Once more Eurogamer returns to the front line trenches of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 console war with the latest in our continuing series of cross-platform confrontations. This time the coverage is bigger and better than ever before, featuring more games, more comparison shot galleries, and more detail on the behind-the-scenes technical trickery employed.
As per usual, each game's video output is captured digitally and losslessly from the HDMI ports of the Xbox 360 Elite and PlayStation 3 respectively, both set to full range RGB output, with every last byte of video information being ingested at full 24-bit precision by a Digital Foundry HD capture station. Equivalent shots from both versions of each game are then extracted for your critical pleasure, both at 720p and if the PS3 version supports it, 1080p.
So, onto the line-up of games then - five highly rated 'original IPs', and four not-so-impressive summer movie tie-ins:
- Virtua Fighter 5
- Transformers: The Game
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Colin McRae: DiRT
- Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
- SEGA Rally
- FIFA 08
Special thanks go to Beyond3D's 'Quaz51' for his online analysis of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix plus his patented 'what resolution is game X really running at' methodology.
Virtua Fighter 5
OK, so everyone's read the internet and indeed the Eurogamer reviews - so we all know what the score is here. Virtua Fighter 5 is one of the few games to launch first on PlayStation 3, before turning up seven months later on 360 in a repackaged format boasting smoother anti-aliased graphics, superior CPU AI, an enhanced single-player mode and of course the all-powerful - almost sexual - allure of Xbox Live multiplayer.
But behind the headlines, I think what impresses me most about the Xbox 360 rendition of the game are the changes less worthy of a press announcement - because they reveal more than anything an extra-special level of attention to detail AM2 has brought to bear on this release; a real devotion to going the extra mile and getting the best possible game out there.
AM2 could've just reused the intro movie from the PS3 game. They didn't. They crafted a brand new, rather spiffing one. They could've reused the same replay data from the exhibition mode of the older conversion for VF.TV on 360 (assuming the arcade version C upgrade to the game logic would allow it). They didn't - which made taking the comparison shots much more of an ordeal than if they did. All throughout the game you'll notice tweaks here and additions there that show this is a piece of work that had heart and soul put into it. Often maligned by the Western audience, there's a palpable sense that AM2 saw this 360 conversion as a chance to evangelise the world's best 3D fighting game to a new set of gamers who hadn't given it a chance before - and it's really difficult not to appreciate that.
Of course, the headline enhancements are worthy of the lion's share of the comment. Yes, there is anti-aliasing on the visuals, but as you can see from the comparison shots, the difference is barely noticeable - even the 360 rendition has its share of 'jaggies' if you're anal enough to scrutinise the screens closely enough (that Shun shot for starters). And anti-aliasing isn't always a visual boon for me in many cases any way. For every smoothed-off edge the 360 version has, the PS3 game has a certain smidgen of additional clarity to the point where neither version really looks any better than the other. Also, the 360 game's pre-fight posing sequences are occasionally prone to the tiniest v-lock screen tear (always at the bottom tenth of screen if you're crazy enough to want to look for it) which is not present in the PS3 version.
Both games are capable of outputting 1920x1080 to a 1080i or 1080p screen, but scaling is involved in either case. The 360 GPU works well blowing up anti-aliased images and offers up an excellent image (especially as it seems to using a base 1024x1024 image), but the PS3 resizing method is far less appealing. The fact that you need to disable 720p in your XMB to get it running proves that AM2 would rather your display did the scaling from the game's native 720p resolution.
Single-player offers up definite advantages for the 360 owner, with superior AI and a more rounded Quest Mode with more items. All of which counted for naught with me because my 360 controller proved to be totally inadequate for the task of actually playing the game. Even Akira's simple double kick (forward, forward, kick, kick) managed to be beyond the scope of my wireless controller. The inclusion of analogue support was even less help - this is a game with a digital control system, after all. It's as alien a concept as controlling a PC FPS with a joystick. Yes, there are Hori arcade sticks to buy, and simple mods for improving d-pad response to get you back into the game. Yet curiously, in my case, going 'old-skool' and switching to the wired USB controller Microsoft helpfully included in the devkit 'extra goodies' box yielded dividends. But speaking as a VF veteran, up until I reached that point, I found even the simplest moves inordinately difficult to pull off - something I never had any problem with whilst wielding the Sixaxis.
Online is certainly an interesting experience, and as I live in a faraway land, lag issues in any online game are more readily apparent (which is actually kind of useful when figuring out how these things work). But put simply: if you want to win, hosting the game offers a whopping great advantage in terms of control as opposed to joining an existing session where the response to your every command is beholden to the latency of your connection with the host. In a game where the peers have a low ping, it'll be far less noticeable, but it's always going to be there to some extent and the nature of latency is that it is rarely constant, so even the best players will be constantly forced to adapt. Don't get me wrong, it works, it adds a new dimension to the game, and I'm glad it's there - just be aware of the one-sided advantage inherent in this mode.
Overall, Virtua Fighter 5 on Xbox 360 takes the brilliant work AM2 did on the original PS3 game and improves on it from a gameplay perspective - but the jury is still out on whether the graphical differences offer any real tangible improvement (though the new water effects do look nice). Certainly the first order of business for any 360 owner before buying the game should be in sorting out any d-pad issues. The demo is invaluable for this, mostly thanks to its inclusion of Akira as a playable character with his myriad techniques that require absolute command of your controller. For PS3 owners, the inescapable conclusion is that the current game is effectively unfinished. At the very least, you'd hope that AM2 will cater to its core audience (who most likely bought the game on PS3) and come up with an upgrade patch that at least offers parity with the 360 game.