Marvel Ultimate Alliance
As a long-term Marvel Comics fan, I can't help but have something of a love-hate relationship with this particular offering. While the gameplay itself is most satisfactory from start to finish, with some of the more geeky touches really hitting home, I just can't quite reconcile myself with some of the creative decisions.
The Thing only punching a touch harder than Captain America? Low-grade villains like Bullseye and the Winter Knight (who?) troubling the Mighty Thor? The Human Torch resorting to basic, non-flame-powered fisticuffs? Spider-Man running about as though he's wearing John Barrowman's trousers? For a game about superheroes, it does seem a touch odd to power them all down to the level of the lowest common denominator, then spend the game powering them up again.
There's very little to choose between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game in terms of the 'take home' package. The graphics are pretty much identical between the two, and while the 360 version has a noticeably better frame rate, the PlayStation 3 rendition has some token, unremarkable Sixaxis support for dodging, throwing and other minor gameplay elements. There's also a native 1080p mode, but this has an unacceptable frame-rate penalty and, as the comparison gallery reveals, doesn't look that much better than the full-speed experience upscaled on the 360.
The original review mentions two exclusive 360 characters, but in actual fact the heroic duo of Colossus and Moon Knight (a complete non-entity even a Marvel nut like myself is embarrassed to acknowledge) are also shared with the Wii and PlayStation 3 renditions of the game. However, an Xbox Live Marketplace brace of paid-for downloads offers up a further eight playable characters, including Doctor Doom, Venom, the Hulk, Hawkeye and Cyclops. So Marvel Ultimate Alliance becomes yet another title to offer additional content from Xbox Live that for some bizarre reason is not mirrored on the PlayStation Store. Bearing in mind the relative paucity of content on Sony's servers, this does seem rather odd.
Overall though, download content politics aside, this remains a very strong game and well-deserving of its original 7/10 score regardless of the host console you choose to play it on. Just make sure you set the PS3 XMB display settings to max out at 720p - as usual there's no option to change resolution in-game.
Tony Hawk's Project 8
This game, along with its Activision stable-mate Call of Duty 3, is something of a technical curiosity. While Microsoft mandates that all games should render at 1280x720 at the minimum, these titles actually work with a much smaller frame-buffer: in the case of THP8, 1040x584. So effectively, only 66 percent of the output resolution is actually being generated by the 360 - the rest is interpolated upwards to 720p by the Xenos GPU's scaler.
It's something of a canny move by developers Neversoft - although I'm sure the customer would've preferred a properly optimised 720p game engine. A 33 percent drop in pixel throughput means that the GPU resources can be re-directed to pumping out as many frames per second as possible. Secondly, having dumped the frame-buffer of the game (i.e. checking the visuals direct from the video RAM before the scaler gets its hands on them), there appears to be very little anti-aliasing going on. So the upscaling also serves to soften the harsh edges, albeit a tad roughly, and again save GPU power.
So - yes - Neversoft is cheating and cutting corners here, but the fact is that unless technically minded journos hadn't dumped the video RAM in the first place, I very much doubt any one would have commented. Certainly it's had virtually no impact on the review scores across the board.
As the comparison shots prove pretty conclusively, the PlayStation 3 version is a different kettle of fish. It is indeed operating at the full 1280x720 resolution, and it's also running without much anti-aliasing, making the more sharply defined edges (and thus the full resolution) much easier to discern. The penalty for this is a reduced frame-rate when put head-to-head with the Xbox 360 code. The PS3 version runs at around 30 frames per second, whereas THP8 on 360 can refresh up to twice as quickly. However, both versions lose their consistency and fluidity very easily with readily apparent frame-rate drops, and it's difficult to understand why as neither version is exactly pushing the envelope visually. In short though, resolution deficiencies prove to be of little consequence in this game whereas the frame-rate difference can be extreme - technically then, the 360 version has the edge. It looks smoother, and consequently feels more responsive.
There are other differences between the two offerings - PS3 gets optional Sixaxis functionality, whereas the 360 game benefits from online play. Owners of Microsoft's console get by far the better deal here as once again, the motion sensor control is far too imprecise to have any real use, making its inclusion a mere distraction only. The fact it is disabled by default speaks volumes.
For more multiformat comparisons, check back with part one of our ongoing series, featuring Ridge Racer 6/7, Def Jam: Icon, Fight Night Round 3, Virtua Tennis 3, NBA Homecourt and Need for Speed Carbon, or the equally delectable part two , consisting of the epicurean delights of Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII, Call of Duty 3, F.E.A.R., World Snooker Championship 2007, Enchanted Arms, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007, and both NBA and NHL 2K7.