The next test I was itching to try out concerned games where frame-rate isn't capped to 60FPS or 30FPS. Two tests here - first of all Techland's screen-tear festival, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, and along with that, BioShock on Xbox 360. This game is interesting in that by default the game is capped at 30FPS, but you can disable v-sync and let the Unreal Engine pump out as many frames as it possibly can regardless of image quality. This results is even more noticeable tearing than Juarez, but the result is a frame-rate boost that sometimes exceeds 50FPS.
So, while Juarez hovers around the 40FPS area, there's still the same 100ms of lag as Halo 3, despite an effective 25 per cent boost in frame-rate. However, BioShock is something of a revelation. The standard 133ms in frame-locked mode, but with v-sync disabled, occasionally we reach the same response rate as a 60FPS shooter like Call of Duty 4: 67ms.
And speaking of which, let's complete our tests with where it all began: Infinity Ward's last COD game, along with its Treyarch-originated sibling, World at War. Here we see controller response vary between the expected four frames (67ms) all the way up to 100ms in certain sections of World at War.
Here's a final list of all the games I tested for this feature. Not all made it into the videos, so this handy table represents all of my findings. Probably the biggest surprise after GTA was the amount of lag built into LEGO Batman - 133ms on a 60FPS game. What is important to note is that these findings are very context-sensitive. Yes, COD4 appears to be more responsive than World at War, but in different selections of levels per game you could easily reverse that. In this respect, these results do have an element of randomness about them, though it is no secret that for the most scenarios, COD4 does outperform its pseudo-sequel.
|BioShock (unlocked)||as low as 67ms|
|Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare||67ms-84ms|
|Call of Duty: World at War||67ms-100ms|
|Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood||100ms|
|Forza Motorsport 2||67ms|
|Geometry Wars 2||67ms|
|Guitar Hero: Aerosmith||67ms|
|Grand Theft Auto IV||133ms-200ms|
|Left 4 Dead||100ms-133ms|
|Street Fighter IV||67ms|
|Soul Calibur IV||67ms-84ms|
|Unreal Tournament 3||100ms-133ms|
|X-Men Origins: Wolverine||133ms|
In-game latency, or the level of response in our controls, is one of the most crucial elements in game-making, not just in the here and now, but for the future too. It's fair to say that players today have become conditioned to what the truly hardcore PC gamers would consider to be almost unacceptably high levels of latency to the point where cloud gaming services such as OnLive and Gaikai rely heavily upon it.
The average videogame runs at 30FPS, and appears to have an average lag in the region of 133ms. On top of that is additional delay from the display itself, bringing the overall latency to around 166ms. Assuming that the most ultra-PC gaming set-up has a latency less than one third of that, this is good news for cloud gaming in that there's a good 80ms or so window for game video to be transmitted from client to server.
But in the meantime, while overall "pings" between console and gamer remain rather high, the bottom line seems to be that players are now used to it, to the point where developers - like Infinity Ward - centred on getting the very lowest possible latencies are using that to give their games an edge over the competition. Call of Duty's ultra-crisp response is one of the key reasons why it's a cut above its rivals, and it's a core part of a gameplay package that will once again top the charts this Christmas.