Game Review: On 9-Year-Old Xbox 360, ‘Titanfall’ is a Complete Experience

By April 14, 2014
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When upstart Respawn Entertainment’s freshman video game Titanfall premiered at E3 last year, it was certainly the talk of the gaming press. An online-only multiplayer experience with giant mechs, parkour free-running, and unparalleled verticality? It’s not much of a surprise that it made such a splash and set peoples’ imaginations on fire. Add to that a team of veteran developers, and architects of the Call of Duty franchise, and you have a game that easily became the most highly anticipated release of the new console generation. A PC release? That’s virtually without saying. A release on Xbox One? Potentially a killer app for the young console. A release on Xbox 360…?

That news was a little bit surprising, simply because everything released about Titanfall seemed to stress the fact that it was a new kind of game, built for new hardware, as well as an experience meant to usher in the new generation of consoles. Could the nearly decade-old Xbox 360 even run the thing? Or would people unable or unwilling to jump into the Xbox One be stuck with an inferior version of the game that lacked the graphical power and many of the new, unique features? Why even put such a new game on such an old system?

After several delays and no pre-release screenshots or footage, the gaming press has been expecting the worst for the Xbox 360 version of Titanfall.

After several delays and no pre-release screenshots or footage, the gaming press expected the worst for the Xbox 360 version of Titanfall.

Economically, it makes perfect sense for Respawn and publisher Electronic Arts to want to release such a highly-anticipated title on an “old-gen” console, simply because there are so many of them out there. At last count, the Xbox One had officially sold just about 4 million units according to a Q2 2014 Microsoft earnings report. Conversely, when tallying the total number of Xbox 360’s out in the wild last October, Microsoft revealed that over the system’s lifetime it had sold 80 million units between the 2005 launch and October 2013, just one month shy of the Xbox One’s launch last November. It’s just common sense to want to release the high-profile game on a more accessible format, but it seemed like kind of a toss-up as to whether or not the much older system would be able to truly represent the efforts of Respawn in creating the new breed of shooter that many critics and fans seem to feel that Titanfall is.

In order to create a port from more advanced hardware to the Xbox 360, the effort was spearheaded by Bluepoint Games, a Texas-based developer that, in the past, had been responsible for taking older games and remastering them to look and run on newer, HD-capable hardware. One of their more notable efforts was the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which took three different games in the popular franchise and remastered the graphics and gameplay to run on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Undertaking the task of squeezing Titanfall onto older hardware is the opposite scenario that the developer is used to, and it would prove to be no easy task. Originally scheduled to bow alongside the Xbox One and PC versions of the game on March 11th, Titanfall for Xbox 360 was delayed twice before eventually settling on a release date of April 8th.

Up until release, fans and commentators were already predicting doom for Bluepoint’s port, since there were absolutely no early looks at how the game would run before release: no gameplay footage, no screenshots, and barely any hints outside of vague, vacuous “producer-speak” from people at Microsoft. After a great deal of waiting, April 8th finally arrived, and so did Titanfall for Xbox 360. The reaction of most was pretty unanimous: we didn’t know how they did it, but Bluepoint managed to deliver a feature-complete port on older systems. No matter how you slice it, this definitely is Titanfall.

Titanfall on Xbox 360 is a surprisingly uncompromising version of the game based on function. This screenshot isn't as pretty as Xbox One or PC, but this definitely plays like the same game.

Titanfall on Xbox 360 is a surprisingly uncompromising version of the game based on function. This screenshot isn’t as pretty as Xbox One or PC, but this definitely plays like the same game.

How It’s Accomplished

A few days after the collective shock/relief set in over the Xbox 360 port of Titanfall, Bluepoint Games president Andy O’Neill talked to Digital Foundry (via Eurogamer) about how exactly he and his team were able to accomplish what many seemed to think would be a nearly impossible task, which the Digital Foundry interviewer appropriately dubs “demastering” the game to fit on an Xbox 360. O’Neill does talk about the immense difficulty of the project in the interview, calling it “the hardest project Bluepoint’s ever done.” He also said that the fundamental issue was fitting 5GB of the original game’s assets onto 500MB for the Xbox 360. Early on in the process, it was apparently a triumph to even get the game booted on the older console, until after a successful boot, the team came to “the realization that half of our memory was gone without loading any models, textures or maps!”

In the end, O’Neill sums up the efforts by he and his team by saying, “Long story short, we’ve replaced the world renderer, collision system, visibility system, animation system, asset system, asset pipeline, audio system, stuffed in a streaming system and compressed the crap out of the assets to make it fit on a DVD. […]We basically ended up with a crazy Frankenengine by the time we shipped.”

After a great deal of technical wizardry (and a lot of overtime, by the sound of it), Bluepoint has managed to create a technically impressive, feature-complete port of Titanfall, with some notable and understandable concessions in the visual department. So, you might be wondering: what are the actual and noticeable differences between the two versions of the game? Let’s take a look.

