Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars isn't the most remarkable release we've seen this year, but it's certainly one of the most intriguing cross-platform efforts seen in recent times. How many times have you read that publishers have different teams of coders working on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the same game? In truth, it's mostly PR spin with little basis in reality (think: a few blokes in a room doing the PS3 port), but not in the case of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
For this conversion, id Software tasked the work to two entirely separate studios, apparently known for their expertise on the respective consoles. So, Nerve Software (Xbox veterans on Doom 3 and Return to Castle Wolfenstein) handled the 360 code, while the PS3 port was handed to Z-Axis (makers of, um, Dave Mirra BMX). The whys and wherefores are covered extensively in MTV Multiplayer's interview with id software's Kevin Cloud, but the bottom line is that it's an impressive and doubtless very expensive gambit.
The result is a game that is extraordinarily different on both consoles, and yet obviously very similar too. It's best summed up by the comparison video:
First of all, bearing in mind that two entirely different developers have made these games, it's a wonder that they can be synchronised in video at all. But the fact is they do, illustrating that the raw code is still much the same, producing much the same in-game results. But at the same time, it also shows dramatically the different approaches each developer gave to the game, particularly with regard to the visuals.
Xbox 360 owners get the benefit of a colossal range of 'extras' not seen in the PS3 game. The graphics employ a range of post-processing effects not seen in the PS3 version including the inevitable anti-aliasing and depth-of-field effects. Perhaps more pertinent to the actual gameplay, long-range fog is extensively pared back on PS3. Xbox 360 also has - overall - slightly better texture quality, although there are a minority of cases in some areas where the reverse is true. The maps themselves have also been ever-so-slightly reduced in detail on PS3, but it's barely worth comment. We're talking about the odd sign here or there, nothing truly significant (there's an example or two in the screenshots gallery). The 360 game is also 'load and play', whereas PS3 requires an eight-minute, 4GB installation.
So far then, an easy, crushing and indeed mocking technical victory for Xbox 360. However, there's simply no doubt that looking at the comparison video, the PlayStation 3 version is much easier on the eye, 'jaggies' apart. As Kristan noted in the original review, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is perhaps the brownest game yet seen on the Xbox 360. For all its technical wizardry, it's a profoundly ugly game. Now the PS3 version may well be stripped of many of its sibling's visual effects, but it's brighter and more attractive in many respects simply due to the change in colour scheme - in short, it looks more like a console game. As a bonus, PS3 owners also get in-vehicle viewpoints, a curious omission in the Xbox 360 code.
Also working in the PS3's favour are warm-up periods before the game commences, and a completely different, more appealing menu system. While a touch more long-winded than the 360 version, it looks nicer and is more user-friendly. We're talking about simple stuff here, like remembering 'create a game' options from one session to the next, which 360 weirdly doesn't do. In-game HUD also looks a touch sleeker on PlayStation 3. The level of difference between the two versions even extends to the control systems both versions employ. Weirdly, buttons are wired differently, which isn't a big deal in the greater scheme of things but does point to different producers at each studio making different decisions with no co-ordinated effort from the id Software hive mind.
Other differences between the two versions are rather bizarre. Xbox 360 has a training option, PS3 doesn't. There are no campaign options in PS3 either. There are some nice Achievements built into the 360 version too which are totally absent on the Sony platform. Interestingly, id's Kevin Cloud implies that a lot of the 360 modes and options didn't make it into the PS3 version simply because Z-Axis were too busy replicating online code that Nerve Software got 'for free' via the existing Xbox Live libraries - features like matchmaking and server migration. Which all sounds fine, except that the options omitted can't have stressed the development effort that much. What it does ensure, thankfully, is that the core multiplayer action is equally as good on both systems.
In short then, while the 'different teams for different consoles' argument clearly has a lot going for it (as Virtua Tennis 3 demonstrates), in this case, the results are somewhat disappointing. Firstly, the team chosen for their PS3 acumen, Z-Axis, has disappointed greatly with this offering. While brighter and 'nicer', too many of the effects seen in the 360 code are absent. Furthermore, it's definitely the case that the frame-rate collapses when the screen is packed with action - a pain on 360, but even worse on PS3. Compare and contrast with Warhawk, which at least graphically wipes the floor with this offering. Now, normally it isn't so fair to compare a cross-platform game with a title built from the ground up for the console, but in the case of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, id was basically paying extra for exactly this kind of extra care and attention.
On the 360 side of the equation, the game's ugly colour scheme undoes a lot of the impact of the impressive visual effects. You can't help but wonder how much more attractive it would be if it weren't so oppressively murky - i.e. if it used the same colour scheme as the PS3 version.