The original Forza Horizon looks gorgeous in 4K on Xbox One X – technical analysis
Microsoft has resumed releasing graphics updates for Xbox 360 games on Xbox One X with four new titles, including Forza Horizon, The Witcher 2, Crackdown, and Fable Anniversary Edition. We have a 9x resolution boost to the original in all four cases and a noticeable performance improvement where needed, but it’s the first game on the list that we’ll be focusing on today. Forza Horizon’s picture quality is truly off the charts in the move to Ultra HD, and there are a couple of other surprising improvements that have caught our eye as well.
Forza Horizon, one of the latest Xbox 360 first party exclusives, was a real milestone, a successful collaboration between the creators of the franchise, Turn 10, and the English start-up Playground Games. Playground has revamped the Forza Motorsport 4 engine by maintaining its typical 360Hz physics simulation technology and adding a new lighting system based on over 200 variables to the existing, wonderful, image-based FM4. The addition of the open-world was an idea from Playground and the wallpaper streaming technology, necessary to create a boundless and immersive racing experience, came from the Leamington studio. It was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration for both development studios that led to the launch of a new series of racing titles.
The element that made the Forza Horizon concept possible was the transition from the 60Hz refresh-rate typical of Motorsports to the more usual 30 frames per second, a granitic level of performance both on the original hardware and, of course, on Xbox One. X. Advanced motion blur tries to cover up the difference, but despite the arrival of a new ‘performance mode’ for the Xbox One X emulator, the truth is that it doesn’t do much for this particular title.
Frame-rate stability was built into Playground’s work right from the start. Forza Horizon used a careful CPU and GPU budgeting system, defined during development and based on worst case scenarios, to ensure optimal performance, a technique also used by Turn 10 for the main releases of the series. The new performance mode takes advantage of the extra GPU to achieve a higher frame-rate rather than a higher amount of pixels but cannot exceed the margins imposed by the frame-rate limitation of the original game. When 30fps is the target and you hit it perfectly, the additional power can’t contribute further from that point of view.
Our advice? Prefer the standard graphics mode for this time. Microsoft’s “Heutchy method”, named after the engineer who devised it, increases resolution three times on both axes, meaning the original native 720p game plays at 3840×2160 on Xbox One X. As usual the emulator employs negative LOD bias to ensure top-notch mip-maps are implemented for more detail, but Playground’s dedication to original image quality pays off considerably in this case. The Xbox 360 game used 4x multi-sampling anti-aliasing (MSAA) in conjunction with FXAA in post-processing, when GPU resources allowed. The end result, when pushed up to 4K resolution, is simply wonderful.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the game manages to keep up with its successors developed on Xbox One but some aspects of the graphics sector still manage to amaze. Even in 4K, the sub-pixel detail of environmental objects, especially foliage, can crack and glisten as you move, but thanks to its remarkable anti-aliasing, Horizon looks practically perfect. And if you play on Xbox One X connected to a 1080p screen, the picture quality also benefits from super-sampling creating what is certainly one of the most incredible combinations of anti-aliasing techniques ever seen in a video game. On the go, thanks to the level of detail and the wonderful lighting system, Forza Horizon on Xbox One X is truly something special, no matter what screen you use.
However, it is still a game of its time: the geometry of the vehicles and environments has made a generational leap from Xbox 360 to Xbox One while the overall details and approach to lighting are simply another level compared to the Forza. Horizon 2 from 2014. In addition, watching the races closely through the replay, it is clear that the physics simulation provided by the power of Xbox One guarantees an additional performance boost. Furthermore, according to Playground Games, all the improvements to the game have been obtained at the emulation level, just as we were told when we talked about backwards compatibility with the Xbox team. All this raises a spontaneous question: what is the reason for the super high resolution of Forza Horizon fonts?
Perhaps the biggest limitation of the 360 game enhancement process on Xbox One X is that the original 2D elements are meant for 720p presentation, so text and art bitmaps are scaled a whopping 9x for a 4K screen, with a confused, blurry or square depending on the elements. Some of these problems are actually present in Forza Horizon, however every piece of text seems to be rendered at the native resolution, a very important factor that makes the difference in the context of 4K. It makes us think that higher quality assets were included for Xbox One X users, or that the original game was equipped with amazing fonts. We struggle to believe that Playground used a vector font (which would fit any resolution) or resized a very high quality font but, in any case, we’re glad it’s there because it adds further refinement to an already excellent presentation.
To conclude, the original Forza Horizon is still a great game today. It works well and the transition to 4K gives us a good excuse to revisit such a successful product while witnessing the start of a franchise that has managed to achieve great success by playing by its own rules. Forza Horizon 3 has become, over time, one of the biggest hits of the Xbox One first party line-up and, a few months ago, received its own 4K upgrade for Xbox One X. That means Forza Horizon 2, another Excellent episode of the series, it is the only one that we currently cannot play in native Ultra HD resolution on Xbox One X yet, a situation that we hope will be resolved soon. Replaying it for the writing of this article, in fact, we still found it beautiful to see and it would be fantastic to be able to relive it in the splendor of 4K.
Buy Forza Horizon from Amazon