Technology

Deathloop is coming to Xbox Series X – and not much has changed since its first appearance on PS5

Deathloop has finally appeared on Xbox Series consoles. The time-traveling game Caper from Microsoft-owned Arkane Studios debuted as a PS5 and PC version last September – a time-limited console exclusive due to a pre-purchase agreement with Sony. This original PS5 release has some flaws but has been patched since release with additional content, visual fixes, and a new 120fps graphics mode. But with a fresh start on the new consoles, has Arkane finally delivered a properly calibrated version of their first-person adventure? Is this the ultimate Deathloop experience?

Deathloop is a strange game. Like many previous Arkane titles, it’s a superficially first-person action game, but success depends on exploiting the character’s unique abilities, stealth, and environmental hazards. It offers open-world gameplay but not an open-world environment – it’s a tightly curated experience that still manages to thrill and surprise. Progress hinges on exploiting the game’s central idea – a time loop that triggers the game to restart at the end of each day. It’s not quite as strict as a game like Returnal, and it’s structured as a traditional single-player adventure. However, this is not a rollercoaster ride, and conquering the ‘Deathloop’ requires a lot of patient retreat and exploration.

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Technically, this is very similar to the title of the last generation. To be clear, this is by no means unattractive but the visual tech on hand is generally in line with eighth-generation fare. Asset quality is at least reasonably high, and shadow map and volumetric lighting quality are solid across all consoles. Deathloop isn’t aiming for an ultra-detailed aesthetic, with stylized characters, a less intense texture and simple particle effects — and it at least manages to convey its retro ’60s look. Plus, in the year since the original Deathloop release, we’ve seen quite a few visually advanced efforts on the console. Most software is still mired in the age of intergenerational overlap, with little visual distinction between current and last generation versions. So Deathloop still keeps pace with general trends in high-budget games, save for a few graphically ambitious outliers.

Deathloop on Xbox Series consoles, stacked against PlayStation 5. It’s a Digital Foundry tech review, in video form for your viewing pleasure.

But let’s move on to console comparisons. There’s a lot to cover here, so to keep things simple, we’ll start the console separately starting with the 60Hz modes of the X Series, followed by the S Series and its modes and ending with the 120Hz modes available on the PS5 and X Series.

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The first is the performance mode. Just like on PS5, this option compromises resolution in order to target a 60fps refresh. We seem to get dynamic resolutions here that tend to run between 1080p and 1440p with what feels like an upgrade via AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (the 1.0 spatial variant, not the superior 2.x version). Picture quality overall isn’t too bad and this mode holds up well on a 4K set, despite its relatively unambitious display goals. The plus side here is that the Performance Mode on the X Series is 60fps locked in as far as I can tell. Heavy combat in dense environments plays perfectly well, without any issues.

The visual quality mode at first glance looks very similar to its equivalent performance. The basic visual settings look exactly the same and the image resolution in still shots isn’t much different than the performance mode, though the resolution seems to work at something close to an 1832p-2160p window. Just like on PS5, the Deathloop appears to be grounded in a very high definition, which helps resolve distant details more cleanly but doesn’t make much of a difference during normal gameplay. Enhanced accuracy carries a significant performance penalty. Oddly enough, the game is still targeting 60fps, although drops below that occur more frequently. Journeys back to the 1950s are common during most battles and in larger environments, which makes the game look and feel less static than it should be. VRR mostly cleans this up by reducing timeframe differences, but I still personally prefer the performance mode.

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Finally, there is the ray tracing mode. Like the PS5, there are two main RT features here: ray-tracked sun shades and ray-tracked ocean occlusion. RT sun shades look very good and display a precise changing shade effect depending on the shade casting geometry distance. Some sections of the shadow remain quite sharp, others become diffuse as they move away from their source, and others – like the energy lines here – completely disappear. It’s a realistic looking effect, although it doesn’t seem to apply to the game’s artificial light sources.

