Need for Speed Technical Analysis

Publisher EA
Developer Ghost Games
Platforms tested PS4 XboxOne
It has been 2 years since we all got our hands on these new, shiny gaming boxes (well if you bought one then or at all mind) and as is always the case driving games and EA form a large part of any launch window.

Visual Fidelity


This was no different with the then Need for Speed Rivals hitting launch and being a decent if not earth moving launch release within the Fast and Furious target window, but it did stand out in other ways, being one of a very small window of games that hit a native 1080 on XboxOne and aside some concessions with Ambient Occlusion, Post effects it was a near identical game on both with its 30fps rate with the Frostbite engine under the hood.

Roll on 2 years and another big winter launch window EA, Ghost and Frostbite all return with Need for Speed and up here is my first contact analysis of the XboxOne release early thanks to the joys of EA’s Vault. But worry not as I will cover the other versions at launch to give you the full low down but here I am going to get in deep with Ghost’s latest chapter and see just what is new in the game and how it runs on the XboxOne…..let’s start our engines…..

The games aim and inspiration is clear with its Fast and Furious style bad boy racing, mean wet streets, Hot cars and even hotter ladies all sitting save within its street racing world. And like other games you can upgrade, tweak and personalise your ride to within an inch of its life. From custom car parts in spoilers, windscreens, rims, body skirts even the colour schemes can be amended directly within the RGB values and material levels to get the precise target you desire and re-live your Vin diesel or Paul Walker aspirations and they will be damn gorgeous when you do.

Even though the game shares the same engine and team this is a real, true step up over its last outing and is in another league. First up is the metrics and this game delivers a fully native 1920x1080 display on the XboxOne with a capped 30fps target framerate which I will cover later in the video. But with the last game looking good but having that feeling that it was an up port from a last gen base, here we see much better see higher quality and range of textures, higher density car models, world scenery with even destruction now implemented far more often across the open world that is available to you from the moment your key hits the ignition.

But the engines "Shift" to a full pipeline implemented physically based approximate lighting model has really allowed the game and teams art design to shine...Sorry these just keep writing themselves. As I talked about in my preview of my hands on with the EGX version I played on the PS4, I felt the demo was paired back with its visual quality for the sake of a solid performance and I was correct in that assumption. The final released code I have the pleasure of analysing here shows drastic improvements from that build and this includes the suspected stochastic screen space effects backed up with an Image Based Lighting model that allows the wet, neon lit streets to reflect car models, brake light, shop windows and all manner of specular from direct light sources. This is accompanied by the engines vast Post Effects portfolio that gives us velocity based Motion blur at a per Object and Camera level, the radial blur delivering that sense of speed almost tunnelled view as you shift through your 12 geared car, sliding and drifting as you go. This can be altered in the menu screen to have a selection of 3rd person views with one having the drift camera off. This is simply a more dramatic camera angle that pulls in and shows off your amazing skill and speed.

Chromatic aberration is also calculated within its buffer pass just adding to its neon filled city streets look that also includes great use of Bloom and lens flare that is enabled through its complete Linear render range giving the Michael Bay or AJ Abrahams style to its aesthetic. Volumetric lighting as we saw in the Star Wars beta is also wheeled out in anger here, giving us dense fog around street lamps that also highlights its volumetric use within shadows, as you can see here. But the impressive IBL system in conjunction with an impeccable PBR system is really the games and engines highlight in motion.


Performance


It also gives us a great example of how well implemented Per Object motion blur with a variable shutter speed that allows slow and long speeds can be managed to reduce the visible disparity and missing information from a 16ms to a 33ms one. This also does need to have a locked or near as rate though, but this is not the case throughout play. We see the engine suffer most from streaming issues but we also see areas with GPU load that cause the framerate to dip into the mid to low 20's, these are not constant or overly prolonged with most of the game hitting the 30 target well and is not a show stopper. But at times you can feel the game stutter as you enter new areas or as you scream around which hopefully will be patched in the future. This does not distract overly in what is a real eye watering beauty of a game, as it really does border on off-line CGI with its very well chosen setting with dark and much more prominent colour schemes allowing the art style to impress and along with its core Post Effects it really delivers right on its target and you can just spend time admiring the game in motion.


Sadly the confusion zone Depth of Field that we saw in earlier demo's is lost here and instead replaced with a much simpler Gaussian filter blur which is a shame. The engine is very impressive and versatile supporting a wealth of modern graphical features, hardware and genre’s from 1st person/3rd person shooters, RPG adventures and out and out open racers it scales incredibly well and is well optimised by Ghost here and by Dice as seen in Battlefront but its core impressive display is never reduced. Some of this here is that much longer frame time has allowed the team a much bigger budget with which to deliver the goods and allow the world to be far more dynamic. Also it’s intelligent use of frustum culled effects and Voxelisation is not only solid and damn right eye watering sumptuous at times but also the kind of tricks and more efficient methods we see and will see as this and other generation continue. This calculates the depth of an effect and visibility within 3d cubes effectively allowing a shorter ray march on source/direction and occlusion amongst other areas to deliver the kind of effects we see here, but I will cover more in my Head 2 Head.


Summary


As it stands Need for Speed is a game that has that instant wow factor visually, allowing you to jump in and enjoy its easy, forgiving control system (this is no simulation). Along with its other engine highlights that mixes real footage with overlaid Real-Time models which can sometimes work ever so slightly better than others but overall the effect is seamless allowing your own hand tailored, long time crafted ride to take centre stage in the games very well acted and delivered story sequenced. Which only helps immerse you more and this simple but effective trick is very well done and unlike much older games that used it showing how old this technique is from classics like Night Trap, Sewer Trap or even more recently with AR games on Vita 3DS or the EyeToy 2.0 demos that come with the PS4 camera. The games PBR system and HDR model allows them to achieve near identical Gamma corrected lighting from the games assets to match the levels in the video sequences, throw in decent ambient contact shadows in conjunction with the sequences very slow movement means the effects are extremely convincing and the fact they are not human just allows them to fool us even easier. These base rules are how todays movie effects work so well, transformers is a great example of this in action. And it is simply another high point from an already very impressive improvement from Ghost games that allows the player this entire playground to drive, race and explore during twilight and sunrise which although it could reduce the longevity of its draw and impact it does highlight the games in the best possible light most of the time in the darkest ironically and is yet again another great example of just how important lighting is within a games impact.