Gears of War 4 showdown: Xbox One vs Xbox One S vs Xbox One X
A breakdown of the differences – in fidelity, frame rate and gameplay – for Gears of War 4 on all three iterations of the Xbox One console.
The release of the Xbox One X is just around the corner, and you should definitely check out our comprehensive review here. If you’re in the market for an Xbox One X, you’re probably wondering which game you should use to show off its power. The answer is Gears of War 4. This isn’t just because it was the only game that came close to showing off the power of this almighty console during our review, it’s also because it showcases a commitment to offering players freedom outside of visual fidelity.
Like the jump from DVD to Blu-ray, you’ll find it hard to revert back to playing Gears of War 4 on an older Xbox One console after you’ve experienced it on the Xbox One X. While I was doing my comparison, I was honestly surprised at how much better it looked and even felt on Xbox One X. The Xbox One S version does look better than the Xbox One, which is to be expected, but Gears of War 4’s already-dark colour palette is further muted by the older consoles.
On my 4K LG OLED TV, the high dynamic range (HDR) does a lot of work on delivering a vibrant image, despite the darker colour palette. In fact, it’s kind of like watching a Zack Snyder movie in the cinemas, with a washed-out screen (they all are), versus watching an ultra-high-definition (UHD) version on a 4K TV. The difference is night and day, and the detail in the seemingly never-ending darkened scenes of a Snyder movie is immediately noticeable (not to mention appreciated).
My main test scene for Gears of War 4, across Xbox One consoles, was the fifth mission in Act IV. I deliberately selected this level because of the Windflare storm, which makes the level even darker, while also simultaneously providing contrasting light sources, such as the lightning in the Windflare storm. On the Xbox One, I found the easiest way to spot enemies at range was to look for muzzle flashes, that’s how dark the images are on my 1080p LCD screen, which used to be my main gaming screen (until the 4K upgrade).
Check out our review of the One X
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While the Xbox One S version supports HDR, Gears of War 4 looked noticeably darker (though not as dark as the Xbox One version) on the 4K OLED. The biggest detractor for Gears of War 4 on the older Xbox One models, though, is the 30fps campaign frame-rate cap. For those unaware, Gears of War 4 has a 30fps frame-rate limit for campaign and the cooperative Horde 3.0 mode. The competitive mode was lifted to 60fps, which meant it wasn’t as pretty on Xbox One, but it felt a whole lot more responsive.
Gears of War 4 on Xbox One X lets players choose whether they want gorgeous 4K visuals at the expense of a lower frame rate, or whether they still want a damn pretty game but at 60fps. This means Xbox One X players can create parity between campaign, cooperative, and competitive modes at 60fps. To the layperson, this might not sound like such a big deal, but it’s actually significant for Gears of War 4.
One of the main mechanics of the Gears of War franchise is active reloading. Players can tap a button to reload their weapons and, during the reload animation, can time a second press of the reload button to perform the active reload. There are two bars on the reload meter: a larger one that simply reloads faster than a single tap, and a narrower one that offers additional bullet damage for a portion of the reloaded magazine. It’s a risk/reward mechanic, though, and if you miss both bars, your weapon jams and reloading takes even longer.
Playing at 30fps, you have to anticipate the active reload, and press the reload button a second time prior to it hitting either bar on the reload meter, but particularly if you want to hit the narrower one. This is because you have to account for the lower frames per second. When playing at 60fps, you can active reload as soon as the slider hits the narrower bar on the reload meter. Jumping from 30fps to 60fps is painful because you have to retrain your active reload muscle memory, which is also different for every gun. Honestly, that’s the last thing you want to do when you’re shifting to an online competitive multiplayer match.
For those who crave fidelity at any cost, selecting ‘visuals’ in the ‘rendering preference’ option will keep the eye candy quotient high. Even with this option selected, it still feels smoother on Xbox One X than it does on both older Xbox One models. The higher-fidelity visuals add to the visceral nature of the brutal gameplay, and if I hadn’t recently completed the campaign, I’d be tempted to take it for a spin again just to marvel at the eye candy.
The 4K prettification on the Xbox One X version of Gears of War 4 will be the main thing people notice first. But the option to choose to prioritise frame rate over enhanced fidelity is the right move to let players know that the Xbox One X’s power is more than just its ability to offer native 4K gameplay.