Face-Off: Battlefield 1

Battle royale.

By David Bierton. 29/10/2016

Battlefield 1 combines the technical spectacle of the Frostbite engine with a return to the large-scale environmental destruction that made the Bad Company titles so popular. It's one of the most significant upgrades for the series since it arrived on current-gen consoles, and DICE backs this up with a range of technical improvements across all platforms. The core technology is immediately familiar, but visual effects are considerably ramped up with lighting, post-processing and particle effects taking centrestage.

The console versions also get a noticeable boost in resolution that immediately provides better image quality over previous Battlefield games, while still allowing the developer to target 60fps gameplay. For the console releases, PlayStation 4 has the edge here, although when it comes to performance, Xbox One hands in a better experience with higher frame-rates under load. It's an interesting situation that essentially requires owners of both platforms to prioritise either image quality or performance, particularly when playing online.

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In previous Battlefield titles, both consoles operate at fixed framebuffers below the desired native 1080p resolution. The PS4 version runs at 900p, while on Xbox One this was lowered to 720p. However, in Battlefield 1 both consoles now operate using a dynamic framebuffer, adjusting rendering resolution according to load. The baseline resolution comes in at around 1000p on PS4, dropping down to 900p, with pixel counts adjusting up and down in smaller increments. By comparison, resolution on Xbox One stabilises at 900p, falling to 720p in demanding scenes. This leads to a consistently sharper image on PS4, where intricate texture details resolve more cleanly. In fact, at 1000p the presentation often looks very similar to a native 1080p image.

That said, the Xbox One version can also deliver pixel counts around 1000p in some situations, delivering image quality on par with PS4. However, this is limited to scenes with short draw distances and detail, so doesn't occur too often during regular gameplay. Either way, the switch to a dynamic framebuffer clearly improves image quality across both consoles; PS4 gets a pretty crisp image, while the jaggies previous seen on Xbox One at 720p are mostly absent, though the presentation is still rather soft.

Outside of resolution, both consoles generally hand in a similar presentation with regards to asset quality and effects work. Streaming is a touch faster on Xbox One in some scenes, with debris and textures slightly faster to load, but mostly the two versions appear very closely matched, and at times lower resolution assets can creep in on Xbox One too. By our reckoning, DICE is using presets mostly in line with the medium setting on PC as the graphical baseline on consoles, with some effects lifted from both high and low settings.

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For example, core texture detail matches up to the PC version using ultra settings, with consoles only missing out on extra detail layers across some parts of the environment (perhaps due to a reduction in terrain quality). Meanwhile, motion blur is a close match to low, featuring more break up across edges, while undergrowth quality varies on a scene by scene basis, seemingly switching between high and medium levels of detail. Terrain quality also uses a combination of medium and low settings.

By tweaking visual parameters on a scene-by-scene basis, the console versions often appear reasonably close to the PC release running with higher settings in place. Refinements are lacking in a few areas, but the core look remains fully intact and detail levels are still impressively high. However, on closer inspection it's clear that the PC version delivers a considerable upgrade in certain areas. Terrain quality stands out as the most obvious upgrade, with the ultra preset seeing much more in the way of debris and rubble littered across the ground. Landscape geometry is also sculpted slightly differently too in places, helping to add more densely packed details across the game. Similarly, undergrowth quality at ultra populates the fields and rural landscapes with increased grass draw distance and density, whole extra foliage is also dotted about the scene.

There's a sense of more intricacy to the war-torn landscapes on the PC version at max settings, with extra details, particles, and other elements fleshing out the world on a level not possible on consoles. The extra level of refinement is tangible when playing at 1080p, but really stands out when moving up to higher resolutions - such as 4K - where the extra pixel count complements the high quality assets and effects on show when running maxed out. With an update apparently on the cards for PS4 Pro, there is the potential for some of these upgrades to arrive on console in addition to improvements to performance, though expect native 4K support to be off the cards.

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