Star Wars Battlefront on PS4 is very promising, but there is work to be done – article
The Star Wars Battlefront E3 demo, which showcased work-in-progress gameplay captured by PlayStation 4, was one of the highlights of this year’s event. Unlike the reveal in April (which featured a battle on Endor), it’s also a much more realistic depiction of what to expect from multiplayer on PS4: an ongoing series of foot and vehicle racing across Hoth’s tundra. But how does it come out of the comparison with the impressive reveal, and on what level does the performance stand?
Before continuing, it is good to clarify that the gameplay ?? pre-alpha ?? seen on PS4 will likely get better. There are still several months of development ahead of the European launch scheduled for November 20, which is enough time to refine graphics and further optimize performance. Even so, our analysis paints a fascinating picture of the progress made so far, showing for the first time how the series reboot on Sony’s hardware performs.
First of all, the Walker Assault sequence is a useful and practical overview of console gameplay on the go. The PS4 footage is mostly unedited and shows long action segments in the Hoth map, allowing us to observe frame-rates and resolution before launch. From a first pixel count we see that the game uses the same framebuffer as Battlefield 4 and Hardline: the data suggests that this PS4 build runs at 1600×900 with a post-process anti-aliasing pass.
Despite the upscaling, the game looks good on Sony’s machine (though we wonder if we’ll see any tangible improvements over Battlefield’s 720p presentation on Xbox One). From aerial duels between X-Wing and Tie Fighter to ground battles against AT-ATs, DICE’s work centers the aesthetics of the original films. Despite a confirmed limit of 40 players (lower than Battlefield 4’s 64), the proportions of the terrain are vast enough to hit. However, the array of trenches and mountains shown does not come close to the density of detail seen in the map of Endor shown in April.
In fact, the ?? in-engine ?? teaser? it showed a very differently styled area: a map filled with giant trees and relentless action. It’s a cinematic sequence, rendered at a resolution greater than 1080p and probably downsampled later to get a sharper picture, with jerk-free frame-rates and material assembled to provide an idealized view of the game. Each shot is made to enhance the action, with a 2.35: 1 aspect ratio in contrast to the classic 16: 9 seen in the PS4 movie.
In other words, the teaser with Endor is more of a demo showing the capabilities of the Frostbite 3, probably with the right PC at hand: an engine benchmark ahead of its time. While a direct comparison of this map on PS4 is not yet possible, some effects have clearly been removed from the gameplay demo shown at E3. First of all, depth of field and motion blur per object are absent, while alpha transparencies lack the sharpness of the initial reveal. It is a solution in line with the console versions of Battlefield 4, where motion blur is only used in the campaign but not in multiplayer. In any case, given the absence of the campaign mode in Star Wars Battlefront, there is no sign of a return of these effects. Even in missions meant for split-screen play, like this Horde mode combat on Tatooine, there seems to be no change from the PS4 multiplayer demo.
The result is that the E3 demo is much less cinematic, but the feel of the proportions is still intact. While the map of Hoth isn’t as thickly filled as the woods of Endor, the viewing distances are wide and close to teaser standards. The only disappointment comes from the warning of cascading filtering: when flying close to other aircraft, the shadows appear much blurrier up to a certain distance. In other circumstances, the approach to shadow quality and ambient occlusion is as effective as in the Battlefield chapters seen on consoles.
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DICE’s favorite features such as extended scenarios, vehicles and destruction are still present, albeit with a slight rebalancing to match the style expected from Battlefront. Between the teaser and the PS4 gameplay demo, the physics-based map damage is evidently less emphatic than in Battlefield 4 for example, which the team pointed to as a design choice. Aside from fragments from downed AT-ATs or tissues, the use of physics is quite limited. Future maps could introduce procedural damage in a similar way to the other DICE series, but for now this element has been reduced in favor of the introduction of more vehicles at the same time.
