Horizon Forbidden West PC Performance Review

Horizon Forbidden West PC Performance Review – PC vs PS5 vs PS4 vs Steam Deck

Apr 20, 2024 - 19:50
 0  5
Horizon Forbidden West PC Performance Review

Horizon Forbidden West is one of the best-looking games on consoles, period – a statement that now extends to PC thanks to this port from Nixxes, the Sony-owned studio responsible for the recent PC ports of PlayStation games like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. While this is a cross-generation game, the PS5 is where it pushes the fidelity needle most, so that’s what we’ll be using for the main console comparison. Compared to the PS5, this PC port loses none of the quality and, depending on the machine, can even exceed it. It also comes with one big and welcome improvement – Nixxes has added real-time render options via a transparent menu, a genius touch that aids PC market’s desire to fiddle, offering immediate and, most importantly, visual changes to the games rendering.

The Sky’s The Limit

The top end RTX 4090 can max all the sliders at native 4K. These choices, however, miss out on some of the best features and use of the hardware. The game ships with Guerrilla’s own TAA solution, but is complemented with all flavours of reconstructed image options – DLSS3, FSR2.2 and Intel’s XeSS are all available to upscale the image back to your target output. Comparing the PC best to the PS5’s best, we see very minor increases. Texture filtering can be pushed higher to 16x, with the PS5 hovering around 4 to 8x depending on the texture in question, along with very high shadows offering better filtering than PS5 in its Fidelity mode, as well as more objects in the shadow cascade.

This was confirmed in our chat with Nixxes, which you can read below. In addition, depth of field (DoF) can run cinematic quality during gameplay, and level of detail can see a miniscule increase with slightly fewer imposter sprites used. The most obvious leaps come in extended FoV which can see approximately 5% of an increase in performance on some machines. There’s also options for ultrawide monitors, including for the real time cinematics, although turning the black bars off can cause some issues as it extends the rendering range outside of the intended scope for the PS4 and PS5 versions the game was built around. Although the increases over PS5 may be frugal, our conversations with the developers helped explain some of reasons for this, as Michiel Roza (Principal Optimisation Programmer) details:

In previous ports we converted and expanded on existing ray-tracing implementations. We've considered it for this title, but adding this from scratch to an open world game of this size with dozens of hours of cinematics would be a huge undertaking. It's not just a technical implementation, it would require a full art pass on the dozens of hours of cutscenes. Besides, this title already looks great the way it is, and we didn't really feel the need to change it.

We did improve on the shadows compared to PS5 on the Very High setting by increasing resolution and enhanced filtering and adding more detailed objects.

The AO in this game is already bleeding edge with multi-bounces and good denoising. We didn't really feel the need to improve upon this. Plus, it was already performant enough even on mid-range hardware, meaning we didn't need to have a lower quality option. For the very low end, there's an option to turn it off.”

Wood For The Trees

Image Quality is next, and DLSS can offer improvements over the engine’s own TAA at 4K. The vast amount of sub-pixel foliage and thin edges of geometry can cause flicker and movement on PC. The PS5, in its 4K TAA Fidelity mode, is better than the PC’s setting here. Some of that comes down to the extra sample taps and output options consoles offer over PC drivers and APIs, but also the changes in textures and foliage which is subtly tweaked on PS5 and PS4, which you can see on the zoomed in shots. Bloom and volumetrics are also slightly reduced compared to the Fidelity mode, but are more subtle in comparison. DLSS Quality mode improves on this with stability and sharpness marginally better than the PS5 4K mode. Texture details and high frequency elements are close, but DLSS is slightly better. Not all aspects are improved with DLSS – screen space reflections use lower samples, causing blockier quality and resembling macroblocking on a video stream. As we move into the lower-resolution Performance mode on PS5, which also uses a checkerboard resolve, you can see these lower base pixel counts cause similar issues, meaning the RTX 4090 offers superior image quality and performance in its 4K DLSS quality mode.

