If there's one big gaming mystery even more bizarre than Sony Europe's decision to snaffle Ghostbusters: The Video Game as a timed exclusive, it's probably the reasoning behind Capcom's decision to make the Bionic Commando multiplayer demo on Xbox Live the only way in which to sample this new game before its release. Basic, derivative and graphically uninteresting, the demo is completely at odds with the single-player experience of the retail release in just about every regard. Bearing in mind the dubious demo, along with GRIN's previous efforts in Wanted: Weapons of Fate, it's fair to say that the undoubted quality of Bionic Commando was probably the most pleasant surprise I had in putting this feature together. It's a very decent game!
Just like Wanted, Bionic Commando runs on GRIN's own proprietary Diesel Engine, and there are a number of technical elements the game has in common with its less impressive cousin. Firstly is the sub-HD resolution; both console versions run at a less-than-stellar 1120x640, with no frame rate lock - so, depending on the complexity of the scene, the game runs at anything from the mid-20s up to 60FPS (albeit very rarely). There is the sense that the PS3 version is smoother (in actual fact, frame-rate analysis shows a plus/minus variance of around ten per cent in favour of either platform at any given point), but more than that, image quality overall is beefed up considerably thanks to the implementation of v-sync, omitted on Xbox 360 and thus tearing badly as a result.
Where the Microsoft console pulls back some points is in the utilisation of screen-space ambient occlusion - an effect that adds additional depth to any given scene. The overall effect is subtle, but becomes far more obvious to the eye when it is removed. Also apparent is that GRIN has set about reworking some of the textures in the 360 build, adding extra detail where less exists in the PS3 version. While this could be considered an advantage for the Microsoft console, it's fair to say that its inclusion appears to be in place in lieu of some of the other graphical effects that only the PlayStation 3 version brings to the table.
In particular are more refined normal maps and specular effects you'll only see on PS3, but of far more dramatic impact is the inclusion of what looks like proper high dynamic range lighting that is exclusive to the Sony platform. All of this, combined with the v-sync, works to make the PS3 version of Bionic Commando look a touch more pleasing to the eye. While the Xbox 360 version is a fine game that still looks lovely and has some "exclusives" of its own, the improved bling and solid image consistency make the decision easy if you own both consoles and are wondering which version to buy. Despite the inclusion of a 1.8GB mandatory installation, it's got to be PS3.
For a bit more technical detail, combined with additional screenshots not found in the Eurogamer comparison gallery, be sure to check out the work of my colleague over at the Digital Foundry blog.
Assessing FUEL from a gameplay perspective, I can't find much to fault in Tom's review, despite the strident nature of some of the follow-up comments from Eurogamers. FUEL allegedly boasts the biggest open-world yet devised, but the plain and simple fact of the matter is that unfortunately, it's simply not a very interesting one. The best sandbox games are based on a man-made landscape designed to be fun to play, with plenty to see and do. FUEL, on the other hand, bears all the hallmarks of being mathematically generated - in effect, the shape and form of the landscape is most likely based on the result of a complex equation rather than being completely sculpted by human hands.
With this in mind, peering at the Blu-ray PS3 version, I was only a little surprised when I saw that the total data use of the 25GB BD is a mere 3.3GB. If you have the required development/PS3 TEST hardware, you can even run this game from a common or garden single-layer DVD-R should you have a penchant for old-skool optical discs. Perhaps more surprising still is the fact that 2.2GB of that data is then force-installed on your PS3, presumably to make the process of streaming the landscape easier for the developer. This does give the game a loading (or rather, "generating") advantage on PS3, which is negated on 360 should you choose an NXE hard disk install which weighs in at just 4.2GB.
Surprisingly, main review code for FUEL was supplied in the form of the PS3 version. We sourced the 360 version from retail, and it is technically the better-performing game. While both appear to be rendering true 720p (albeit with an unwelcome blur filter that we assume is there to mask the lack of anti-aliasing on both platforms), the Xbox 360 game feels smoother, with more responsive controls, only dipping below 30FPS when a lot of alpha effects are in play (for example, with the stormy weather). Both games lack v-sync, and the resultant tearing is much more apparent on PS3, making it look slightly rougher compared to the 360 code.
So while the Xbox 360 version of FUEL has a small but tangible technical edge over the PlayStation 3 release, it makes little odds really. A 5/10 game that runs a touch smoother on one platform has to offer much more to lift its overall score and FUEL remains a rather disappointing release despite the small performance hike.
The tracks in many events are overlong, gameplay is repetitive, and AI remains predictable - a case of catching up with the CPU-driven cars, overtaking them and then merely extending your lead. There's no real sense of actual racing here on either platform which is somewhat surprising considering how hard Codemasters works to get that particular element into its own in-house racing titles. While the smaller, lap-based closed-circuit races are more exciting, gameplay-wise, Black Rock Studios' Pure has the better of this in almost every way and while it lacks the biggest open-world in video games, it makes up for it with oodles more fun. The fact that you can pick it up online for less than a tenner makes it something of a no-brainer.