When you've been covering these games for as long as I have, you can't help but approach certain franchise titles with specific expectations. Bearing in mind how close this year's Euro 2008 game was in comparison to last year's FIFA 08, I have to admit that I only expected an incremental update in terms of game features and the basic graphics engine. After all, surely EA did most of the hard work seeing off the PES challenge in creating last year's game.
FIFA 08 was a generational, PES-defying leap over its predecessor, and while 09's benefits aren't quite so headline-grabbing, they're impressive nonetheless. There's a welcome quality boost to the visuals that is reflected in both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, Euro 2008's brilliant Captain Your Country mode has been improved and expanded in 09's Be a Pro, and of course player stats including all-important 'form' can now be downloaded weekly via the Adidas Live Season option.
Technically speaking, the game's spruced up imagery comes at a cost. The close-up cut-scene pieces and replays have always dropped down from 60fps, but now the main gameplay itself also runs at a more variable frame-rate too. First- and third-person perspective titles can get away with this 'perceptual' 60fps but in a game with lots of lateral, left-to-right movement, FIFA 09 looks to have more judder than its predecessors. Resolution is still locked at 720p with 2x multisampling anti-aliasing on Xbox 360.
PS3 on the other hand is a touch odd - the overall look during gameplay is that it's a touch blurrier and the stipled edges might suggest that PS3 FIFA 09 is blending the anti-aliasing buffers to simulate higher resolution (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix also did this). In real-life, practical gameplay situations though, the games play pretty much identically, and that extends to online too, which feels good on either platform.
Speaking of online, it's here that PlayStation 3 has a pretty nifty feature omitted from the 360 code - the ability to enter yourself into the FIFA Interactive World Cup. If you can't make it in person to one of the qualification events you can try your luck over PSN.
So, all in all, an excellent showing from EA. In truth, the FIFA games have always been just as good on either platform, with only minor technical differences, and this year's showing continues that rich vein of form. Additionally, in keeping with most EA releases to date, there's also 1080i/1080p upscaling support too, something not implemented in previous games in the series.
Quantum of Solace
A first-person shooter based on Infinity Ward's spectacular Call of Duty engine, with Gears of War-style cover mechanics, featuring James Bond 007. Surely this has to be a winner, right? Wrong. Kristan's review shows up this particular effort for the shambles that it really is, but away from gameplay considerations, what is truly astonishing is just how poorly Treyarch has managed to utilise one of the greatest game engines in existence.
In an astonishing feat of technical regression, Quantum of Solace manages to nullify all of the best features of the COD4 technology, while at the same time retaining its worst elements. The drop down from 60fps to 30fps was perhaps inevitable; it gives the game engine time to breathe, and more rendering power can be deployed on the environments and characters. However, aside from a small tweak, the diminished resolution of the COD4 engine inexplicably remains.
Despite the fact the refresh rate of the underlying technology has already been substantially pared back at its stock speeds, both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game manage to drop frames, too. Perhaps predictably, it happens much more often on the Sony platform, to the point where Treyarch has turned off the v-lock to keep the action smooth(er), introducing screen-tear into a game where this is none on Xbox 360.
As you'll see in the opening moments of the video, environments have also been cut back on PS3. The first clip of the game is one of the most blatant moments, with trees in both the foreground and background mysteriously vanishing in the PS3 video. It's not massively noticeable further into the game, but a factor nonetheless. Some textures appear to be of a lower resolution too, and lighting schemes can be very different. Depth-of-field effects also appear to be an Xbox 360 exclusive.
A few months back, Microsoft added the SSAO effect into the Xbox 360 development library. I won't bore you with the details on this (Wikipedia can fill you in on ambient occlusion and this interpretation of it), but suffice to say, it was first used in Crysis, so we can assume it's A Good Thing. It's used extensively in the 360 version of Quantum of Solace, and once again, it's absent on PS3, and in places the difference is rather striking.
You really do have to wonder what's going on at Treyarch. You look at sub-standard PS3 conversion work like Spider-Man: Web of Shadows and you wonder why this company is being given high-profile franchise games to work on. But then you check out Call of Duty: World at War and the difference is eye-opening to say the least; these guys are capable of producing quality games. Quantum of Solace on the other hand brings us back down to Earth - a genuinely disappointing game with a quantifiably poor PlayStation 3 conversion.