Certain texture-based lighting effects are totally absent on Xbox 360, making characters and creatures look more flat than on PS3 and PC. Detailing on selected textures looks to have been reduced, and complexity of rocks when viewed close up also reveals a paring down of detail here. In terms of elements that are actually noticeable during gameplay, these differences can also extend to the close-ups with the in-game characters - hair in particular looks nicer on PS3, metallic items look more... metallic. In short, PS3 and PC have an extra sheen of detailing that's missing on Xbox 360. Not massively significant in the greater scheme of things, but it's curious to see how different elements of the base PC code are replicated in different ways, or not at all, on each console.
It's a little known fact that Bethesda farmed out its excellent PS3 Oblivion conversion to an external developer, and you can't help but wonder whether the same thing has happened here. It's almost as though there's two different agendas here - with 360, the aim is to retain the look and feel of the PC version as much as possible, cutting corners where they can get away with it to improve performance. With PS3, the objective seems to be different - to retain everything from the PC game (anti-aliasing aside), no matter what the impact may be on the way the game feels and plays. Different conversions, different compromises, different levels of success.
There's much to commend to the PS3's approach, but the bottom line is that the decisions taken on the 360 version were the right ones for downsizing the game with the minimum of impact on gameplay and visual consistency. While the PS3 version is still playable enough, you can't help but think that a better job could have been done with the port, especially bearing in mind how progressed the PS3 rendition of Oblivion was over its 360 sibling. But let's get this into perspective here. There's not the game-breaking impact that others have suggested - though non-VATS combat really can become a chore - just an overall sense that a truly important game is not the best it could've been, and that perhaps predictably, once again the PS3 deserves better.
This sense of disappointment also extends to the bewildering omission of Trophy support. According to Bethesda it's coming, but the fact that Trophies have been available in the PS3 dev tools for months now makes you wonder why they've not been implemented in the initial release. Fingers crossed you won't have to restart the game to attain Trophies that should automatically unlock once the promised patch has been applied, although that's not exactly common.
In terms of system resources, PS3 requires a mandatory 4.2GB installation, whereas Xbox 360 owners will be able to use the New Xbox Experience dashboard upgrade to optionally install to hard disk (5.9GB - amazingly they have disc space to spare - GTA IV clocks in at 6.7GB). Curiously, aside from the initial boot-up, in loading and texture streaming tests, the hard disk installation made little difference, although the welcome reduction in decibels still makes copying to HDD a must when gaming sessions can stretch on for many hours.
Moving away from console, the real revelation is just how good the PC version is, and how well the game performs with relatively meagre hardware. Swapping in a dual-core CPU instead of the quad didn't impact performance massively and with the 8800GT or equivalent weighing in at GBP 90 or so at the time of writing, upgrading a modern-ish desktop or media centre PC to double up as a games machine is a hugely tempting proposition, especially with a game as special as this. Speaking as someone without day-to-day experience of PC gaming, Fallout 3 is a wonderful affirmation that computer gaming is still as strong a proposition as ever it was, despite the rising power and influence of the current generation of consoles.
Thanks to members of the Beyond 3D forum for some valuable insights on this game, and for scrutinising an early selection of our screenshot comparisons.