It's fair to say that the PC version of No Man's Sky got off to something of a shaky start - and despite the release of a beta patch over the weekend, performance and features in the computer version still aren't quite up to scratch. There are definite improvements though, and yesterday we were able to get a pretty much locked 60fps experience - at 4K resolution and max settings to boot. The key to our success? We're not entirely sure but a surfeit of raw processing power can't hurt, courtesy of Nvidia's new Pascal-based Titan X backed by an overclocked Core i7 6700K running at 4.6GHz.
But what's clear is that even at 4K, we have far more power than we actually need here - GPU utilisation is often at the 70 per cent range, while we barely seem to tap into half of the Core i7's potential. The current stutter issues seem to be down to shader caching issues that Hello Games has identified and is seeking to address. For our part, we achieved fluidity with the game simply by turning off v-sync, fully unlocked the frame-rate and then using Nvidia's adaptive v-sync to take over screen refresh and frame-pacing duties.
However, at the same settings and at a rather saner 1080p resolution, attempts by DF colleague John Linneman to replicate the same experience with a GTX 970 proved fruitless. It's clear that No Man's Sky can hit the 60fps frame-rate target that Nvidia's adaptive sync wants to lock at, but something is still holding the experience up - and in his case, it's clearly not CPU or storage related.
In the video below, you'll see the edited highlights of the first 90 minutes or so of No Man's Sky gameplay. We've cut out most of the initial resourcing mining as - to be frank - it's rather dull to watch. But you'll see a brace of planets, deep space, a space station or two, plus activating our first beacon. And it'll be with the game fully maxed out - over and above resolution and frame-rate, this seems to offer significantly improved draw distances and less of the strange 'voxel fade-in' effect that detracts significantly from the polish and sheen of the PS4 version.
That said, there's still some oddness here - up until we installed the experimental patch, the game seemed to be locked to 1080p and what looked very much like PlayStation 4 settings. And even now, with all settings maxed out and a better-looking game, we're still not sure if the various presets actually working. SSAA 4x anti-aliasing is a case in point - we've got it active in our test, but considering a base 4K resolution, we're pretty sure that No Man's Sky isn't generating an 8K framebuffer (assuming 2x super-sampling on both axes for a 4x internal rendering resolution): jaggies are still visible, plus the 4.2GB memory footprint remains unchanged regardless of the AA method chosen. Nvidia DSR super-sampling didn't work either, so that particular alternative route to improved AA was a no-go.
Right now, there's a fair degree of weirdness remaining in the PC build and it's clear that many users are unable to achieve the locked frame-rate we did in our tests. For us, the experience was really solid on the Titan X rig - we noted just four dips in performance during 90 minutes of play. Stutter during the initial title screen is a known issue at Hello Games, but the only other dips came during a station station exit, entering the atmosphere of a planet, plus a bizarre dip down to 26fps during a warp jump. But we're talking about momentary issues that were quickly resolved and mostly unnoticeable.
By and large, we were locked at 4K60 with all settings maxed - and suffice to say that it's a really special No Man's Sky experience we're happy to share with you, but clearly it an exception right now. UHD resolution is hardly a core requirement for the game, but a consistent frame-rate should be high up on the list of priorities at Hello Games. Switching quality settings without having to restart the entire game would also be helpful! We'll be following the progress of the PC version, checking it out across multiple PC configs and stacking it up against the PS4 game in due course, so keep a look out for further Digital Foundry coverage.