The Beatles: Rock Band

The Rock Band games have managed to avoid Face-Off scrutiny up until now (getting exact like-for-like shots in a game with seemingly random camera angles makes analysis very difficult), but then nobody has really had any complaints about the overall performance level of the series on either platform.

In moving away from its Guitar Hero roots, Harmonix made a pretty crucial decision as it transitioned into Rock Band: the on-screen 60FPS visuals were dispensed with in favour of a 30FPS look, allowing the developers to produce a much more impressive crowd/gig-like environment while at the same time upping the amount of post-processing effects in play. However, crucially, the game's note-charts remained unchanged; while Harmonix updates the background visuals every other frame, the note-charts are still running at 60 frames per second to ensure the crispest-possible response.

The Beatles: Rock Band sees the series evolve once more. The gig-like environments are only used where The Beatles actually performed live. As the band transitioned into a studio-only outfit, Harmonix has employed unique and beautiful imagery to capture the essence of the greatest song catalogue in pop music history. Superb art for sure, but how's the technical realisation? Look no further:

As you can see, in virtually all scenarios Harmonix has handed in an identical game cross-platform. In truth, this shouldn't be that difficult, because unlike most other games there is no AI to calculate and no unpredictable in-game physics. As each song plays out, Harmonix knows exactly what load will be put on the GPU and CPU, and tweaking visuals to maintain frame-rate isn't an issue. Even the seemingly random camera angles aren't actually random.

It's pretty churlish to point out the differences when they are so slight, but the one glaring difference in the video concerns the psychedelic effects in play during Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Particle elements seem to be dialled back on PS3, meaning that the excursion to Trip-Out City is slightly less "far out" than on 360, but tiny, irrelevant graphical issues aside, these games are like-for-like, and uniformly brilliant on both platforms. The Beatles: Rock Band isn't anywhere near the most technologically advanced game released this year, but it's definitely one of the most beautiful.

Guitar Hero 5

While the Guitar Hero games have been covered fairly extensively in previous Face-Offs, it's hardly been worth looking at the band-specific titles that cropped up with frightening regularity, since the core tech has been virtually unchanged since Neversoft took over the coding duties with Guitar Hero III. Even the instrument boost in World Tour was accompanied by the same old renderer and, in this respect, Xbox 360 has always had the visual advantage.

While both versions have always run at the same, crucial-for-music-games 60FPS refresh, the Microsoft platform featured full 720p HD graphics up against the scaled 1024x576 that Neversoft compromised on and never improved or sought to address at all with GHIII's many sequels. While the overall impact is going to be reduced somewhat since the player's focus is always on the note charts, it does still seem oddly unfair that PS3 owners haven't had platform parity on one of the most lucrative game franchises of all time.

However, Guitar Hero 5 sees a new evolution in the rendering technology, so it's now time for the Face-Off features to revisit the franchise to see what's new. Let's kick off with the requisite comparison video.

Interestingly, the new Guitar Hero engine now operates on the same principles as Rock Band's. While the note charts themselves refresh at 60 frames per second, the background graphics run at 30FPS. Just like Rock Band, this allows for a more complex simulation of the crowd, more post-processing effects and gives a somewhat more down-to-earth, filmic look to the visuals. Adding to this overall effect are two important new additions.

First up, a grain filter has been added, noising up the visuals and muting the pure CG, cartoon-like look of previous Guitar Heroes. Secondly, the developers have included a high-quality motion blur effect, which helps significantly in mitigating the impact of the drop to 30FPS. This isn't just the usual, cheap, in-polygon style of blur - there is a level of translucency to it which makes the effect look much more authentic. Lighting and shadows also appear improved too.

Despite these improvements, GH5 does still appear to have been built upon the ancient Neversoft renderer, because once again the PS3 version is sub-HD, seemingly running at the same 1024x576 resolution as its predecessors.

Bearing in mind that the CG-style look is now out, and that blur is in, the impact is somewhat mitigated, but it remains the one point of differentiation between the two versions: Xbox 360 still looks prettier, though the graphical advantage is no longer so clear, but in all other aspects the games appear to be the same.

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.