Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas
Considering the horrific quality of Ubisoft's PlayStation 3 rendition of Splinter Cell: Double Agent (of which more later), I couldn't help but approach this latest conversion with some degree of apprehension.
Happily, this time there's good news. The PS3 rendition of the game is pretty much identical, and most definitely a ringing endorsement of the Unreal engine that powers both versions of the game. There are minor changes throughout - most notably in the lighting. The most obvious differences are in the initial helicopter fly-bys through Mexico and the Vegas strip, with the blooming lighting effects cut back a touch on PS3. However, I was never a big fan of this blur-a-thon to begin with and the dialled down effect on PS3 is a welcome bonus in my view. Certainly, any lighting changes within the game itself are not that big a deal. You might notice a few barely perceptible texture changes, a couple of which you'll see in the comparison shots. These generally aren't so good-looking, but have no relevant impact on the overall graphical excellence of the game.
What is all the more welcome is the fact that the PlayStation 3 code also retains all the intricate level detail of its more established sibling. This is quite an achievement considering the RAM differences between the Sony and Microsoft consoles: the Sony machine's GPU/system RAM memory split is well documented of course, but the PS3 also reserves much more system RAM for the OS in comparison to the 360 - well-placed sources estimate as much as 35MB (although Sony continues to work to decrease this footprint in each new firmware). This had a savage impact on incidental background detail in Splinter Cell: Double Agent, but doesn't appear to have been much of an issue at all with Rainbow Six: Vegas, which remains highly detailed and a good match for the 360 version from start to finish.
Indeed, the only major issue I have with the visuals in the PS3 conversion concerns the 1080i/1080p support. Whatever scaling method Ubisoft is using here must surely be the worst example of image resizing I've ever seen. It looks bad in the screenshot gallery but it's even worse when you actually see the game in motion. Annoyingly, if you do have a 1080p display, you'll need to manually set the PS3 to 720p in the XMB Display Settings menu in order to get a half-decent picture. This comes back to my long-held view that any resolution settings should be a part of the in-game menus when they have a palpable impact on game performance.
Scaling issues aside, there are a couple of other bonus extras in the new version that are pretty noteworthy. To get the bad news out of the way first, the Sixaxis support is - once again - predictably poor. On paper, the concept of controlling the fibre-optic snake-cam with the motion sensor is quite good. In practice, unless you're holding the controller completely level, you'll just find your viewpoint zooming skywards as soon as you activate the camera. In short, intensely irritating, and it's only a matter of time before you give-up on this novelty implementation and restore the snake-cam control to the left analogue stick via the options menu. There's no PlayStation EYE support for Rainbow Six: Vegas, by the way, so the Xbox 360's Vision Camera face-mapping feature is not available here.
On the plus side, the additions Ubisoft has made to the basic package are excellent, with the Blu-ray disc playing host not only to the same core game as the Xbox version but also including all the download content that's available on the Live Marketplace. So, you're getting a total of 20 multiplayer maps, and two additional game modes. In short, it's good to see that Ubisoft has made up for the time taken to get this game onto the shelves by giving PS3 gamers the whole experience for one bottom line cost. Of course, Ubisoft has now levelled the playing field by making the equivalent Xbox 360 content free too, but this wasn't always the case.
On the whole, Rainbow Six: Vegas acquits itself very well indeed and is a highly recommended purchase. It also proves beyond doubt that the Unreal game engine works exceptionally well on both PS3 and Xbox 360 - hopefully a sign of good things to come in the future from this technology.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Described by Kristan as 'staggeringly ambitious' and awarded 10/10, Oblivion has received a highly respectful, accomplished PlayStation 3 conversion courtesy of developer Bethesda Softworks. The original Xbox 360 review is linked above, along with Dave McCarthy's impressions of the PS3 conversion which should complement the more technical commentary I've decided to focus on.
As you might expect (and indeed hope), the core game itself is pretty much exactly the same as the Xbox 360 version. The only differences I could really spot in terms of actual content, Knights of the Nine expansion apart, consisted of minor changes to certain perspectives, and tiny, irrelevant changes to the in-game geography (think tree placement). One of the key improvements to the PlayStation 3 version is definitely the loading time, with the Blu-ray version ingesting its data at almost twice the speed of the 360's DVD, although in-game area loading remains much the same. And it does it all without the interminable racket of the Xbox drive too.
Yes, there are graphical enhancements. The most noticeable change is a slightly cleaner, more precise look to the textures- the 360 version definitely comes across a touch grainier in comparison. Additionally, this bonus detail becomes more apparent as it extends further out into the distance, something readily apparent in a couple of the comparison screenshots. It's far more noticeable in motion. There's also a small increase in the frame-rate, while certain lighting effects have been changed between the two versions (neither system really scoring anything over the other - they're just different in some places).
However, content is king in a game like this and here's where we enter 'six to one, half-dozen the other' territory. In addition to all the main visual enhancements, the PS3 offering includes the aforementioned Knights of the Nine expansion pack, offering up an additional ten hours or more of gameplay. However, the Xbox 360 game has much more extra content on offer via the Xbox Live Marketplace (for a cost of course), including KotN and the more recent Shivering Isles expansion. The latter is slated to appear 'at some point in 2007' on PlayStation 3, but the least PS3 owners should expect is some form of parity in these releases - after all, every download for the PC version is also available on 360 too. So why not PS3? Why not now?
At least it's coming though and the fact that Knights of the Nine is included free along with all the other enhancements definitely works towards Oblivion's status as one of the most mighty, worthy, PlayStation 3 conversions yet seen.