Battlefield 4 Gameplay and Performance Preview

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We've been running around in the game's version of Shanghai, alternately blowing people up and being reduced to our constituent atoms. One of the things we like most about this map is the way it makes use of vertical space. In addition to the flag sitting high in a destroyable skyscraper, there are flags suspended on walkways -- and the people fighting on those walkways are neatly exposed to fire from the lower levels. WeI've been sniped by players who apparently bailed out of helicopters above the killing zones, dropped on to the tops of buildings, and go to town on the people below. There are BF3 maps that implemented these sorts of concepts, but it's done particularly well in Shanghai.

People fighting up on top? Not a problem.

There are a host of little improvements over Battlefield 3. Compass readings are now attached to the periodic call-outs -- instead of hearing "Sniper in your area," you'll be told "Sniper to the north of your position." Vehicles can now suffer a "critical hit" that cripples movement for several seconds. There's a third spot on tanks or other craft to allow another player to manage countermeasures rather than assigning this task to the driver, and some of the gun positions now have more firing options than were previously available.

Another great addition? Boats! Now you, too, can bounce up and down in a rubber raft while enemy troops hurl blazing death in your general direction and teammates man the gunwhales, shouting curses in your general direction.

Right now, the destruction of the skyscraper has a really ugly impact on the overall map. It covers the entire game area in a white haze that's meant to represent the stunning amount of dust in the air, but in practice, it looks like poor draw distance. Here's a comparison of the initial explosion / collapse, and the long-term effect.

We suspect that this is profoundly difficult, as huge amounts of particles in the atmosphere will make proper lighting nightmarish and could blow video card computation budgets through the roof if anti-aliasing is enabled. But it's also possible that this effect is merely a placeholder for different changes that will drop later in the beta.

Pixel Scaling: A Bridge Too Far

One of the more interesting features of the BF4 engine is the ability to scale resolution upwards or downwards. Let us explain what this means, since the slider sits apart from all other graphics options. If you change the resolution scaling, you change the resolution that the GPU renders internally as opposed to the displayed resolution. Most of the time, these numbers are identical -- but let's say you've got a GPU with really limited VRAM. How do you deal with that? You render at a low resolution internally, then scale up.

But the problem with this method is essentially the same issue that can limit FXAA's ability to replace MSAA as an antialiasing method. You're working with an output stream rather than the underlying data, and upscaling to 1920x1080 never looks as good as natively rendering the same image. It's a fundamental limitation of the technology, and so we're not surprised that the game engine struggles. But the comparison, for all that, isn't very good. Here's a pair of screenshots that illustrate the difference. First, on the left, is a screenshot from 1366x768 set as the native resolution, with 100% scaling. On the right, here's 1920x1080, set for 70% scaling (to achieve roughly the same resolution).

Check the detail on the boxes to the left. The native resolution is far sharper. If this is how the Xbox 360 and PS3 handle BF4's graphics -- by scaling down via software -- than the game isn't going to run particularly well on those platforms, and gamers may ultimately be happier with BF3.

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