At its heart, it's still Call of Duty - but both tonally and technologically, Infinite Warfare is quite a shift from CODs of years past. Sitting down to play the campaign on PlayStation 4 Pro, there's still the sense that this is the videogames equivalent to a full-on Michael Bay-style Hollywood blockbuster, but now the core aesthetic of the game has evolved to match the franchise's cinematic aspirations, requiring a significant shift in rendering technology. The question we had going in: what's changed under the bonnet, and can the title sustain the series' signature 60fps action?
We've already looked at the game late on production via two previous builds - the PlayStation Meeting PS4 Pro reveal, based on a snippet of campaign action, and the EGX multiplayer version. Single-player performance in particular was a concern, varying between 40-60fps. Understandably, multiplayer looked more solid, but frame-rate still dropped around explosive moments, and actually looked more impacted than the standard PlayStation 4 release based on completely unscientific comparisons undertaken at the EGX showfloor.
The happy news is that the final release code represents a huge improvement. Multiplayer is rock-solid, while the campaign gets very, very close to it - as you can see for yourself in the video below. Similar to Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1, the implementation of dynamic resolution scaling makes a key difference here, reducing rendering load in problematic areas, keeping frame-rate high. The base PS4 and Xbox One versions use a horizontal upscaler ranging from 960x1080 to full HD, with additional super-sampling provided via a temporal component. PS4 Pro uses a different solution, ranging from checkerboarded 1560p all the way up to full 2160p 4K.
The solution works on a number of levels - first of all, frame-rate consistency is impressive now, even in Infinite Warfare's most hilariously over the top set-pieces. Secondly, the aesthetic of the game lends itself beautifully to resolution scaling - on PS4 Pro, it's virtually impossible to see the changes in pixel-count as they happen, while checkerboarding artefacts only really seem apparent when analysing still shots. In motion, it's fine - they're submerged as part of the post-process pipeline, obscured to a certain extent by further effects work, not to mention the reduced motion resolution of all current 4K displays. Additionally, some of Infinite Warfare's post-processes passes actually occur at native resolution - the subtle film-grain effect, for example.
On PS4 Pro, Infinite Warfare's presentation reminds us of Crytek's Ryse - while still very much CG in nature, the emphasis is on producing a filmic look that looks more natural. That means that razor-sharp geometric edges are virtually non-existent (making pixel-counting highly challenging) while the ultra-sharp texture detail you tend to see in gaming isn't really there. However, the rock-solid consistency in frame-rate and impressive visual design make this work - light plays off materials nicely and the post-process pipeline is highly accomplished. How good Infinite Warfare looks isn't defined by its pixel-count - moving from PS4 to Pro shows an iterative improvement (like moving from Blu-ray to UHD BD, sans HDR) but it plays just as well.
What I really enjoyed about the game when looking at it through a technological lens is to see just how different it is. There's a kind of unspoken assumption that there's a 'Call of Duty' engine that evolves over time, but what's clear is that each of the three major COD studios is pushing the technology in new directions with each release, to the point where Infinite Warfare and its immediate predecessor, Black Ops 3, feel very different. The new COD feels like a profound evolution of Advanced Warfare (post-processing elements seem to share a common base, for example), but the reality is that with COD now on a three-year development cycle, the game-makers will be rolling their own technology to achieve their specific goals.
And in actual fact, with the arrival of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered, there's a strong argument that there's actually another COD studio in rotation - Raven Games. Again, MWR's presentation looks quite unlike any of the other COD games of the last couple of years, with its own aesthetic that seems to be building on Sledgehammer's work in Advanced Warfare.
The end result is certainly a world apart from Infinity Ward's efforts, and that extends to its PlayStation 4 Pro implementation: foregoing checkerboarding and dynamic resolution scaling, Raven opts for a locked 2880x1620 presentation on PlayStation 4 Pro, offering an impressive, if slightly soft look on 4K displays, while 1080p owners get a small benefit from downsampling (in truth, anti-aliasing wasn't bad on base hardware). More impressive is the fact that Raven's chosen resolution also ensures generally smoother performance on Pro. The usual culprits - primarily, screen-filling explosions - see frame-rate dips on both PlayStations, but the Pro is less impacted overall.
It's interesting to note that all three of the major franchise shooters released recently employ similar technologies to provide both improved image quality and a tangible PlayStation 4 Pro enhancement - even if the actual implementations are somewhat different. Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1 and now Infinite Warfare are all using a combination of dynamic resolution scaling and temporal supersampling to produce good-looking results that scale well between Xbox One, PS4 and PS4 Pro. Respawn tells me that the dynamic scaler has now rolled out onto the PC version of Titanfall 2, as well - something we really want to see as an option on more PC ports.
Meanwhile, Battlefield 1 and Infinite Warfare add the checkerboarding technique to the mix to push on to higher resolutions, and again, the results work well overall. There's an acceptance that the most cutting-edge titles won't be able to hit native 4K on PS4 Pro, but there are still appreciable gains over standard PS4 hardware - and it's early days yet for Sony's mid-gen refresh. At some point, we'll have to ask the question just how close these titles are getting to providing the 'real deal' 3840x2160 offered by PC hardware - but that's an analysis for another time.