The PC rendition of Game Pass received a boost last week when it was reported that its revised ports of Platinum Games' Nier Automata and Tango Game Works' The Evil Within were actually improved over the Steam equivalents. It was seemingly good news for PC gamers: two critically acclaimed titles received sub-optimal PC versions, and while limiting improved versions to Game Pass only is problematic, at least it's a step in the right direction... or is it? In our tests, we noted some content improvements on The Evil Within - albeit with a huge caveat attached - while the underlying performance issues do not seem to be any different at all on the Game Pass builds. Nier Automata also new features, but performance issues unresolved since launch remain untouched.
Let's begin with Nier Automata, where the story is relatively simple. It's a game designed to be ran at 60 frames per second, but the original PC version has a broken frame-rate limiter, meaning that frame drops are commonplace throughout the entire experience and a locked 60fps is impossible out of the box. On top of that, anti-aliasing is actually controlled by the ambient occlusion setting, which actually features a bunch of post-processing effects, including (bizarrely) temporal anti-aliasing.
MSAA is available separately, but it's a performance hog that breaks the game's LOD transitions, making them pop in rather than fading in more gently, as they do in standard the post-process pipeline. On top of that, the non-tweakable global illumination setting is inexplicably heavy on GPU performance with little visual benefit, while many other aspects of the post-process pipeline run at quarter resolution 900p - the same as PlayStation 4. Pretty much the entire laundry list of problems in this title can be fixed by the Kaldadien 'Far Mod', which does an excellent job in addressing the issues and boosting performance significantly by tweaking global illumination to a notional 'high' setting that looks pretty much exactly the same.
While underwhelming overall, the Game Pass version (ported by QLOC) does deliver some new features. AMD's FidelityFX sharpening is added (and turned on by default) while UI texture upscaling is added. We didn't test HDR specifically, but that's also in. However, as far as we can tell, everything else is exactly the same as the Steam version. None of the Far Mod's tweaks are included and the frame-rate limiter is still broken, meaning a locked 60fps is not possible out of the box. QLOC mentioned a new borderless full-screen mode in its patch notes, but based on our tests, this is functionally identical to the Steam version's standard output. Because Game Pass titles are Windows Apps, the user has no access whatsoever to the files and therefore, mods will not work. Put simply, it's a missed opportunity and you're still better off playing the modded version on Steam for the best experience.
It's a similar situation with The Evil Within, but it's a port that has its own unique issues. The original release retains many of the launch code's issues - it's a game built around an engine designed around 60fps that does not run correctly at 60fps, with persistent frame drops. The issue can be corrected by turning off the swap interval via a launch parameter, but this may introduce game logic problems as the game was never really designed to run faster. Our advice? Use the swap interval parameter, but cap externally at, say, 61fps. The bottom line though: it's an issue ripe for an official fix - but the Game Pass version does not resolve this problem whatsoever and again, with mods locked out because it's now a Windows App, there's nothing you can do about it. More than that, while it's unlikely to be a problem for most gamers, if the Steam version is also installed, this causes conflict issues that impact performance on both renditions of the game - check the video above for more details and the frustration caused during our testing.
With that said, there are indeed extras to this new release for The Evil Within, kicking off with an optional first-person perspective mode, along with an adjustable field of view. The thing is, when I first accessed the game, these options were greyed out and I could not access them at all. It turns out that - astonishingly - these features are locked behind a Bethesda.net login, or at least, they were for me. Yes, to use the new enhancements, you need to register with Bethesda or else go through the procedure of recovering what may well be a long-forgotten password. It's an entirely unnecessary and frustrating state of affairs. The features themselves are worthwhile though and I did enjoy the first-person mode, which is definitely scarier - a sensation offset only by the fact that the game wasn't really designed for it, leading to some very janky moments along with cutscenes still being rendered from a third-person perspective.
So, are the Game Pass versions of The Evil Within and Nier Automata improved over the originals? The answer is 'yes, kind of' in that new features have been added. They are not the same games that they were before but the notion of new versions of any given title being rolled out only on Game Pass is not a welcome development. The extras vary in utility and effectiveness and are not especially game-changing - and my feeling is that these new versions are missed opportunities in that performance problems in the original games are not addressed. The chance was there to either fix the games at the source level or to at least tap in community mods for an improved experience - and with Game Pass locking the game files away from users, there is no opportunity for mods. On balance, for both Nier Automata and The Evil Within, I'd rather stick with the moddable Steam originals for the best overall experience - and even backwards compatibility on the new wave of consoles has its attractions by comparison...