DOOM: Head 2 Head Technical Review & Performance Analysis

A demonic display of technical mastery

Publisher Bethesda
Developer ID
Platforms tested PS4 XboxOne
DOOM returns and as such so does "The Man" a single minded entity hell bent on revenge, retribution and destruction. This is not just a space marine, this is THE space marine. Only room in this kitchen for one Chief so buckle up.


Going back to my roots

Believe it or not it has been 12 years since the legend that is John Carmack unleashed DOOM 3 onto us with its enhanced bump mapping (see normal mapping) and its core Unified Lighting and Shadowing delivering its technological leap of full runtime lighting when released on PC in 2004 and later the Xbox360 . This enabled the sombre fearful lighting that the game is famous for, bright electrical lighting and self shadowing all enabled throughout the games claustrophobic corridors and pioneering shadow volumes or stencil shadows with Carmack’s own Reverse algorithm.

It was a controversial release when announced as many did not want to reboot the 90’s original, something it was very far removed from but in the end it was thrust upon us, and crap ourselves we most surely did. But times have changed…well maybe not that much as in 2016 we have a new Doom, itself a reboot of the reboot but now reverting to earlier or simpler naming tags. ID tech remains but has jumped 2 versions from 4 to it latest iteration in 6 but the brown pants remain. This means that across all formats and modes the game targets the same 1080/60 this means PS4, XboxOne and PC all have the choice of that target and on all it can go lower and depending on your PC spec also north of that.

Only the consoles run the dynamic resolution scaling though with PC having the choice to decrease or increase from that. With the latest demo on the new Nvidia 1080 card using the shortly after launch Vulkan supported API hitting 200fps at times. 60 is enough for now and the ceiling we hit on this PS4 and XboxOne release I am examining here. After I looked at the beta of the MP on both consoles last month many may have detected my disappointment at what the MP demonstrated and lacked the feeling of a Doom game. All that is irrelevant as we now get to the meat of the matter.


Rip & Tear, until it is done

Single player is admittedly my big draw with it trying to recapture the mixture of fast high octane action and demonic horror of the first games and less the horror survival of 3 and it is set on Mars with as they say “bad ass” demons, guns and most importantly the BFG returns that name and heritage is real, but does the game stay true to its maze like original and its secret doors? The answer is a resounding yes as the game is a balls to the wall, no holds barred return to the 90's. Plot, story, character progression, motivation are all discarded in the tunnel vision that the game's protagonist has, caring little for anything other than total annihilation of all who wander under foot. It is a refreshing change of pace with no long cutscenes or convoluted plot and instead lets the action do all the talking, as deafening as that can be it is the perfect formula.

This is no cover based shooter with tactics all relying on your fast and precise targeting and movement. It promotes and requires you to not stand still, strafe, dodge, jump and blast your way to victory. Glory kills are open once the enemy is weak enough shown by glowing red or blue and this is needed as when done they drop more health to keep you in the fight, if you hate you can turn off the animation of these in the menu. Playing on the hardest setting available from the start Ultra Violent it is actually not that tough, but after an hour or 2 into the game it ramps up the enemies, accuracy and it becomes a challenge. Even though you start with a simple handgun as you progress you can bolster your arsenal with all weapons being OSP from the hands of fallen warriors and they get progressively more powerful and impressive as you go, helping you cut through the undead army. And even though the action is more offensive than defensive it still creates a tense and foreboding dread as you venture into the dark steam filled tunnels and vents helped by the demonic gargling and screeches.

The game is chock full of secret areas, dolls and pickups across the large and vertical map system meaning repeat plays are a given. Portals into challenge sections, old skool DOOM maps appear with accompanying pixelated art work and binary shading. It will not win a prizes for its story or game play with its lazer focus on some of the fastest action you will experience on any platform being all it needs to succeed. The decent into hell can be long and tough but you will have a blast along the entire ride.




Decisions, Decisions

The game, for a console release again, is yet another showing the trend changes and welcome ones offering more choice for the player. As we have seen in The Division and Nioh and now also here you can choose to adjust settings within the game. Chromatic Aberration on and off, Motion Blur from High/Med/Low and off and even more impressively is the FOV slider giving you the standard 90 degree view of most console FPS up to full Go Pro 110 mode which opens up the frustum with the fisheye lens. Giving you more space and even makes the games pace faster, it is my preferred view here but the main thing is the choice is yours.

