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Xbox 360 vs. PS3 Face-Off: Round 15

BioShock, Dead Space, Pure, Midnight Club, Spidey, Star Wars.


Hopes that the PlayStation 3 release of BioShock might be reason enough to finally take a shot at getting that 'good' ending dissipated rapidly pretty much as soon as the game loaded up. Don't get me wrong, PS3 BioShock isn't a bad game - with content as strong as the original release's preserved 100 per cent intact, it's never going to be - but the actual quality of the conversion itself is obviously and quantifiably sub-par.

First of all, let's get the stuff that 2K has admitted is deficient out of the way. Textures on certain Big Daddy variants look pretty poor (this actually extends to some of the splicers too) and the game's cut-scenes now appear to sport a thin white border around the edge of the screen. Fixes are on the way in the upcoming patch, but weeks after the announcement (and the screenshots showing the corrections), we're still waiting. It now seems likely that this, along with other bugs reported by gamers (including numerous game-freezing moments), are only going to be corrected towards the latter end of November.

In truth, these issues barely registered on the radar for me; they had zero impact on the game experience. What matters is that the brilliantly realised city of Rapture is diminished on PS3 - first of all with a reduction in resolution - a drop from 720p to 680p, and secondly by the inclusion of an utterly useless, detail-destroying blur effect that kills fine detail. Yup, the dreaded Vaseline effect is back, once again lowering picture quality for PS3 owners with absolutely zero benefit whatsoever.

2K says on its forum that the blur is there to improve performance, but fails to explain how an additional post-processing effect that must require additional CPU or GPU cycles can actually speed up a game that is already running slower than its Xbox 360 equivalent. In the like-for-like sections captured for this feature, the PS3 version was far more prone to dropping down to 20fps at any given moment, even on the undersea voyage intro sequence, whereas the 360 game does a pretty good job of staying at the requisite 30 frames per second.

Taken as an average, a short sequence of action that the Xbox 360 renders at an average 30fps drops down to 25fps on PS3, but the fact that the frame-rate changes so frequently between 20fps and 30fps means that the game is beset with a level of judder far in excess of anything you might see on the Xbox 360 version. An analysis of just 100 like-for-like frames - less than two seconds of video from a fairly undemanding scene - illustrates just how variable it is. (Check out the Editor's blog extras for more details.).

The other kicker for PS3 owners (aside from an 11-minute, 5GB mandatory install) is that the mooted bonus content never actually made it into the retail release of the game; the new Challenge Rooms (check out our hands-on elsewhere today) are pencilled in for a 20th November release - presumably when the patch is going to turn up. Having to wait a year for a deficient conversion and then not getting any of the goodies announced pre-launch doesn't seem particularly fair to me, and worse still, you're expected to pay yet more cash for the privilege. The only tangible bonus on the actual disc is an extra difficulty level - Survivor - where supplies, ammo and EVE are kept to a minimum.

Appraising a game like this is a difficult task. I mean, it's BioShock. At worst it's an accomplished shooter with a great story and superb visual direction. At best, you might consider it one of the greatest games ever made. Whether you play on 360 or PS3, it's the same game, it's just that the new version is jerkier and blurrier - significantly and annoyingly so. In my mind, that impacts the player's level of immersion in the game, diminishes the impact of the wonderful artwork and shows a basic lack of respect to the PlayStation 3 and its userbase. It's an example of a port being 'good enough' rather than the best that it could be, and as such it's a real missed opportunity. I don't expect massive optimisations to the engine in the forthcoming patch, but I do hope that the cross-platform release of BioShock 2 will see a bit more effort put into the PS3 code.

Dead Space

Despite some pretty frank comments from the Dead Space developers that working with the Sony console was 'challenging', the internet has spoken and apparently the project led on PS3 for some or all of its gestation. A cursory look at the game itself reveals that although the conversion isn't bad at all, it's very clear indeed that Dead Space is first and foremost an Xbox 360 game.

On booting up the game, there's basically nothing to tell the two versions apart. The lengthy intro sequence, showcasing a range of the truly impressive lighting effects demonstrates quite clearly that a lot of work has been done on making the PS3 version match the core 360 code. Where there are changes (for example on the normal-mapping of textures), the omission on PS3 has been compensated for with arguably more subtle and impressive-looking effects. Aside from some very rare banding issues, the use of light and shadow remains constant between the two versions too and this is absolutely crucial to the excellent gameplay.

A run-through of the first act seems to indicate that we're well on our way to platform parity, until we reach the room with the first power-up workbench. For some bizarre reason, this room - devoid of pretty much any activity - suddenly sees the frame-rate drop from 30fps down to 20fps. From then on, where the game starts to produce more interesting and varied environments, along with larger amounts of monsters to fight off at any given moment, the drop in frame rate becomes more frequent. While the 360 version can drop frames when things really get intense, the frame-rate overall tends to stick at the target 30fps with little deviation.

The developers of Dead Space have been caught between a rock and a hard place here. They could've taken the easy way out and simply unlocked the v-sync. You wouldn't see a drop to 20fps quite so often, but you would see torn frames - and in a game like this with its often-flickering lighting, it would've looked pretty poor. As it is, the fact that Dead Space is a slow-paced game rather than an ultra-fast arcade extravaganza does mitigate the loss in frames and I daresay that those not sensitive to frame-rate shifts won't have any issues at all with the game, as in all other respects, it's essentially the same as the Xbox 360 code.

For those with both consoles, the more stable frame-rate makes the 360 build the one to have. There are platform-exclusive downloads - costumes and the like - but the smoother, more responsive 360 gameplay experience gives it the edge.

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About the Author

Richard Leadbetter avatar

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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