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Prey's new PS4 Pro support is welcome - but the added stutter isn't

UPDATE: Patch 1.05 resolves all issues for PlayStation owners.

UPDATE 4/8/17 10:30am: It's taken three months to comprehensively sort the issues, but we can finally recommend the PlayStation 4 version of Bethesda's excellent Prey with no reservations. The title launched with no PS4 Pro support and poor controller response (measured by latency specialist Nigel Woodall at a disappointing 217ms). Subsequent patches attempted to resolve the input lag issues, but introduced intrusive stutter and screen-tearing issues in the process. June's patch added PlayStation 4 Pro support, but the poor consistency in performance remained.

The good news is that the latest patch 1.05 update released yesterday finally resolves the issues. Properly frame-paced 30fps action is back on the table, with the stuttering and tearing issues gone, bringing the PS4 version of Prey into line with the Xbox One version - which never exhibited any of these issues. We did a quick high-speed camera capture of the game in motion to check on controller latency, and while the measurement is not quite as precise as we would like, input lag is now in the region of 133ms - slightly high for a 30fps game but clearly a huge improvement overall compared to the launch code.

While Prey is a game that is still best played on PC, it's great to see that PlayStation 4 owners now get the complete console package, with Pro owners retaining the visual enhancements detailed below. It's an excellent game and it's great to see that its lingering issues on PlayStation have been resolved.

Patch 1.04 to the left, 1.05 to the right. The frame-time graph shows the stutter issue dramatically on the older code, while the new update reveals a perfectly consistent 33ms update.

Original story: It's been a few weeks since Prey launched and it's quickly become one of our favorite games of the year - at least on PC. You get a solid enough experience on Xbox One, but if you're a PS4 owner trying to enjoy the game, there've been a number of roadblocks, to say the least. The game launched with serious input lag, lengthy load times and no PlayStation 4 Pro support - despite functionality being flagged on the box. With the release of patch 1.04, Pro features have finally arrived, but Arkane Austin's attempts to improve the laggy controls have resulted in a massive own goal. Put simply, for PS4 owners, there's a strong argument that the new patch now represents a retrograde step.

First up though, let's assess the scale and scope of the PS4 Pro improvements. The bad news is that resolution remains at 1080p, but visual quality is clearly improved. Screen-space reflections - which were previously exclusive to PC - are now available on the Pro and look excellent, while dynamic shadows feature improved resolution, though pop-in on these elements can still look somewhat off-putting.

Anisotropic filtering is improved from 4x to full-on 16x, enabling sharper detail in the distance on elements such as ground textures. The additional 512MB of memory available to developers is also used to eliminate the occasional texture pop-in you get on the standard system, while dynamic light sources are now visible further into the distance. It doesn't fundamentally change the look of the game but the overall presentation is certainly more refined and looks much closer to the PC version running at 1080p. It would have been nice to see support for a higher resolution but still, it's great to see the game improved at last.

Here's an in-depth video breakdown of Prey's current status as of the 1.04 update.

Unfortunately, a new problem has been introduced across both PlayStation consoles - a problem that first appeared in version 1.02 and compromises what was one of the game's most impressive aspects, its consistency and fluidity in motion. On the plus side, input latency has been fixed - the game is much more responsive now - but the knock-on effect is that, put simply, the game is a stuttering mess in motion. We've often reported on bad frame-pacing in the past, but nothing could prepare us for the severity of the problem in Prey.

This is, without a doubt, the worst instance of irregular frame delivery we've encountered, giving the illusion of a much lower frame-rate. In addition, as the game uses an adaptive v-sync solution, there is now a plethora of torn frames present in each and every scene along the top portion of the image. Taken as a whole, Prey no longer feels smooth to play. Clearly, the fix for input latency is to blame for this problem. Whichever settings have been adjusted, the results are poor.

It's a shame really, as choosing between input latency or a visibly poor frame-rate is not a choice we'd like to make and crucially, it's something Xbox One owners don't need to contend with. Prey is as smooth and responsive on the Microsoft platform as it was at launch. In fact, the rock-solid consistency in the performance level was a key aspect of the console versions we lauded when we took a look at the Prey demo - the input lag fix on PS4 has had a tremendous negative impact this aspect of the title.

PlayStation 4
PlayStation 4 Pro
Version 1.04 brings PS4 Pro support to Prey with new features including screen-space reflections, which were previously exclusive to the PC version.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 4 Pro
The extra 512MB is also utilised to ease texture streaming which helps avoid texture loading issues, as we see here on PS4.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 4 Pro
The Pro version enjoys full 16x anisotropic filtering - a nice step up from the 4x AF used on an standard PS4.
PlayStation 4
PlayStation 4 Pro
Many additional dynamic lights are visible across the scene on PS4 Pro - these lights are now drawn at a greater distance, eliminating pop-in in the process.

Other bugs are introduced in the recent patch too. We noticed that during gameplay, the PS4 version had a cut-back field of view and couldn't figure out why this was happening - there is no user control for adjusting FOV, after all, and reloading the game sees the presentation reset to how it should be. We eventually figured it out: the game's field of view reduces after popping into the inventory and you're gaming as normal, you're stuck with it until the next map loads. This occurs on PS4, Pro and unfortunately Xbox One too though happily the PC version remains unaffected.

For our money, the PC version of Prey remains by far and away the best way to play the game, followed by Xbox One - it operates at a lower resolution, but it's a more fluid and reliable experience than its console sibling. The PS4 version is now comparable in terms of responsiveness, at least, but in addition to the performance issues, some users are still encountering controller drift which occurs with some controllers when the dead zone is too small. We didn't have any problems with this but there are plenty of reports out there suggesting it's not fixed.

It's a case of 'two steps forward, one step back' for PlayStation 4 owners right now. The Pro support isn't exactly a game-changer, but it adds PC-level refinement to its 30fps experience, while controller response is improved on both PS4 iterations. However, the near-constant stutter and bonus screen-tearing is a price too high to pay for crisper controls - it's just not acceptable, and at the very least, PlayStation users deserve parity in this area with the Xbox version.

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About the Author
John Linneman avatar

John Linneman

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

An American living in Germany, John has been gaming and collecting games since the late 80s. His keen eye for and obsession with high frame-rates have earned him the nickname "The Human FRAPS" in some circles. He’s also responsible for the creation of DF Retro.

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