Army of Two: The 40th Day
If The Saboteur shows how an effective "2D" edge-detect filter can produce some excellent-looking anti-aliasing, Army of Two: The 40th Day is an equally good example in how a poor implementation can look pretty rough.
Unfortunately for owners of Microsoft's console, it's a phenomenon that is exclusive just to their version of the game. Similar to every other Unreal Engine 3 game on the Sony platform, the PS3 version runs with no anti-aliasing at all and in this case it produces an arguably better-looking game.
Army of Two uses a 2x2 pixel-blur on edges - a one-size-fits-all edge-smoothing solution that only works well in a small number of cases. On near, straight or thin lines, image quality gets a real battering. On other angles it doesn't look so bad, though the sledgehammer nature of the blurring filter clearly smoothes off fine detail that remains unblemished in the PS3 build.
So how does this translate to seeing the game in motion? Cue the comparison video, which throws up a number of other interesting differences:
PlayStation 3 has more clearly refined texture filtering, but in several other key areas the 360 version is outperforming it with higher-resolution textures, superior alpha-blending and smoother shadows: in many cases actual detail in the visuals is being pared down fairly significantly on PlayStation 3.
In terms of overall performance it's another win for Xbox 360 too. While the frame-rate stats are fairly close most of the time, PS3 is prone to more tearing but, more obviously, when the scene is really taxing the engine it's the Sony platform that suffers the most with more dropped frames.
More than that is the sense that player response is being compromised too. While you expect a certain amount of "latency" in controlling a hugely muscular bloke weighed down with battle armour and a collection of weaponry, the fact is that on PS3 the response from the joypad feels variable and while the Xbox 360 version isn't exactly super-crisp at least it feels consistent.
Overall then, Xbox 360 is the version to have, but it is somewhat annoying that its key deficiency in terms of image quality is ever-present. While it is interesting to see developers looking to implement their own anti-aliasing solutions over and above the hardware options, if it succeeds more in significantly blurring detail then that can't be a good thing.
It's all the more puzzling as the Xbox 360 rendition of Unreal Engine 3 has a level of multi-sampling anti-aliasing already built in.
It's Gears of War meets King of the Rocket Men, with more than a dash of Uncharted added into the recipe. It's fair to say that in terms of overall quality Dark Void is far less than the sum of its parts, and the return of the aurally omnipresent Nolan North on voice-acting duties also does the game no favours.
You'll be spending a lot of time running, ducking and shooting in forest-style environments, and the North vocals merely serve to remind you that in just about every way Uncharted 2 is the much better game: nicer to look at, more interesting to listen to, and tons more enjoyable to play.
That's not to say Dark Void is entirely without gameplay merits: the various uses of the rocket-pack are nicely integrated, and the notion of vertical cover, with an appropriately twisty camera, adds a small amount of novelty.
It's just that the original moments are few and far between, and the game soon becomes frustrating and rather annoying owing to the sheer length of each level and the fact that the enemies absorb so much firepower before finally going down.
It feels almost as though the designers are artificially extending the game, a sensation that becomes doubly apparent when you have to play it through twice for the purposes of a Face-Off article. I ended up switching to melee combat as a faster means of getting through the early stages: I'm not sure the game designers had that in mind when they put Dark Void together.
The sense of dreary repetition even extends to the soundtrack. Battlestar Galactica composer Bear McCreary is on scoring duties here, handing in what sounds like a few off-cuts from his repertoire of BSG music, but the fact that you keep hearing the same riffs again and again and again adds to the sense that Dark Void's levels are too large, too repetitive and basically not interesting enough.
Similar to Army of Two: The 40th Day, Dark Void is powered by the Unreal Engine 3 and we have plenty of experience in what that usually entails from a cross-platform perspective.
First up, there's the UE3 anti-aliasing situation. It's built into the Xbox 360 rendition of the engine, and has yet to be implemented at all on PS3, and in this respect nothing has changed with the arrival of Dark Void.
However, it should be noted that the 2x MSAA seen in UE3 titles to date has been somewhat compromised. Some edges get smoothed while others do not. The Mirror's Edge cityscapes are probably the best examples you can find where this AA is most obvious.
Quite why the edge-smoothing is so selective is something of an unknown. It may well be that additional post-processing effects are carried out after MSAA is resolved, killing off the effect in certain places. Regardless, this means that while 360 versions of UE3 titles have an advantage in this regard, the benefits to image quality are not as pronounced as they are compared to other games.
Similar to the non-UE3-powered Saboteur, PS3 gets a smoother, more natural-looking lighting scheme. However, this looks more like a gamma adjustment as opposed to any actual improvement in the accuracy of the lighting model itself.
In other respects it looks like business as usual for a non-AAA UE3 product: the Xbox 360 version has higher-resolution alpha effects, higher-quality normal mapping and environmental textures.
There are some situations where effects are implemented differently, or scaled to different levels on each platform. For example, the bloom effect is ramped up a touch on PS3, but it's still there on Xbox 360 and running with a higher precision buffer - it's just been muted compared to its deployment on the Sony console.
Similarly, the waterfall seen in the demo level also features a misty haze that runs several notches higher on PS3. The effect is there on 360, it's just not been deployed so blatantly. It looks more like a designer decision as opposed to any genuine technical issue.
Performance-wise Dark Void will be winning no awards on either platform. Both versions have issues maintaining 30 frames-per-second, and while Xbox 360 is generally a touch smoother the overall difference here favours no one platform explicitly. As tends to be the case with UE3 titles, the PS3 version tears more but it rarely impacts the gameplay experience on either platform.
So then, the Xbox 360 version edges it with demonstrably higher-quality visuals, but in the heat of gameplay they are not so apparent and if for whatever reason the demo did take your fancy, it's a safe enough buy on either platform.