Mass Effect 2 demo: PS3 vs. Xbox 360 • Page 2

Is the PS3 game really the "definitive" edition?

In addition to that particular shader effect, Jacob's initial biotic effect showcase also appears to be rendered using a lower-precision effect than the Xbox 360 version of the game. The very, very subtle motion blur that kicks in when Shepard is running also appears to be absent on PS3 (it's difficult to pick up on 360, but pretty obvious on the PC version).

None of these changes are much of a big deal in the greater scheme of things, but it illustrates the original point we made that Mass Effect 2 is more different than definitive, something we'll come back to a bit later.

The performance profile has undoubtedly changed though - significantly. Similar to Halo: Reach, Mass Effect 2 on Xbox 360 can tear a little at the very top of the screen in stressful scenes, but otherwise it operates just like a double-buffered, v-synced game. A consistent sub-30FPS frame-rate therefore manifests as a locked 20FPS. There are many instances in the game of that drop down to the lower frame-rate, especially in the cut-scenes.

The PS3 game is completely different. Like most games on Unreal Engine 3, when it slips below 30FPS, v-sync is turned off completely and noticeable tearing kicks in. Also, rather oddly, the frame-rate appears to be completely unlocked. To get a better idea of what we're talking about, here's a performance analysis covering off a range of different scenes from the intro of the game.

Performance analysis from both versions of Mass Effect 2 demonstrate the significant differences in the way the two games are rendered, with v-sync dropped on PlayStation 3 but a higher FPS throughput overall. An uncapped frame-rate produces some unexpected spikes in the graphs.

So there's good news and bad news here for the new PS3 version. On the plus side, a great many of the drops to 20FPS in the cut-scenes appear to have been ironed out, running nicely at the default 30FPS. The minus side is that the tearing is much more apparent in the new game - both in-game and in the cut-scenes.

Also somewhat bizarre is the implementation of the unlocked frame-rate. It kicks in occasionally during the cut-scenes but mostly manifests in sparse areas or when you're close to doors. It doesn't appear to serve any real purpose, and on the odd occasion where you get some "bonus" frames, it only really seems to add a level of jitter to the visuals that we'd prefer to be without.

Alongside the performance, probably the biggest change is in the whole lighting of each and every scene. It's going to come down to personal taste in most cases, but for us there seems to be some level of bewilderment about why this has actually been done. In some areas we're puzzling about where the primary lightsource is, and what it is, that causes the lighting and shadowing effects shown. In other cases, such as in this shot with Miranda, a perfectly well-rendered scene appears to have been diminished with the rejigged lighting.

Mass Effect 2 is remarkable in how good its characters look and how they sit within the environments: we're really not sure what BioWare is up to here with these changes. Perhaps it's the case that the existing lighting setup just didn't fit in nicely with the new engine, and that the changes were forced upon the developer? Thinking about it rationally, there's nothing wrong at all with the lighting in the original game, and having to adjust it so significantly would have involved a great deal of development time - so we must assume that the change was brought about due to the differences in technology.

Something which is rather strange in the sampler code is that the PS3 version appears to have issues streaming the FMV sequences, dropping frames and even tearing. Based on what we're seeing in the demo, these low-quality, macroblocking scenes do not appear to have been improved over the Xbox 360 version (where at least they streamed OK) and we would hope for a better showing in the final Blu-ray based game.

Regardless of the changes, improvements and minor graphical differences, PS3 gamers should be genuinely excited about this game. After all, it's Mass Effect 2, one of the most beautifully realised action-adventures ever made and a hot candidate for Game of the Year 2010. The demo proves conclusively that the magic is still there, that the game hasn't aged a jot since it's original release and the fact that the Mass Effect trilogy will now be seen out on both major HD consoles is simply brilliant news.

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