The Xbox Series X / S and PS5 consoles haven’t even reached the six-month mark yet, but game modes that favor performance or visual quality are already common. It feels like not a week goes by without a game getting an update to allow players to pick between a demanding 4K resolution or sacrificing some resolution and quality for 60fps or even 120fps modes.
Last month, the big next-gen update was Control, with modes for both performance and visual quality. Today, it’s Overwatch with choices that let you pick between a 120fps mode or resolution and visual quality. These updates have made us fall in love with old games or appreciate how much better they run on modern consoles.
This emerging trend brings better choice to console gaming and pushes it closer to the wide range of options and modes that have been available on PC for years. During our review of the Xbox Series X and Series S consoles, we noted that it felt like this trend was emerging, but I’m still surprised to see these game mode updates appear so frequently.
So why do these game modes matter? Moving from 30fps to 60fps is obviously a big deal that has been happening in console gaming for years now. It results in much smoother gameplay across a variety of titles, and it’s particularly noticeable in racing games or first-person shooters. Put simply, it makes games feel a lot different and can reduce input lag and improve how you end up playing a title.
Being able to choose between all of the graphic options turned on or some visual settings disabled with better performance means you can play a game the way you want. If you want a more cinematic experience, turn on the resolution mode. If you want the buttery-smooth feel, turn on the frame rate mode. Some game developers have also introduced balanced modes, but the choices are always relatively simple compared to the myriad options in PC games.
While most games are trying to target 60fps these days, the promise of ray tracing means the option to play how you want is increasingly important. Ray tracing delivers more realistic scenes in games, with real-time lighting and effects. It’s an addition to this generation that hasn’t been fully explored by developers yet, but it comes at a performance cost that means recent games like Watch Dogs: Legion are having to run at 30fps. This is where performance modes and options can help.
Insomniac Games has been quick to add new modes to Spider-Man Remastered on the PS5 to even let you enable ray tracing with a 60fps performance mode. While the game takes a resolution hit in scenes as a result, it’s far less noticeable than if you were running at 30fps instead.
Other console game updates are also targeting new 120fps modes. The jump from 60fps to 120fps might feel less significant for some, but I’d argue it’s equally important. It’s the type of change you’ll notice gradually, and if you switch back from 120fps to 60fps you’ll immediately feel the difference. It does require a compatible TV or monitor, though, so a lot of people are missing out right now. A surprising amount of games are offering 120fps support already, including big names like Call of Duty: Warzone, Destiny 2, Fortnite, and Overwatch.
Hitting 120fps reliably means a sacrifice in resolution, so most games will not offer full 4K at 120fps on these consoles. If you have the right TV or monitor, the benefits of a 120fps mode are obvious for certain games. First-person shooters like Destiny 2 feel more responsive, and input latency is reduced for racing games like Dirt 5. If your TV supports variable refresh rate (VRR), then the benefits are even clearer as you get smooth gameplay without screen tearing when the frame rate dips at these higher refresh rates.
These new 120fps modes aren’t appearing equally, though. While the Xbox Series X offers more than 20 games with 120fps options, the PS5 has less than 10. Call of Duty: Warzone, Overwatch, and Rocket League all offer 120fps options on the Xbox side, but the PS5 support is lagging behind. Rocket League developer Psyonix revealed last year that enabling 120fps in Xbox games is a minor patch, but it requires a “full native port” for the PS5.
This gap is largely on existing popular cross-platform games, and it’s bound to be one we’ll see close as developers have more time to port games and work on modes. Sony is also planning to support VRR on the PS5 with a future update, and once that arrives it should spur developers on to support 120fps more often.
It’s been encouraging to witness the speed of game updates for these new consoles, though. We might still be waiting on next-gen games and actual stock of consoles, but once you’re able to purchase a new Xbox or PS5, the games you’re already playing will probably offer lots of these new modes.