Technology

Prey and Dishonored on Series X|S: FPS Boost isn’t just about 60fps

As part of its celebration in acquiring Bethesda, Microsoft’s second wave of FPS Boost titles for Xbox Series consoles sees the delivery of some dramatic upgrades for classic titles from its newly assimilated publisher. Heavy hitters Skyrim, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 will get the Digital Foundry treatment in due course, but to begin with we wanted to revisit Dishonored Definitive Edition and Prey from Arkane Studios. These are both brilliant games, but they’re also somewhat sub-optimal in their original console incarnations. FPS Boost dramatically transforms the both of them – and what’s fascinating is that it’s not just the doubling of frame-rate that is key in improving the experience. Remarkably, FPS Boost goes further than you might expect to the point where with Prey in particular, I feel we’re close to remaster territory.

We’ll kick off with Prey – an immersive sim that I happen to rate as one of my favourite games of 2017, but also a release that I just couldn’t bring myself to play on the last-gen consoles. A combination of performance problems, input lag issues and some extended loading times were very off-putting – and why put yourself through that when the PC version is so much better?

Let’s get the stats out of the way first. The game operates at 900p on Xbox One S, with resolution rising to 1440p on the One X (which also receives a pushed out draw distance and improved reflections). These pixel counts persist onto Series S and X respectively, but obviously, with FPS Boost enabled, all performance issues are resolved, both next-gen machines delivering a nigh-on perfect 60 frames per second, punctuated only by some checkpoint stutter. But the performance boost is just one part of the equation – there’s a similar improvement in input lag, comprehensively addressing one of the last-gen version’s biggest issues.

As for loading times? Well, a one minute 15 second wait on Xbox One S is reduced to just 13 seconds on the Series machines. Prey is a game that’s all about exploration, and especially towards the end of the game, moving around the map is frequent and essential. What was annoying and borderline unacceptable on Xbox One is now so much better. FPS Boost is game-changing for this release, bringing it much closer to the PC experience. Prey is on Game Pass right now, and let’s just say that if you have a new Xbox console and you’ve not experienced it before, it’s highly recommended. My only regret is that Series S is still locked to the One S standard 900p when it’s clear that the console can do so much more, but regardless, the improvement here over One S is still spectacular.

I also wanted to check out Dishonored Definitive Edition, which we first looked at back in 2015 and which is – to be frank – a proper disappointment. First released at the tail end of the PS3/Xbox 360 era, a 60 frames per second upgrade seemed inevitable for PS4 and Xbox One bearing in mind how slight its system requirements are on PC, but it was not to be and the port was puzzlingly poor. There are some lingering issues with the game running on Series consoles but it’s still a huge improvement – and again, it’s not just about frame-rate. Yes, 60 frames per second is the aim but curiously, even Series X can’t quite lock to the target. UI elements appearing on-screen cause stutters but even beyond that, there’s the sense that something isn’t quite right.

The improvement is still huge though, whether you’re playing on Series X or S, but what really caught my eye here was the gigantic improvement to loading times. In my tests, extended waits are reduced to just a couple of seconds – talk about a night and day improvement! Quite how the Xbox Compatibility Team has pulled this off remains to be seen, but it’s easily the biggest boost to loading times I’ve seen yet – and I wouldn’t be surprised if key data is cached into memory to facilitate these massive reductions in loading times. Again, the change is transformative. Dishonored is a game about experimentation, about challenging the impressive AI. That entails a lot of dying and reloading, a torturous process on the last-gen systems that is not an issue whatsoever thanks to FPS Boost. Beyond the performance hiccups, the only real issue is the lack of support for Xbox One X, meaning that both Series S and Series X top out at the original 1080p resolution. Still, the game is still golden and again, it’s available on Game Pass and worth checking out.

Clearly, the big takeaway here is that FPS Boost is actually about more than just the doubling of performance. Reduced input lag is a knock-on effect of improving frame-rate, but there’s the sense here that the Xbox Compatibility Team is doing more here to reduce loading times than you might expect. And bearing in mind how much of an issue storage speed limitations were for the likes of the Fallout games, it’ll be interesting to see how run in their new FPS Boosted renditions. We’ll be checking that out soon but in the here and now, these Arkane titles feel renewed and refreshed and I highly recommend them.