One of the most important, and impressive games of the year, Fallout 3's 10/10 Eurogamer score means it deserves intensive Bonus Round cross-platform coverage. There's the usual array of screenshots and videos, combined with an extra dimension of analysis reserved for only the most significant of releases.
At its heart, like Oblivion before it, Bethesda's latest is primarily a PC game, so we thought it only fair to bring this version to the party. Think of it as the ultimate iteration; the game that the console versions aspire to be, and are clearly derived from. Powering the game for the purposes of this feature was a Q6600 quad-core CPU, an NVIDIA 8800GT, 2GB of 800MHz RAM, a fresh install of Windows XP and a bog-standard 80GB hard disk. In short, a relatively inexpensive computer: knock the CPU down to a dual-core and we'd be talking PS3 money. We played at the game's suggested defaults for this level (i.e. 'high' quality) and ramped up the LOD effects on all scenery.
Not surprisingly, Fallout 3 works best on PC. Graphically speaking the game runs - for the most part - at 60fps at 720p on our system, with only the occasional drop in frame-rate. Its fully anti-aliased image, high-quality textures and much shorter load-times are of course welcome, but the game's use of the standard mouse-and-keyboard controls really makes it a pleasure to interface with compared to the console versions.
Navigating through the Pip-Boy is smoother and more intuitive, but it's the combat that benefits most. On the console versions, you're essentially reliant on the VATS auto-targeting system for precision aiming. Not so on PC, where multiple headshots are a doddle using the mouse. This is particularly useful when it comes to finishing off opponents with critical hits to already weakened body parts. On PC, it's a joy to polish off a troublesome foe with just a flourish of the mouse; on console, enemies on their last legs can still pose a deadly threat, especially if you've tapped out the AP points required to power the VATS system.
The most surprising thing about Fallout 3 on console is just how little has been compromised in terms of the actual game content and design. Graphically, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions retain just about everything from the original PC code. Bearing in mind the staggering complexity and overall scale of the maps, combined with the astonishing amounts of detail in the blasted wastelands of Washington DC, this is no mean feat.
So considering the level of achievement that has been attained for both console versions, just how has the PS3 version (and in some places, the 360 game) managed to attract so much negative press? It's an intriguing question, and so we come to the centrepiece of this feature - a three-way video comparison.
Fallout 3 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the action running at 25 per cent speed to retain image clarity. We also have a 360/PC face-off video and one for the equivalent PS3/PC comparison. Please ensure you have the 'High' quality setting selected.
The videos illustrate very well just how close Bethesda have come to achieving cross-platform parity on all three releases in terms of realising this stunning game world. However, running the Xbox 360 version at full-range RGB (as we've done here) lowers the contrast and brightness compared to the other two games. It didn't bother me much particularly, but it did mean activating the Pip-Boy's light in darker environments, whereas you can get by without it most of the time on the other systems. PS3 exhibits the biggest perceptible technical handicap with the omission of any form of anti-aliasing whatsoever.