Out of the many Xbox One X upgrades we tested during the preview period, Quantum Break was one of the most intriguing, featuring the choice between 1080p and '4K' modes - both a leap over the base Xbox One's 720p - along with enhanced detail. Visually, it offered a night and day improvement over the existing version of the game, moving more into line with the PC release running on mid to high-end hardware. There was just one problem - performance. The good news is that frame-rate problems are essentially a non-issue in the final release, but the bad news is that several distracting visual bugs have been introduced: distracting artefacts that weren't in the port when we first looked at it.
From our perspective, Quantum Break is an important release for the new console, because the beefed-up hardware represents an opportunity to allow one of Microsoft's most impressive exclusives to more closely reach its full potential. Remedy's original game is one of the most technically demanding console titles ever made, featuring an advanced real-time global illumination system and a brilliant effects pipeline, put to use via a stunning time-warping gameplay mechanic. Combined with the slow-motion gunfights and powerful soundtrack, Quantum Break is a stand-out experience.
Xbox One X offers the opportunity to unshackle the game from the confines of the original hardware and in many ways, it achieves this with much success. Going back to the preview code, we noted a 1440p presentation scaled up to an approximation of 4K via Remedy's temporal filtering technique, but hitting a stable 30fps proved challenging, with the game often dropping frames and introducing screen-tear as a consequence. It seemed that a native 1080p mode was included in order to iron out the performance issues, while still offering an image quality boost over the 720p of base hardware.
The game delivered to Xbox One X users takes a different approach - one that may be causing issues in the core presentation of the game. For starters, the 1080p option we found in the menu system on the preview build is gone, suggesting that a lower resolution performance mode is no longer required. And indeed, frame-rate is now pretty much locked to the 30fps target. On top of that, the core 1440p resolution and the temporal upscaling also remains in place. This isn't a native 4K game by any stretch, but it certainly holds up well enough on an ultra HD screen.
However, there are nips and tucks elsewhere, resulting in changes to the presentation we've not seen in the X preview build, the Xbox One original or indeed the PC game. The temporal reconstruction technique looks different in some scenarios, with some edges now presenting what look like checkerboarding artefacts. There's also some evidence to suggest that parts of the image pipeline are now operating at a lower resolution - we noted that some edges affected by depth of field now appear to resolve at quarter resolution, when they didn't in the preview build.
Still, the end results are similar enough in motion that it's not really an issue and obviously there's still a huge increase in resolution, so the presentation is still notably cleaner than the original Xbox One version. The problem is that whatever changes have been implemented to the game since we last looked at it have resulted in some profound issues that dramatically impact image quality. Many surfaces in the game now exhibit highly distracting visual noise and flicker that ruin the stability of the image.
Looking more closely, it appears that the ambient occlusion pass in the rendering pipeline is part of the problem. Now, in its original form, this effect was a touch shaky, with visible noise and shimmering, but it now appears broken in many scenes on Xbox One X. Clearly something is wrong. But it doesn't stop there. There are areas of the game where you can actually see some of the underlying geometry - visible vertices layered on top of the image. It's not clear which pass these grids of triangles apply to but it should not be visible during gameplay - yet there it is.
These two visual issues come together to create a highly distracting result that doesn't show up at all in the preview code we tested a couple of months back. This is something a lot of Quantum Break fans have mentioned over the past few weeks, so it's not gone unnoticed. Some believe that it's a dashboard-related issue, others a software-specific bug but either way, it's clearly something that should be addressed. These flaws become less bothersome once you step outdoors into the warehouses and the other buildings around the campus. It's mainly the lab environments, of which there are many in Quantum Break, that highlight the effect at its worst.
If we look beyond this flaw, the rest of the update remains on par with what we saw during the preview event. Distant LODs are improved over the original Xbox One game, improving the overall quality of each scene, while texture filtering is hugely improved. The overall image is much closer to matching the PC version of the game with higher detail settings - just with those extra glitches.
The visual issues are a real shame as the game still looks incredible at times. Quantum Break was always a blurry game on the original Xbox One owing to its very low 720p base resolution, so the 4x increase in pixel count makes a huge difference to the presentation. And while the native 1080p mode may be gone now, users of full HD screens still benefit from downsampling. In fact, as it's not a native 4K experience, it might just look best there.
And while we surmise that the new artefacts may be a result of pushing for higher performance, the fact is that in this respect at least, Quantum Break on Xbox One X is resounding success. Our tests with the preview build exhibited issues in the earlier sections of the game and our worry was that the more demanding later areas may have even more profound performance problems. However, the current Xbox One X code only has minimal tearing and slowdown and in fact, after testing various combat sequences and other demanding areas, the optimisations have really paid off - this port runs very smoothly, and it's essentially on par with the original Xbox One release now.
All of which brings us back to our earlier thoughts - this patch has a lot of good news for players. The resolution is higher, texture filtering is enhanced, detail is improved, and the overall frame-rate is now very steady. These elements all result in a game that looks and plays better than it did on the original Xbox One. But the visuals bugs detract from the polish and were never a part of the experience - and how they made it past QA is a bit of a mystery, because they are so glaringly obvious. This is not the original vision Remedy intended for its game, but we remain hopeful that Microsoft will go back in, resolve the issues and finish the job - Quantum Break is still a really cool game and deserves the extra attention.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of £4.50. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry