Wow, so many games, so much to write about and so little time to cover absolutely everything. It's fair to say that the office is almost literally dripping with code, and there's simply not enough manpower to dissect it all while maintaining regular Digital Foundry duties. So, with this month's mammoth 22nd Face-Off, we're covering six of the best and the most interesting of the recent releases, with the aim being to take a look at the rest over a series of smaller-scale DF blog updates as and when time permits.
As usual, the words are backed up with a battery of comparison shots, and pristine quality h264 videos too - all derived losslessly from the HDMI ports of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. In a slight departure from the presentations of past, the cropped 632x500 vids are now history. They did the job admirably before Eurogamer TV transitioned to HD, but with full 720p at our disposal, the old-school videos seemed somewhat superfluous to requirements.
The full 720p presentations are now embedded into the article itself in a similar manner to the DF Bayonetta demo showdown: simply press the full-screen button in the player to get the full effect, or click through using the EGTV link to get a larger window.
Onto the games then, and the selection this time around offers plenty of great talking points:
- Il-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey
- Tekken 6
- Colin McRae's DiRT 2
- Need for Speed: SHIFT
- Brutal Legend
- Operation Flashpoint 2
All things being equal, you can expect Face-Off 23 with a fresh batch of "holiday season" games in December, but make no mistake: November's going to be a packed month. First up, there's some prestige triple-format coverage for Gearbox's recently-released Borderlands, before the focus shifts to SEGA's excellent Bayonetta. After that, all bets are off as the Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin's Creed II behemoths roll into town.
To be frank, it's gonna be epic. Be there.
Many thanks to Digital Foundry colleagues MazingerDUDE and Alex Goh for their inputs into this feature.
Il-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey
Even if you have little interest in the hardcore PC simulation from which it's derived, there's still much to enjoy in the console renditions of Il-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, be it the truly impressive visuals, the vast variety of missions or the sheer attention to detail.
Curiously, the dogfighting element has much in common with Ubisoft's much-maligned but curiously entertaining Blazing Angels series, with a button-press camera that centres on your opponent and allows you to bank towards him relatively easily. It's a great mechanism that Ubisoft bizarrely left behind when the Angels development team moved onto HAWX.
Conversion-wise there have been some interesting decisions taken with the regards the two versions. Developer Gaijin Games appears to have been hell-bent on achieving platform parity in terms of the games' looks, and you can see how successful it's been in this video:
Il-2 crams in a hell of a lot of detail. Indeed, the primary focus of the developer seems to have been on maintaining the highest possible image quality at all times, while at the same time ensuring that the two versions look almost completely identical. Both games run at native 720p, but once again there are different approaches taken in terms of edge-smoothing: the usual 2x MSAA on 360 and the almost as ubiquitous quincunx on PS3.
So, bearing in mind that the latter technique often leads to a reduction in texture detail, how come the two versions look almost completely identical? It appears to be the case that once the MSAA is resolved on the Xbox 360 version, a subtle blur filter is added that seeks to emulate the look of the QAA on PS3. In this case, the game is so detail-rich that there doesn't appear to be any deficit in overall image quality - it's a great looking release.
However, there are some differences elsewhere that are notable. The lighting scheme on 360 features a bloom effect when you point towards the sun that is curiously absent, or at the very least significantly dialled back, on PS3. Perhaps more relevant in terms of a purchasing decision is the performance level. That focus on the very best image quality possible has some serious ramifications for the frame-rate. Both versions can drop frames badly, and both tear too.
In terms of the overall amount of frames pumped out, measurements seem to drop as low as 14FPS (!) on both systems when things get really, really busy - i.e. just when you need the visual and controller feedback the most. The Xbox 360 game appears to be capped at 30FPS max, while the PS3 version is completely unlimited - our "personal best" was close to 50FPS. However, this comes at a cost of some absolutely horrific tearing (over 50 per cent of the PS3's output consists of torn frames). It's also present to a far lower degree on 360, but barely noticeable, so that would be the version I'd choose personally.