Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
EA's latest Harry Potter tie-in does a better than expected job of bringing the latest in Warner Bros' cinematic outings to console, but despite its realistic renderings of the actors and its impressive recreation of Hogwarts, the game just doesn't impress. The plot, characters and dialogue are bland recreations of the original with all the vitality, wit and magic drained from them, and where the game does deviate from the film to introduce its own elements, it becomes an exercise in tedium. Would JK Rowling really write a scene where Harry masters magic in order to clean a room, move about some portraits or help Ron with his packing?
The Xbox 360 and PlayStation renditions of the game are essentially like for like, with one or two intriguing deviations. There is of course motion sensor support in the PS3 game (derived from - but not as good as - the wand action seen in the Wii version) but as is more often than not the case, the Sixaxis controls are disabled by default, which is just as well as the analogue stick offers a far more precise spell-casting control method.
Graphically, PlayStation 3 manages to impress over a slightly disappointing Xbox 360 effort. When the game is set to 720p, it's running at full resolution with anti-aliasing. Curiously, on Xbox 360, there's no anti-aliasing readily apparent. Instead the developers have chosen to cover the entire screen with a soft blur. The end result is that while the 360 game feels smoother in terms of frame rate, PlayStation 3 looks significantly better - especially in the detail-rich areas of the game such as the Hogwarts interior. Being a third person adventure game with only a modicum of actual action, the detail over frame rate trade-off pays off here in PS3's favour.
The Order of the Phoenix also has support for 1080p on the PlayStation 3, whereas the 360 version just seems to be using the ATI scaler to do the job (not so successfully this time, owing to the lacklustre base image it has to play with). The PS3 game definitely boasts significantly more detail and resolution than 360, but it's really tough to figure out how it's doing it. The best guess put forward so far is that it's not using anti-aliasing but instead using the two 720p frame buffers required to create it to produce a virtual 2560x720 resolution, which is then rescaled to conventional 1920x1080. Whatever the effect is, it's certainly the best pseudo-1080p effect I've seen on PS3, and one that other developers should take a look at if they're serious about getting a decent looking 'True HD' image from a native 720p game.
Colin McRae: DiRT
Codemasters' success in the driving genre is a credit to a relatively small software publisher punching well above its weight, and this latest addition to the McRae franchise does a fine job in branching out to encompass off-road automotive racing far beyond the scope of previous games in the series. But I don't know - I've just never felt any kind of soul within any of the McRae offerings, that sprinkling of gameplay magic that elevates a good game into a must-play classic. I certainly didn't feel it with DiRT on 360. Sure its level of content is immense, its graphics are by and large excellent, and the damage modeling is the best seen yet in a rally game, but what can I say - the handling just didn't grab me and the lethal combo of v-lock screen tear and occasionally awful frame drops took the sheen off the driving experience for me.
One thing's for sure though, this was one of the rare occasions where the wait for the PlayStation 3 version of the game was worthwhile. Codemasters went to work making some serious optimisations to the code, resulting in an overall driving experience that is markedly superior to the 360 offering. First of all, as has been widely reported, the frame rate - something crucial to the fluidity and response of a driving game - has been significantly improved. While there's still some screen tear and frame drops (especially when other cars are on-screen, and even worse during replays), the actual driving sections look better without the inconsistent update, and the reduced screen tear has a big impact in how solid the game looks. More importantly, the increased refresh rate helps make the controls feel that much more responsive too.
Speaking of which, the Sixaxis joypad acquits itself very well here. Codemasters hasn't bothered with any comedy stylings involving the motion sensor; the success of DiRT here is simply by virtue of the analogue triggers suiting the gameplay beautifully. Feathering the throttle in order to pull off decent drifts simply feels easier and more intuitive with the Sixaxis over and above the vanilla 360 pad.
Overall then, Codemasters has definitely got it right with this one. You get the sense they took a look at MotorStorm and realised that a basic 360 conversion wasn't going to cut it, so dug deep in order to hand in the best game possible. It's got all the looks of the 360 game (bar some tweaks to the motion blur) but it feels much better to control. That said, hand on heart, I'm still not feeling any gaming magic here, but it's clear that the franchise has a solid fanbase for a reason and those guys are going to be well taken care of with this improved conversion.