Madden NFL '08
The latest in the Madden series has already spawned a colossal deluge of comparison comments all over the web, so it's not exactly news that the PlayStation 3 version of this game runs only at 30fps, while the Xbox 360 code runs twice as smoothly.
Of course, it's something of a technical embarrassment for both Sony and Electronic Arts - especially on a game as important to the US market as this one - but US NPD sales figures for the game show that in the month of August, Madden 360 outsold its PS3 sibling by over half a million copies, and I seriously doubt that's down to gamers infuriated by a lower refresh rate. So clearly there's a reason why Xbox 360 remains the lead development platform in the majority of EA's studios, but while Madden is a good-looking game, I'm struggling to come up with reasons why both versions shouldn't run identically. There's some sublime animation and well-detailed players, but the game isn't pushing the boat out in rich backdrops, advanced lighting or many other expensive visual effects.
As owners of the Sony console have been effectively lumbered with a technically inferior version, the real question, of course, is what kind of impact this has on the PlayStation 3 experience, because in terms of features, gameplay and graphics (i.e. the really crucial stuff) the two versions are astonishingly alike, as the comparisons shots prove.
Presentation-wise, it certainly does make a difference, especially in the pre-game cut-scenes. The slick update on the 360 game adds an additional layer of polish to sequences that do a great job of showing off how insanely detailed and well-animated the player models are. But in terms of the actual gameplay and, crucially, the response from the joypad, I don't think PS3 owners are missing out on much. Both games look and play as well as each other, but the 360 version obviously has the edge - it's just not as pronounced as I thought it would be coming into the game. Certainly the reports I'd read elsewhere of the PS3 struggling even to maintain 30fps and response suffering as a result don't ring true with me.
If the knives are out for the PS3 version of the game, I'm surprised the loading times have by and large escaped criticism as they're considerably longer - around ten seconds longer from menu to game, assuming our review copies of the software matches the performance of the final retail release.
NHL '08 is yet another EA Sports title where the Xbox 360 benefits on a technical level. Just like Madden NFL '08, EA's latest ice hockey arcade sim runs at 60 frames per second on the Microsoft machine, while the PlayStation 3 version... doesn't.
Efforts have been made to get the PS3 game running at 30fps, but astonishingly EA Sports has not even managed to achieve this, with sporadic slowdown manifesting all the way through the game, but most clearly evident on the cut-scene sequences, which in some places exhibit an inexplicably jerky, almost slideshow-like effect. If Sony is looking for some kind of consolation prize within this mess, I'd direct its attention to the shoot-out screenshot in the comparison gallery. Yes, those are marginally cleaner textures you appear to be witnessing there in that one shot, at least.
Whereas the Madden frame-rate issue wasn't quite so pronounced and impact on the gameplay was limited, it's an entirely different story with NHL '08 and it all comes down to EA's more arcade-style approach to this latest hockey offering. On Xbox 360, this harkens back to the older EA Sports NHL games where having fun was more important than establishing po-faced simulation credentials - an approach that has really paid off with this latest NHL instalment. And when it comes down to offering that arcade experience with ultra-responsive controls, that's where 60fps makes all the difference. The Burnout tech guys state their case on 60fps versus 'that other frame rate' in their second podcast at criteriongames.com and it's well worth a listen.
Of course, in all other respects, the two versions are very much alike, but when the core gameplay objective of the developer has only been achieved on one console and not the other, one can only hope that Sony's latest 'hug a developer' initiative pays off in time for the next wave of EA Sports offerings where parity between the respective versions should be the absolute minimum requirement.