Deathloop has finally appeared on the Xbox Series consoles. Microsoft-owned Arkane Studios’ time travel debuted on PS5 and PC last September, an exclusive limited-time console thanks to a pre-acquisition deal with Sony. That original PS5 version had some flaws, but has been corrected 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 curious game. Like many previous Arkane titles, it is superficially a first-person action game, but success depends on taking advantage of the character’s unique abilities, stealth, and environmental hazards. It offers open gameplay but not in an open-world environment: it is a well-curated experience that still manages to thrill and surprise. Making progress depends on exploiting the central presumption of the game, a time cycle that restarts the game at the end of each day. It’s not as stiff as a game like Returnal, and it’s structured like a more conventional single player adventure. However, this is not a roller coaster ride and conquering the “Deathloop” requires a lot of returning to the tracks and patient exploration.
Technically speaking, this largely resembles a latest generation title. To be clear, it’s by no means unattractive, but the visual techniques at hand are generally in line with the eighth generation fare. Asset quality is at least reasonably high, and shadow mapping and volumetric lighting quality is solid across all consoles. Deathloop doesn’t aim for a hyper-detailed aesthetic, with stylized characters, lower-density textures, and simple particle effects, and at least manages to convey its retro 60s look. Also, in the year following the original Deathloop release, we saw very few visually advanced efforts on consoles. Most of the software is still mired in the cross-gen era, with little visual distinction between current-gen and last-gen versions. So Deathloop still keeps up with general trends in high-budget games, outside of a handful of graphically ambitious outliers.
But let’s move on to the comparisons of the console. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, so to make things easier we’ll go console to console starting with the X Series 60Hz modes, followed by the S Series and its two modes, and concluding with the 120Hz modes available on PS5 and X Series
The first is the performance mode. Just like on the PS5, this option compromises the resolution to aim for a 60fps upgrade. It seems we’re getting dynamic resolution here that tends to run between 1080p and 1440p with what looks like an upscaling via AMD’s Super Resolution FidelityFX (the 1.0 space variant, not the far superior ‘sequel’ 2.x). Image quality in general isn’t bad, and this mode generally holds up quite well on a 4K set, despite relatively unambitious rendering goals. The benefit here is that the performance mode on the Series X is at a locked 60fps as far as I can tell. Heavy combat in dense environments is reproduced perfectly, without problems.
The visual quality mode at first glance looks very similar to its equivalent in terms of performance. The visual settings below look quite similar and the image resolution in stills doesn’t differ much from the performance mode, although the resolution appears to operate in something like an 1832p-2160p window. Just like on the PS5, Deathloop appears to run at a pretty high resolution, which helps resolve distant details more cleanly but doesn’t make a big difference during normal play. Increasing resolution results in a substantial performance penalty. Curiously, the game still targets 60fps, although dips below are frequent. Travel in the 1950s is common during most fights and in larger environments, leaving the game less consistent than it should. VRR cleans it up for the most part by minimizing frame-time differences, but personally I’d prefer the performance mode anyway.
Finally, there is the ray-tracing mode. As with the PS5, there are two key RT features here: ray-traced sun shadows and ray-traced ambient occlusion. RT sun shadows look good and exhibit an accurate twilight effect that varies depending on the distance of the shadow casting geometry. Some sections of shadow remain quite sharp, others spread out as they drift away from their source, and others, like the power lines here, completely disappear. It’s a realistic looking effect, even if it doesn’t seem applicable to artificial light sources in the game.
However, the real star of the show is RTAO, ray-traced ambient occlusion. This adds more ambient shadow detail to pretty much everything in the game. Pockets of shadow accumulate around the rock faces, in the corners of buildings and at the base of the vegetation. It has a substantial, if not transformative, impact on most areas with much more realistic ambient shadow treatment than standard ambient occlusion in screen space can offer, at the cost of some moving artifacts, which were a problem also on PS5. Image quality in general is still quite good though, with resolution generally looking roughly on par with the visual quality mode. Technically it seems to render slightly above that option, with a gamut of around 1944p to 2160p in busy scenes.
With two RT effects in play, Arkane reduces the target frame rate to 30fps. Thankfully, I couldn’t spot dips or inconsistencies during gameplay, so it feels very consistent, unlike the PS5 version at launch (although that version’s inconsistent frame rate cap has been fixed since then). My only real gripe here is that the camera motion blur setting doesn’t apply blur to the sweeping camera motion at all, making the game a little more choppy than it should during quick combat.
Speaking of the balance between resolution and frame-rate more generally, the performance mode seems to dynamically lower the pixel count more often on the Series X than on the PS5, while strangely the visual quality mode works substantially better on the Series X, with an advantage. about 5 fps in typical game. In practice, the two consoles don’t have much to tell them apart.
Xbox S series? There’s no RT here, just performance quality modes, both at dynamic 1080p – I’ve seen a low performance mode of 900p, along with visual downgrades and a minimum of 936p on the quality alternative. Neither mode offers consistent frame rates as we would like. Performance mode is generally 60fps, although intense scenes and larger environments can see it drop momentarily to the 1950s. The visual quality mode is below 60 more often, struggling in the same spots but going down a little more frequently and forcefully. Neither option is as smooth as it should be, but I’d definitely prefer performance mode if I had the option. VRR obviously improves on both options, but I really believe there should be more consistent performance here, even without a display that supports variable refresh.
PS5 and Series X also receive 1080p ultra-performance modes, targeted at 120fps. None of the other visual settings seem to be successful, so this is just a softer rendition of the performance and quality modes available on the PS5 and Series X. As for performance, none of the versions hit 120fps particularly often. Both PS5 and Series X spend a lot of time in the 70-100fps region during most gameplay, only surpassing the quiet moments. The most substantial difference between them comes down to vsync: PS5 runs without v-sync, while Series X has full v-sync enabled, at least by default (suspending the console and resuming it, oddly enough). Activating any other visual mode reactivates vsync, requiring another pause if you wish to reactivate it. The on-screen hint indicates that vertical sync should be disabled in this mode, so perhaps this is something Arkane should take a look at.
There’s a basic trade-off between the PS5 and the default X-series version here: the PS5 version is burdened with intrusive screen tearing, while the X-series is more visually pleasing but a little less fluid. I noticed a small frame rate advantage in favor of the X Series, albeit not huge – maybe 10fps or so on average. Mainly this is a mode designed for VRR gameplay, I believe.
Deathloop is a fun game – and perhaps the latest hurray for Arkane’s Void Engine, derived from iddech, with the studio seemingly ready to use Unreal Engine for future endeavors. The fundamental rendering technology doesn’t exactly impress, outside of a very good implementation of RTAO. But the art looks good, the game exudes style, and still resists most of the cross-gen efforts that are so common nowadays. However, I think the basic visual setups leave something to be desired. Visual quality modes on all consoles offer questionable frame-rates and are the default option when starting a new game. Some fiddling with menus or VRR-compatible TV hardware can fix these issues, but consoles are about a plug-and-play experience, and Deathloop presents a lot of complexity to the player.
Xbox versions stack up pretty much as you’d expect, outside of those quibbles. The X series swaps shots with the PS5 version, while the S series drops to a 1080p target with mixed results. Ultimately, Deathloop on Xbox offers a fairly decent, but not technically great experience, with little to distinguish it from the previous version of the console. However, Arkane’s magic is still there – and it alone will be enough for many.