Deathloop – This is our original coverage on PlayStation 5. Note that our complaint about the 30fps mode has been addressed

However, the real star of the show is the blockage surrounding the RTAO ray tracing. This adds extra surrounding shadow detail to just about everything in the game. Pockets of shade gather around rock faces, in the corners of buildings, and at the base of vegetation. It has a huge, if not transformative, impact on most areas with more realistic handling of ambient shadow than a clogging of standard screen space can offer, at the expense of some handwork on the move, which has been an issue with the PS5 as well. However, overall image quality is very good, with a design that generally looks on par with the Visual Quality mode. Technically, it appears to appear a little higher than this option, with a range of about 1944 to 2160 pixels in crowded scenes.

With two RT effects turned on, Arkane lowers the frame rate target to 30 fps. Thankfully, I wasn’t able to spot any dips or inconsistencies while playing, so it feels very consistent – unlike the PS5 version at launch (although this version’s inconsistent frame rate cap has since been fixed). My only real gripe here is that the camera motion blur setting doesn’t apply much blur at all to the wide camera movement, which makes the game look a little more choppy than it should be during fast-paced combat.

Speaking of the balance of resolution and frame rate in general, it appears that the performance mode dynamically reduces the number of pixels on the X series more than on the PS5, while oddly enough, the visual quality mode works better on the X series, with an advantage of around 5 fps in gameplay model. In practice, the two consoles don’t have much to differentiate them.

Xbox s? No RT here, just performance quality modes, both at 1080p dynamic – I saw 900p on low performance mode, along with visible cuts and a minimum of 936p on the quality alternative. Neither mode provides consistent frame rates as we would like. Performance mode is generally at 60fps, although intense scenes and larger environments can see it temporarily drop back to the fifties. The visual quality mode goes below 60 a lot of the time, struggles in the same spots but drops fairly frequently and aggressively. Neither option is as smooth as it should be, but I would definitely prefer the Performance mode if given the choice. VRR improves both options of course, but I really feel that more consistent performance should be on the table here, even without a monitor that supports variable refresh.

Back in the day, Deathloop arrived on PC alongside PS5 — and here’s what we thought about the port.

The PS5 and Series X also receive 1080p Ultra Performance modes, targeting 120fps. None of the other visual settings seem to have worked, so this is just a softer rendering of the performance and quality modes available on the PS5 and Series X. In terms of performance, neither version hits 120fps in particular. The PS5 and Series X both spend a lot of time in the 70-100fps region during most gameplay, and really exceed that during quiet moments. The biggest difference between them is due to vsync – the PS5 works without v-sync, while Series X full sync is enabled – at least by default (suspending and resuming the console oddly removes it). Turning on any other visual mode will re-enable vsync, which requires another hold if you want to re-enable it. The onscreen tip indicates that v-sync should be disabled in this mode, so perhaps Arkane should take a look at this.

There’s a fundamental trade-off between the PS5 and the default Series X version here – the PS5 version comes laden with screen tearing, while the Series X is more visually pleasing but slightly less fluid. I’ve noticed a small frame rate advantage in favor of the X Series, although it’s not a huge one – maybe 10 fps or so on average. Basically, this is a mode designed to play VRR, I feel.

Deathloop is a fun game — and perhaps the last solution to the Arkane-derived Void Engine, as the studio appears set to use the Unreal Engine for future efforts. The underlying display technology isn’t quite as impressive, outside of the very good implementation of RTAO. But the art looks good, the game shines through in style, and still holds its own against most cross-generational efforts that are so common nowadays. I think the basic visual configurations leave little to be desired, though. Visual quality modes across consoles offer questionable frame rates and are the default when starting a new game. Some tinkering with menus or VRR-enabled TVs can address these issues but consoles are all about a plug-and-play experience, and Deathloop presents a lot of complexity for the player.

The Xbox releases basically stack up as you’d expect, outside of those quirks. The Series X trades with a PS5 release, while the Series S drops to a goal of 1080p with mixed results. Ultimately, Deathloop on Xbox offers a good enough experience, but not a great one from a tech perspective, with little to distinguish it from the previous console version. The magic of Arkane is still there – and this alone will be enough for many.

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