Xbox 360 vs. PS3 Face-Off: Round 24 • Page 2

Dante shows everyone how it's done. Plus: Army of Two, Avatar, Darksiders, Dark Void, Saboteur.

Darksiders

The year's first high-profile hack 'n' slash title, Darksiders earned an impressive 8/10 score for its hugely enjoyable action, its thoughtful puzzles and imaginative scenarios.

It's a cool game despite some very obvious performance issues - Darksiders appears to be running at sub-HD resolutions on both platforms (1152x648 being our best guess), and has a number of issues maintaining frame-rate and v-sync on both platforms.

It's interesting to note that both the good and bad elements of Darksiders' performance are mirrored virtually identically cross-platform. Graphically the two versions are essentially identical. Visual assets are the same; texture filtering and definition are completely like for like. The overall fluidity and the v-sync situation could be improved, cross-platform performance is consistent.

Of course, the Xbox 360 game did launch with screen-tear problems, which didn't seem to affect the PS3 build. This has now been corrected via a title update available from Xbox Live.

I took a look at the patch last week, and the long and the short of it is that Vigil shipped the 360 version with no cap to its frame-rate. It will try to refresh at 60Hz, and when it doesn't render the full frame in time it displays a torn one instead.

The new patch caps maximum frame-rate at 30FPS, meaning a significant reduction in screen-tear: the engine literally has more time to render a complete image. A quick analysis of the PS3 version reveals that the cap was already in place: the 360 version has simply been brought into line.

In gameplay clips taken from the same areas, performance overall - including frame-rates and screen-tear - is effectively the same cross-platform, with around 20 per cent of each console's 60Hz output consisting of torn frames. Frame-rate itself is roughly equal on both platforms, between 15 and 30FPS depending on what's happening. Basically, Darksiders looks and plays the same on both.

There is one clear point of differentiation, however. Darksiders pretty much maxes out the DVD capacity of the Xbox 360, whereas the PS3 game occupies over 20GB of the Blu-ray disc space. It's fair to say you're not getting any additional game content, so where has the space gone?

Answer: cinematic quality has been improved with the use of higher-bandwidth video. Many of Darksiders' cut-scenes are run in from disc (they're fairly easy to spot, since native resolution returns to 720p here) and a side-by-side comparison offers a couple of interesting observations.

The first thing to notice is that the Xbox 360 videos are of markedly higher standard than the majority of in-game FMVs that cross my path. It is perfectly possible to get decent-looking 720p video running with a relative paucity of bandwidth - you just need a very good encoder, and the industry standard (Bink) doesn't tend to offer particularly high-quality results in my experience.

Darksiders, on the other hand, looks very nice indeed on both platforms. It's interesting to note that the PS3 version does license Bink, whereas the 360 version apparently doesn't.

The next thing to be aware of is that there's a law of diminishing returns when it comes to gaining quality from throwing extra bandwidth at the problem. Darksiders' movies have far more bandwidth dedicated to them on PS3, and they do look better (background detail in particular benefits) but two to three times the bitrate doesn't equate to the same increase in video quality.

The real test of this will be with Final Fantasy XIII, which will see a 40GB PS3 Blu-ray version go up against an Xbox 360 game with a theoretical maximum of 20GB of storage space at its disposal across the three DVDs.

Returning to Darksiders, it's clear that the game has plenty of performance issues, but since the Xbox 360 has been patched there's barely any difference between the two games. PS3 has a marginal advantage owing to its higher-quality cinematics, but these alone are hardly reason to favour one version over another in terms of any purchasing decision.

The Saboteur

For a game that is merely above average The Saboteur has gleaned plenty of coverage - a fair amount of it due to Digital Foundry of course - thanks to the post-processing edge-smoothing carried out on the PS3 version of the game. Head through the link and you'll see that PS3 Saboteur looks a cut above the Xbox 360 version of the game in terms of overall presentation.

While the anti-aliasing technique remains one of the most impressive seen on console, the irony is that the game's chosen colour scheme and artwork means impact of this impressive edge-smoothing is less pronounced than you would expect it to be.

Far more obvious to the naked eye is the vast difference in the lighting schemes. Here are a couple of shots from a single cut-scene showing how the PS3 and 360 versions of the same game light the same scene in radically different ways. At times the Xbox 360 rendition of The Saboteur simply looks wrong, whereas the more natural, less in-your-face PS3 game just looks that much more pleasant.

While it's fair to say that PlayStation 3 gets the better-looking game, it's probably going to surprise no-one that in terms of actual performance it's the Xbox 360 version that once again has a noticeable lead over its competition.

The Saboteur aims to maintain its native 720p resolution at 30 frames-per-second, but will often disengage v-sync and drop frames on both platforms. However, it is clearly the PS3 version that is most impacted by the dips in performance: screen-tear is a constant companion during gameplay, so for those sensitive to this kind of thing the Xbox 360 version is probably the one worth getting.

Overall then, Xbox 360 wins on performance, image integrity and slightly improved controller response in taxing scenes, while PS3 gets the nod in terms of image quality with that anti-aliasing and a more natural lighting scheme.

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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.

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