The Callisto Protocol was one of my most anticipated games of the year, so you can imagine how disappointing it was to hear that the PC port is working terribly. I’ve been down this road before with the best graphics card money can buy, and I refuse to take it back.
While it’s true that next-gen consoles are starting to show their age, they do have one advantage over PCs that’s been overdone in the past year: precompiled shaders. The Callisto Protocol is the last glaring example, so I’m saving my pennies on the PC port for now.
What’s wrong with The Callisto Protocol on PC?
It’s easy to see The Callisto Protocol has problems on PC. The game currently carries a mostly negative review on Steam, despite the fact that Digital Trends Gaming Editor Giovanni Colantonio gave the game three and a half out of five stars in our review. He reviewed the game on an Xbox Series X and noted performance issues, but not enough to warrant a mostly negative score.
It’s because The Callisto Protocol, despite being demanding, does not push the hardware to its absolute limit. The RTX 4090 is well above what the developer recommends for maximum settings on PC. The problem is the stutter, which is what led Gamer on PC to call the release “a stuttering nightmare” on PC.
Although stuttering can arise from a myriad of sources, The Callisto Protocol is not unique. It uses Unreal Engine, which has become notorious in the PC space over the past few years due to shader compilation stutter. Below you can see how bad the situation is with CapFrameX’s tests with an RTX 4090 and a Core i9-13900K.
For real-world reference, here’s what IGN producer Mark Medina saw while playing the game with an RTX 4090:
We have several other major releases that experienced similar stuttering issues this year. Gotham Knights is the most recent example, as it had such severe stuttering that I couldn’t last more than a few hours of play. elderberry ring also comes with stuttering issues on PC, just like sci-fi cat adventure Wander. Connective tissue? Unreal engine.
It doesn’t matter how powerful the PC you throw at the problem of those stutters. Shader compilation stutter is related to your CPU becoming a brief and very serious bottleneck for your GPU. games like Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves precompile shaders (programs your GPU should run) before starting the game, avoiding most stutters. Unreal Engine, and some custom engines like the one seen in Ring Elden, compile them at runtime. If you have a lot of complex shaders, your CPU has to pause and find instructions to send to your GPU before you can continue, causing stutter.
Compiling shaders is certainly a problem, but it’s probably not the only problem The Callisto Protocol on PC. Unreal Engine also shows asset streaming stutters where the game will briefly freeze while new assets are introduced to the world. Given the highly detailed environments of The Callisto Protocol, I imagine asset streaming also plays a role.
Whatever the root causes, it is clear The Callisto Protocol is a mess on PC, joining the ranks of the infamous Battlefield 2042 as a AAA release with mostly negative reception on Steam on release day. I’m always really excited to play The Callisto Protocol, and I’ll eventually finish the game. It’s just a shame that the game runs more smoothly on a $500 console than it ever could on a $1,600 graphics card.
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