Saturday 21 April 2012

Face-Off: Ninja Gaiden 3

The Ninja Gaiden series is not immune to change. Originally designed as Xbox-exclusive releases, Team Ninja built its games around the raw hardware capabilities of the hardware - something that presented a real problem when it came to porting Ninja Gaiden 2 across to the PlayStation 3. As such the game was extensively reworked when appearing on Sony's system in the form of the 'Sigma' edition, with it more closely matching that of the original Ninja Gaiden than the sequel.

With Ninja Gaiden 3, Team Ninja has taken the series in yet another direction, but this time the biggest changes are skewed towards the gameplay rather than the technology. The action has been simplified, allowing the experience to be more accessible to a wider audience, with the focus now on fast unrelenting combat instead of the more tactical confrontations favoured by past titles. From a technical perspective, Team Ninja's latest also adopts a mixture of rendering techniques from the last two games, in addition to implementing new lighting effects and post-process anti-aliasing.

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Gaikai vs. OnLive (Digital Foundry - Face Off)

OnLive doesn't do enough to convince us that cloud gaming is ready to be the next big thing, but the fact that it works as well as it does is undoubtedly a major technological achievement. The company has set the standard for "first gen" performance in this field, and it's now down to others to enter the market and compete. And that's exactly what upstart rival Gaikai has done - with intriguing results.

Although based on similar principles, the implementation is very different. OnLive launched with a full games service, while Gaikai specialises in offering playable demos with plans to expand beyond that when the time is right. OnLive uses widely spaced datacentres to address a large area, whereas Gaikai offers more servers closer to players. The technology behind the video compression is also very different, with OnLive using hardware encoders while Gaikai uses the x264 software running on powerful Intel CPUs.

Gaikai reckons its approach results in more responsive gameplay, better base visuals and superior video compression. So how can this be tested?

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Sunday 11 March 2012

Street Fighter X Tekken (Digital Foundy - Face Off)

It's hard to imagine characters from two completely different fighting games working well together in a single title, but Capcom's solution is obvious but effective: by tethering Namco's characters to the classic Street Fighter gameplay, the developers have avoided the potential problems of shoehorning two distinct play styles together in one title, and the fresh roster creates a title that feels tangible different from the company's other fighting games.

For this latest release, the MT Framework engine used to power Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has been jettisoned in favour of an enhanced version of the technology behind the Street Fighter 4 games. The result is a game which shares much in common with those titles, from the rendering resolution to the implementation of anti-aliasing. The cross platform conversion work is extremely close, and in terms of the graphical look of the game there are a number of visual tweaks which positively enhance the core artwork without compromising the blistering smooth 60FPS action.

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Syndicate (Digital Foundry - Face Off)

The idea of the classic real-time strategy franchise rebooted as a first person shooter may well upset die-hard purists, but the fact is that Riddick/Darkness developer Starbreeze has handed in an entertaining action game featuring solid gunplay and challenging AI. However, single- and multiplayer modes are distinctly fractured from each other, and there's a distinct sense that some of the best ideas are rarely explored to the fullest extent of their potential.

From a technological perspective, the visual representation of the sleek, highly stylised sci-fi setting is handled beautifully, and the engine powering the game appears to be well optimised in terms of performance across both console platforms. Starbreeze's proprietary engine has traditionally favoured the 360's architecture, taking advantage of the increased memory bandwidth and higher pixel fill-rate to deliver superior resolutions along with higher quality artwork. However, Syndicate is by far the developer's closest multiplatform release to date.

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Thursday 16 February 2012

The Darkness 2 (Digital Foundry - Face-Off)

Featuring a range of impressive lighting and shader effects along with extensive use of post-processing, Digital Extremes' proprietary Evolution engine is a great fit for The Darkness 2, thanks in no small part to a superb cel-shaded art style that brings Top Cow's comic to life in a beautifully vibrant, violently gory manner.

After the disappointments surrounding the PS3 version of the original game - with its sub-HD resolution, pared down effects and lower quality textures - the good news is that the standard of the cross-platform development work this time around is hugely improved: The Darkness 2 is very, very close on both consoles.

To be honest this isn't particularly surprising given that Digital Extremes' custom Evolution engine has clearly been optimised for both consoles for quite a while now. 2007's Dark Sector was an early example of impressive cross-platform conversion work done right; fairly closely matched in terms of performance, the main difference resting with the sub-HD framebuffer resolution of the PS3 game.

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Monday 12 December 2011

PC Tech Analysis: Batman: Arkham City (Digital Foundry)

PC versions of cross-platform titles are often characterised as simple ports with only the power of the hardware itself giving any advantage over their console equivalents in terms of higher frame-rates or superior resolutions. Batman: Arkham City on PC is not one of these games. It's enormously improved over the console game, even if the initially broken DirectX 11 rendering mode grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.

While it doesn't reach the same lofty standards set by the likes of Battlefield 3, it's clear that UK developer Rocksteady has put some effort into making the PC version a substantially better experience. While much of the artwork is shared with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 builds, pretty much every corner of the game is blessed with a graphical upgrade in one way of another. Some of the differences are quite subtle, adding an extra layer of mild polish to the look of the game, while others are far more drastic, showcasing just how much more detail and clarity is possible when pairing up Rocksteady's masterpiece with a decent spec PC. It's a game that cries out to be run at resolutions well in excess of the console standard 720p.

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And here's the Batman: Arkham City console Face-Off...