A first generation game on Xbox 360, Avalanche Studios' 2006 vintage Just Cause exhibited impressive open world technology let down by somewhat repetitive gameplay. Fast forward three-and-a-half years and the sequel is with us, improved in all areas, bursting with "content" and simply joyous to play. On top of that, it's no longer console exclusive on Xbox 360. There's a PlayStation 3 rendition too, complete with its own unique features.
In the rush before GDC we had just enough time to take a quick look at the Xbox 360 and PS3 demos, but a longer, deeper look at the full retail versions of both games reveals a range of differences between the two versions, which we'll examine in greater depth in this piece. Lest we forget, there's also a PC version too, with Avalanche keen to show that they're taking the platform seriously with an implementation of the new Just Cause engine that scales impressively to accommodate base-level gaming rigs all the way up to i7-powered multi-GPU monstrosities.
First things first: it's time to wheel out the usual range of comparison assets. That would be a very nice triple-format comparison gallery (with PC version on max settings, naturally), along with a series of head-to-head vids. Here's the first, featuring Xbox 360 up against the PlayStation 3. Note that there may be small lighting and cloud-cover variations owing to the time-of-day system the game employs.
These comparison videos along rarely throw up much in the way of easily noticeable differences, but right away here you can see that the Xbox 360 version of the game tears while the PS3 rendition doesn't. However, its frame-rate is clearly lower in some cases. And what's with that missing TV in one of the cut-scenes? A very minor bug I assume.
Other more easily apparent differences come down to installation and loading. Just Cause 2 on PS3 has a mandatory 1.1GB hard disk install, while the optional NXE install on Xbox 360 weighs in at a reasonably lightweight 4.1GB. By way of comparison, a full-on Steam install on PC is a similarly slight 4.8GB. Loading times on PS3 are clearly faster than the standard 360 game (not that loading itself is much of an issue per se), with the NXE install more than evening the odds.
There appears to be little in the way of improvement in terms of pop-in should you install the game though. Avalanche's streaming system works pretty well on both consoles and the only time it seems to make any kind of impact is in the cut-scenes where dramatic camera angles and quick-cuts can see some draw-in. In these situations, the standard 360 version appears swifter, but perhaps not surprisingly the PC version blitzes both. It's an interesting comparison, but not hugely relevant to the gameplay where the strength of the engine is in maintaining a coherent game world with huge draw distances: something it achieves with distinction on all versions.
Performance then, and time to update some of the observations from our quick look at the demo. Not much has changed about our thoughts on the Xbox 360 version of the game. It still looks very much like it's a standard double-buffered set-up, capped at 30FPS throughout, with tearing being introduced when frame-rate dips. In the demo piece we said that the frame-rate on the PlayStation 3 version of Just Cause 2 is unlocked. Now we're not quite so sure as the performance is almost always very close to 30FPS, just with the odd "bonus" frame or two increasing the average - almost as if some kind of custom frame-buffering system were in use.
Here's the analysis on a range of clips taken from the same areas within the game. Xbox 360 runs smoother but can tear noticeably and distractingly, whereas PS3 has more performance issues but absolutely no noticeable tearing whatsoever.
It's interesting to note that the PS3 version does lose frames badly during the cut-scenes. Quite why the performance is so low is a bit of a mystery - perhaps it's down to some kind of lighting effect or skin shader that proves to be particularly onerous for the RSX to handle? It is important to point out that the performance differential in the cut-scenes is in no way representative of the gameplay experience, and that's fairly obvious bearing in mind the rest of the clips.
There's also something rather strange about the PS3 renderer for Just Cause 2 that we can't quite get our heads around which does have an impact on overall image quality. The Xbox 360 version has a camera-based motion blur effect engaged by default, and similar to the PC rendition it can be disabled in the options menu. On PS3 there is no such option, suggesting no motion blur, but there is a strange artifact instead that does seem to be tied into motion.