The Year’s Best Looking Games On The Xbox One X


Credit: Hitman/YouTube

‘Hitman’ Game of the Year edition.

Choosing the best-looking games on the Xbox One X is an exercise in picking favorites from a cornucopia of riches. The simple truth is that the One X is so far advanced over any other console on the market that, with a few exceptions, every game looks better on the One X and every game looks great.

Like every “Best of . . .” list, this one is subjective. It’s made even more so because it’s limited to the games I’ve had a chance to play on the One X. Forza Motorsport 7 is a glaring omission for this reason. Given the videos I’ve seen and what I’ve read about the game, I expect it would appear here if I’d had the opportunity to play it.

The One X is fully capable of presenting games at native 4k resolution (3840 x 2160). This is the main (but not the only) reason why games look better on the console. However, in order to see the greatly enhanced visuals the One X puts out, you have to have a good-quality 4K TV, and you have to be sitting close enough to the screen.

The distance between the viewer and the screen is critical because the human eye cannot resolve all the detail in a 4K image if the image is too far away. How far is too far depends on screen size and some people don’t seem to realize this. I once read about the video games editor of a highly respected website who wasn’t impressed by the increased resolution of 4K games on the One X when he was sitting too far away to see all the detail in a 1080p image, let alone the detail in 2160p 4K. Every combination of screen size plus resolution has an optimal viewing distance. The further away you sit from this distance, the more you’re missing.

My TV is a 65” LG B6 OLED. The optimal distance for viewing 2160p images on a 65” screen is four feet, four inches. My eyes are between this optimal distance and five feet from the screen when I play.

Here are my choices for the best-looking games on the One X thus far.

Hitman (IO Interactive)

The Game of the Year edition of Hitman is a graphics showcase for the One X. When played in High Quality mode with frame rate locked at 30 fps it offers native 4K resolution combined with a boatload of enhanced graphics effects. It’s a gorgeous game.

The graphics package includes enhanced geometry, textures, texture filtering, shadow quality, parallax occlusion mapping, lighting and a different color palette from the original game. The lighting effects are particularly noteworthy. Different light sources cast subtly varied shades of light across a scene. The light seen through windows and doors changes as you move closer or further away. It’s beautiful.

Objects in Hitman are detailed to an extreme degree and the native 4K presentation combined with the enhanced geometry, textures and texture filtering put all of that detail on the screen. The improved shadows combined with the heavy use of parallax occlusion mapping give environments a three-dimensional look that is almost startling.

Play the Paris scenario, and as you follow the woman in the white dress into the building, watch the play of light and shadow on her dress. Take a look at the spectacular fountain in the courtyard as you walk past. Look up and watch the ceiling come into view as you enter the building. It’s a visual feast.

Hitman is a game that rewards patience and careful observation which works beautifully with the game’s superior visuals. If I had to pick one game to demonstrate the graphical prowess of the One X, Hitman is the one I’d choose.

Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft)

Assassin’s Creed Origins takes place in Egypt around 48 BC. Although “lush” is not the word that usually comes to mind when thinking about Egypt’s vast deserts, Origins is a visually lush game. Deserts, fields, rivers, villages and cities are presented with a richness of detail and color that let you smell the scents in the wind and feel the sand on your skin.

Origins’ visual approach is different from Hitman’s. The game uses dynamic resolution scaling to preserve frame rate at the expense of resolution. It also appears to rely fairly heavily on temporal anti-aliasing. The result is a visual presentation that is softer and smoother than the crisp and razor-sharp graphics you get in Hitman. The softer visuals work very well in Origins, however, as they enhance the realistic feel of the heat and dusty haze that permeate the game’s environments.

The HDR effects in Origins are especially noteworthy. Different TVs handle HDR in different ways and Origins offers a pair of HDR settings so you can tune the effects for your screen. Once you have HDR dialed in, light sources and reflections are incredible. A full moon at night is brilliant, and flames look like they’d burn your hand if you got too close to the screen. In general, the lighting in Origins is very atmospheric and makes an essential contribution to the sense of presence you get while playing the game.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is at pains to recreate a world infused with detail, color and atmosphere, and its visual presentation is ideally suited to the task. When I first entered the game, I thought it looked good. The more I’ve played, the more the graphics have worked their subtle magic, and now the Egypt of Cleopatra and Ptolemy XII feels physically and sensually present while my living room seems a little less real whenever I return to the game. Outstanding graphics can do that.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (MachineGames)

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is about hard people living in a world that’s seen hard use. It’s gritty and harsh, and the game’s visual presentation makes that clear almost everywhere you look.

Like Assassin’s Creed Origins, Wolfenstein uses dynamic resolution scaling with a 2160p target. Unlike Origins, it appears to make little use of temporal resolution scaling. The results are crisp, sharp visuals that approach – but don’t quite reach – the level seen in Hitman.

Machine Games brings Wolfenstein’s world alive with attention to detail and excellent lighting effects. Textures are rich and texture filtering is excellent so that the world is filled with detail at mid-to-long distances. Shadow quality, varied lighting sources and ambient occlusion enhance the three-dimensional look of the game’s environments.

You can see all of this by taking a tour around the submarine that serves as Wolfenstein’s mission hub. Surfaces are worn, textures are detailed and varied, and object density is incredible. There’s almost always lot on the screen to look at, and all of it looks good. Set’s lab is an excellent example. There’s clutter everywhere, a wide range of surfaces and textures, different-hued light sources, and all of it is crisp and clear.

These densely populated and richly detailed environments are also dynamic. Visit the sub’s helm and take a look at all the active information displays. The graphics are sharp enough to read and the green and amber screens instantly brought me back to the days of dumb terminals and my first-generation PC. Wolfenstein nails the look of its world.

Halo 5: Guardians (343 Industries)

I debated including Halo 5: Guardians on this list. It does not run at native 4K, it doesn’t have HDR, and it doesn’t consistently feature the level of detail or the rich textures seen in many other games. And yet, Halo 5’s graphics and art direction meld perfectly to produce a beautiful game.

Halo 5 also uses dynamic resolution scaling with a target of 2160p which it reaches much of the time. The enhanced version also includes improved texture filtering, modest increases in levels of detail, and increased draw distances in cut scenes.

Most of the art assets seen on the One X were also used in the original game on the vanilla Xbox One. The difference is that what was muddy on the One is sharp and clear on the One X due to the One X’s massive increase in resolution.

The crisp visuals in Halo 5 are an ideal complement to the game’s art direction. Artefacts and architecture are clean, unblemished, and precisely defined. Visual clutter in interior spaces is kept to a minimum. Interior surface textures are generally smooth. Objects and pathways are often limned in light. Halo 5 has a very clean, sharp look which is reinforced by the HUD and menu elements that have all been redone in 2160p.

Unlike games that impress with detail, Halo 5 makes a virtue of precision. The game’s art direction, color palette, interior and architectural designs are enhanced by the high resolution achieved on the One X. Halo 5 is visually sleek, clean and elegant.

There are many more games that could, and probably should, have made this list, but I had to stop somewhere. Here is a list of additional games I’ve played on the One X that have very impressive visuals.

Call of Duty: World War II

Gears of War 4

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

Rise of the Tomb Raider

It may seem too soon to write a “Best Games of the Year” article about a console that was released less than a month ago. However, there are so many great looking games that are already available for the Xbox One X that the problem was having the time to play them all rather than not having enough to write about. If visual quality is important  to you, you have a good 4K TV with HDR, and you don’t sit too far from the screen, there’s a wealth of visually superior games to enjoy on the One X.

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