Head-To-Head Battle Confirms Titanfall Is Best Played On PC

Titanfall has been one of the most anticipated and important games of the Xbox One's short life, but a head-to-head comparison between the new console and high-end gaming PCs has illustrated that once again, the PCs come out on top. The problem, in this case, isn't that the Xbox One's visuals are poor -- the differences between the PC and the console are very small in static images; apart from the resolution difference (792p vs. 1080p).

As Digital Foundry writes, however, the gap between the two systems once the actions gets going is the real problem. When it built Titanfall, Respawn Entertainment settled on an adaptive V-Sync solution in which the game uses V-Sync when running at a steady 60 FPS, but disables V-Sync when it can't maintain a flat 60 frames per second. The upside of this is that it lets a game maintain higher frame rates than standard V-Sync, which would normally enforce static rates of 60 FPS, 30 FPS, and 20 FPS, falling back to each level if the previous couldn't be maintained. Adaptive V-Sync allows a GPU to dip below to say, 45 FPS, then step back up to 60 FPS. This slide from Nvidia illustrates the approach.

Unfortunately, this is where Titanfall drops the ball. The game engine simply can't maintain a steady rate of 60 FPS on the Xbox One, which means the frame rate plunges when the screen fills up with action, with wicked tearing as a result. That's problematic for a game engine that's supposed to emphasize high frame rates and constant speed over visuals; the Source engine has been stretched to its limits for Titanfall, but it still lacks the visual punch of Battlefield 4 or Crysis 3.

Digital Foundry describes the PC vs. console matchup as follows:
The real issue we have with this game on Xbox One is that playing Titanfall on Xbox One appears to be a case of taking the hits wherever they come from, and hoping that the core gameplay experience isn't impacted too much. By and large it works out acceptably, and the sheer fun of playing it can't be denied. However, the outlook changes appreciably once you play the game on PC, where - hardware permitting - performance is just so much better. At that point, you can't really go back. It's not difficult to get an experience that easily outstrips what's offered by Xbox One with hardware that needn't cost the earth.
PC marred by 50GB installs

The downside to Titanfall on the PC is that the game installs a whopping 50GB of data, of which 35GB is reportedly PCM uncompressed audio. Respawn's weak justification for this is that dual-core PCs can't handle the audio stream decoding required -- a fact that blatantly ignores the existence of low CPU utilization MP3 playback. This handy article from 7 years ago illustrates the point -- running Vista Basic in 32-bit on an Athlon 64 X2 5600+, measured CPU utilization in megahertz for MP3 playback was between 30 - 200MHz depending on the audio engine. Even on an aging Core 2 Duo without Hyper-Threading, that works out to about 2.5% usage on one CPU core.

Given the number of PC users that have converted to SSDs in recent years, a game install at 50GB is a serious shot to take -- that's 20% the capacity of a 256GB drive for one title. Given that the Xbox One install weighs in at less than half the size, it's hard to buy the argument that this is somehow a requirement or that the problem couldn't have been solved in another fashion.

Click to enlarge

The final report is positive on Titanfall's overall experience but notes that it continues to suffer from the "crushed black" syndrome that affects other games that use the Xbox One's own scaling solution. So far Microsoft has cleaned up that situation for one title, Killer Instinct, but it continues to impact others.