Measuring frame-rate on a console game can be a tricky business. Unlike their PC counterparts, 360 and PS3 games don't come with benchmarking tools built in - on machines with fixed hardware components, there's little point including them. However, having access to the complete digital output of the consoles allows us to literally count digitally identical (i.e. dropped) frames using the Digital Foundry frame analyser. In captures of general action, the results are untrustworthy because no two gameplay sessions are the same, meaning that you aren't comparing like with like. Multiple run-throughs of the same area on both consoles can give you a ballpark comparison though and in this respect Xbox 360 is consistently shown to be the smoother game.
In terms of a more precise comparison, World at War has a number of engine-generated, scripted cut-scenes. In short, both consoles are rendering virtually identical scenes - perfect for analysis and comparison. Making sure that the beginning and the end of the captures are trimmed to be frame-accurate, we see a repeat of the results found in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Both games drop from 60fps, but in all cases (bar the pared down forest scene we talked about earlier), the PS3 game drops harder and more noticeably.
We see the same 10 per cent to 20 per cent variance in refresh rate between the two systems as found in COD4, always in favour of Xbox 360, but more than that, and this time the 'perceptual' 60fps barrier is being challenged far more often. For PS3, already running at a slower frame-rate in busy periods, drops in frame-rate are more obvious. The engine is really being pushed to its limits here, and in really intense gameplay, the 360 has a tangible advantage - smoother and more responsive. Does the difference affect the PS3 gameplay experience? It depends on how sensitive you are to frame-rate, but it's certainly not game-breaking - just mildly annoying if you've played the Xbox 360 game.
There'll be a complete breakdown of the tests used on the Digital Foundry blog in the next day or so, along with 720p, 60FPS HD downloads of the videos in this article.
War is Hell... on PC
In these special bonus round features, I like to include the PC versions where available. With access to far more VRAM, system memory, superior graphics hardware and a CPU more suited to gaming, in theory, the PC version running at the same resolution should be consistently smoother, with massively enhanced visuals: higher-quality textures, better lighting, superior anti-aliasing, improved shadows, more advanced shaders - you name it. We can safely assume that the master assets are in the PC game, with the console versions being cut-down versions of what computer owners with the right hardware can enjoy.
Head to Eurogamer TV for the equivalent PS3 vs. PC edit.
Our 'everyman' PC was once again wheeled out for the occasion: Q6600 quad core CPU, NVIDIA 8800GT, 2GB RAM, 80GB hard disk and Windows XP Pro SP 3. It ran Fallout 3 very nicely in our last triple-format face-off. It plays Devil May Cry 4 at 1080p and 60fps. It even plays Crysis very nicely indeed at 720p. But tweaking performance with Call of Duty: World at War to ensure a smooth frame-rate was a nightmare.
Default settings based on the game scanning the hardware were hardly impressive: lots of lovely effects, but an abysmal refresh rate. The graphics control panel offers up plenty of tweakables, including the ability to run the game at set frame-rates including 24, 30, 50 or 60Hz. A nice idea, but the COD experience is 60fps; anything less just isn't the same. Plenty of other selectables are on offer for turning though: texture quality, various lighting settings - the whole nine yards - it's all tweakable but I found that turning off 'dynamic foliage' gave the greatest speed increase. Dropping down texture quality from 'Extra' to 'High' also helped.
Even then, the frame-rate was still inconsistent, and in this case mouse and keyboard actually works to the game's detriment. Dropped frames while you're wildly flicking the mouse means you lose perception of how much you have actually moved. The choice appears to be to further hobble the graphics or suffer the inconsistent frame-rate. What's most annoying is just how variable performance is. Are we expected to tweak our graphics settings on each new level? It's a mess.
Combine this with an unacceptable array of pop-up and you have to conclude that while the PC version of World at War is still the 'master edition', it's only worthwhile if you're running truly powerful graphics hardware: 720p is hardly a taxing resolution and the notion that an 8800GT can't really handle it is difficult to believe. Bearing in mind that Crysis seems to run better on the same PC, I can only imagine that Activision and Treyarch followed the money here, concentrating optimisation work on the console versions, leaving PC owners with what we have here - a rather unimpressive game.
As a postscript, I should also add that there are no equivalents to the Trophies/Achievements and there's no support either for the Xbox 360 controller. Some might argue that keyboard and mouse negates the need for joypad support - I say that the PC is swiftly becoming a viable 'console' in itself: an upgradable gaming machine that works great with an HDTV and is pretty much the only real option for proper, consistent 1080p gameplay for the hardcore enthusiast. In such an environment, controller support is essential, and in this respect World at War is another disappointment.
Check our gallery for a static comparison of all three formats.