It's early days here at Digital Foundry with Wolfenstein: The New Order. While the PC version arrived earlier in the week, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One code dropped through the letterbox only yesterday, so what follows are preliminary impressions based on the initial asset work. However, what's clear is that Machine Games has handed in the first cross-platform 60fps first-person shooter for the new generation of consoles, with little to differentiate the two versions of the game.
While this is a revamped Wolfenstein designed primarily for new hardware, some of the key fundamentals we expect from the series remain untouched. Like all of its predecessors, this is a new game built on existing id Software technology - in this case the Megatexture-centric id Tech 5, last seen in Rage. Bethesda has also continued the tradition of drafting in a quality independent developer to produce the game: Machine Games, a new studio comprising of key ex-Starbreeze staff. The end result is a graphically varied shooter, with a heightened level of response that feels is immensely fun to play on both systems.
Key to this is the 60fps update. As the performance video below demonstrates, Wolfenstein: The New Order achieves a perfect frame-rate on both consoles - something Machine Games puts down to the nature of id Tech 5 itself.
"It's about creating an engine that is from the very bottom up built to scale. I think from the beginning when we got our hands on id Tech, we realised it was an engine that was built to scale very well between different platforms," Machine Games' Andreas Ojerfors told Tech Radar. "And it's been an ongoing effort both among the engineers here at Machine Games but also with a great deal of help from id Software to make sure it's an engine that continues to scale on the next generation of platforms."
"First impressions reveal a game that's remarkably close on both PS4 and Xbox One - with a locked 60fps update on both of the new systems."
In the past, creative director Jens Matthies has explained that 60fps is a common factor on all platforms, and that the engine is "hardwired for 60fps, so we can't do anything else".
One thing we did notice was a one-off freezing moment on Xbox One - a spot of tearing followed by a number of duplicate frames. This appears to be an isolated bug: multiple playthroughs of the same area showed no further repeats of the problem and during standard play we see no screen-tear at all on either Xbox One or PS4 versions of the game.
Moving on, Starbreeze's suggestion of a "scalable" engine could imply the cutting of features on Xbox One in order to sustain the signature 60fps frame-rate. Well, based on an initial playthrough, the reality is that both versions of The New Order are remarkably similar. Perhaps the most obtrusive element to the presentation is the usual Megatexture issue with texture pop-in lag. It's an issue that is present on all platforms - even PC - and will vary according to the drive you have installed, and probably according to how full your storage is, too - HDDs tend to slow down the more data you have on the drive.
We'll report back on any major texture-streaming differences between the two, but nothing we've seen so far suggests that this should impact your purchasing decision - an initial look seems to suggest that each version has its own issues at any given point. The old Rage stress-test - spinning around on the spot to quickly empty and fill the texture buffers - causes no problems in Wolfenstein, perhaps because the optical drive isn't used for texture-streaming at all. There's also much more RAM available, of course (on PC, that amount is configurable).The 50 most exciting games of 2016 The ones we know about, anyway.
Overall image quality also looks pretty close indeed between the two consoles: there's a base 1080p native rendering resolution (unfortunately short on anti-aliasing), parity in lighting and texture work and an identical feel to the way the game plays. However, there is one interesting difference - in the comparison above, you can see an area of the game that operates at something in the region of 1440x1080 on Xbox One, while the PS4 and PC versions remain at the native 1080p resolution.
Other Xbox One shots show no upscaling at all, perhaps suggesting some kind of limited dynamic resolution - or maybe it's just a bug specific to this particular part of the game, a cut-scene that quickly segues into gameplay. What's odd is that compared to the carnage seen elsewhere in the game, the scene indicated is relatively sedate, so the notion of a dynamic framebuffer that adjusts pixel-count according to engine load (something we did see used frequently in Rage) seems unlikely. We'll play on and see whether we see any more differences along these lines.
UPDATE 23/5/14 10:05: We've analysed more assets and now believe that a dynamic framebuffer is indeed in effect - on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions. MachineGames does appear to be using the technique used in Rage, where horizontal resolution is scaled according to engine load in order to sustain 60fps. We've added a new shot above, demonstrating a scene where PC runs native 1080p, with both PS4 and Xbox One upscaling in the same area. However, the degree of scaling varies between the consoles, with PS4 holding the advantage and there are clearly scenes where the Microsoft console needs to scale, while PS4 remains at native.
We aim to bring you a complete analysis on Wolfenstein: The New Order as soon as possible, including a more detailed look at the PC version. However, in the here and now, our initial tests suggest a pair of very close current-gen console releases with matching art, frame-rate and control response with only minor elements separating them.