The enchanting puzzle game Stray is turning heads for all the right reasons right now, as it puts players in the paws of a cute ginger cat exploring a beautifully realized cyber city mysteriously devoid of human life. The game is available on PlayStation 4, PS4 Pro, PS5 and PC, so how does each platform compare? Do last-generation consoles hold up against the PS5 version, and what’s the outcome with the PC version and rumored stutter issues? Let’s find out.
The first thing you’ll notice about Stray on the PS5 is the install size – 7GB, which is great for being roughly half the 13GB installed on the PS4, likely due to more efficient data compression on the new system. Despite its relatively slim look on the PS5’s SSD, Stray packs a great sense of scale and atmosphere, and each location is meticulously covered in decorative detailing. The design of the world is what really makes Stray special; The cat-and-cyberpunk aesthetic that proves amazing on any platform you might own. The color palette sometimes summons the minds of adventure greats like The Last Guardian or Ico, and is elevated by Unreal Engine 4’s suite of effects: screen space reflections on city streets, smoky stone lighting, and object physics. Taken together, they create a world that feels devastated and oppressed by the elements – yet still alive and tangible at the same time.
Let’s cover the basics first: You get a native 1920 x 1080 and 30fps presentation on the PS4 (and PS4 Pro for that matter), while the PS5 is boosted to a native output of 3840 x 2160 and 60fps. Significantly, this jump to 4K and 60fps means the PS5 delivers eight times more pixels per second than the last generation equivalent – a drastic upgrade. Dynamic resolution scaling is in effect on the PS5 at rare points, however, reducing GPU load when needed, and the lowest observed resolution is 3360 x 1890. Curiously, when testing a similar DRS scaling on a base PS4 and PS4 Pro, it turns out that each Both tend to stick more stubbornly to their 1080p targets, although DRS may be possible. Other than resolution and frame rate, changes between the PS4 and PS5 versions are otherwise subtle. The premium machine uses high-grade depth-of-field bokeh and possibly longer drawing distances during quick transitions, but shadows, texture mapping, and plenty of world detail look pretty close between all three PlayStations.
Looking at the PC version on Steam helps reveal some of the settings used on the console. Running in 4K with high settings for shadows, textures, effects, and meshes on the RTX 3060 Ti, the PS5 is close to the comparison. However, the higher setting of shadows in the PC gives it a definitive advantage. Tree shadows are more noticeable on Stray’s high preset, pushing higher resolution plots across the floor during the game’s opening tutorial area – while the PS5 uses the medium setting. Unlike that? The PS5 tightly complies with the best PC output in most respects, including the high build setting. Again, there is potential for network quality improvements – to draw distances – but they are not clearly marked in the work.
We’ve already mentioned the frame rate goals for each platform: 30 fps for PS4 and PS4 Pro and 60 fps for PS5 – but how good is each platform at keeping them? Looking at the PS4 to start with, we get 30 fps 99 percent of the time – but unfortunately, there are noticeable 30 fps hurdles as we move from one area to the next. The main reason for this is Stray’s auto-save mechanic, which zips between key areas. Sometimes that’s just a few frames dropped, but sometimes we see spikes of up to 120ms. It’s not perfect, but thankfully it doesn’t affect the action of the platform itself – 30fps is well kept. PS4 Pro has a similar problem with autosave hurdles; The improved machine doesn’t completely solve the problem, but at least it reduces its staining effect.
As for the PS5? Well, Sony’s next-gen console has had some big wins here. First, the autosave hurdles are almost overcome, sometimes they disappear completely and other times they appear as a single dropped frame. It’s hard to define, and the result is more fluid and distraction-free. Besides, we of course get to experience a more responsive platforms at 60 frames per second. Along with 4K rendering and Dualsense support (through the use of adaptive triggers when interacting with objects), the PS5 version is highly recommended.
In theory, the PC version should offer a better experience on a high-end PC. We’ve created Shadows getting an upgrade on the PS5 – plus the ability to push 4K and 60 frames per second. Unfortunately, though, Stray on PC is not an honest recommendation at the moment. the problem? Shader compilation stutter, a recent concern for Unreal Engine 4 releases, is back with a vengeance. Game footage provided by my colleague Alex Battaglia running on a high-end RTX 3090 graphics card shows non-repetitive but conflicting spikes in frame time as new actions are performed or entry into new areas. Note that this is a separate issue from the autosave drops that we clearly see on PS4; Here the problem can also occur while walking in an open environment or in the midst of a platform. A fix is needed next, but depending on the direction of this shader aggregation issue, it appears to be beyond the purview of a particular developer – and work may be required by Nvidia, AMD, and Epic themselves.
For those looking for the easiest way to play Stray, PS5 now offers an excellent option at 60 frames per second. As it stands, the PS5 happens to have the fewest and least obvious obstacles of any platform I’ve tested. On top of that, the PS4 version turned out surprisingly well too, with a world still intact even on Sony’s 2013 hardware. On the PS4 Pro, the game works fine – frankly – but could offer some more adventurous improvements to scale with its more hardware Energy. For PC, we have to watch this space. Outside of the shader compilation stutter, it’s a well-optimized version – but I can’t recommend this version in its current state.
I suspect Stray will be sneaking up on a lot of Game of the Year lists in December. Her enchanting drive, cats, and quirky, quirky world mean she’s got all the staples of a cult classic. It’s a real surprise for 2022, and playing on PS5 especially right now, it comes highly recommended.
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