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Quantum Break on PC is classically broken

When Quantum Break launched for the Xbox One, gamers were treated to a visually rich title with some gorgeous special effects and interesting abilities. The frame rate and resolution both suffered on the Xbox One, however, which doesn’t seem to quite have enough graphics horsepower to do the job. Theoretically, this means the game should run beautifully on PCs — instead, gamers seem to have gotten another raw deal on this Universal Windows Platform title.

Some of the game’s problems are issues we’ve never seen in a PC title before, as Eurogamer details. These include:

It can’t match a monitor’s stated refresh rate. The game appears to top out at roughly 5/6 of a 60Hz refresh rate, no matter which detail levels or settings you use. Eurogamer couldn’t break 50 FPS on a 60Hz monitor, even when using a GTX Titan X or AMD GPU, even at 720p and lowest detail settings. I’ve heard of game engines being locked to a flat refresh rate before, but a game engine that’s stuck at 5/6 of one? That’s new, and simply using a faster monitor isn’t a solution. A 120 or 144Hz display will run more quickly, but Eurogamer notes: “[Y]ou can’t achieve a level of performance that results in consistent, level frame-times. As far as we can tell, a judder-free experience is impossible at the moment without a patch from Remedy.”

Frame rate caps don’t work: Locking the frame rate at 30 FPS doesn’t actually result in a smooth 30 FPS experience. Instead, frame rate judder remains a significant issue — one that’s magnified by the fact that the frames are being displayed for comparatively longer periods of time. In a standard Win32 application, this could be fixed through the frame rate controls available through the Nvidia Control Panel or AMD’s Radeon Software, but since this is a Windows Store title with fullscreen borderless mode, those options don’t exist.

The list goes on from there. Image quality is terrible because there’s no option to actually play the game in native 1080p. Gamers are instead being handed 720p upscale, just like the Xbox One. The game’s use of streaming means that it must be installed to an SSD (Eurogamer’s emphasis, not ours). There are LOD issues, draw distance problems, and the game somehow manages to crash Nvidia’s driver on a regular basis. The Radeon R9 390 is, according to Eurogamer, a full 50% faster than the GTX 970.

Eurogamer discusses the issue in more detail and provides evidence of the R9 390 versus the GTX 970 in the video above. It’s not unusual for a game to favor AMD or Nvidia or the reverse, but 50% gaps between two equivalently priced products are extremely unusual.

When Gears of War Ultimate Edition shipped last month, we noted that the game was so fundamentally broken in so many ways, it was impossible to recommend it. Then, we at least had some idea where the problems were — GoW is an early Unreal Engine 3 game that was “updated” for DirectX 12 while keeping the vast majority of the original source code intact. It performed terribly on AMD cards at launch and less-than perfectly on Nvidia hardware, and while later patches have reportedly improved the situation, it still isn’t very good.

Now we have Quantum Break — a game built on a brand-new Northlight Engine and designed explicitly for the Xbox One and Windows 10. The situation isn’t quite as bad of Gears of War, but the rampant driver crashing and terrible performance on Nvidia hardware suggest Quantum Break either didn’t go through proper testing on PCs or is yet another example of a terrible console port. Given that some of these issues are present on both AMD and Nvidia hardware, it’s impossible to disentangle what’s caused by poor game code, what’s driven by the broken Universal Windows Platform, and what might be caused by problems in the drivers both AMD and Nvidia have released.

In an interview last week, Xbox head Phil Spencer claimed that the issues people are having with the Windows 10 Store are simply growing pains and that the company’s principle focus had been on getting software up and running.

“My biggest concern when Tomb Raider launched was that I was going to see a review of the Win32 version next to the UWP version and the UWP version would be running at half the frame rate,” Spencer said. “I knew that would be dead in the water. We didn’t see that. People bought it. It got downloaded and installed on their PC. It ran at frame rate. It was a pretty game.”

Tomb Raider might have been pretty, but both Gears of War Ultimate Edition and Quantum Break are barely functional. If these are the launch titles meant to sell us on the Windows Store, Microsoft would’ve done better to feature some third-party Facebook apps and fake Instagram clients. At least those are free. Both Nvidia and AMD customers deserve better than what Microsoft is shoveling.

Some of the Windows Store issues should be fixed by July, while others have no timeline. One game, particularly an ill-advised DX12 update for a ten year-old codebase, can be excused. Multiple games in a row can’t be — and if Microsoft doesn’t start enforcing some quality control on its platform, the Windows Store is going to be permanently tarnished. Gamers aren’t looking to replace existing ecosystems, which means MS needs to offer something unquestionably better in the Windows Store to entice people to switch. So far, the only thing it’s managed to do is illustrate why it has no business selling games at all. Quantum Break on the PC should have been the definitive edition of the game — instead, it’s the worst.

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