Welcome to the 31st Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3 showdown, where the latest crop of multi-platform HD releases are meticulously dissected and subjected to the kind of technical abuse that only Digital Foundry can mete out.
As per usual, our notes and opinions are presented alongside an exhaustive range of comparison assets, from screenshot galleries through to head-to-head videos and frame-rate measurement movies.
But it's the games that are the stars of the show here, and we're featuring a quintet of fine releases to pore over – covering off the latest shooting, fighting and sports releases.
Next up, the one you've all been waiting for: L.A. Noire. We'll be running an exhaustive piece on this one early next week.
Many thanks to David Bierton and Alex Goh for their invaluable contributions to this article.
|Xbox 360||PlayStation 3|
|Surround Support||Dolby Digital||Dolby Digital, 5.1LPCM. 7.1LPCM, DTS|
2003's Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory may well be a gaming relic from the last generation of gaming, but it's classic release we will always hold a great deal of affection for. The brilliance of ET's team-based multiplayer gameplay undoubtedly lives on in Brink, Splash Damage's latest online-orientated shooter.
Brink retains much of the original Enemy Territory DNA, which in turns owes much to the stupendously popular Counter-Strike. There's the same campaign structure where missions are split into individual objectives which call upon engineers, operatives, soldiers and medics to work together as a team in overcoming the opposition. At the same time Splash Damage has significantly expanded the range of objectives and secondary side-missions, and of course introduced a very powerful character creation element that manages to one-up a market crammed full of shooters where customisation elements are now the norm.
On top of these innovations, Splash also seeks to redefine the nature of the player's relationship with the environments thanks to the SMART parkour system. This should be applauded for implementing a different kind of interaction with the levels that doesn't simply rely on exploding them into their component pieces.
Overall, the idea is to create a multiplayer experience where the same campaigns change and develop as your character, your team-mates and your opposition evolve, with the door left wide-open for the game to expand further in new directions via DLC.
The question is, in what is clearly the most fiercely competitive and technologically ambitious area of the games market, how well can Brink compete? In addition to that, as this is Splash Damage's first triple-format release, has the team handed in an equivalent experience on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3? Bearing in mind that this is the developer's first PS3 release, the answers are quite surprising.
In terms of image quality there's little doubt that the PS3 version of Brink offers a significantly improved experience over the Xbox 360 release. The game operates at native 720p on the Sony console, whereas the 360 version appears to be running at a reduced 1120x720 - so that's an additional 14 per cent of resolution for PS3 owners. This directly translates into a brighter, cleaner experience on the Sony console, giving it an immediate, tangible advantage. (Correction: Brink 360 resolution is 1120x720, not 1024x720)
Brink operates with no anti-aliasing on PS3 and what seems to be a post-process edge filter on Xbox 360, perhaps related to FXAA. Unfortunately, the game is awash with edge-jaggies which are ugly on PlayStation 3, but look significantly worse on Xbox 360 owing to the upscaling effect. Compounding the effect is the way in which motion blur is implemented. It's most easily noticeable on the initial flybys in the Challenge levels, where you can almost see the blur being turned on and off according to velocity.
The effect can serve to emphasis the visual impact of the jaggies on both systems. However, with Xbox 360, the already upscaled aliasing seems to get accentuated still further with this motion blur effect. At times it feels that the game is actually dynamically switching from a relatively low resolution to an even lower one. (Updated: Xbox 360 post-process filtering information and screenshots added)
It's also the case that there a number of graphical issues and bugs which affect both versions of the game, but seem to be significantly more impactful on the Xbox 360. Sometimes just standing produces shifting jaggies and textures where detail seems to fluctuate. However, far more important is the amount of texture pop-up; as you can see in the head-to-head movie, when you move into a new environment, the artwork literally builds up in front of your eyes in a process that can take several seconds to complete.
In the original launch version of the game, the effect was very poor (especially on Xbox 360), but this has improved with the various patches that have been unleashed since Brink first shipped. However, it's still not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, and undoubtedly contributes still further to a sense that Brink lacks a certain degree of graphical polish.