The Orange Box modded to run at 4K 60fps on Xbox Series X is the best way to play on consoles

The Orange Box modded to run at 4K 60fps on Xbox Series X is the best way to play on consoles

The Orange Box was one of the greatest deals in gaming on its release in 2007. Cramming five Valve-developed classics onto one disc – Half Life 2, Half Life 2 Episode 1, Episode 2, Team Fortress 2, and introducing the original Portal – the quality bar was supremely high. Originally shipping on the 360 at native 720p resolution, Xbox One X enhancements delivered a 9x resolution increase, offering up a native 4K presentation that naturally transitioned over to Series X and thanks to some config file tweakery, it’s now possible to remove the 30fps cap, to play Valve’s finest at 60fps on Xbox Series X and Series S hardware.

However, to revisit these games today on console is fraught with issues if you’re on Xbox. Firstly, the Orange Box has been removed entirely from the Xbox marketplace as of 23rd February 2023. It simply cannot be bought digitally any more. However, if you bought it before its removal it’s still of course possible to play it today from your library. And, if you own the physical disc you’re still good to go, of course. But that’s really no good at all for Series S users, without a disc drive. In that case you had to buy the digital version while it was still available.

As you’ll see in the video, we use a user-mod of sorts to remove the frame-rate cap on each title in The Orange Box which stacks on top of Microsoft’s X enhancement, which scale up the original’s 720p to ultra HD on Series X and a still impressive 1440p on Series S. And removing that cap doesn’t just improve performance – but consistency too. The originals on Xbox 360 always ran with inconsistent frame-pacing, introducing visible judder. An official solution to this via Microsoft’s FPS Boost would have been welcome, but for whatever reason, it never happened. 60fps is definitely possible and I’d say that Microsoft and Valve could still make it happen and I hope they do – because as cool as the mod is, it comes with a number of limitations that do cause issues.

Want to see Half-Life 2, its episodes and Portal running flawlessly on Xbox Series hardware? Here you go.

Before we go into depth on this, we can’t take any credit for the mod itself. We first chanced upon this when one of our supporters – sj33 – highlighted a twitter post from famicom, a simple YouTube embed of a year-old video from ReveriePass. It turns out that getting 60fps working is relatively simple. It’s all clearly explained in their YouTube description, but as a quick summary: you’ll need an original Xbox 360 console, and a copy of Orange Box and a PC to make the modifications. No hardware mod is necessary here and any retail Xbox 360 machine with an internet connection will do. First, you must enter the options menu of each game in the Orange Box to create a save file. And then, once done, transfer the Orange Box user settings from the console to a USB stick.

After that, a PC program called Horizon is required. This is a tool that allows users to decrypt and analyse Xbox 360 save games. Here, enter the user settings file and extract the individual config files for each game. Half Life 2, Episode 1, Episode 2, Portal should each have one. And from here’s it’s a matter of opening each config file, and copy-pasting the settings in ReveriePass’ YouTube description – the crucial bit being, that FPS_Max line is now set to 0 to allow for 60fps. Finally, replace the config files on the USB stick with your new updated ones, re-sign and encrypt the file and then take the USB stick back to your Xbox 360. Now it’s a simple matter of transfering the user settings file to cloud storage. Now, whenever you access The Orange Box on an Xbox One or Xbox Series console, it’ll download your modded user settings file.

Fundamentally, it works. The performance line is a faultless 60fps as you’d rightly expect of a 2004 game. Really, there’s no chance this is buckling under at 4K60fps given the frankly overkill levels of GPU power being thrown at it. And likewise, Episode 1 holds up at a watertight 60fps as well. In fact, even the more taxing Episode 2 – released later in 2007 – plays out at a locked 60 in my experience. All round, Xbox Series X reaps the greatest benefits from this mod, given it was already running at 4K through official enhancements.

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The only parts that really do not age well are some rough textures, and those awkward loading buffer screens between areas. And the lack of any effective anti-aliasing means – even at 3840×2160 – expect to see some heavy pixel crawl and noise on those hard geometric edges. But, in a way that’s part of the charm of visiting old games. It’s not a remaster, it’s simply the original game, as played back with a few minor tweaks. We did try adding some anti-aliasing commands to the modified script, but unfortunately, they did not work.

Of course all of this applies to Xbox Series S as well – the 4TF sibling console. In this case, we get 1440p native on back-compat enhanced 360 games. That’s the starting point for the Orange Box collection. But then, this user workaround – the modified cloud save – also makes way for a flawless 60fps on Series S as well. Across the board, from Half Life 2, to Episode 2, there’s zero issue to speak on here. But again, the ineffective anti-aliasing in the game’s base code is more of a glaring issue, I think if you’re determined to play it today this way. At 1440p, the noise is exaggerated even more so in the upscale to 4K displays, especially on the fences early on.

Of course, the cloud save works on any Xbox console that runs the Orange Box, meaning you can check out Xbox One S and One X too. The less capable of the two machines is best not touched – Half-Life 2 starts fine at 60fps but drops into the 40s as soon as you start exploring City 17. As you progress to the more taxing Episodes, performance crumbles. Xbox One X is quite interesting though: native 4K resolution comes from the X enhancements and Half-Life 2 is essentially 60fps with some performance dips. The more taxing episodes take you into 40-60fps territory, however. The point is, we’re going to need Series hardware to get the lock we want.

With all of that in mind, it’s a win for Xbox Series X and S users of course. But what’s the drawback? Well, firstly this modified cloud save trick only works if you still – after all these years – have an Xbox 360 console with your account on it. Secondly, once you’ve put that save on your Xbox Series X or S – or Xbox One console – you must not make any changes to any game’s options menu. Once any change is made, it reverts to 30fps and you have to repeat the whole process again. Perhaps worse still, it seems it’s not possible to resume a saved game either. It always has to be a new game, or it defaults back to the standard 30fps cap.

While FPS Boost primarily targeted frame-rate improvements to Xbox One titles, Microsoft delivered some excellent Xbox 360 enhancements too, and with some games receiving both performance and resolution upgrades.

On the upside, Xbox Series X and S have the quick resume feature that offers some workaround here. The original Portal, also, is very playable in just one session if you want to deploy this workaround for that. On balance though, it’s not a practical way to play all of these games. For that, we really do need Microsoft and Valve’s involvement – with an official update to these games.

Overall, hacks like this prove that increasing the frame-rates on older Xbox 360 games doesn’t have to be a DirectX level tweak as instigated by Microsoft’s ace compatibility team. Sometimes, it’s possible to get older games running at 60fps on newer machines with relatively small config file tweaks, like this. Changes to the game code itself are so minor, it should be viable for Microsoft or Valve to implement themselves. Indeed, in the past we’ve seen exceptions being made for popular games. Dark Souls 3 on Xbox One X is a classic example. It didn’t receive an FPS Boost-style, DirectX level upgrade – but instead, Microsoft collaborated with developer From Software for a more bespoke solution.

Could something similar happen with The Orange Box? Could there be some kind of final hurrah for FPS Boost? As a passion project from committed staffers at Microsoft and/or Valve, maybe it could happen – though surely the prospect must have been raised in the past. It certainly transforms the quality of the experience exactly as you would imagine – but the fact that The Orange Box itself has been delisted from the Microsoft Store perhaps suggests that this is just wishful thinking. After all, why make the effort to enhance these classic games still further if Series S owners can’t actually buy The Orange Box at all? Still, if you have the means and the commitment to work with the limitations, it is worthwhile – and it’s clearly the best way to play The Orange Box on consoles today.

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