Microsoft jammed its foot down hard on the accelerator pedal with the recent release of 74 (!) additional titles offering FPS Boost support, which sees frame-rate of back-compat Xbox One games doubled – or even quadrupled – for play on the new generation of console hardware. In combination with prior FPS Boost updates, we’re now looking at a total of 97 titles available for accelerated play – and the results are generally terrific. 60fps trumps 30fps after all, which can prove transformative. However, there is the sense that the 4K60 dream for Xbox One X titles on Series X remains mostly unfulfilled.
So, here’s the deal. FPS Boost works at the system level of Xbox Series consoles. Similar to a GPU control panel override on PC, Microsoft is able to remove frame-rate caps at the DirectX API layer while at the same time, the firm can enforce v-sync and engage other enhancements, such as enforced 16x anisotropic filtering. The end result is an increase to frame-rate that allows 30fps games to run at 60fps, or 60fps titles to hit 120fps. In rare cases, FPS Boost can see a game that used to run at 30fps on Xbox One hit 120fps on Series X – as we see with Avalanche’s Mad Max and select Lego titles in the latest update. Games run smoother than ever before and play better – so to see this feature rolled out on so many games with more inevitably to follow can only be a good thing.
In the video embedded above, Tom Morgan and I looked over 15 games in total and for my money, the most impressive improvement comes from Shadow of the Tomb Raider. On Series S, a 900p Xbox One game with some performance problems runs nigh-on perfectly at 60fps – its temporal anti-aliasing solution working well in delivering its exceptional visuals in a pleasing way on a 1080p screen, even if its base resolution remains at 900p. Series X is a dream though: Xbox One X’s 3584×2016 resolution is retained and the vast majority of the game plays out at 60fps or very close to it. I’m reminded of the frame-rate cap removal we’ve seen on PS4 Pro titles like God of War, Days Gone or Ghost of Tsushima: games that looked beautiful on a 4K screen but were held back by the 30fps limit see them transformed when running on the latest console hardware.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider arrived at the tail-end of the last generation and looks so good and moves so fluidly, it easily holds its own against proper Series X and PS5 titles, especially as it’s paired with a truly phenomenal HDR implementation. But a game that was nigh-on locked to 30fps on Xbox One X isn’t quite so solid at 60fps on Series X: there are some performance drops and some high intensity sequences can drop into the 50s and even the late 40s. They’re few and far between, but it illustrates that in back-compat mode (which effectively forces RDNA 2 graphics tech to run as turbo-boosted last-gen GCN) the Series X can’t quite double Xbox One X performance. Despite a touch of slowdown though, I feel this is an essential play for Series X users.
The small performance drops may explain why quite a few of the FPS Boost titles we’ve seen hail from a time before Xbox One X features were available, and of those that do support One X, the majority disable high resolution features, meaning you get 60fps or 120fps – but only with Xbox One S resolution and graphical features. We saw it in prior FPS Boost releases: key titles like Battlefield 5, Titanfall 2 and Fallout 4 all drop down to much lower resolutions in pursuit of dogged 60fps or 120fps locks. It’s actually a bit of a shame for Series X owners because instead of an instant win with higher resolution and high frame-rates, users have to choose one or the other. In the latest round of FPS Boost games, the most egregious example of this is Far Cry 5. On Series X, FPS Boost is not enabled by default, and running the game ‘out of the box’ means you get the lush 4K output of Xbox One X, but still operating at the same 30fps. Engaging FPS Boost means you’re running at One S spec 1440×1080, delivering an experience which is basically the same as the FPS Boosted Series S version, which is only marginally less stable than the Series X version.
It raises some interesting questions. Shadow of the Tomb Raider runs more smoothly on Series S than it does on Series X but Microsoft made the call that this title can retain its 4K support. However, Far Cry 5 did not make the grade and I’d be curious to know why. FPS Boost is perhaps more of a win for Series S because you retain the same resolution as you did previously and you do get a superb boost to fluidity, but there are some anomalies here too. For example, Dying Light – an absolutely incredible game for its time, by the way – only gets FPS Boost support on Series X. It’s the same with Shadow Warrior 2 and Anthem. Series S has a big multiplier in GPU performance vs Xbox One S – far larger than Series X vs One X – so quite why these titles aren’t included is mysterious. It suggests that unlocking performance didn’t deliver good enough results.
There are some further oddities too. Gears of War 4 gets the FPS Boost treatment but on Series X, the game is forced to run on the Xbox One S codepath, meaning no 4K60 support – only 1080p60 – which it already supported. The Evil Within 2 does the same thing, even though it already had an unlocked frame-rate with the One X feature set. In effect, enabling FPS Boost for those games is a net loss for Series X users. The win here is for Series S, which sees both titles liberated from the 30fps constraints of the Xbox One S codepath. Gears of War 4 in particular is a stand-out experience – one of the biggest improvements delivered by FPS Boost for Series S owners (and it’s available on Game Pass, of course).
In terms of the choices Microsoft makes in terms of reducing resolution on Series X or omitting FPS Boost support completely on Series S, the official line is straightforward enough and it’s explained here. In essence, FPS Boost is all about consistency and fluidity and if the results don’t meet Microsoft’s standards, we don’t get the feature on Series X or we drop down to the One S codepath on Series X. Here, I believe that Microsoft may consider adding some level of flexibility. The Xbox Series consoles’ excellent variable refresh display support means a dogged lock to 60fps isn’t essential to getting a smooth and consistent experience – and if that opens the door to getting more Xbox One X-supported titles running with both 4K output support and an unlocked frame-rate, I’m all for it.
I also wonder where Microsoft may go next with its back-compat support. From day one we’ve had AutoHDR which – while not quite the finished article – can definitely prove transformative on key games. With the arrival of 74 new games, it looks like we’re in the midst of what will hopefully be a full roll-out of FPS Boost for last-gen games, but what’s interesting to me is that we’ve yet to see the arrival of a feature we saw during our visit to the Microsoft campus last year – resolution boost. We saw Gears of War Ultimate Edition – a 1080p30 experience on Xbox One – running at 4K30 on Series X. Doubling of frame-rate was mentioned at the time, but the focus of the demo was on resolution instead. It leads us to wonder whether this is still happening and whether it could be deployed in concert with FPS Boost.
In the here and now though, the FPS Boost initiative is welcome. First of all, as we’re still very much in the cross-generation time frame, many new games are essentially last-gen titles with resolution and performance boosts anyway – which perhaps explains why the nigh-on 4K60 Shadow of the Tomb Raider holds its head so high. 60fps has also become something of a standard, so retroactively adding that to last-gen games also helps to make them feel a little more ‘current’. And I also think that the last generation of games haven’t actually aged that badly at all. Looking at the FPS Boost line-up, it’s only really old games like Watch Dogs that fall a little flat when played on modern hardware. Meanwhile, the 30fps cap is all that holds back key titles from being all that they can be on the new wave of consoles – removing that is a welcome use for current-gen horsepower and delivers gaming experiences that look better and play better.