Face-Off: Fallout: New Vegas

The epic adventure analysed on PS3, 360 and PC.

Xbox 360 PlayStation 3
Disc Size 4.8GB 9.75GB
Install 4.8GB (optional) 4570MB (mandatory)
Surround Support Dolby Digital Dolby Digital, 5.1LPCM,7.1LPCM

As the HD console generation has matured, gamers have been spoiled by developers looking to push the hardware in new and exciting directions, using the experience they have gained to make games that look better and play better.

Bethesda will know exactly what we're talking about. The engine that powered The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was substantially upgraded before it resurfaced in Fallout 3, Oblivion 360's paltry 1024x600 resolution upped to native 720p, anti-aliasing doubled from 2x to 4x MSAA, with overall performance improving too.

It's somewhat remarkable therefore that Fallout: New Vegas has seen no technological improvements over its predecessor whatsoever. It's the exact same engine seen in Fallout 3 and over and above the many reported bugs, it's a real shame that the game looks and feels so old. Performance could and should have been better for a sequel of this quality, graphical disparities and limitations should have been sorted out - but weren't, and performance issues that PC gamers have had since the Oblivion days still remain unresolved.

Thankfully, in a title like this, content is undoubtedly king, and Bethesda/Obsidian have handed in a truly remarkable game. From a technical perspective, the question is whether there's really anything we can add to original Fallout 3 Face-Off. Let's begin with the base assets: a triple-format comparison gallery, along with a series of head-to-head movies, kicking off with the HD console comparison.

Console comparison of Fallout: New Vegas. Use the full-screen button for full resolution or click on the EGTV link for a larger window.

In terms of the make-up of the basic framebuffer, nothing has changed from the launch of Fallout 3 two years ago. Both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions operate at native 720p, the difference being in the implementation of anti-aliasing. The Microsoft platform enjoys the very best hardware AA solution the Xenos GPU has to offer, with full on 4x MSAA being implemented. The PlayStation 3 game suffers in comparison, with absolutely no AA being implemented at all.

Performance-wise, the game is something of a mixed bag. There's little doubt that generally speaking the Xbox 360 version is the smoother experience, but it has a number of blackspots where frame-rate dives and it can be prone to screen-tear. There's also an argument that the experience is smoother compared to the PS3 game not so much because of the rendering, but because of the background streaming.

All three versions of Fallout: New Vegas are prone to slowdown and stuttering as background data is spooled in (even the PC game, running from an extremely swift Samsung F1 hard drive, is affected) but unfortunately it's the PS3 game that is most obviously impacted, sometimes with two or three second pauses where the action completely locks up as the engine seeks to spool in more data.

This is somewhat bizarre bearing in mind that Fallout: New Vegas dumps a whopping great 4.5GB of game assets onto the hard drive via its mandatory install - presumably to cut down on access times - yet it is the 360 version that is clearly well ahead in this regard, even when running from DVD.

So let's take a look at the game running in order to get a handle on what's gonig on here. There are two movies to take a look at, each illustrating a different element of performance. In the first we're trying to get to the bottom of the streaming issues in the game. The first major landscape traversal sees you leaving the opening area of Goodsprings and travelling cross-country to the near convict-occupied town of Primm. It's a simple enough route - you just follow the highway. Here we cover the first leg of the journey before your character is ambushed by bandits.

This performance test concentrates on the impact background streaming has on the fluidity of gameplay as you journey between Goodsprings and Primm.

To begin with, all looks fairly level, but by around 15 seconds into the video you can already start to see momentary pauses in the PlayStation 3 version as more data is loaded in. In comparison, the 360 copes that much better, with just the odd torn frame to signify that something is going on in the background.

However, at around the two-minute mark (where the video thumbnail is taken), we see a pause of a couple of seconds on PS3 and the arrival of a mammoth amount of torn frames on the Xbox 360. It seems to be the case that the introduction of a couple of opponents to square off against impacts gameplay performance substantially. It strongly suggests a pretty woeful internal asset management system.

A selection of gameplay analyses, including more landscapes and combat in Boulder City.

Taken as a whole, the Xbox 360 version of Fallout 3 is the better performer, but neither game acquits itself with much aplomb. On landscape traversal in particular - a big part of the Fallout experience - the 360 version maintains 30FPS on a much more consistent basis, though it's clear there are still elements here that can cause glitching and stuttering.

The fact that the 360 game drops v-sync when frame-rate dips below this target is an issue, but the impact of the screen-tear varies. As the game is pretty slow-paced and the difference between one frame and the next is rarely that different, the tearing is often unnoticeable. There are areas where it is an issue (Freeside in particular springs to mind), but across the run of play the combination of smoother frame-rate and faster streaming leaves the PS3 version looking rather jerky in comparison.

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