Something’s not right with Titanfall 2 on Xbox One X

Titanfall 2 made big headlines for Xbox One X during the preview period, when Respawn Entertainment’s Drew McCoy noted that the game’s dynamic scaler hit a maximum of 6K resolution during pre-production testing. The Xbox One X patch dropped last week, but it’s clear that something isn’t quite right with the upgrade. While enhancements are present, repeatable tests in the campaign can see resolution drop lower than the PlayStation 4 Pro version, producing a noticeably blurrier presentation in many scenes.

In an interview with Xbox Wire, Respawn talks about its dynamic super-scaling technology – the key code that enabled the developer to hit a maximum 6K resolution in their testing. The idea here is that the Scorpio Engine’s GPU is always pushed to 100 per cent utilisation. If the game hits ultra HD resolution and there’s horsepower left over, the engine pushes out an even higher pixel count, meaning occasional super-sampling even if you’re using a 4K display.

We can confirm that this super-sampling is present and the best place to see it is during the opening tutorial mission. This is a relatively simple area and via pixel counting, we noted a maximum 4224×2376 resolution, essentially an extra 20 per cent of resolution over the ultra HD standard. Lines are crisper and clearer than the PS4 Pro version here, but there are issues with anisotropic filtering – ground texture detail in the mid-distance becomes fuzzier, with more detail resolved on the PlayStation 4 Pro and PC versions of the game.

But it’s the dynamic rendering situation that dominates our results. The Pro version drops as low at 1080p in our campaign test runs, but the lowest recorded result we came up with is in the region of 842p to 864p on Xbox One X in the same area. This may be an outlier, but further pixel count results on blurry scenes resolve in the 1360p-1440p area. In many scenes, the visual upgrade on the Microsoft console is not really visible – and it is actually resolving less detail than PS4 Pro at times. However, to be clear, Respawn has turned up the dials in other areas. For example, geometry level of detail is dialled up and can match the PC version at its highest setting, though the impact of this is relatively subtle overall.

So, just what’s going on here? We contacted Respawn and submitted some comparison shots to highlight our concerns. The team tells us that it is looking into issues with the scaling technology, but we learned some interesting new information on how Titanfall 2 on Xbox One X works behind the scenes. Essentially, while much of the image does indeed scale dynamically, there are elements – like depth of field, colour correction and bloom – which are locked at native 2160p. So, these aspects of the renderer incur a fixed cost that is far higher than the equivalent 1440p image on PlayStation 4 Pro.

Pushing out higher geometry detail levels closer to the PC’s maximum setting can also have an impact on the GPU. In short, it’s a careful balancing act here – and we wonder if something has gone awry in the process. Respawn tells us that the aim with Titanfall 2 was to ratchet up detail as much as possible with native 4K as the ballpark target. The idea is that in areas where the title can’t sustain ultra HD resolution, Respawn can sit back and let the excellent temporal super-sampling anti-aliasing solution ‘pick up the slack’.

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The theory sounds fine to us – but it’s a long way down from 2160p to 1440p to 864p, and as good as the temporal super-sampling is, there’s a clear inconsistency the presentation as resolution adjusts so dramatically. We even managed to find an area in the opening campaign mission where both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X drop frames – a clear outlier in an otherwise pristine 60fps experience – yet here, the Microsoft console is dropping more frames than Pro and it is running at a lower resolution.

Bearing in mind that some elements of the rendering pipeline are locked to 4K internally (a 2.25x increase in precision over Pro), perhaps we should expect some parts of the presentation to be hit harder than Sony’s hardware, but by and large, a pattern emerged during our playthrough of the campaign’s initial stages – the simpler scenes with less action tend to resolve at higher resolutions. Meanwhile, action-packed or more complex scenes offer up a presentation more in line with PlayStation 4 Pro, or indeed resolving at a lower pixel count.

Overall, there’s the sense that Respawn Entertainment has gone into the game with the best of intentions – level of detail has been pushed up, the dynamic super-sampling does work at the top-end at least, and the team’s temporal super-sampling anti-aliasing solution remains exceptional. However, we’ve got to say that we didn’t expect to see Titanfall 2 on Xbox One X handing in lower resolutions than PS4 Pro in any scenario bearing in mind the hardware’s huge memory bandwidth advantage and over 40 per cent of extra GPU compute power. As things stand, it’s really easy to locate areas of like-for-like gameplay that simply look better on the Sony console, while PC remains on another level throughout.

We shared comparison shots with Respawn as soon as the inconsistencies came to light and the team are looking into it, so fingers crossed that the issues are resolved in a future title update. Gameplay remains as good as ever and obviously, there is a night and day improvement over the base Xbox One version of the game, but as things stand, Sony’s hardware seems to be offering the most consistent console experience overall right now.