FSR 2.2 and XeSS deliver good results, but both suffer in the foliage-heavy world compared to DLSS and the PS5 in both Fidelity mode and Performance mode. Of the two, XeSS is slightly better than FSR2 in reducing the fizzle and pixel popping that happens when occluded pixels are dis-occluded as things move. This can be seen when Aloy runs, as you can see the increased ghosting flicker around her arms and hair compared to other solutions in the zoomed in sections. Sharpness of image and small or distant objects also lose some of the clarity of the PS5 and DLSS quality modes, but in general they deliver similar image quality for significantly increased performance targets. After the game’s launch, Nvidia's DLSS and Intels XeSS have been updated to version 3.7 and 1.3 respectively. Comparing new versus old, we can see both trade the sharpness of image for a slightly more stable one. Now we have subtly less fizzle under motion on both, but DLSS still improves over XeSS, retaining more texture detail and fewer dithered elements, as you can see in the zoomed in section on Aloy’s hair, hands and distance textures. Although better on sub-pixel shimmer, such as grass and leaves, it is a minor but welcome boost on both non the less. At the other end, DLSS ultra performance is far too unstable, and due to the high-frequency elements abundant in the game is a choice that should only be used by those desperate to lock at a target performance rate, and are willing to sacrifice image stability, clarity and quality.

The game scales well, within reason. The RTX 4050 can offer superior image quality, effects, and performance to the PS4 via my optimized settings using that same DLSS Auto mode at 1080p. We have increased foliage, shadow quality, textures, and other small areas which are obvious in comparisons. Below this is the Steam Deck, again using my optimized settings, which can target 30fps with a DRS TAA-based 900p on large screens or 800p on the device itself.

Using these comparisons, you can see that the Steam Deck loses out on depth of field, texture details, hair, screen space reflections, lighting, and other aspects versus the PS4 and the RTX 4050. It still delivers the lion’s share of the game’s quality, but you must use TAA and not FSR2, as that ruins the image when moving, both on a big screen and in your hands. Even then, the low base resolution and aggressive streaming stutters and dips can be quite obtrusive, making it hard to recommend in its current form. We managed to speak with Nixxes directly after putting this review together and I asked what challenges and changes the PC memory set-up raised for them. Principal Optimisation programmer Michiel Roza offered an insight into the specific features the PS5 offers and how the team had to adapt this on PC, which results in larger memory requirements over the console version for the same results as Michiel explains:-

On PS5 we get feedback from the GPU to give us the exact mip(texture size) that we need. That, in combination with the fast SSD and quick loading times, will give the players a great experience.

“On PC, something similar is available called Sampler Feedback, however, this is more limited than the PS5 capabilities and it's not available on all hardware that we support. We therefore decided to not use it at all, to give all users the best experience. This means we have to be a bit more conservative and load in a bit more texture mips than PS5 for the same fidelity. The user can choose to reduce texture quality if they feel that they want to reduce the memory footprint.

“An extra complication is that we need to upload textures to VRAM, meaning an extra step necessary after streaming in data, and there's no guarantee that everything will fit in VRAM. This is not only due to different hardware – but also existing programs that are running, settings, driver versions etcetera.

“Our system will drop textures and buffers to system ram if we run out of VRAM, costing a bit of performance if you run out of VRAM, but it should still run at an acceptable frame rate without stuttering. This means the user can run at a higher fidelity than their VRAM would normally support, at the cost of performance. This means people can make a choice between fidelity and performance.

Frames Of Fancy

All the reconstruction solutions offer increases over an equal native output, but Nvidia’s solution remains the best across the board. At the same 4K target on my RTX 4090 in the best Quality mode with a base 2560x1440 render, it can boost performance approximately 22% to 122fps over the native 4K TAA’s 100fps – perfect for those who have a 120Hz screen but still want to maintain 4K’s pristine quality. 4K DLSS Ultra Performance can net us 35% over native, but the hit to image quality is significant. This is where DLSS Frame Generation comes into play. Once enabled, we can now run the game at a perceived 150fps with image quality that is slightly better in some areas than DLSS Quality due to the extra taps it makes via the interpolated frames. That said, it can suffer more with fizzle and ghosting artifacts whenever new objects or pixels appear between rendered frames. This materializes as flicker and blocky outlines, but input latency is higher due to the buffered rendering this mode requires.

