The arrival of 2010 brings us into year three of Eurogamer's cross-platform development coverage, and with it the arrival of a brand new release that defies analysis. It's full 720p. It's a rock-solid 60 frames per second. It's literally the same game on both platforms. A great way to kick off the New Year.
Joining this new title are five other releases subjected to the rigorous Digital Foundry analysis. As per the norm, this feature is accompanied by an enormous mountain of bonus assets for you to check out for yourself.
Shots derived from lossless 24-bit dumps of the HDMI ports of the Xbox 360 and PS3, high-quality h264 videos, and of course our exclusive support for 1080p screengrabs (where the game offers it on PS3). In truth, I was close to binning this particular layer of support within the Face-Offs, but the fact that five of the six titles covered this month feature 1080p upscaling suggests the format might well be getting a second wind, so the coverage continues for now.
In the meantime, "word" to the mysterious Slimm for putting together this worryingly exhaustive collation of all the Face-Off findings to date, which also allows you to check our findings up against the competition out there. So, many thanks to Slimm for his efforts in "coalescing our musings into a simple list", as he puts it.
Returning to this particular feature, the six games up for analysis this time around are:
- Dante's Inferno
- The Saboteur
- Army of Two: The 40th Day
- Dark Void
- James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
An interesting selection then, and more than enough to keep you busy until the next standalone Face-Off, which will be concentrating on 2K Games' hugely anticipated BioShock 2. Also, look out for an update on the recent Bayonetta PS3 patch in the near future.
Many thanks to Alex Goh for his invaluable contributions to this feature.
Visceral Games won't be winning any awards for originality with Dante's Inferno: it is essentially a multi-platform rendition of God of War, cut and shut with Christian religious mythology in place of the epic Olympian storylines found in the original Sony franchise.
In fact, the HD remixes of the PS2-derived God of War Collection compare favourably with this "next-gen" off-shoot. What the old games may lack in technical excellence is compensated by the sheer craft of visuals and gameplay. Plus of course, PS3 owners have a brand new God of War title to look forward to within weeks of Dante's.
However, Dante's Inferno is a game that is not without its own charms. For starters, if you don't own a PS3, comparisons with Sony's blockbuster franchise are of course irrelevant, and on that basis Visceral's offering is still plenty of fun and well worth a look. Xbox 360 owners who have not played God of War can finally have a go at something very similar to get an idea of what the fuss is about.
For PS3 owners, Dante also does something that God of War doesn't: it runs at a rock-solid 60 frames-per-second. In fact, if we go back to the demo performance analysis we did, it is perhaps the most uninteresting FPS graph we've ever rendered: it's 60 frames from start to finish, one continuous straight line.
This element has not changed in the transition from demo to final review code. What's more, this enviable performance level is exactly the same on Xbox 360 too. So, how about the look of the game? Frame-rate aside, is there anything of note to tell the PS3 and 360 games apart?
The answer is "no". There is no difference we could pick out in terms of resolution, effect, anti-aliasing, texture filtering, alpha-buffers, normal maps. As far as we can tell, the two versions of the game are like for like. Even the most pedantic of nit-pickers will be unable to take issue.
Dante's Inferno bears all the hallmarks of being a really tightly designed and technologically "budgeted" game. To sustain 60 frames per second basically demands it, but to achieve it on both platforms is a seriously impressive achievement.
Looking at the code in motion you can see that Visceral keeps a very tight rein on the game: camera motion is closely tracked, movement through the game happens in a strictly linear fashion, and of course the enemies spawn in positions entirely according to the designers' whims.
Dante's Inferno runs so smoothly that you get the idea that the particular strengths of both consoles have been reined in simply to maintain that super-slick frame-rate. The game runs at native 720p with no anti-aliasing, so on the Xbox 360 the entire framebuffer fits within the 10MB eDRAM connected directly to the Xenos GPU.
Bandwidth in this scenario is effectively limitless, but there is the sense that it is simply not used to the fullest of its potential. We often see lower-resolution transparencies and particle effects on 360 multi-platform titles, but in Dante's Inferno they're pared down on both platforms. So even when technology could be deployed to give one version the edge, Visceral has chosen not to do so.
The overall result is a game that lacks the majesty of God of War's environments and its epic boss encounters, but the smoothness of the visuals, the superb feedback from the controls, and the fact the game performs beautifully no matter how much carnage is occurring on-screen, all conspire to provide an arcade-like feel we've not experienced on console for a long, long time.
Additionally, Visceral deserves kudos for the loading times, in that aside from the odd break for cinematics there are none - the gameplay flows smoothly from one stage to the next with no perceptible loading. That's on both platforms. And no, there's no mandatory install on PS3 either.
It is a shame, however, that this all-pervading slickness does not carry through to the overall presentation. Engine-driven cut-scenes lose the fluidity of gameplay, being rendered at 30FPS, and worse is the jump from these to low-quality video. The developers haven't used the additional storage space of Blu-ray to give the pre-rendered sections more quality, but as Darksiders proves in-game cinematics can still look very decent even within the confines of DVD.
Overall, in terms of its technical achievements as a cross-platform project, Dante's Inferno is spectacularly good.