Quite possibly the most impressive console tech success of 2016 is the backward compatibility of games on Xbox One, a virtual machine that somehow, miraculously, managed to run Xbox 360 titles on Microsoft’s latest console. There has also been progress on this brilliant feature, to the point where it has a good chance of being the most impressive technological achievement on consoles of 2016. We’ve demonstrated multiple times this year how Xbox One now runs games faster and smoother. for Xbox 360 than the original hardware, but the release of the trilogy of Bioshock confirms this clear improvement.
So what’s so special about BioShock titles? It’s simple: the vast majority of console games work with a frame rate cap of some kind, which is usually set at 30 fps. In these cases, Xbox One’s backward compatibility can only run titles with more stable performance than the original hardware – a strict 30fps lock if you like. The titles of BioShock, however, are different: hidden in the system menu is the possibility to run the software with a completely unlocked frame rate. Not only is the 30 fps limit removed but v-sync is also disabled, meaning that literally every frame the hardware can handle is pushed out.
One of the features of the virtual machine for Xbox One backward compatibility is the elimination of tearing, so in the case of BioShock titles, we are faced with a great opportunity. From a gameplay point of view, you get a totally tear-free gaming experience, but beyond that, we can get an idea of how much the new console makes titles spin faster than the older Xbox 360. After all, if the frame rate on the original hardware is unlocked, it will also be on Xbox One (limited only by the 60fps block added by v-sync). Long story short, the results are often brilliant. By turning off BioShock’s original frame rate cap, you often get an interesting performance boost on Xbox One, to the point where the title spends much of its time running at 60fps without any kind of tearing, something that never happens on the Xbox One. original Xbox 360 hardware.
There are some perfect test areas to quantify the performance increase due to the Xbox One GPU. On the initial journey down to Rapture in the first BioShock, the entire engine-driven track cutscene runs smoothly on the new console, reaching a completely stable 60fps frame rate. Meanwhile, on the original hardware, the frame rate fluctuates significantly hitting a low of just 36 fps. Of course, the Xbox One implementation of v-sync limits performance to 60fps. When the game runs fully unlocked with v-sync disabled, like the Xbox 360 version, the frame rate is obviously higher.
This great performance milestone is why we have received so many requests to test BioShock. Backward compatibility doesn’t just let us run original Xbox 360 software on Xbox One, it gives us an overnight improvement. We have also seen the same thing in titles like Call of Duty 2. While impressive, however, all of this is not without flaws. More detailed scenes can see a significant drop in frame rate down to around 45fps, and in this sense, fluctuations in fps are reminiscent of the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition’s PS4 unlocked frame rate mode.
It is evident that while there are still benefits to running BioShock 2 on Xbox One with the unlocked frame rate option, the overall performance level is noticeably lower and the fluctuations in performance are dramatic. Most affected are the most intense moments, suggesting the presence of a bottleneck in the mode with the frame rate unlocked, even if the CPU is rather fast. To be sure, we would have preferred playing BioShock 2 with its normal 30fps block, so the fluctuations in performance are noticeable. We did not have a copy of BioShock Infinite on hand but we will test it as soon as possible because we are intent on recovering all the latest releases in backwards compatibility, while we will be testing the likes of Gears of War and Halo Reach again. Yes, Microsoft has taken the criticisms about the poor performance of backward compatible games and updated them using the latest and most powerful virtual machine implementation.
As things stand, however, we are now confident that Microsoft has solved its previous problem related to poor CPU performance in backward compatible titles and now everything works even better, along with the already technologically brilliant Xbox One GPU. With that in mind, we’re particularly interested in testing backwards compatibility, including Xbox 360, when the new Scorpio console launches.