I really commend this from the team and long may it continue, not full visual tweaks like PC but these simpler and less convoluted choices are most welcome. Covering if these settings affect the performance on both machines shows that they do not, as the only thing that seems to happen is if you up the MB and FOV then the resolution scaling seems to increase on when or how low it will go with the metrics coming out nearly the same within margin of error levels. Meaning choose what you prefer safe in the knowledge it has been managed within the engine to not degrade or improve your experience,a job well done. This leaves most of the tests running the same max MB and FOV on both machines. For info this is running the day 1 5.7GB patch bringing it up to version 1.02 and this adds the FOV slider and the V-Sync to stop any tearing on both platforms.


Performance compared

So as per the earlier tests we are seeing a native 1920*1080 output on the PS4 here most of the time from my tests and the 16ms frame-times are also hit regularly as we commence our descent into hell giving us a smooth 60hz update that are stable mates of the engine and series. The XboxOne comes in with again a ceiling of the same 1080 maximum but does scale more often with it spending much time in action around the 1600*900 level but can dip lower in the more stress full parts. From multiple tests we see a low of 1728*1080 on the PS4 and 1371*756 on the XboxOne with the average being around 25-35% lower resolution than the PS4 in action. You can see the detail in the side out box for the metrics but with the games brilliant TSSAA solution the drop in pixel counts only results in marginally softer display with no real visible increase in pixel shimmer or aliasing and most of the time would not be noticed at all.

It is not a locked 60 but fear not console players as it rarely feels anything less than that the majority of the time. But more importantly the majority of areas and combat is 99% of the time at the 16ms refresh rate and completely tear free on both platforms once the day 1 patch is installed. The biggest single dips are again section loading, saving points seeing our highest catch of 83ms on the PS4 with the XboxOne fairing better here with 66ms most likely from its CPU upclock. These are not only very common in all games but do not hinder you in anyway. In the combat sections as the dips are fleeting and never higher than a single 33ms spike at a time.

As the video demonstrates the gap in performance is lightly bigger than the pixel one as it can be felt in play with the resolution mostly being a transparent concern. This is not surprising as I later in the visual side the game had many heavy and chaotic sections that really push the effects up to 11 and in most play they both offer up a very stable and solid 60Hz display. But as the action kicks in they can both fall into the next refresh cycle of 33ms meaning that we never see bigger than a single duplicate at a time nearly all the time it can have the PS4 dip to the mid 50's and at the same time the XboxOne can dip a further 10-12fps into the 40's. These are mostly fleeting and do not hang around for long but in play the consistency of the PS4 version can be felt and helps it just feel and play the smoother of the 2. It is hardly a game changer and no-one will hurl their controller down in disgust, simply that this small trade off in performance just has the edge on Sony's platform.


The pretty lights

Visually it is a very good looking game and I have been impressed by many features evident in the new engine aided with ex Crytek wiz Tiago Sousa now head of graphics R&D at ID. He brings across a considerable level of knowledge and talent and this is immediately evident once the game starts up. Even targeting the frugal 60hz rate it is a visually impressive game on many levels and Image quality and construction is one of its highest, helped in no small part by the art and design team. Combining its Temporal Super Sampled AA within its gorgeous Motion Blur post effect pass it creates an incredibly clean and noise free display and with the per object motion blur sampling velocity, direction and more they work in harmony to deliver what is high on my list of IQ stand outs in current games. Best appreciated in the real time cut scenes or better still the Glory kills in play all areas are well concealed from specular highlights, edges of geometry and texture work from its PBR based assets. Having an MSAA element combined within is expansive AA solution and it is a success, helped more with its temporal rate improvements.

The solutions are not only some of the best for a 60Hz game but one of the best period as it rarely has any issues with frequency noise, pixel shimmering or aliasing in general from the abundance of specular edges, contrasting geometry and high tone lighting. The trade off is that with its temporal pass it can soften the image and textures (textures are still not a strong point of the engine) but the cost is more than justified when the results are what we have on-screen. Building on his work from Crytek the solution is a combination of techniques using a custom MSAA tile based resolve that cleans up all geometric edges efficiently as possible. On its own it would be nice but still far from the quality we get across all formats.Working alongside this and mixed with the games Per Object Velocity motion blur is a temporal super sample that has multiple taps at the sub pixel level to improve quality and coverage.

