Tom Clancy's EndWar
Every so often you get a nice little surprise in producing these features. Real-time strategy games on console - any console - are a rare breed, principally because of the limiting factors of the joypad. Things appears to be improving though, and the more recent RTS games appear to have the problem cracked, with Tom Clancy's EndWar more than holding its own in terms thanks to its slick, but simplistic interface.
Of course, Ubisoft aimed to move beyond the constraints of the basic controller with the implementation of its voice-command interface, but it didn't appeal to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the system only recognised my voice once I began BELLOWING into the mic with the game volume turned down, and secondly, the notion of SHOUTING at an inanimate object which may or may not follow my ORDERS is not something I find that appealing. So joypad it is, and EndWar doesn't disappoint.
It's also the latest in a line of increasingly impressive Ubisoft cross-platform projects. It's been just over a year since I wailed like a girl and threw my toys out of the pram big-style about the poor Assassin's Creed PS3 conversion, but since then, things have improved radically, with Ubi's key releases such as Prince of Persia performing almost identically on both consoles. Happily, EndWar is another game in the same ballpark.
First things first. If playing on 360, take a visit to the display options page and knock down the brightness and contrast a notch or two. By default, the settings are the same as the PS3 version (at least from a numerical perspective), but the picture most definitely is not, being completely washed out - too bright and lacking in contrast. Even once adjusted, there is a sense that the Sony version has the more pleasing colour palette, but at least with the settings recalibrated, you're getting to see the game closer to the way it should be seen.
Other graphical differences come down to little more than incidental detail and are barely worth commenting on. There are tiny differences in effects and detail levels (occasionally favouring 360) or slightly better textures on minor scenery (usually better on PS3), but the crucially important factors, including the frame-rate, are much the same on both systems. There is some notional Sixaxis motion sensor support, but that's perhaps best left unmentioned. Why should I be shaking my controller about (twice) to bring up the 'SitRep' screen when pressing Select does the same more quickly?
In terms of other differences between the games, there's not a huge amount in it, aside from a whopping great 4.8GB, 12-minute mandatory installation on PS3. Curiously, the 360 game running from the DVD still manages to load faster. In terms of the actual gameplay, there's little I can find fault with in EndWar that wasn't covered in Kristan's original review. It's a very neat, very accomplished RTS that plays equally well on both systems... I like it.
Rise of the Argonauts
First impressions count and in the case of Rise of the Argonauts, they are far from favourable. One of the first splash screens informs us that the whole shebang is powered by Unreal Technology, but the question is... which generation of Epic's engine has been used here? Tom mentioned Unreal Engine 3 in the original review, but I'm not so sure. Not since the release of the ball-achingly ugly Undertow have I ever seen a UE game look as dreadful as this one.
Let's kick off with the comparison video, so you can get a sense of the graphical quality yourself:
Make no mistake, Rise of the Argonauts is a bewilderingly low-tech game, looking for all the world like a PS2 game running at 720p; its characters and environments are a world away from the level of quality seen even in the earliest Unreal Engine 3 releases. Artistically, the assets look suspiciously as though they were generated for a different gaming era. Almost every texture in the game is of a supremely low resolution, particularly evident in terms of close-up detail on the character's costumes. As you'll be spending a lot time staring at the various actors close-up as the drawn-out dialogue continues, you can't help but notice the low polygon count either. Costumes, muscle tone, facial features... all look suspiciously angular.
So technically speaking, Rise of the Argonauts feels as ancient as the Iliad itself. Gameplay-wise, its 3/10 overall score is somewhat fitting too, so that just leaves the quality of the conversions and while it's easy to say that both are equally as awful, there are some differences over and above the lengthy 3.6GB mandatory install on PS3.
Firstly, there is some evidence that the 360 version has anti-aliasing not seen in the PS3 game, but this counts for very little when the amount of polygon edges on display combined with the low texture-quality creates such an archaic feel. Secondly, despite the fact that the consoles should be able to handle this game's visuals with a contemptuous ease, there's still some eye-rendingly awful screen-tear, which looks worse on the 360 code but is still painfully apparent on the PS3.
Overall then, a Chernobyl-level, world-threatening, nuclear disaster of a game on both platforms, and it's difficult to understand how a decent publisher like Codemasters would want to inflict this one on us. Play it only if you require a reminder of how bad some role-playing games used to be on the hardware of yesteryear.