Performance Analysis: Multiplayer on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Xbox One static at 1360x1080, while PS4 locks at full 1080p - but how's the frame-rate?

Having impressed with a strong campaign, Digital Foundry assesses the game's multiplayer credentials.

Having touched on Advanced Warfare's campaign yesterday, it's perhaps the multiplayer mode that represents the bigger hold over the Call of Duty series' fans. After seeing the PS4 struggling to hold 60fps at points in solo play, and with Xbox One's image quality diminished by its dynamic resolution, one question remains: does the single-player mode's performance profile have any bearing on online competitive play?

Right off the bat, we can confirm that while we do see the Xbox One version creeping to a full 1920x1080 resolution in the campaign's less taxing scenes, the same is not true of multiplayer. When pixel-counting screenshots gleaned from all 13 available stages, the 1360x1080 resolution is a constant fixture. Even with non-intensive, small maps featuring no players on-screen, the Xbox One refuses to increase its native frame-buffer dynamically based on load. Meanwhile, the PS4 remains locked at full 1080p, just like its campaign counterpart.

By matching shots at spawn points, the impact of this resolution differential is clear to see. A cut-back framebuffer on Microsoft's hardware causes foliage elements - grass, trees and so on - to appear aggressively filtered and upscaled, while the PS4's visual make-up remains crisp and defined throughout our testing.

Texture quality, meanwhile, is a match between PS4 and Xbox One, a state of affairs that is also true of alpha resolution on Semtex grenade explosions and even object LODs. But while the border of each map is plainly visible on each, there's a drop-off in clarity for Microsoft's platform past a certain distance. The reduction in motion blur and depth of field - in the interest of upping clarity on both platforms - makes its lessened 1360x1080 presentation more obvious. It's unlikely to affect gameplay, but it's certainly a downside to the Xbox One's overall presentation when switching across from PS4. It's an interesting contrast to the campaign mode, where the heavily post-processed aesthetic hides the worst of the resolution deficit.

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Firing Semtex grenades is enough to kick into gear some light physics-based destruction on objects. The resulting alpha is identical in quality between the PS4 and Xbox One.

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Interior areas in the Ascend multiplayer stage rely heavily on reflective mapping, impressively mirroring all its specular highlights and particle effects. Neither platform loses out

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Both platforms utilise the same 'striped' effect on shadows, for players and environments alike. Unfortunately, darker areas on the Xbox One are slightly crushed, despite both platforms being set to the same brightness setting.

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While texture quality is indistinguishable between the PS4 and Xbox One in multiplayer (much like the campaign), the 1360x1080 native resolution on Microsoft's platform is locked in place - causing foliage and distant elements to become blurred over.

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Whether playing 1v1, or engaging in huge 18-player Ground War tussles for map domination, the resolution on Xbox One seems to remain at 1360x1080. Texture filtering on long roads, meanwhile, is fairly weak on both platforms - an area the PC version is able to address.

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Object draw distance is a match between the PS4 and Xbox One, with interactive elements, such as the monorail at centre here, playing a role in the ensuing shoot-outs.

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Last but not least, lighting is overhauled for Sledgehammer Games' engine, translating well to the online component. While motion blur is significantly dialled down for multiplayer, this area thankfully shines.

Clearly, locking to a lower resolution on Xbox One is key in hitting the sustained 60fps gameplay that is the Call of Duty trademark. Having ascertained the pixel counts, we moved on to determining just how solid performance is on both consoles. In order to stress-test both platforms, we select the Ground War mode, allowing for a maximum of 18 players in big team games - and the results are intriguing.

On record in our Xbox One video, we hit a lowest 56fps on the opening Instinct stage test - kicking in just as a shader effect disrupts the screen. Paired with that are a few torn frames, with the upper 33 per cent of the screen cut in each case. However, much like the Xbox One's campaign mode we rarely see many drops below the 60fps line at all, and v-sync is almost always intact barring exceptional moments. A few odd, missed frames are caught while charging around Instinct, but for Detroit and Defender this simply isn't a problem.

With PlayStation 4 operating at full 1080p, we had suspicions going in that multiplayer would be a more robust experience than its 50-60fps campaign offering - and that proves to be quite true. A lurch down to the low 50s is the absolute worst we have on record, occurring during the Detroit level in this case. This is one of only two likewise dips across hours of test footage, with both coinciding with kill-cam replays rather than actual gameplay.

Xbox One multiplayer tested across three levels - Instinct, Detroit and Defender - shows a well optimised game that locks to the target 60fps much better than Call of Duty: Ghosts. To watch this video at 60fps, use Google Chrome and select 720p or 1080p resolution.

For the PS4's typical run-and-gunning though, the multiplayer frame-rate is much like the Xbox One's. Singular frames are occasionally dropped as we boost around the level, but as a baseline, Sony's platform holds to 60fps almost perfectly. In this respect, it's a far better performer than its campaign equivalent - and as a bonus, it holds v-sync throughout too.

All of which makes this comparison quite simple. If competitive multiplayer is your calling, Advanced Warfare has you well covered on both platforms - each servicing gameplay with a strong 60fps delivery that only occasionally flakes out. In the Xbox One's case this is due to a shader effect, and on PS4, it's from alpha buffers overlapping during a kill-cam replay. In both cases, gameplay is not impacted, with each console handing in a broadly like-for-like experience. The only tangible downside is on Xbox One, with its poorer, fixed 1360x1080 presentation coming to bear more obviously than it does in the campaign mode, while PS4 offers a noticeably cleaner presentation.

Stress-testing the PS4's multiplayer across three levels shows a much better optimised game than the campaign mode. Here, it's 60fps as a rule with only occasional blips interrupting actual play.

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