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Darksiders 360 patch analysed

Screen-tear now significantly reduced.

THQ has released a patch said to address the screen-tear issues in the Xbox 360 version of Darksiders, with the code auto-updating the next time you run the game while connected to Xbox Live.

Earlier in January, developer Vigil Games said said that "it's something that's really not a difficult fix for us" while sources at THQ mentioned that the problem didn't appear in preview versions of the game - suggesting some kind of issue that materialised only in the run-up to launch.

It's extremely rare that patches actually increase the performance level of a game. Cutting down screen-tear to an appreciable degree without impacting frame-rate involves some pretty substantial optimisations to the engine, so it was with some level of intrigue that Darksiders performance was put through the Digital Foundry frame analysis tools in both original and patched conditions.

The result? Well, screen-tear is indeed dramatically reduced. In the sample of clips below, the launch version of the game has 43.5 per cent torn frames. The new version is considerably improved, taking that number down to 21.6 per cent.

Tearing from the old version of the game is on the top of the graph, while performance of the new patch is below. The green graph line indicates frame-rate from the launch version, while cyan shows the update.

So, what happened? How has the tearing been reduced by a factor of over 50 per cent? Based on what the video above shows us, it looks to be more of a case of the original code running with no limit to frame-rate. The game seeks to pump out as many frames as possible (maxing out close to 60FPS in some places), resulting in more tearing. The patch seems to be capping maximum output from the engine at 30FPS, thus giving the game engine a bit more room to breathe in less strenuous scenes.

While the video isn't exactly like-for-like (though the comparison clips are taken from the same game areas, synced to the same cut-scenes), it does suggest that when performance dips below 30FPS, both the launch and patched versions seem to act in much the same way. In short, it's fair to say that capping frame-rate in this way produces a more stable look to the game. So, how does this stack up to the PS3 version of Darksiders? It's one of the games currently being analysed for the next Face-Off, so look out for that next week...