Wolfenstein: End of the road for idTech 4?

Digital Foundry analyses Raven's latest.

There's a very real sense that Wolfenstein is something of an old-skool style of shooter, and this extends from the gameplay to the base tech: it's an enhanced version of the classic idTech 4 engine, which dates the core rendering code to 2005 and with it, the release of Doom 3. With that in mind, the game has a somewhat dated look and feel, particularly in the over-high use of glossy texture embellishments; even the character skintones are particularly "plastic". The tech here is older than the Xbox 360 itself.

There are a range of small-scale enhancements to the engine though: shadowing is more advanced, animation is better, some scenery is destructible, and the outdoor environments are detail-rich, although impactful on performance when it comes to screen tear in particular. A lot of the game's improved look and feel is down to the implementation of the Havok physics technology. However, other limitations of Carmack's last-gen code are still in effect: while the game is native 720p, there is no anti-aliasing whatsoever, and the PC enthusiast sites reckon this extends to the home computer version too.

Performance analysis of the Xbox 360 version of Wolfenstein, with excerpts from the single-player mode. Tech annotations provided by Digital Foundry's Alex Goh.

Performance itself is basically acceptable, but not hugely remarkable. There are some ambitious scenes in there, and the old Doom 3 limitation of showing a maximum of three characters on-screen at any given moment is not an issue here: bearing in mind that the old ATI 9800 Pro was state-of-the-art back when idTech 4 was devised, it's interesting to see what the additional horsepower of Xenos does to enhance the old engine.

Combat can be pretty intense, but the fairly solid 30FPS frame-rate takes a remarkable dive when certain special effects are in play. The transition sequence when supernatural weapon "the Veil" is in play is hugely impactful on the smoothness of the game, for example. Screen tear averages out at around 10 per cent of the captured clips in the video, but varies dramatically in any given scene. When it's good, it's good, when it's bad, it's hugely impactful on the image quality.

Overall then, performance here is seemingly as average as the game itself. With idTech 4 seemingly pushed to its limits here, it'll be interesting to see how the engine performs on PS3. Keep a look out for that in the next Face-Off.

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