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Now that Steam has the ability officially to override a Linux game and run it through Steam Play instead, let's take a quick look at some differences in performance.

Before I begin, let's make something clear. I absolutely value the effort developers put into Linux games, I do think cross-platform development is incredibly important so we don't end up with more lock-in. However, let's be realistic for a moment. Technology moves on and it's not financially worth it to keep updating old games, they just don't sell as well as newer games (with exceptions of course). The intention with such comparisons is not to favour any developer or any method of gaming on Linux. It’s just to show what’s possible, what the differences are, what doesn’t work and so on. As the years go on, there will be more ways to run older games better and better, of that I've no doubt.

I'm not a zealot for any one particular method of gaming either and as a fan of all things gaming, software and technology, I thought it might be interesting and hopefully you do too. The tests were attempted on some games that have a Linux version, while also being games that are quite heavy on your system.

Note: All tests done at 1080p on Ubuntu 18.10, with the NVIDIA 415.25 driver and my 980ti with Proton 3.16-6.

First up, let's take a look at Tomb Raider (2013) which arrived on Linux back in 2016. Since Tomb Raider has a handy built-in benchmark tool, we will start off simply by showing the results:

Benchmarks also only tell one part of the story. In the case of Tomb Raider, through Steam Play it needed to run through entirely at least once or there was quite a lot of stuttering which wasn't the case in the Linux version. However, the Linux version has parts of the game where performance dives a lot and the Steam Play version is better there. To Feral Interactive's credit (who ported it to Linux), their later ports are miles ahead of this.

Sidenote: For the videos, the titles "Steam Play" and "Linux" show their corresponding videos to the side, in case that wasn't clear.

In the case of Cities: Skylines which released on Linux back in 2015 at the same time as the Windows version, testing out the "Benchmark" map from the Steam Workshop resulted in something I didn't expect. The performance was very close but the Linux version was noticeably smoother with a couple of extra FPS.

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Either way, a big city doesn't perform well no matter how you do it. I should note here too, that even though the Linux versions performs slightly better it does eat up quite a bit more RAM.

Next up, MXGP3 a rather new Linux port from November 2018. Given how it's quite new, I honestly would have thought it would do reasonably well. As noted in my previous article, the performance of the Linux version isn't very good and Steam Play blows it out of the water.

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Not a pretty picture, with the official Linux version struggling at times to even hit 30FPS it makes it difficult to control. It's also not a very good game but that's a different thing altogether…

Dying Light is up next, a personal favourite of mine. Also no benchmark mode I could find for the Linux version, so a comparison video keeping it as close as I could:

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As you can see, both versions work quite well. I've completed the game more than once and I was actually happy enough with the performance of the Linux version, it was good enough and playable. However, the Steam Play version with Vulkan is at times around double the performance of the Linux version which is quite striking.

Next up, I tried Total War: WARHAMMER II. A Linux port from Feral Interactive released only in November last year. This would have been quite an exciting comparison, since the Linux version uses Vulkan. First issue encountered when trying it in Steam Play, is that it gives you a completely blank white launcher, so you need to opt into their new launcher beta which does work in Steam Play.

So you hit play on the fancy new launcher, guess what happens next? You get a brief moment of life, a glorious flash of black…and then it just quits to the desktop. Happens across both Proton 3.7 and 3.16. So, Total War: WARHAMMER II in Steam Play is a dud whereas the actual Linux version does work rather nicely.

The curious one is Rise of the Tomb Raider, I've been told this should work in Steam Play to do a comparison. However, it faced the same issue for me as Total War: WARHAMMER II. A black screen for a moment and then it quits on me. I have sent a log to the creator of DXVK for that, maybe it will help somewhere. Again, the Linux version from Feral works nicely.

 

The testing in this article was going to be longer, I had some grand plans for doing a lot of comparisons. However, Steam Play is still in beta and it has an uphill battle ahead of it. Rise of the Tomb Raider, Total War: WARHAMMER II, Civilization VI, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and BioShock Infinite didn't work at all in Steam Play across both Proton 3.16 and 3.7 but the Linux versions do work. Sad about not being able to test more, but it's an example of how a supported release is the better option for certain games (especially multiplayer games like Darwin Project) and not the answer to everything as some claim. Great as an option but not quite ready for prime time overall, it will be fun to watch it evolve over this next year.

As I've said before though, with Steam Play it's not just a case of squeezing out extra performance. It's also a question of support and features of the Linux version (gamepad support, fullscreen issues, missing graphics options and so on). From a performance standpoint though, it shows clearly Linux can be a gaming platform that performs well.

The biggest question in my mind is: do you really get any true support with games you purchase to play in Steam Play? What exactly are you paying for? I don't really have an answer for that. For a purchased game, the developer (you would think) would be focused on it and fix issues as they come up. With Steam Play though, it covers such a massive list you could end up waiting a while for a fix (if it's possible at all). Thankfully, Valve has made a good step towards stopping Steam Play updates breaking games, since the latest Steam client beta no longer overrides the Proton version for a game in the whitelist.

I may do more tests in future, if readers want me to you will need to let me know what games you want to see tested (they have to have a benchmark mode in the Linux version). We still don't have a decent amount of Linux games that actually do have a benchmark mode, so it does make such a thing rather tricky to get a lot of value out of it and comparison videos eat a huge amount of time for even the most basic rough editing.

