Virtua Tennis 2009
Based on the original Eurogamer review, some might argue that the real Face-Off here ought to be between this new 2009 edition and its immediate predecessor, the seminal Virtua Tennis 3. Kristan made a good fist of stacking up the strengths and weaknesses of the new game up against its immediate predecessor, but omitted to mention that while Virtua Tennis 3 achieved native 1080p visuals on both platforms, the new game is restricted to 720p only.
While the lack of 'full HD' graphics may be initially puzzling, the decision was perhaps inevitable. The technological underpinnings of VT2009 have much in common with SEGA Superstars Tennis, and just like the mascot-driven homage, both PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game were developed by Sheffield-based Sumo Digital. In SST, Sumo opted to up detail levels and eschew 1080p, and the same decision has been made here... it's just that the visual boost isn't quite so obvious.
For the record though, the polygon budget has been expended on a full 3D audience as opposed to the entirely flat audience members seen in the last game. The tennis courts themselves also feature a visual upgrade: the grass is no longer an entirely flat surface, and has some 3D depth to it. It's an interesting trade-off, but it certainly looks to me as though the player models are not quite so attractive as they were in the last game, and maybe it's the downgrade from 1080p to standard HD that is the principle culprit. Alternatively, it may be the seemingly randomised camera angles, which rarely seem to offer the most flattering view of the players.
As you might expect from a tennis game, there isn't a huge amount to tell the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions apart, although there was more than I expected. If you're spotting frame-rate differences in the movie above, it's well worth checking out the HD clickthrough for the overlaid FPS counters. There is quite a bit of difference between the two versions (usually, but not always in favour of PS3), although thankfully the variance calms down after the pre-game warm-up sequences and is fairly steady at 60FPS on both games.
You'll notice that the bloom effects found in the Xbox 360 game (which sometimes appear a touch overdone) are completely absent on PS3 - a curious state of affairs since it was the other way around in Virtua Tennis 3. Shadows seem to be resolved more pleasingly on PS3, it's just that there are fewer of them! PS3 also makes use of Quincunx anti-aliasing, which blurs some of the fine detail. Again, a similar system was in play during SEGA Superstars Tennis, but the bright, more cartoon-esque presentation ensured that it was less of an issue there.
In all though, the conversion work here isn't bad, and once again, Sumo Digital proves that it knows SEGA and it knows Virtua Tennis... even if the ongoing direction of the franchise appears to be somewhat less clear.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
Techland's latest outing for its proprietary Chrome engine certainly is intriguing from a pure performance perspective. In common with the PC enthusiast mentality which seeks to eke out as many frames-per-second no matter what the cost, this new Call of Juarez prequel has the distinction of being the game with the most impactful screen-tearing I think I've seen since the Xbox 360 launch period.
On console at least, the vast majority of games that lack v-sync are at least capped at 30FPS. This means that every torn frame will be followed by a non-torn one. Image quality is impacted but at least a torn frame is only seen on screen for around 16 milliseconds before it is replaced by a whole one. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, on the other hand tries its hardest to coax out as many frames as possible, and if the game tears as a consequence, Techland doesn't really care. That being the case, you can see raw frame-rates above 30FPS, but you can get many torn frames in a row, making for a very inconsistent-looking game.
There are a lot of very odd differences between the two versions of the game. Probably the most obvious one you'll see in the HD comparison video is that the Xbox 360 version runs in a letterbox, yielding an effective 1280x672 resolution. Why there is a 48-line deficit isn't exactly clear, but as you'll see from the composite elements of the video, the 360 game is also being squeezed vertically meaning it's quite running at the same aspect ratio. The PS3 build lacks the squeeze-o-vision letterboxing but sees native resolution drop significantly to 1152x648, resulting in an overall more blurry experience. Screen tear is lessened though, but this is purely down to a significantly lower frame-rate, as opposed to any technical wizardry from Techland.
What makes Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood again quite interesting is the anti-aliasing technique it uses to smooth off its edges. It's custom-built for the Chrome engine; we've not seen it anywhere else and it works pretty well. On Xbox 360 a 4x2 pixel smoothing solution is employed but this is pared down on the PS3 to 2x2, which combined with the upscaling blur isn't so attractive.