Pitting the PS5 against the RTX 4090 in their respective best modes, Balanced mode is a match for Fidelity mode requiring a 120Hz screen on PS5. The 4K DLSS Quality mode at maximum settings on the RTX 4090 is unsurprisingly a win for the Nvidia GPU, with it delivering almost three times the performance rate of the 4K PS5 Balanced mode here. In like-for-like combat and exploration scenes we can see an average read-out over 100fps on PC versus a close lock on the 40fps or 25ms target on the PS5. Both run consistent frame-times with this PC having minimal stutter and judder. The PS5 performance mode runs in the 60s and 70s, but this unlocked performance mode requires a VRR screen. The RTX 4090 can exceed PS5 in all of its modes, but of course that is not the case for the full PC market.

Coming Down To Earth

Our RTX 4050 gaming machine represents a good section of the PC market. Using my optimized settings, we can hit 60fps in addition to superior image quality and performance to the PS4 version. The PS4 delivers a good run at 30fps with it often hitting the required frame times throughout, but it can dip in some of the heavier sections and become memory bound at times. The RTX 4050 is not a fully locked 60fps, but it does achieve the required 16ms frame times more than 80% of the time, which results in a much smoother and more refined gameplay experience than the last generation console, though it can still dip in heavier bandwidth areas and real time cutscenes.

For the cost of additional latency, DLSS3 can be used to run the game at a perceived 80-95fps which can help fluidity on a 120Hz VRR capable screen. It also benefits, as all PCs do, from superior loading times compared to the PS4. The PS5 ‘just’ beats my 5800X3D CPU in the loading stakes, which is expected as the PC has to do a far larger amount of work during loading due the different architecture and lack of dedicated hardware decompression the PS5 offers, as Principal Lead programmer Patrick den Bekker explains:

Loading on a PC requires some extra work compared to a PS5 console. First of all, there is no dedicated decompression hardware, we only use CPU decompression on this title and not any GPU decompression, because the current implementation of GPU decompression is not very efficient on the CPU. Meaning that we cannot easily decide on the fly (eg: only during loading/gameplay) if we want to use CPU or GPU decompression. As the game is mostly GPU bound, we did not want to add any GPU pressure during gameplay while streaming in new data.

Loading on a PC requires some extra work compared to a PS5 console.

“Second, we need to create (and upload) a lot of resources on the GPU which is quite expensive to do on a PC. Last, but not least, we also need to precompile PSOs during our loading screens to ensure they are ready when the rendering needs them, to avoid stutters during gameplay.

“Because of these things, loading can still be slower than on PS5 even if you have beefy hardware. Luckily, it can also be faster than the PS5 on the right hardware!”

In addition I noticed a few areas of textures and Aloy’s hair that were not quite as good as on PS5 and a few bugs with enemies clipping through floors during combat, such as a big snake battle. Although very minor, a few updates are still likely on the way from the team for all levels of PC hardware.

The Steam Deck is the weakest of the bunch, with it struggling in battles to keep even a limp grip on the required 33ms frame times, possibly being bandwidth bound at times even at low settings. That said, it can run slightly above the PS4 in some tested sections and real-time cutscenes, but this is often short lived or soon followed by bouts under the PS4 level. All things considered it does well running a console exclusive of this quality on mobile hardware under 16 watts. It may help having a PS4 baseline version with the relevant asset, texture, and geometry tweaks applied to aid its performance target. Which again Nixxes answered directly in our interview on the balance and benefits of using the PS5 version as the base as Patrick den Bekker explains:

The PS4 and PS5 versions use fully separate data sets, for each specific console. On PC, we only wanted to install a single data set for the game and still be able to quickly switch between the different quality settings. We picked the highest quality version (PS5) and scaled it down using different settings to be able to fit a wide range of PCs. Some of these quality settings actually have the same result as the PS4 version, but other scale in a way that can be changed on the fly.”

This does help the RTX 4050 level greatly and even the Steam Deck can achieve a decent 30fps level. That said, you can often see GPU utilization dip from those noted streaming/memory tasks causing some stutter throughout play, along with image quality impacts due to DSR kicking in. This can cause enough of an issue for me to not recommend you buy it to play on the Steam Deck in its current form.


Nixxes has delivered another high-quality port to PC, on the back of Guerrilla’s exquisite PS5 version. The current PlayStation console offered a good selection of choice, with VRR players having the widest. The PC port loses none of that with pristine image quality, performance, fidelity and scalability. Running this visual quality from the Steam Deck (issues notwithstanding) and through the PC stack is testament to that effort. The effort put into memory and texture management in order to improve performance across varied PC hardware limitations and split memory pools demonstrates this is no quick port.

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