Comparing the Experience

The first differences between the two Xbox iterations of the game are tactile in nature. The Xbox One controller has at least 40 differences from its 360 predecessor, and it makes for a noticeable difference in the literal feel of playing the game. The rumble feature on Xbox 360 is far less subtle than on Xbox One, owing to the difference in overall function of the rumble motors in both controllers. As noted in our review of the Xbox One controller, there are smaller rumble motors and more of them in the new controller, so the rumble between both games is noticeably different. The analog sticks also make for a pretty different feel of control, since there’s slightly more resistance on the Xbox 360 analog sticks than there are on the Xbox One’s, so it may make for a very marginally more difficult control experience on the older console. I seriously doubt, though, that this would be even at all noticeable to any 360 gamer, unless you played the Xbox One version first.

Other than the specific technical difference of both controllers, the overall layout of the controls themselves are virtually identical to the Xbox One version. There may be a slight increase in latency between a controller input and its on-screen action, but that would mostly be a concern for players that consider themselves professionals.

This comparison screenshot is a little off-center to emphasize the blurriness of the textures on the Xbox 360 in this instance. This is because they're streamed straight from the disc, taking a little bit longer to be fully implemented on the Atlas Titan model.

This comparison screenshot is a little off-center to emphasize the blurriness of the textures on the Xbox 360 in this instance. This is because they’re streamed straight from the disc, taking a little bit longer to be fully implemented on the Atlas Titan model.

The only other noticeable functional difference between the two versions came to loading times, both for the actual loading of levels and games themselves along with wait times in multiplayer lobbies. Load times are noticeably (though not significantly) longer on Xbox 360 when compared to the new console, but it’s easy to look beyond this considering all of the elements that have to work correctly in order to allow the game to even run on the system.

As far as the gameplay experience itself is concerned, it is astonishing to me that every single notable feature of the Xbox One and PC versions has remained intact considering the limitations of the hardware. The feeling of free running and wall running, the speed with which you can chain long jumps together, the frenetic pace of the Titan combat, all of the weapons and their modifiers, the burn cards, the leveling, the “campaign”…I think you get the point. The work of Bluepoint Games to bring the full Titanfall experience to the Xbox 360 has paid off, as this is a feature-complete construction of the game for players who either haven’t yet, or don’t wish to make the big and expensive choice of getting new hardware.

If you own an Xbox 360 and have a desire to get an Xbox One because of Titanfall, you can rest assured knowing that you’ll be able to play the same awesome game on your existing system. But, since the Xbox 360 is the better part of a decade old, and Titanfall is a game designed with newer hardware in mind, there are bound to be some concessions. Thankfully, and predictably, these concessions fall solely on the perception of graphical output on the 360 version of the game.

Graphical Differences

From a technical perspective, Titanfall is a sub-HD game on Xbox 360 with a native resolution of 1040×600 (or 600p) that is upconverted by the console itself to 720p. The Xbox One version also upscales from 900p to 1080p, while the PC version of the game is the only one that runs natively at 1080p full HD (as long as your machine is powerful enough). Playing through the training mode of both versions, starting on the 360, it wasn’t immediately clear how much the graphics had been scaled back until I played the same portion of the game immediately afterward on Xbox One.

Colors on the new-gen system pop with greater vibrancy, and there’s generally a much sharper image on Xbox One. If I had to sum up all of the graphical differences as much as possible, it’d be like this: if you have 20/50 or 20/70 vision, playing Titanfall on the Xbox 360 is sort of like having your glasses off. Playing on Xbox One is like putting your glasses on, while playing on PC is like having LASIK corrective surgery.

The game’s framerate, according to a technical face-off also conducted by Digital Foundry, manages to stay relatively consistently at above 45fps, with noticeable dips into the 20s in quick instances when there are a lot of things happening on the screen at a given time. Check out their video of a direct graphical comparison between the two console versions below:

You can see that the 360 version looks comparatively muddy with some washed out colors, and watching full-motion gameplay videos between both consoles makes the framerate differences very apparent.

Overall

The bottom line and takeaway from this effort, though, isn’t that the Xbox One’s is the superior console version of the game: it’s that the 360 version is uncompromising in its playability, and unequivocally represents the full gameplay experience of the behemoth known as Titanfall. With the amount of work put in by Bluepoint Games on this port of the PC and Xbox One original, I consider it something of a miracle that they were able to preserve every aspect of core gameplay and bring it faithfully to life with a great deal of technical limitation when compared to the platform release on newer hardware. If you plan on picking up an Xbox One or a new gaming PC soon, then you may want to wait.

If you’re planning on sticking to your Xbox 360 for your gaming needs for the foreseeable future and have wanted to jump into Titanfall, you need not have any hesitation. Go ahead and dive in, Pilot. Your Titan is ready to drop.

Game: Still 9/10

Port Success: 10/10

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.