It's also good to see Epic and People Can Fly recognising that PC players run their games at much higher resolutions than the standard console 720p, including much higher quality artwork in the PC version to allow the game to scale up more pleasantly to 1080p and beyond. Bulletstorm is a really good-looking release on console, but it's safe to say that the visual upgrade on PC can often make a huge difference. NVIDIA 3D Vision support is also included to boot, although the latest driver to provide the optimum experience wasn't yet available when we put this piece together.
Bulletstorm not only looks better on PC, but the gameplay feels so much more enjoyable. While it's a colossal amount of fun on the consoles, first impressions of the PC version are best summed up with simply one word: wow. What is immediately clear is that the interface with the player feels much more refined. Of course, this is a PC first-person shooter, so there is an immediate advantage, too: it's difficult to find a game where the traditional mouse and keys combo doesn't significantly outperform the consoles' joypads, and Bulletstorm is no exception.
But it goes deeper than that. Play the PC game with an Xbox 360 joypad and Bulletstorm still feels so much more responsive. If there is one complaint with the game on console, it's that the analogue sticks feel very, very light and there's no real sense of inertia - but there definitely is input latency. Take that same control system onto PC where you can run the game at 60Hz and the feedback you get back from the pad feels simply sublime.
It's something we can readily quantify by studying the latency of the controller on all three platforms in an identical situation. In this case, we're kicking off the desert level in Echoes mode, and firing off the default weapon. The footage is captured and analysed while at the same time a 60FPS camera is recording both the screen and our Ben Heck latency controller monitor board.
As regular Digital Foundry readers will know, the process of measuring input lag is fairly straightforward. The Ben Heck board lights up an LED when a button is pressed, while the 60FPS camera allows us to literally count the frames until the action kicks off on-screen. Factor out the lag from our calibrated Dell monitor and we are left with the input lag measurement. The footage is also captured and analysed to ensure that the game is running in optimum conditions (30FPS on console, 60FPS on PC).
The results speak for themselves.
A measurement of 133ms on console is a touch on the high side, but it does corroborate the feeling that Bulletstorm isn't quite as responsive as you'd want it to be. In stark comparison, the same test on PC gives us a significantly reduced 83ms: not the best response from a v-synced 60Hz game, but still a big improvement.
On joypad, the game simply feels that much better to play because your control inputs translate into action that much more quickly - Bulletstorm becomes a state-of-the-art arcade-style shooter, with something approaching old-skool arcade levels of response. Switch to mouse and keyboard and all the advantages of that control scheme, combined with the lower latency, adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of the gameplay.
Epic and People Can Fly really deserve plenty of plaudits for the care and attention that has gone into the PC version of Bulletstorm. While it is a title that has clearly been designed to appeal primarily to console gamers, the execution on PC is nigh-on flawless. A lot of that is down to the core architecture in Unreal Engine 3 simply providing a superior level of visual effects when run on PC, of course. However, the developers have recognised that enthusiast PC players run their games at much higher resolutions than console-standard 720p. Higher resolutions demand higher quality art and People Can Fly has delivered.
In conclusion, the PC version of Bulletstorm is clearly the pick of the bunch by quite a margin, but obviously most of the game's audience will be found on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and for the players out there who own both machines, the 360 game is the one to buy. Better visuals and more consistent performance give it the edge.