In what's likely to be the last Face-Off of 2009, Digital Foundry does a little housekeeping, sifting through the teetering piles of code dotted around the office, picking out the most intriguing games we've yet to cover, and combining those with the definitive word on one of the year's biggest releases - BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins.
As is the norm, the feature is crammed with the media that matters. One of our TrueHD workstations is pretty much full to the brim with lossless digital dumps of the HDMI ports of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, giving us access to the very best 24-bit RGB comparison shots and untouchable video assets, presented to you in pristine h264 video, manually encoded on a per-game basis for ultimate quality.
Onto the all-important line-up, then. Just the five releases covered this time, but all of them with an interesting story to tell, plus some bonus PC action included too.
How do the different versions of Dragon Age: Origins compare? Are The Beatles: Rock Band and FIFA 10 really two of the best multi-platform conversions of the year? Is Guitar Hero still sub-HD on PS3? Read on...
Dragon Age: Origins
The last of the big Q4 titles to reach the Digital Foundry lair, Dragon Age: Origins is uniformly recognised as an excellent PC release, reflected in the glowing 8/10 Eurogamer review, so it was obvious the PC version would need to be considered, if only to give a technical context to the visuals and performance levels of both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.
First up, let's take a look at the console games via the wonders of high-definition comparison video. It's definitely the case that the PS3 version has a collection of small technical advantages. Texture filtering is superior, the lighting model looks a bit more accurate, and the depth-of-field effect is more accomplished too (even compared to the PC version). Judging Dragon Age: Origins in terms of pure image quality, the PS3 version is the console version to have.
Xbox 360 claws back some IQ points though, thanks to its inclusion of 2x multi-sampling anti-aliasing, which is absent on PS3. Then again, compared to the impact this has in other games it's not that worthy of comment: edge-blurring, depth-of-field and a low-contrast colour scheme work very effectively in smoothing off edges on their own on PS3, even without the inclusion of MSAA.
Despite some technical wins for the PS3 code, the overall look of the game is not as impressive as PC on either platform. Dragon Age: Origins is a game that concentrates heavily on its dialogue-driven cut-scenes, and the close-up texture work we see here comes off second best, which is puzzling when you consider what BioWare achieved two years ago with Mass Effect, and also the quality of the work seen in the Mass Effect 2 gamescom demo, which was extremely impressive.
It's also fair to say that both console games aren't strong performers. Dragon Age: Origins is v-synced for better image consistency, but the frame-rate is extremely variable - anything from 15 to 30 frames per second depending on the scene being rendered. In this area the Xbox 360 game has the advantage, but even the Microsoft platform struggles.
Okay, so let's start to factor in the PC version, as examination of its make-up can help put the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions into context. There has been a lot of discussion about what elements have been cut down on the console games in terms of textures, effects and audio quality. Although it's not conclusive, taking a look at the structure of the disc on each build can be a strong indicator on what's been changed.