Even with Hoth’s mostly white color palette, there are touches not present in the original teaser. Parallax Occlusion Mapping, for example, is used extensively in this map, with footprints and indentations at the base of the trenches giving a three-dimensional appearance to every surface. The snow textures, supported by a specular component, are convincing, especially with the lighting model of the Frostbite 3.
Making this possible is the introduction of physics-based rendering. According to DICE’s 2014 Siggraph notes, the technique requires strong similarities to real-world materials to provide the most accurate lighting possible in-game. To this end, the team’s access to Lucasfilm’s Cultural Arts Museum (a facility filled with weapons and vehicles from the original trilogy) helped this project enormously. Also thanks to trips to the locations used for filming, the team was able to accurately replicate objects and terrain, in part thanks to a process called ‘photogrammetry.’
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“Photogrammetry is essentially the technique of processing static images to produce a high-resolution 3D mesh ??, explains lead environment artist Andre Hamilton.” There are a number of approaches to this process, but all involve photo capture. of the real object and image processing by photogrammetry software “.
After scanning each element, the team can determine the size of the object for use in-game and how the lighting reacts to color, opacity and other surface properties. The result is a level of fidelity in line with the look of the Star Wars universe, separating its aesthetic from the military look of DICE’s Battlefields.
All in all, the PS4 demo highlights various benefits of using a physics-based render over the teaser. Luke Skywalker’s appearance shows how the costume’s materials naturally react to Hoth’s high-contrast lighting; the lightsaber lights up the nearby snow as Luke runs, and the effect appears on Darth Vader’s visor. Visually everything is gorgeous on the go, but the problem with the PS4 demo is in the performance, not the graphics.
Stable 60fps doesn’t seem achievable on PS4 at the moment. The E3 build is an explosive t4ra 40 player match that rarely holds onto that value, with the exception of the indoor segment at the start. The performance is very similar to that of Battlefield 4 in multiplayer, a 40-50fps game that can drop to 30fps under load. Running around the map in a Tie Fighter practically freezes the frame-rate at 30fps for several seconds during our analysis, resulting in the lowest performance of the entire demo.
Thankfully v-sync is enabled, but there’s clearly still a long way to go for a smooth 60fps update, even considering the concessions made due to player count and physics-based destruction. Despite this, we hope that frame-rates will improve before launch, especially in smaller-scale battles. After all, Battlefield Hardline showcased notable improvements between the beta debut at E3 last year and launch this year.
After waiting a decade for a true successor to the series (and having seen one pass without materializing), the DICE reboot of Star Wars Battlefront promises great things, even if the reality of the gameplay seems to be far from the ambitions of the reveal of April. On a technical level, the E3 demo takes a step backwards, particularly in terms of the quality of the effects; 1600×900 resolution and unstable frame-rate further separate the PS4 build from that ideal. Even in this first multiplayer version, however, the Frostbite 3 engine and the available material showed us a real advancement compared to the Battlefield series.
The change in priority is also noticeable in comparison to previous DICE games. For example, the less emphasis placed on physical destruction and 64-player clashes is a nice change – they’re two areas that hit performance heavily in Battlefield 4 on PS4 and Xbox One. The game instead offers multiple vehicle skirmishes for up to 40 players, with superb use of physics-based rendering to bring classic Star Wars scenarios to life. All of this is a technical balance that should help improve console performance at launch, especially given the time it takes to optimize.
There’s no doubt that the team’s previous experiences with PS4 and Xbox One are an advantage, and we hope that this (coupled with the current closed alpha for PC) avoids a buggy launch like that of Battlefield 4. So far so good: the most exciting part is that Star Wars Battlefront has a few months ahead of its November launch. While it doesn’t (perhaps inevitably) reach the levels of the April trailer, the game already gives us plenty of reasons to be thrilled. Performance on PS4 isn’t ideal, and there is clearly some work to be done in that regard, but the demo is at least on par with the preliminary builds of other Sony hardware team games. and there is time to improve.
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