The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon
A definite example of an 'almost but not quite' release, this latest Spyro adventure initially looks very promising - full 720p, 60fps, tons upon tons of nice graphical effects, full-on 4x multi-sampling anti-aliasing (on Xbox 360 anyway, zero AA on PS3) and most importantly, definite signs of progression in the gameplay over previous Spyro outings. It's a game that suggests there'll be plenty of fun for youngsters and adults alike, with an artistic style and quality that takes us back to the times when the series was at its height.
Unfortunately, two key aspects put the kibosh on Spyro's chances - first of all, there's the almost criminally inept AI. This might not be so much of an issue with the cutesy dragon fodder the game routinely offers up, but it becomes a huge concern when you're tied to your partner for the duration and constantly having to back-track when they're caught up in the scenery due to their own staggering ineptitude.
Secondly, there's the frame rate. Xbox 360's enhanced visuals (the aforementioned anti-aliasing along with some other minor effects) seem to arbitrarily cripple the refresh rate at practically any given point. PS3 loses frames too, but it's nowhere near as intrusive to the gameplay as it is on Xbox 360. Not good.
Better QA, a bit of developer time spent on engine optimisation and at least some thought put into the AI would've made all the difference, but as it is, Dawn of the Dragon is a real missed opportunity. My recommendation? See if you can pick up a cheap rental on PS3, but don't bother on 360.
Tomb Raider: Underworld
One of the most interesting cross-platform games to be released in some time, Tomb Raider: Underworld exhibits considerable differences between the two consoles and is one of the few games that puts forward a good argument for offering measurably and tangibly higher performance on PlayStation 3.
Based on our playthrough, it seems obvious that Crystal Dynamics (and its sister studio Nixxes) has leant heavily on its previous Lara code for the 360 game, but has revamped the graphics engine for the Croftster's debut outing on the Sony console. So in terms of owners of Microsoft's box, you're getting the same sub-HD resolution as previous Tomb Raiders Legend and Anniversary (1024x576) while PS3 owners enjoy full 720p - a sizeable increase of 50 per cent in terms of pixel-throughput.
That the two games look as close as they do bearing in mind the gulf in resolution is a testament to how good scaling can be, but the more you play Underworld, with all its superb, intricate details, the more it becomes apparent that the PS3 game looks that much more pleasing, truly making the most of the excellent artwork. The Sony console also has more advanced shadowing techniques on display in sections principally involving Lara's boat, though the obvious differences become moot as soon as you move into any given level. For its part, 360 employs the use of motion blur on Lara's actions - a subtle, but pleasing effect absent from the PS3 game.
Of course, the PlayStation 3's 50 per cent in increase in resolution does come at a cost. While the Xbox 360 version of the game runs pretty much constantly at 30fps (with just the occasional, unnoticeable dip in frame rate here and there), the PlayStation 3 game loses frames at any given point. Dropped frames essentially lead to an inconsistent feel from the controls, as well as an obviously jerkier image on-screen. In terms of the extent of the slowdown, you can be losing the odd frame at practically any given point - in measurements, the frame rate fell as low as 15fps, up against a practically rock-solid 30fps throughout on 360. On average though, you're looking at a 10 per cent drop in frames, so the developer's decision to go with the extra detail was most likely the right one.
In short then, one looks better, one plays better, both are very cool games. The only other dividing factor worth taking into account is the provision of Microsoft-exclusive downloadable content. The first chapter, Beneath the Ashes, arrives soon, with another episode scheduled that shifts the focus away from Lara with an all-new playable character. Whether this new content will end up on PlayStation 3 in some way, shape or form at a future date remains uncertain, but all PR noises from Eidos thus far have indicated that it is indeed a 'real' exclusive.
Golden Axe: Beast Rider
A stupendously awful release well deserving of its 3/10 score, having to play through Golden Axe: Beast Rider twice for this purposes of this feature was a genuinely sinister proposition. As it is, a game as conceptually poor and formulaic is it is on Xbox 360 descends into an experience that is almost tragicomic on PlayStation 3.
The games look identical in screenshots, albeit with some superior texture work on Xbox 360. Both releases are 720p, but you'd be hard-pressed not to think it's running at a lower resolution on account of a horrible blur filter that has been applied liberally to 360 and PS3 alike. However, the real dividing factor is the frame rate. On Xbox 360, the developer has a stab at taking on a 720p 60fps update. By and large, it is successful, albeit at the cost of some ugly screen-tear. PS3 on the other hand tears even more badly, and has a massively variable refresh-rate to boot.
SCORE International Baja 1000
- Not Reviewed
Activision's attempt at a Baja off-roading game is so utterly obscure that not only was it never reviewed by Eurogamer, it also happens to be completely absent from the gaming database in both its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 incarnations. As it happens, the final retail code is wholly unremarkable to a degree to that more than justifies its anonymity.
What we're looking at here is a basic, very limited MotorStorm clone that has no business going anywhere near your console, whether you own an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. THQ's Baja game may well have been almost completely beyond redemption, but at least it made some small attempt in distinguishing itself from far superior off-road racers like MotorStorm 2 and Pure with its openworld sandbox approach.
In terms of the respective merits of the two versions of this release, it's basically business as usual in the multiformat world. Both games manage 720p HD resolutions and solid 30fps frame rates, while the Xbox 360 game employs some nice 4x multi-sampling that's totally absent on PS3. The Sony game looks brighter though, almost unnaturally so. Not that it makes any odds - no amount of graphical polish will in any way embellish this one.
Spark Unlimited's last game - the risible Turning Point - might well have earned the distinction of being the most technically rubbish use of the Unreal Engine 3 technology to date, but at the very least (and we are scraping the barrel here) this ensured that the game was essentially identical cross-platform.
As pointed out in the original review, in many ways Legendary is basically a retread of the Turning Point formula, but thankfully UE3 has at least been pushed a little, providing more pleasing environments and some decent-looking set-pieces that punctuate what is otherwise a sub-average first-person shooter.
Some of those set-pieces can occasionally border on the impressive, too, and yet, just like Turning Point, Legendary's graphical performance is consistently the same across both consoles. Indeed, the only major dividing point concerns the fact that while Achievements are, as usual, standard on 360, the equivalent Trophies on PS3 are nowhere to be seen. Additionally, PS3 Legendary has a weighty 4.3GB (!) mandatory install.