Developed by the original Dead Space talents at Sledgehammer Games, the team brings its flair for authentic futuristic worlds to the most popular annual series of the moment. Focusing primarily on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, it's also the studio's first opportunity to produce a game on its own terms. Activision is conferring on it an unusually long three-year development window for the project, hoping for a series refresh on a par with Infinity Ward's 2007 Modern Warfare revolution. No pressure, then.
In a recent interview with Edge, studio co-founder Michael Condrey promises Advanced Warfare goes far beyond the usual engine rejigging of previous releases. This time, a majority of the code is designed from the ground up, with only a few lines of legacy code remaining. "We have new rendering, animation, physics and audio systems. This is Sledgehammer's new COD engine," he says. "The new tech that is driving our lighting and rendering engine couldn't have happened on last-generation [machines]."
At first sight, the E3 demo is an undeniably impressive leap in terms of aesthetics, with hover-bikes, mobile barricades, plus an exoskeleton suit allowing for jet-powered strafes and double-jumps. An in-game holographic HUD is also added, as flaunted by the studio's earlier work on Dead Space, removing the traditional overlays to show remaining ammo on the rifle itself. It's a stylish touch that fits nicely with the 2056 setting - but there's much more going on here.
Focusing on the E3 reveal's Induction mission, set to the backdrop of a besieged Seoul, we can once again verify a resolution boost over Ghosts. Exact metrics are hard to pin down based on our media, but it remains in the region of the initial 1568x882 measurements we gleaned from the reveal trailer, with the pixel ratios ruling out anything higher than 1600x900. So for Xbox One, we're still looking at a minimum 50 per cent jump in pixel throughput over last year's 1280x720 return. Indeed, the higher base image quality ultimately puts less responsibility on post-processing to cater for aliased edges. However, based on the performance profile of the non-final E3 build, such fidelity comes at a price.
Given that Ghosts could wobble somewhat from the series' ballpark performance on Xbox 360, we're disappointed to see that this initial showing of Advanced Warfare backtracks even further. The numbers look pretty uncharacteristic of any entry in the series so far, with performance only glancing on 60fps during the opening pod landing. Progressively, as play moves from tame alleyway pop-shots to roaring city-street battles involving swarms of flying drones and mechs, we go down from the 40fps range to the 30s. Needless to say, we have not seen how PlayStation 4 measures up, but remarkably, there are moments in the demo when the Xbox One's refresh at E3 is low enough that certain sections could possibly benefit from a 30fps cap.
The E3 build also presents some screen-tear, too; the odd flicker here and there cropping up in the top third, though rarely enough to catch the eye. We've seen far worse, but given the series' steadfastness in holding v-sync in its earliest titles, it's a slight shame image quality takes a hit where a big storm of effects clutters the screen.
While the resolution increase over Ghosts on Xbox One is obviously welcome, the 30-40fps frame-rate issues found in the E3 demo are clearly a concern bearing in mind how greatly the series' interface between player and game relies on low latency controls - practically demanding a 60fps refresh. This has all the intentions of being the most pristinely presented, cinematic Call of Duty title yet, but the worry here is that Sledgehammer may not hit the 60fps target while raising the bar visually.
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