Using 2 or more sub pixel samples stored in a buffer along with a jitter for each new frame to improve its accuracy. Then the previous frame is reprojected with the new one using velocity vectors and weighting to keep within range. The accumulation buffer that builds for its temporal blend also carrying colour and frequency information returns the sub pixel information. As motion blur and DoF are used throughout the game blending with alpha coverage and geometry regularly it is very free of artefacts. The errors are handled here with Depth of Field being applied before the Motion blur which is also aided by the reprojection used elsewhere in the pipeline. A true gem and demonstration of the newer and more experimental AA techniques I spoke about last year that are and will emerge in other engines.





Hell on earth

All this would mean little if we have a game that was not pushing the GPU as hard to fill those pixels as it is to clean them up, even more so. As this is possibly the best hell has and will ever look and the engine serves up far more than just horrific creatures. Post effects are not spared here with Bokeh Depth of field with a low F-stop, Chromatic Aberration, volumetric lighting & smoke are just some of the delights the game and engine offers up. From its strong use of colour that gives us blood reds and oranges, dark electric blues, pale stone using HDR lighting across the stages. Although the game does have some brighter sections it is quite dark throughout, not surprising given its hell bent intent. But it never looks anything but gorgeous as steam billows through vents, light steams through fans and the burning glow of lava lights your next battle ahead it all is lit like a high budget action movie that I kept expecting the terminator to arrive as my next boss battle.

Animation like polygon levels are very high, smooth movement comes form your reloads, upgrade installs and melee smashing attacks. Each enemy had a set movement and signature look that sets them apart from each other. Skull face crew, flaming headed demons to huge brutes and other more iconic and recognisable cast all make your journey harder and more fraught as you progress. Well created and shaded like all objects in the world it uses a physical light model that gives all objects from metals, lava, stone, sand and skin (of which you will see both inside and out) a far more pleasing and accurate display. These are grounded more with the games lighting model and DoF giving some scenes and sections and almost model type look to them with many dynamic lights and shadows cast from multiple sources including explosions. Ambient shadows are also well implemented allowing each area and object to look grounded. Certain areas of sacrifices can be noticed with areas of baked shadows along with not as many shadow casting lights as light sources but for a game doing this much as this rate it is a worthy trade, even dynamic shadows are of a great quality considering all of the other features the game has.

GPU accelerated particles bolster its arsenal looking more like an 80's pop video that colide with all objects and burn out as they arc from lights, panels and such. The system is also used in the world explosions from shrapnel from explosions or giblets from destroyed enemies they have along life and with other alpha effects like blood, smoke and fire all help to swamp the screen and improve the sky high presentation and impact. Explosions add not only alpha effects, particles but a distortion on the screen which bends the background used again for heat haze.

Sound is again a competent display using a modern mix of the Doom theme by Mick Gordon with a techno/metal mix rather than the pure Metal format of yesteryear. It works well not overpowering the game just fading in and out of action sequences, becoming more apparent when you reach a boss battle or end of level section.

Voice acting is kept to minimum as you are speechless and emotionless bar rage throughout but the voice guiding is suitably gruff with a hint of Crysis. Enemies screech or howl with anguish and pain as you destroy them, weapons can vary though, Shotgun and rockets are more satisfying than the plasma gun which is is quite weak. But it never lets the game down and even though it does not impress to the levels elsewhere in the game it is never anything but a well used throughout bar some weaker weapons.




Conclusion

With all of this being identical on both formats aside the level of resolution meaning that Sony or Microsoft you get the same striking palette, post effects and action that for every pixel on screen you get to revel in the IDtech 6 glory with a carbon copy experience for all, such an horrific beauty.

The only thing really splitting them is the resolution and performance and of the 2 the frame-rate is the one that will be noticed most, as the IQ is so high on both machines it is never and issue. If you have the choice of the 2 machines the PS4 does offer up the more solid performing of the 2 and would be my recommended choice but it in no way diminishes the enjoyment, wow factor and fun of the XboxOne release and in isolation it would never become an issues at all.

It may play and feel like an old skool shooter within its core design, fast and enjoyable action but it looks anything but a modern state of the art engine and mighty impressive in play. Helped by a decent choice of control, game and visual options you can tailor play to your liking and whatever you choose it will be a bloodbath on either format.

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