As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, Microsoft didn't just add to its backwards compatibility library, it also added FPS Boost to Xbox 360 games for the first time. Not only that, it also doubled the frame-rate on select Xbox 360 titles that had already received enhanced 4K support for Xbox One X. Spurred on by the addition of FPS Boost to one of my favourite Sonic games, I decided to take a look at some of these improved experiences, gaining further appreciation for some classic titles.
In doing so, it reminded me of something I hadn't thought deeply about for some time - the fact that the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era actually delivered what must surely be the biggest gen-on-gen downgrade in overall game performance... if you ignore Nintendo 64, that is. In looking at these newly enhanced FPS Boost releases, I also decided to go back and revisit their showings on Xbox 360 too - because Series consoles aren't just delivering a doubling of performance, but often much, much more. Standard back-compat on Xbox Series consoles effectively solves their original performance issues - they hit their (mostly) 30fps frame-rate caps. However, FPS Boost goes one step further, reminding us that 60fps used to be the norm, not the exception.
I wanted to start by looking at both Sonic Generations (which now possesses both resolution and frame-rate upgrades) and Sonic Unleashed (60fps only). I love Generations: while it may not reach the heights of the 2D originals, I feel this represents the best example of three-dimensional Sonic gameplay to date. The boost style of gameplay retains the upper, middle, and lower tier design Sonic specialises in, really testing your reaction time. It's this combination of high-speed movement, multiple paths that feel satisfying to nail and the perfect blend of beautiful visuals and excellent music. It's an explosion of colour and style that manages to hold up brilliantly to this day.
The problem is, in its original console form, Sonic Generations was limited to just 30 frames per second and even that was not a guaranteed target. In fact, during certain sections, the frame-rate plummets to near unplayable levels. It feels terrible when this occurs. A PC version exists but I've found it has become increasingly finicky when you desire a quick play session.
Sonic Generations previously received a resolution boost update bringing it up to near 4K, basically around 3520x2160 versus the 880x720-ish of the original but it was still limited to 30 frames per second. This is where FPS Boost enters the picture - when played on Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S, the frame-rate cap is eliminated allowing the game to reach 60 frames per second. Xbox Series X retains the near 4K resolution enjoyed by One X while Xbox Series S renders around 1760x1440. Areas where Xbox 360 could collapse in performance sees Series X power through with barely any impact to frame-rate - just a couple of dropped frames in some scenarios, flawless in others. Series S does the same, just with a lower resolution.
Honestly, playing through the game again, it's a miracle that this was even possible on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the first place. Sonic moves extremely quickly in this game - you cover a lot of ground in a matter of seconds. The Hedgehog Engine powering the game was architected to handle high-speed traversal while retaining a high level of detail and it genuinely works - it looks great even now. More impressively, it features pre-calculated global illumination, combined with the exceptional depth of field and per-pixel motion blur used to accentuate movement.
Of course, the same can be said of Sonic Unleashed as well which - with support for FPS Boost - is perhaps even more important as this is a game which had never received a PC conversion. Unfortunately, there is no resolution enhancement here, so we're still running at 880x720, but in light of the improved frame-rate, we can let that slide. Again, there can be drastic drops to performance - one of the last levels, Adabat, is notorious for this - but Series X just blasts through, with just small, fleeting drops in the entire segment. Series S? I would have loved to tried it, but there was no way to move my late-game save to the machine, short of re-buying a game I already owned in disc form - a shortcoming of the machine we have to live with, unfortunately.
I also tried Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed - one of the best kart racers of all-time. It plays like a dream, serves as excellent Sega fan service and offers multiple modes of play, keeping the tracks especially fresh. But a karting game at 30fps? That's a problem, but not with FPS Boost. Resolution hasn't been improved - we're still at the original's low 1152x544, but the performance side of things is now resolved, running without a hitch. If you like racing games, I highly recommend this one - it's really good.
As a big fan of Sonic games, that was my primary focus for this testing - it's a series that gains so much by running at 60 frames per second, with 30fps never seemingly like a good fit. However, elsewhere, other titles also benefit immensely. Fallout 3 ran at 720p with 4x MSAA on Xbox 360, but suffered due to CPU, GPU and storage bottlenecks. Certain choke-points within the game could see frame-rates dip into the teens. However, with Xbox Series consoles, you retain the clean MSAA anti-aliasing, but we're rendering at 4K on Series X and 1440p on Series S, with 60fps performance to boot. Storage stutter is gone, with only mild hits to performance that line-up with Xbox 360 at its absolute worst. Again, it's a transformative experience.
