Just as Microsoft promised, its next-generation Xbox Series X and S will be able to play a few older games with higher frame rates starting today. The company is rolling out its "FPS Boost" feature for a few backwards compatible Xbox One titles: Far Cry 4, Sniper Elite 4, UFC 4, Watch Dogs 2 and New Super Lucky's Tale. Together with the ability to automatically add HDR to older titles, Microsoft is now giving players a new reason to revisit some of their favorites, or clear out their backlog with more modern performance.
Most of this first batch of FPS Boost games are getting their framerates doubled from 30 to 60FPS, but New Super Lucky's Tale goes even further with support for a silky smooth 120 FPS on both new systems. That's a particularly big upgrade for Xbox Series S owners, where that game previously ran at just 30FPS. Microsoft also says it's going to give players more control about enabling FPS Boost and Auto HDR later this spring under the "Manage Game" options for every title. Additionally, there'll be an "FPS Boost" badge that appears when you hit the Xbox button while playing a supported title.
Microsoft isn't saying how often we can expect new FPS Boost titles, but the company stressed that it goes through a testing period to make sure the games perform properly at a higher frame rate. "As we were testing backward compatible titles, we discovered with the massive leap in processing performance enabled by Xbox Series X and Series S, games were able to complete their processing significantly faster and the system would be idle while waiting for its next frame," Jason Ronald, director of Xbox Series program management, said in an email to Engadget. "FPS Boost effectively eliminates the waiting between frames, allowing titles to run at significantly higher frame rates with no work required by the developers. This technique only works on select titles depending on how the game was originally written and how it managed internal clocks... To ensure we are respecting the original intent of the developer, each title goes through extensive testing and we only enable FPS Boost on those titles that benefit without negatively impacting the core gameplay experience."
Ronald also noted that the FPS Boost technique doesn't work for some titles, as it would cause characters to animate twice as fast, or destroy the way physics simulations work. That's a sign that we won't see a slew of FPS Boost titles at first. Developers can always choose to update their older titles to take advantage fo the new hardware as well.
After spending some time with Sniper Elite 4 running FPS Boost, I was impressed by how the game just seamlessly adapted to the new frame rate. It felt no different than running around and gunning down baddies on my PC in 60FPS -- there was no hint of weird gameplay hiccups that you sometimes see when speeding up older games. The one downside, though, is that Sniper Elite 4 still looks like a game made several years ago for last-gen hardware. Everything looks a bit low-resolution, with jagged surface edges and ugly textures when zooming in with a sniper scope. But if you're a fan of the series, this is the best way to play it on a console.
I also tried out New Super Lucky's Tale, but was limited to 60FPS due to my older TV, so I couldn't see its full 120FPS glory. The game looked as smooth as butter, but it also performed just the same previously the Xbox One X. I felt a pang of FOMO though -- if more titles start hitting 120FPS, that may just push me to upgrade to an HDMI 2.1 set that can handle 4K at such a high framerate. Notably, both New Super Lucky's Tale and Sniper Elite 4 are on Xbox Game Pass, making it fairly easy for new players to test out their FPS Boost performance.
While we knocked the Xbox Series X for its lack of compelling exclusives -- something the recent release of The Medium didn't really help with -- being able to significantly boost performance for older titles is an intriguing way to tap into the system's performance. And it's even more useful for owners of the cheaper, but still very capable, Xbox Series S. After all, even older games deserve to be played at 60FPs.