GamingGame ReviewsHardwarePC / Mac

Returnal PC (review)

According to Steam’s January 2023 hardware survey, the nVidia Geforce GTX1650 is the most popular graphics card by surveyed users. Followed by the GTX1060, the RTX3060 laptop GPU and the RTX2060.

My gaming PC is still rocking an AMD Radeon RX580 (8Gb) card that sits at about 23rd position in the Steam hardware survey. Hardly cutting edge these days, right?I bring up this nugget of information because not all of us PC gamers can afford a wallet-busting RTX4070 GPU in our gaming rigs. A lot of us – perhaps most of us – are still running older what would be now called budget GPUs.

So, for those fellow gamers who own a mid-range GPU, this review is for all of us who would like to own a faster graphics card that traces all the rays. But their budget doesn’t quite stretch to it.

Sony says the minimum PC requirements for Returnal PC are an Intel Core i5 6400 or AMD Ryzen 5 1500X and a nVidia Geforce GTX1060 or an AMD Radeon RX580. Hallelujah, we just scrape into the minimum requirements, mates! In terms of CPU, my gaming rig is packing an Intel Core i5 11600K.

Specs are made for bending, a little.

The recommended specs are a little more robust: An Intel Core i7 8700 or an AMD Ryzen 7 2700X and nVidia RTX2070 Super or AMD Radeon RX6700XT.

The good news, though, is my RX580 runs Returnal PC pretty damn well. Just don’t expect consistent 60 frames per second – or higher – with the Epic graphics settings enabled.

The studio behind the port of Housemarque’s rogue-like shooter, Climax Studios, has collaborated with Housemarque on two of the company’s previous games (Dead Nation and Resogun), and has included perhaps one of the best bench marking tools that I’ve seen for a while. Which determines the best graphical settings depending on your hardware.

After running the bench mark a couple of times before playing (which throws a decent amount of action on screen to stress your GPU). I decided a mix of mostly medium settings with the odd high setting in there for good measure was the best option for my PC.

Can you handle the Returnal PC?

It was clear from running the benchmark a few times that my GPU was definitely the bottleneck for Returnal. At times, my GPU was sitting at 100% utilisation, drawing 154W of power and sitting around 65 degrees celsius. Frankly, I could hear from the fan noise that my GPU was being pushed to its limits.

Returnal is one of those games where constant movement is crucial: If you stand still when things get hectic, it’s inevitable that you’ll die. Sending you back to the starting biome, respawning in your crashed spaceship. So a smooth frame rate is super important, especially when the action gets frantic with a lot of on-screen enemies and projectiles.

With medium graphics settings at 1080p, Returnal looked mighty fine, with great texture work and nice detail on main character Selene. As to be expected using a GPU that is being pushed to its limit, I experienced the odd flashing texture from time to time and sometimes things would stutter a bit, especially at the beginning of a cycle. I also experienced a handful of crashes to desktop during my playthrough of the first biome.

Overall, the RX580 handled everything Returnal threw at it admirably, with average frame rates sitting at around the high 40s to mid-50s. I’m prepared to drop the graphics to low. too, if that makes things even more stable.

Not all C-Beams glitter in the dark…

Returnal will run well on an ageing GPU like an RX580, which means it still has some life left in it. Sure, it won’t look as good as a card that can push the high frame rates and do ray tracing without breaking a sweat. More importantly, it’s actually playable on our ageing RX580.

I went into Returnal PC not really sure if it was a game I’d actually like. Especially after hearing from others about how quite unforgiving it was. However, after a handful of runs (and deaths), the game suddenly “clicked”. I started approaching each successive run more tactically and with more gusto. I was starting to enjoy it, working out how it played.

However, the big question, though, is will I see Returnal through to the end? Yes, it plays on my ageing minimum requirement GPU, but my honest answer is I’m not sure.

I’m not sure I have the patience or the fortitude to see it through to the end. Especially given I’ve been defeated by the first boss three times despite getting him down to his second of three states. Returnal is unapologetically difficult and I’m just not sure I can cope with that.