I'd also recommend trying out Mirror's Edge, an original first-person platform game built around the idea of free running. While it has some combat sequences, the game is primarily focused on fluid movement. Mirror's Edge isn't afraid to challenge the player with complex controls either - it's a very technical game which is precisely why it remains so playable. As you become more skilled, you'll find yourself effortlessly moving through the world on the way to your objective. On Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, however, the game was marred by poor performance. It was capped at 30 frames per second but both consoles failed to lock to this frame-rate often dipping below while exhibiting screen tearing. As a result, many of the game's more impressive sequences were ultimately spoiled by reduced performance. A PC version, which included more advanced physics simulation, solved this problem, but on consoles, we were left with no options.
Mirror's Edge received Xbox One X support years ago at this point increasing the resolution to 4K and solving the performance dips but it remained capped at 30fps on Series consoles - but not any more, thanks to FPS Boost. Critically, like Fallout 3 and Sonic, Mirror's Edge retains the same high-resolution output - which is native 4K on Xbox Series X and 1440p on Series S - but increases the frame-rate to 60. The results aren't flawless, however, with dips into the mid-50s. This seems to occur in nearly every mission at some point or another but, thankfully, the drop is minor enough that it has only a minor impact on overall fluidity. If you have access to a VRR capable display, the issue is cleaned up as well, so keep that in mind. The result is fascinating, however, and does help demonstrate why some games lose Xbox One X enhancements when FPS Boost is enabled. But honestly, they've made the right choice here as, aside from these small pockets of disturbed frames, the rest of the experience is fluid - and there's vastly improved loading times too.
I was also intrigued by Gears of War 3, Epic's last title in the franchise and a brilliant Xbox 360 experience. Performance was always variable in this series and while Gears 3 improved over its predecessor, it still had issues maintaining 30fps - especially in cutscenes. Xbox One X got a 4K upgrade, but curiously, FPS Boost comes at a cost to Series X owners this time around. Curiously, both Series S and X both render the game at 1440p instead - unexpected, to say the least. I'd expect Series S to have a less solid lock on 60fps and that is indeed the case, but these moments are limited to cutscenes only. Gameplay seems to be absolutely fine. It is more stable overall than Mirror's Edge and I found it difficult to locate areas where the performance did not maintain its target. Series X simply delivers a locked 1440p60 experience, as you would expect... which makes me wonder why they needed to reduce the resolution to 1440p in the first place especially given the performance on Xbox Series S. Did the team run into some unexpected bug? Did the performance degrade significantly? I'm genuinely unsure but that's how it is. Overall though, FPS Boost is a winner and in actual fact, all of the Gears titles now run at 60fps - it's just that Gears 3 is the only series entry to receive the resolution boost too.
I also wanted to check out the original Assassin's Creed. It's a game with issues, for sure, but at the time, the concepts presented by this game were truly revolutionary - an open world assassination game focused on the minutiae of this brutal career path. Assassin's Creed could have become what Hitman is today on a much grander scale had the chips fallen just right but, alas, the series never quite managed to build on what was started in this first game, pivoting in a very different direction from Origins onwards. The technology, however, was special for its day with a highly dynamic animation blending system that enabled a level of fluidity in traversal that was simply unheard of during this era. Not to mention a size and scope unlike anything else - it was a supremely impressive experience.
On Xbox 360, the game runs at a native 720p with 2x MSAA delivering clean results. It uses an adaptive v-sync setup meaning torn frames can occur when under load. It's not too bad on the Xbox 360, though the PlayStation 3 version is nigh unplayable in comparison in many scenarios. With the launch of Xbox One X, Assassin's received 4K enhancements allowing a boost to 4K native - this also introduced other improvements such as improved texture filtering and enhanced shadow rendering. It looked much more in line with the PC version as a result. Thanks to FPS Boost, however, the frame-rate cap has been pushed up to 60 frames per second instead and the results are impressive. Only the most minor dips to performance and this, combined with the image boosts, makes for a great way to revisit the game.
It's been fun revisiting these titles and despite comments from Microsoft suggesting that the FPS Boost program has reached its conclusion, I can't help but think there's more juice left in the classic Xbox 360 catalogue. This is important stuff: the Xbox compatibility team is effectively rescuing games from their performance prisons - breathing new life into titles which could sometimes be rendered borderline unplayable at points. Adding the resolution increases on top can also be transformative. However, if
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