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Prey PC: even a budget rig can hit 1080p60

Digital Foundry reports superb scalability across a range of hardware.

After a rocky start with Dishonored 2 on PC, Bethesda's Prey comes out of the gate as one of the best-performing high profile PC titles we've seen in some time. Whether you're running an enthusiast-grade PC or a budget wonder, you're in for a really good time. Even a £55 CPU coupled with a £100 graphics card can run this title at 1080p at 60 frames per second - a creditable state of affairs bearing in mind that the demanding CryEngine middleware is used as the technological foundation for Arkane Austin's excellent offering.

In common with many CryEngine titles, Prey's presets menu is relatively slight, with settings available for object detail, shadow quality, texture quality, anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing. Finishing off the list are two further tweakables that have the most profound impact on in-game performance: screen-space directional occlusion and screen-space reflections.

Rolling out the 'go to' cards for enthusiast gaming at 1080p - Nvidia's GTX 1060 and AMD's freshly-minted RX 580 - there are few issues running this game fully maxed out with SMAA T2x anti-aliasing. The GeForce card hands in an 83fps average in our tests, averaging at 118fps while its Radeon counterpart is a touch slower, dropping to a 76fps minimum and a 111fps average.

With this much overhead left over, you can push ahead to 1440p and still retain a 60fps experience by dropping settings to high, retaining the very high textures and adjusting both screen-space effects down to half-resolution. The game still looks and runs beautifully here, though there are slight dips under 60fps, which are more pronounced on the RX 580, even with an anti-aliasing reduction down to SMAA T1x.

Here's a look at how Prey runs at 1080p and 1440p on GTX 1060 and RX 580, while our Pentium G4560 budget rig pairs up with the GTX 1050 and RX 460 - still handing in decent performance.

All of which led us to wonder - if Prey runs so well at 1440p, what would happen if we transplanted those settings across to a budget-orientated PC set-up? We rolled out the budget CPU champion of the moment - the dual-core, quad-thread Pentium G4560 - and paired it with two £100 GPUs: Nvidia's GTX 1050 2GB and AMD's Radeon RX 460 4GB. We had to drop the screen-space reflections completely (in line with the console versions) and in the case of the GTX 1050, textures needed to be lowered to medium - but on the Nvidia hardware at least, a stable 60fps was mostly achievable, though some dips to 50fps in the most taxing areas were recorded.

Unfortunately, while the RX 460 could run with the high quality textures owing to its larger 4GB framebuffer, performance disappointed only averaging at 53fps and dipping to as low as 37fps. The RX 460 has been replaced with the more capable RX 560 - with two additional compute units - but AMD has not supplied one of these for review. Regardless, it would take quite something to overcome a 30 per cent performance deficit here - though clearly its extra VRAM comes in useful. Nvidia's GTX 1050 Ti provides even more performance and a similar 4GB of RAM, but at around £130, it's a touch too expensive for what it is.

Prey's scalability overall is impressive. We were half expecting our budget rig to come undone owing to CryEngine's often prodigious CPU requirements, but the Pentium powers through admirably - paired with the GTX 1050, the cheapo chip's four threads max at around 60 per cent utilisation, rising to around 80 per cent with the RX 460 - possibly owing to AMD's less efficient DX11 driver.

And there's a clear gameplay premium here. First-person shooters always benefit from the leap to 60fps when stacked up against their 30fps console brethren - and Prey works especially well here on two counts. First of all, the way the mimics move, their fast action is more difficult to track at 30fps. Secondly, we noted an issue in the Prey console demo where the PlayStation 4 version of the game suffered from significant input lag. Dual Shock 4 deadzones have been tightened up for the final game, but the core latency issue doesn't seem to have been addressed, making for a laggy experience.

Xbox One improves matters here, but PC takes response to another level - and the fact that even a £100 graphics card can deliver a decent 60fps experience bodes well for a range of older GPUs also delivering a smoother, more playable experience. From a Digital Foundry perspective, we're really enjoying this game right now, and we'll be back soon with a deeper analysis encompassing all three platforms.

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About the Author

David Bierton