Microsoft’s Xbox 360 emulation continues to impress us at every turn. From the initial announcement back in 2015 to the recent roll-out of Xbox One X enhancements, the Xbox team has shown that they truly value preserving and improving the company’s back catalog.
For those lucky enough to own an Xbox One X, a select few compatible 360 titles can run at 4K. By tripling the resolution on each axis, Microsoft can deliver a native 2160p image – give or take some rogue resolution quirks on certain games.
You’re pretty much stuck with the same geometry, textures, and lighting of the original releases, but the visual difference is still impressive. By forcing the game to render at 4K, and opting for the very best mipmaps in most situations, older games can see stark improvements without having to tweak the original game files.
Over the last few weeks, Microsoft has added a handful of additional X-Enhanced 360 games, and the Digital Foundry team has been giving them a look-see. The Witcher 2 (above), the original Forza Horizon, and Crackdown have already been analyzed, and the results have been largely positive. It seems that frame rates are about as good as the original releases, and in some cases they’re even better.
Additionally, the latest version of the Xbox One X software allows you to toggle between high-res rendering or improved performance. You’re probably better off sticking to the “Graphics” mode for these releases, but other games with unlocked frame rates could potentially see major gains in the “Performance” mode.
When you look at Forza Horizon on the Xbox One X, the game stays locked to 30fps even when ramped up to full 4K. And since it benefits from both 4X MSAA and FXAA, it’s a real looker. Unsurprisingly, the only ugly parts that really stick out are the icky old bitmaps, but there’s no good solution short of shipping a high-res asset pack. That’s not going to happen though, so don’t hold your breath.
We should note here that these clever Xbox One X tricks aren’t the first time we’ve seen older games benefit from emulators on more powerful hardware. For example, the Gamecube and Wii emulator Dolphin can deliver gorgeous HD results if your PC is beefy enough. The major catch? It isn’t sanctioned by Nintendo, so you’re forced to play either homebrew games or questionably legal disc dumps.
What makes the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility so interesting isn’t the core concept – it’s the implementation. We’ve seen plenty of emulation for ports, but the scope and ambition from Microsoft’s back compat initiative is unmatched. An emulator that can render 360 games at nearly 4K on official hardware is a big deal for consumers.
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