3D support via Darkworks' TriOviz has been integrated into the Unreal Engine 3 for a while now, so it's no surprise to see it showcased here in Arkham City - especially when you bear in mind that the Game of the Year edition of Arkham Asylum was the first game to implement the stereoscopic middleware. The key advantage with TriOviz is that there is very little in the way of a performance hit.
The reason for this is simple: TriOviz uses depth buffer information in order to extrapolate information for both the left and right eyes, while the engine itself only ever renders one complete viewpoint's worth of geometry and other assets. As such, we see a massive saving on resources compared to rendering unique views for each eye. In short, it's not true stereoscopy as such, but utilised properly it's a good alternative. Curiously, frame-rate appears to be unlocked on both consoles, so while the overall experience is very similar to the 2D version, there is a lot more tearing. Curiously, because of the low contrast in the art and the fact that the tearing moves from one eye to another at 16ms intervals, it isn't quite so obvious and indeed, it often looks as though the game is actually running smoother than it is in the normal 2D mode - though this comes at the expense of consistency.
In terms of the framebuffer make-up, we see something extraordinary here: while having a full resolution 720p per eye output is expected for the PS3, we were surprised to see exactly the same set-up on 360 as well - something we did not expect to see implemented until the November dashboard update. Arkham City requires a firmware update upon booting, and while the dash is the same one we've had for the past year, it looks as though the new upgrade adds in the stereoscopic 3D support we've been waiting for.
Despite seeing a full-res 720p output on both systems, the reprojection system does seem to add a very noticeable blur that seems to be more of an issue on Xbox 360. We also see that LODs are slightly impacted upon: transitions between textures occurs closer to the player than in 2D in some instances, while there are also times when this never happens, and higher quality art is never loaded at all. The 3D effect itself works quite well, though not up to the standard as with 'true' 3D titles, such as Killzone or Resistance 3.
This isn't surprising bearing in mind that we're getting re-projected views, rather than a true discrete image for each eye. For those without 3DTVs, TriOviz still supports the paper glasses given away with the GOTY version of Batman: Arkham Asylum, but we were never particularly impressed with this implementation of the tech.
Usually, we'd take a look at the PC version of Arkham City to offer up a fully featured triple-format analysis, but unfortunately, the computer version is still nearly a month away from release. However, in the here and now, the FMV cut-scenes potentially give us a pretty good idea of what may be heading our way. Clearly rendered using in-game assets, we see that higher quality shader effects are in evidence and characters appear to have more underlying geometry detail, backed up with improved use of normal mapping.
The appearance of jaggies in these videos suggest that these were captured in real-time, either from the PC version or directly from the Unreal Engine 3 editor - but if this is a hint of what's to come from the PC version, it should be well worth waiting for, as it looks stunning. The promise of PhysX enhancements along the lines of those we enjoyed in Arkham Asylum should also make a significant difference to the overall look of the game.
Of course, in the here and now, only the console versions are available to buy. The good news is that both Xbox 360 and PlayStation games come highly recommended, and the graphical differences have no meaningful impact on either the overall look of the game or the gameplay. The frame-rate drops, although more noticeable on the PS3 aren't exactly a big deal and the additional tearing we see on the Sony platform didn't affect our enjoyment of the game. Rocksteady has done a fantastic job at delivering a solid cross-platform title; one which combines some impressive visuals with stellar gameplay, a great story and more.
Dubbed by some as the Dark Knight of Batman video games, it's an accolade we would endorse 100 per cent: the game is simply outstanding. Rocksteady hasn't just repeated the same ideas and challenges of the last game, but has expanded upon them significantly while carefully adding in new features which complement the solid foundations already in place.
There's no shortage of content either: every single copy of the game comes with a free downloadable code that extends the story arc to include playable Catwoman segments into the main campaign. You also get a set of Robin challenge maps providing yet another playable character, and to top it all off, some UK outlets such as supermarket Tesco are offering exclusive Joker missions too. It's not exactly a consumer-friendly state of affairs, and going forward we hope that we won't have to extend our coverage to include retailer Face-Offs too...