The cross-platform console games having been gradually piling up over the summer, and it's about time the decks were cleared to best ready ourselves for the upcoming Q4 gaming tsunami. On this particular occasion, eight recent titles are put to the test, including our very first multi-format PSN/XBLA face-off.
As is the norm, the analyses are backed up with a comprehensive range of assets: full 24-bit RGB framebuffer dumps of each game (including 1080p shots where supported on PS3), embedded comparison videos using the very best in h264 compression, along with new high-definition clickthroughs in order to get the full picture. These Eurogamer Face-Off features have been gradually evolving over time, and once more the range of available data has increased: discrete frame-rate and v-sync readings have been added to the HD videos.
Onto the gaming line-up then:
- Battlefield 1943
- Virtua Tennis 2009
- Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
- G.I. Joe
- Fight Night: Round 4
- UFC: Undisputed
- Overlord II
Already the next roundup is taking shape, but next week, Batman: Arkham Asylum takes centre-stage with the definitive triple-format face-off.
In a console generation that has been dominated by the Unreal Engine, it's something of a novelty to see a third-party, first-person shooter that doesn't use Epic's almost ubiquitous middleware. Few games have utilised the aged idTech 4. Prior to Wolfenstein, I'm fairly sure that the only other cross-platform project we've seen using it has been Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. In the case of that particular game, two entirely different developers were deployed for each console version, resulting in two very different looking end-products.
In the case of Wolfenstein, Raven is in charge for both formats using base-level id technology that dates back to 2005, albeit spruced up significantly to take advantage of the multi-core set-ups of the current generation consoles in concert with the much stronger GPUs found in both machines. So, how does the game look?
Amid internet stories of the challenges id software has faced in bringing its new idTech 5 engine to the PlayStation 3, it is interesting to note that Raven's work with its predecessor appears to have translated fairly well to the Sony platform.
In terms of performance and image quality, there are both pros and cons. First up, the game has a better overall image consistency than the Xbox 360 version: the game is v-synced with not a torn frame in sight, in stark contrast to the 360 build. On the minus side, however, Wolfenstein on PS3 is slightly blurrier than its 360 counterpart - I doubt it's to do with texture quality, probably more to do with the pixel format employed for the framebuffer itself. It's hardly an issue compared to the frame-rate situation though. The performance is considerably jerkier and less responsive on PS3 than Xbox 360 and this is entirely down to the decisions made by the developer.
Xbox 360 aims to maintain 30FPS no matter what and where the PS3 build drops a frame when the rendering situation is challenging, the 360 game tears it instead. Lag on 360 is therefore palpably lower than it is on PS3, but at the expense of image integrity which suffers time and time again through excessive tearing. You can get an idea of just how bad it gets at times by looking at the Digital Foundry performance analysis of the game running on the Microsoft platform. However, clearly our notion in that piece that idTech 4 has had its day is erroneous: Bethesda's Brink uses an enhanced idTech 4 and it was one of the best-looking games at this year's gamescom.
With Wolfenstein, however, what we have is an average game with an average performance level on both consoles, with a small amount of pluses and minuses unique to each platform. Which one gets the nod is essentially down to personal preference: frame-rate and response versus overall image integrity.
DICE's debut outing for its proprietary Frostbyte engine in Battlefield: Bad Company looked pretty promising. The visuals looked new, distinct and different and performance cross-platform was very close indeed, give or take the odd environment map. Where the game appeared limited was in its destruction model: while it worked fairly well in offering up an environment that could be almost totally blown apart, scenery seemed to break down into recognisable and predictable patterns which did spoil the illusion somewhat.
Battlefield 1943 appears to have solved this particular issue, and as far as 10-quid downloadable games go, it's an extremely strong title, even if both console versions fail to match the stupendously large 64-player melees that characterised the original PC games. It's also another decent example of what Frostbyte is capable of, even if the difference in performance between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions is still rather noticeable.
While the overall look is similar, there is a clear advantage to the Xbox 360 code, specifically in the use of normal maps which add an extra layer of depth to the environments and which appear to be absent on the PS3 version of the game. The sixth shot in the comparison gallery is probably the best still we have to show the difference, and reveals how rather flat the environmental details can be. There's also a smattering of lower-resolution textures too, found only in the PS3 build. Both games run at native 720p but lack any form of anti-aliasing, and in a bright, colourful game such as this, the jaggies are hard to miss.
Both games run well though, and performance rarely deviates from the target 30FPS. When maintaining the frame-rate is an issue, Battlefield 1943 drops v-sync in order to maintain smoothness both in the way the game moves, and in the controls. In a game like this where every session is different, A-versus-B performance is almost impossible to accurately measure, but it did seem as though the 360 game was prone to more tearing.
Probably the most impactful element concerns the issues people are having in the online connection. On the PS3 version especially there have been many complaints about sudden disconnections. I spent a decent amount of time playing both versions, and each of them performed impeccably, but the comments on the forums and on Twitter speak for themselves.
So long as DICE sorts out this issue, Battlefield is going to be one of those games where performance differences are not as important as opposed to where you do the majority of your online gaming, and where your friends list is strongest. Certainly in terms of the all-important playability, these games are like-for-like.