The game's response was put to the test using our Benjamin J Heckendorn latency monitoring equipment, as used in our original Xbox 360 game lag feature and latterly in our PS3 spin-off. Ben's equipment, used by Infinity Ward, BioWare and many other developers, splits off the controller inputs to light up LEDs on a board you place up next to your monitor. From there a 60FPS camera is used to literally count frames from the time the LED lights, to action occurring on-screen. From there you deduct the latency of your display to give the actual input lag - I've already calibrated my Dell screen and know that adds an additional three frames of lag (!) so this is what was used to ensure accurate measurements. The only error that can creep in comes from the camera capturing the frame while the next one is being drawn, but at worst this should only introduce a variance of one frame and that can be minimised by repeating the tests in the same conditions and settling on a single result.
By using the mission select, we chose two levels: one operating at a locked 30FPS, the other wavering beneath. This second level, the beginning of Act 1-3, is notable in that the performance level is at 28FPS on 360 (albeit with tearing) while the PS3 game drops down further to a consistent 26FPS.
In the first test with the locked frame-rate, controller response is pegged at either 100ms or 116ms on Xbox 360 - pretty much the standard timing for a 30FPS game, though the fluctuation between the two timings is rather strange. The same test mirrored on PS3 shows a locked 133ms response, which might be expected if the game is triple-buffered compared to the double-buffered 360 game. However, in the second test - where frame-rate is compromised on both systems - something very odd happens. The 360 retains its response rate, but PS3 actually appears to be faster, clocking in at between 100ms and 116ms (the second test could really go either way). Perhaps this inconsistency might explain our initial thoughts in the demo analysis.
It is often the case that lower frame-rates lead to less responsive controls, but Vanquish appears to the exception to the rule. In other testing, we got the 360 version down to a sustained 22FPS at one point and still managed a 133ms response. This suggests that controller input is polled independently, de-coupled from the renderer. Several games do this, Forza 3 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for example. But equally, many do not - hence a significant variation in controller response in titles like Resident Evil 5 on PS3 where we measured response at anything from 100ms upwards. Platinum clearly worked hard on making sure that input lag wasn't unduly affected by the rather variable performance of the rendering engine.
We'd expect something like this sort of performance on the 360 with its lack of v-sync: when you're effectively dumping the framebuffer on-screen in an incomplete state you're getting at least part of the picture that shows a new frame, hence response will feel faster. However, despite maintaining v-sync the PS3 version keeps within spitting distance of the 360 version, but the inconsistency is a bit strange.
Another curiosity is the quality of the video elements in the game - Vanquish has a range of cinematics encoded using the CriWare codec that's often used by SEGA (Virtua Fighter 5, for example, has 720p60 FMVs using this system). Bearing in mind that Vanquish is basically identical cross-platform, the difference in the amount of space used on the disc is quite remarkable. There's a strong possibility that the videos were re-encoded for the PS3 version, and there is the sense that the image quality isn't quite as grainy. By capturing the exact same frames we can see that the grain level is different, supporting the theory of different encodes per console, but on the flipside the overall image quality isn't as better as we would have hoped assuming that several gigs of additional data have been allocated to the videos.
In the final analysis, it's fair to say that these two titles are very, very close. Both are outstanding releases and are well worth buying regardless of which console you might happen to own. I played the game to completion on Xbox 360 and will almost certainly finish the fight on PS3 too - it's one of the few games I've covered where the repeat play has been absolutely joyous, feeling new and exciting on the second playthrough, as opposed to simply retreading the same gameplay I'd already worked through once. The enjoyment of this title evolves as your skill level increases, and that's why you'll keep coming back - even if the amount of campaign levels is a bit limited.
Platinum Games says that it developed on PS3 first and foremost, but it's testament to the developer's skill that v-sync is the only real differentiating factor between the lead platform and the 360 conversion, and there's still a sense that controller response may well be the tiniest bit crisper on the Microsoft console. If you own both machines and are wondering which to buy, it's a tough one to call overall but in my view, the v-sync implementation has to give the PS3 version the edge.
If there's one regret about this game it comes down to the lack of a PC version. While there's no doubting the quality of what we have on console, both sets of performance analysis prove pretty conclusively that the advanced rendering techniques Platinum employs can really tax the architecture of both platforms. At times, frame-rate can be an issue. A PC port with the opportunity for a sustained 1080p60 really would be something very, very special...