The delayed European launch has left the PlayStation 3 with something of a problem - a sizeable proportion of its debut games are already available on the Xbox 360. Indeed, the likes of Fight Night Round 3 have been maturing on the shelves for over a year, while many of the others debuted on the 360 over four months ago. Internet gossip and many online reviews also point to several of these PS3 conversions suffering in comparison to the 360 'originals', an astonishing state of affairs considering that Sony's hardware is newer technology with a price tag that dwarfs that of Microsoft's console.
Of course, it's early days for the PlayStation 3 and any new piece of gaming technology takes time for game developers to get to grips with. That said, many studios (off the record of course) are not entirely happy with the SDK that Sony provides for PlayStation 3 development. The word is that Microsoft's programming environment gives better results more quickly. There's also the question of memory - Xbox 360 gives developers a full 512MB to do with as they will. PlayStation 3 on the other hand divides its internal RAM into two 256MB portions, with one section dedicated entirely to the NVIDIA-derived graphics technology. Up until recently, 64MB of the PS3's system memory was also sectioned off for OS use only, meaning that memory becomes far more of a precious commodity when developing on the Sony platform.
Clearly the PS3 is far from technically deficient up against the 360. While the 360's triple-core PowerPC CPU is an extreme piece of technology, Cell is no slouch in itself. It may only have a single core, but its satellite SPU processors are astonishingly powerful - just one of them can decode 300 MP3s simultaneously in real-time, and there are six of them available to be used in concert while the main CPU runs the core game logic.
But how much of an impact are all of these factors having on the launch titles? We decided to take a look by directly comparing 360 and PS3 versions of the same game, capturing full 24-bit RGB shots and video from each system's best-performing AV output: HDMI from the PS3, and VGA from 360. And this in itself gave the Sony console an immediate advantage. While the difference between analogue and digital on a typical consumer display is difficult to spot, our equipment showed that colour reproduction and basic definition of the image were superior thanks to the pure digital output of the Sony console. There was also zero interference to the signal - the 360's VGA output wasn't so pure, and performance degraded a little at the 1080p top-end. Isolating the video cable as much as we could helped to keep this to a minimum. You probably wouldn't be able to tell any difference at all on the average flatscreen, but we would have definitely liked to do these tests using the much-rumoured HDMI-equipped 360 supposedly due in May.
From there we compared graphical performance and combined those with gameplay impressions. The objectives were two-fold - firstly to provide additional PS3-specific comment in addition to existing Xbox 360 reviews for the same title on the Eurogamer database. Secondly, this was an interesting exercise in seeing how the Sony console's radically different hardware handles the cross-platform development that is becoming increasingly commonplace in the games industry.
To make things more interesting, we also threw in a couple of curveballs that should work to the PS3's advantage - covering a couple of 1080p titles (which common knowledge/Sony PR suggests the PS3 should handle with more aplomb) and putting Namco's Ridge Racer games on both platforms up against one another.
So here's the initial batch of comparison featurettes - the first in an ongoing series.
- Ridge Racer 6/Ridge Racer 7
- Def Jam: Icon
- Fight Night Round 3
- Virtua Tennis 3
- NBA Homecourt
- Need for Speed Carbon
Nb: When you're poking around the comparison galleries, you can click "View Original" at the top of each for full-size images. Enjoy.