 'severe but fair' game like the Souls but, in terms of concept, it is similar to the Control of Remedy or to the various chapters of Metroid Prime.

It's so great that it could turn out to be one of the biggest titles of the entire generation, and honestly, we can't wait to hear what Housemarque's next project will be.

Powered by Blogger.