Need for Speed: Undercover
I recently made the mistake of saying in these features that the days of truly shocking PlayStation 3 conversions were now - thankfully - a thing of the past. Need for Speed: Undercover, however, is a throwback release that conclusively proves that I was wrong.
Indeed, I'm reminded somewhat of the PS3 version of Splinter Cell: Double Agent - possibly the nadir of cross-platform development this generation. Need for Speed on PS3 has much in common with Ubi's notorious conversion - specifically an often cripplingly bad frame-rate and a propensity to noticeably pare down the environments at practically any given point.
You can see it all for yourself in the video, but the screenshot gallery (which shows more background detail) makes the differences even more obvious. Curiously I wasn't able to match lighting between the two games, presumably due to the game's internal day-night cycle being set differently on both codebases. However, the key 'Job' missions which synchronise the game's clock do show that lighting is different cross-platform, even if the overall effect remains okay on both systems. The rest is all self-evident. Frame-rate dives whenever there are multiple cars on-screen, and - weirdly - similar issues occur sporadically, particularly when you get collisions or a lot of smoke on-screen. There are also additional pauses as the game streams data from the BD too, just to make things even more unpleasant.
In just about every measurable sense, NFS: Undercover is an unsavoury experience on PS3, while on 360 it is, as Kristan said in the original review, 'a reasonably decent game' and while it's too easy, there's enough of the old Most Wanted DNA in there to make it sufficiently entertaining. Certainly its technical credentials are a league above what is on display in the PS3 version.
EA overlord John Riccitiello is a smart, switched-on man. He must surely have seen the yawning chasm of quality in terms of cross-platform development between a release like this and Criterion's Burnout Paradise. There's also the small matter of why EA would be producing another, inferior racing engine when elsewhere in the same company there's a far superior piece of tech that's simply superb on 360, PS3 and PC. In short, it's a no-brainer - too late for this year's NFS game perhaps (though the rumour-mongers are saying that NFS will switch to a two-year dev cycle across two studios a la Call of Duty) but expect a massive series reboot in time for the 2010 game, hopefully with Criterion in pole position for development duties.
The most sinister thing about Sonic Unleashed is a single, terror-inducing caption that appears on-screen when the game first loads. Apparently, Sonic Unleashed is powered by the 'Hedgehog Engine' - the evil connotation being that this coding abomination will not only appear again, but will form the basis on which future Sonic games are built. Cue an Only Fools and Horses-style Rodney/Damien moment, complete with the Old Spice theme pounding in your mind.
Eurogamer's review points out quite succinctly that this game is, to put it quite frankly, totally awful. Horrible controls, terrible pacing, and graphics that lack any of the charm and style of the original holy trilogy (quadrilogy actually, factoring in Sonic CD). But what the review doesn't tell you is just how woe-begone the Hedgehog Engine actually is, specifically in terms of its looks. If things look somewhat blocky, that's because they are... your typical 720p HD game has 45 per cent (!) more detail than Sonic Unleashed, which runs at a super-limp, organ-deflating 880x720 on both platforms.
In a game that has Sonic morphing into a 'Werehog' with Mister Fantastic elastic arms, any kind of technical discussion is somewhat moot. Forget the technology, it's concept that's the problem here. Were it not for the previous PS3/360 Sonic game being so catastrophically awful, we would have reached a new nadir here. That being the case, despite pumping out a few more frames-per-second (both are capable of running at 60fps, but rarely achieve it) the Xbox 360 version of the game is just as grotesque as the PlayStation 3 code in every other way. They're as bad as each other, and it's actually rather sad bearing in mind how excited I used to be about anything and everything that emanated from the labs of Sonic Team.