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Hitman on Xbox One X piles on the upgrades

Native 4K with improved visuals or 1440p with a target 60fps - the choice is yours.

Hitman creator Io Interactive purchased itself from publisher Square-Enix earlier this year, retaining control over its signature stealth assassination series in the process. A new GOTY edition of the title is now available, complete with all original content and a new Patient Zero campaign variant. Meanwhile, the studio has revamped the look of Hitman and rolled out a highly impressive Xbox One X update.

This upgrade follows the proud tradition set by Io with the PS4 Pro patch, which introduced improved performance, a 1440p resolution bump and a little while later, full HDR support. It was a great enhancement to an excellent game, but the Xbox One X title update takes thing even further and the result is one of the most impressive upgrades we've seen yet for the new system.

It starts with the resolution options. Hitman now offers two options that determine image quality - a high quality mode and a high frame-rate mode. The former renders out the game at a full, native 4K, with a subtle pass of temporal anti-aliasing on top. The high performance mode targets 60fps, but does so with a 1440p resolution as opposed to the standard 1080p deployed in similar modes in Rise of the Tomb Raider and Gears of War 4.

It's the quality mode we prefer. Hitman is an absurdly detailed game and the jump to native 4K makes a huge difference in terms of overall clarity. It's not just about resolution though - this game is rich in incidental detail, right down to lavishly modelled soda cans. Paired with native ultra HD, it's a remarkably beautiful game. Hitman also uses parallax occlusion mapping more than any other title we've seen, giving an extra dimension to otherwise flat surfaces. Rounding off the upgrades, texture filtering is also amped up, enabling sharper surface detail at a distance while shadow quality is further enhanced.

Here's our full 4K HDR analysis of the new Hitman upgrade for Xbox One X.

Comparisons with Pro are interesting - the Sony console only has one quality mode, which is broadly equivalent to Xbox One X's performance set-up. There's one subtle change though - Microsoft's console pushes out detail further into the distance on both modes. Meanwhile, all of the quality-based enhancements - resolution, shadows and filtering - aren't available on the Sony system.

So why offer two modes on Xbox One X then? Well, it's all about frame-rate stability. With the high quality mode, you can toggle between a capped or uncapped frame-rate. By using the 30fps cap here, Hitman offers a mostly stable experience at native 4K, dropping under the threshold just a touch in the most packed environments such as the Marrakesh stage. Performance mode's drop to 1440p and lower quality settings allows the game to mostly run at 60fps - though depending on how dense the scene is, it can vary from 50-60fps. Tellingly, comparing Xbox One X's performance mode to the unlocked PS4 Pro game, the Microsoft console hands in a 20fps advantage in virtually all scenarios, the differential only limited by the 60fps cap. And remember, the X is pushing out its LODs too.

The exception to the rule is the taxing Marakesh stage, which sees the delta reduce to just 10fps - likely a result of the punishing CPU load on this level. While Xbox One X has demonstrated a strong GPU advantage, this stage highlights that at their core, both systems are still using very similar AMD Jaguar CPU cores. And traditionally, this has posed a problem for Hitman performance - but even here, Io Interactive has taken steps to boost throughput.

Xbox One X
PS4 Pro
When using the high frame-rate option on Xbox One X, the resolution is a match for PS4 Pro at 1440p. If you look closely there are subtle detail enhancements on the X, including more modelled railing pillars in the distance and more refined window details.
Xbox One X
PS4 Pro
The Paris map looks virtually identical on Xbox One X in comparison to PS4 Pro when using the high frame-rate option but performance is much closer to a locked 60fps.
Xbox One X
PS4 Pro
For this shot, we're using the high quality mode on Xbox One X, which renders the game at a native 4K. This mode improves shadow detail, texture filtering quality and other minor details in comparison.
Xbox One X High Quality
Xbox One X High Performance
When stacking the high quality mode up against high frame-rate mode on the Xbox One X, there is a noticeable boost in overall image clarity which benefits richly detailed scenes such as this. Look closely at the shadow maps for improved detail when using the higher quality option.

It's achieved by using a technique we've seen before in titles like Destiny 2 and Halo 5 - half-rate simulation. Essentially, the underlying processing of the game world is handled at half the rendered frame-rate, and this manifests in the form of half-rate animations on some (but not all) NPCs. It seems to have been included on both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, but the behaviour seems more aggressive on the X, with more entities running at reduced tick rates, so perhaps the Pro could turn in faster results with some tweaks.

Still, overall, outside of problem stages like Marrakesh and Bangkok, Xbox One X does manage to get reasonably close to delivering 60 frames per second across the game, which is an impressive feat indeed. This might be a perfect game to test using a Freesync display, as it should eliminate all judder if all works as hoped.

So, to summarise - Hitman's quality mode offers a great native 4K experience, almost always locked to 30fps. It's one of the most detail-rich, beautiful games on Xbox One X. You can unlock the frame-rate here, but we don't recommend it. Performance mode is less successful at holding 60fps but it comes reasonably close and feels great as a result. It's not perfect but it's the smoothest Hitman experience seen to date on consoles.

Original 2016 Release
Updated 2017 Release
Hitman now boasts changes to its lighting and shadowing this year with improved contact shadows and more vibrant lighting. For this comparison, we're using the PC version's benchmark feature, but the changes apply equally to all versions. Any visible texture differences are the result of delayed asset fetching.
Original 2016 Release
Updated 2017 Release
The time of day is similar, but Paris now exhibits a stronger orange hue to its lighting with more distinct light bloom across the scene. Which do you prefer?
Original 2016 Release
Updated 2017 Release
The subtle hue of the original release has its own charming look with a realistic tone to the sky but the updated take on Paris is certainly more refined overall and works better with the HDR feature included in the game.
Original 2016 Release
Updated 2017 Release
The stronger contrast helps lend the water more depth while distant objects, such as trees, appear to receive detail enhancements. The overall scene is simply more cohesive.

We've also got to put in a good word about the game's HDR implementation - which is common to all platforms now. This isn't a game that blows you away with bright highlights but it makes use of HDR in a way that does enhance the overall experience by allowing for a greater range of exposure on-screen at any point. When exploring a darkened room, the outdoors will appear very bright but you can still clearly see what's happening outside. This effect of moving between rooms of varying brightness is greatly enhanced when using HDR and it does enhance the mood. The focus here isn't on a mind-blowing HDR showcase, but on making the game look more 'correct' - but in doing so, there are select scenes that just look stunning. If you can watch our video in full HDR, you may catch one or two of them.

Ultimately, with the GOTY release and the Xbox One X patch, Hitman continues to impress. Io Interactive has done a tremendous job supporting and expanding upon the original concept, enabling this to become one of the very best - if not the best - games in the Hitman franchise. It looks great, plays well and takes good advantage of every console platform.

The best has been saved until last though, with Hitman on Xbox One X offering higher performance or a significantly improved 4K experience, giving users the choice on which to use. What was always a great game to play is now also a highly impressive showcase title for Microsoft's new console. If you don't own the game, and you've just invested in the Xbox One X, we highly recommend adding it to your collection.

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About the Author
John Linneman avatar

John Linneman

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

An American living in Germany, John has been gaming and collecting games since the late 80s. His keen eye for and obsession with high frame-rates have earned him the nickname "The Human FRAPS" in some circles. He’s also responsible for the creation of DF Retro.

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