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113 comments
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mylka 28 January 2019 at 2:33 pm UTC
Comandante ÑoñardoIs almost 50% more of the Feral port performance... They should update their port to vulkan.

it doesnt make any sense. it costs money and i dont think they sell a lot of copies
besides, hardware is better now and i think you can play TR with a mid range PC on ultra


Comandante ÑoñardoI tried Life is Strange and there isn't much difference with the Feral port because is a DX9 game...
Maybe VK9 project can improve the performance.

does FPS really matter in this game?
i mean all DX9 games should run quite well on PCs today
m0nt3 28 January 2019 at 2:38 pm UTC
[quote=mylka]
Comandante ÑoñardoIs almost 50% more of the Feral port performance... They should update their port to vulkan.

it doesnt make any sense. it costs money and i dont think they sell a lot of copies
besides, hardware is better now and i think you can play TR with a mid range PC on ultra


Besides the performance being terrible on TR2013, it also does not look nearly as nice, there seems to be lots of missing shader effects. The console versions look a lot better. If they don't want to bring it to vulkan, then they can't complain when people use proton instead, for the improved performance and visuals.
mylka 28 January 2019 at 2:42 pm UTC
[quote=m0nt3]
mylka
Comandante ÑoñardoIs almost 50% more of the Feral port performance... They should update their port to vulkan.

it doesnt make any sense. it costs money and i dont think they sell a lot of copies
besides, hardware is better now and i think you can play TR with a mid range PC on ultra


Besides the performance being terrible on TR2013, it also does not look nearly as nice, there seems to be lots of missing shader effects. The console versions look a lot better. If they don't want to bring it to vulkan, then they can't complain when people use proton instead, for the improved performance and visuals.

do they complain?
i think proton ist another reason, why vulkan support is a waste of time and money, because IF they sell this game, then in a steam sale for 4€ (30% steam, or a little less)
VULKAN costes more, than they would earn i think, so better invest time and money in newer titles
Ehvis 28 January 2019 at 2:52 pm UTC
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Comandante ÑoñardoIs almost 50% more of the Feral port performance... They should update their port to vulkan.

But these are the less interesting areas. In TR2013 the fps took a dive in the big open areas like Shanty Town. That's where it could really make a difference.
Comandante Ñoñardo 28 January 2019 at 3:14 pm UTC
Ehvis
Comandante ÑoñardoIs almost 50% more of the Feral port performance... They should update their port to vulkan.

But these are the less interesting areas. In TR2013 the fps took a dive in the big open areas like Shanty Town. That's where it could really make a difference.

I know. I loaded some saved checkpoints...
Sometimes there are lags. I suppose there is some real time task in the background related to graphics.
m0nt3 28 January 2019 at 4:14 pm UTC
[quote=mylka]
m0nt3
mylka
Comandante ÑoñardoIs almost 50% more of the Feral port performance... They should update their port to vulkan.

it doesnt make any sense. it costs money and i dont think they sell a lot of copies
besides, hardware is better now and i think you can play TR with a mid range PC on ultra


Besides the performance being terrible on TR2013, it also does not look nearly as nice, there seems to be lots of missing shader effects. The console versions look a lot better. If they don't want to bring it to vulkan, then they can't complain when people use proton instead, for the improved performance and visuals.

do they complain?
i think proton ist another reason, why vulkan support is a waste of time and money, because IF they sell this game, then in a steam sale for 4€ (30% steam, or a little less)
VULKAN costes more, than they would earn i think, so better invest time and money in newer titles

I was not making an argument for the to bring vulkan support, simply making a statement about the drawbacks of their opengl port. There are still issues with running the game in proton, like compiling shaders causing stuttering.


Last edited by m0nt3 at 28 January 2019 at 4:15 pm UTC
YoRHa-2B 28 January 2019 at 4:59 pm UTC
mylkabesides, hardware is better now and i think you can play TR with a mid range PC on ultra
My Ryzen 2700X might not be the best gaming CPU, but it's no slouch either and drops all the way to 20-25 FPS in more intensive areas like Shantytown or the village thing with the plane wreck. That might be somewhat playable, but not really enjoyable.

Proton never drops below 60 once the shaders are compiled. Sadly, compiling shaders is a bit of a problem here.

This game already has questionable performance on Windows, all things considered (like all the TR games on Dx11 really), the Feral port being so slow really doesn't help.


Last edited by YoRHa-2B at 28 January 2019 at 5:01 pm UTC
Brisse 28 January 2019 at 5:51 pm UTC
Same here with Tomb Raider 2013. Overall it was mostly fine but there were occasions of dropping into the twenties. One way to reliably replicate that was looking at the smoke plumes (smoke grenade / objective marker thingy) in some of the open areas. Don't remember having that issue on Windows back in 2013.
Brisse 28 January 2019 at 5:57 pm UTC
wvstolzing
BrisseSpeaking of Metro, they released the system requirements for Metro Exodus today. Normally I wouldn't care about such event but I did notice it had "Windows" written all over it.

dx11 minimum / dx12 'recommended' -- pretty much says it all.

And again speaking of Metro Exodus. Apparently they have decided last minute before release to ditch Steam and become an Epic Store exclusive. This actually pisses me off 1. because eff exclusives and 2. makes Linux release seem less likely and 3. those stupid enough to pre-order are being screwed over.

https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2019/01/28/metro-exodus-becomes-epic-games-store-exclusive/


Last edited by Brisse at 28 January 2019 at 5:58 pm UTC
wvstolzing 28 January 2019 at 6:12 pm UTC
BrisseAnd again speaking of Metro Exodus. Apparently they have decided last minute before release to ditch Steam and become an Epic Store exclusive. This actually pisses me off 1. because eff exclusives and 2. makes Linux release seem less likely and 3. those stupid enough to pre-order are being screwed over.

https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2019/01/28/metro-exodus-becomes-epic-games-store-exclusive/

whoa this is pretty nasty....

QuoteThose with outstanding pre-orders will receive Metro Exodus as expected on their store of choice, but publisher Deep Silver are sweetening the deal for Epic Store customers a little by cutting the US dollar price of the game a bit. Annoyingly, Euro and UK prices remain the same.
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