Welcome to the third part of the biggest DF retro project we’ve ever produced: a look at the development of 1080p games on the PlayStation 3 over the years. When it launched in 2007, Sony touted the then-exclusive HDMI digital interface, emphasizing Full HD gaming alongside the Cell processor and RSX “reality synthesizer” as key selling points for its third-generation console. Of course we all know how that ended. Both the Sony and Microsoft devices routinely ran the most advanced titles at sub-720p resolutions, often with questionable performance. So what happened to the dream of 1080p?
Here are the other parts:
In the first two parts of John Linneman’s review, we covered the first four years of the PS3’s lifecycle, and into 2010 the PlayStation 3 as a whole continued to improve. The platform operator launched what was then the most advanced motion controller in the console space, aided by experiments in stereoscopic 3D that proved to be a short-lived but nonetheless impressive combination. Combined with a strong E3 presentation, things were looking good for the PS3.
However, it’s fair to say that it’s been a poor year for 1080p gaming on the system. Only Scott Pilgrim vs The World’s upscaled, razor-sharp pixel graphics, Castle Crashers’ and Soldner X2’s 3D/FMV styling achieved full HD output, alongside a wonderful Monkey Island remaster.
But the 1080p dream isn’t over yet, as Gran Turismo 5 has finally been released. After half a decade of development, it felt like Polyphony Digital had given everything, perhaps too much, to this game. Aside from the distinction between premium and standard cars (the latter are essentially slightly upgraded PS2 models), Polyphony’s ambition wasn’t outweighed by the console’s performance. 1080p rendering was done at 1280×1080 and horizontal scaling, tearing was ubiquitous on challenging tracks, while tracks with dynamic weather and lighting looked ugly with low-res transparency effects and shadows. An alternative 720p mode, accessed via the console’s video output setting, increases resolution from 2x to 4x MSAA and improves performance.
Yes, it was definitely a poor year for 1080p gaming, but there was a big improvement in 2011, even as Sony itself was hit by the massive PSN hack and subsequent shutdown. Of course the quality varied, the Spliter Cell Trilogy’s HD mode was a low frame rate embarrassment, quite in contrast to the brilliant conversion work done for Ready at Dawn’s God of War Origins collection, which expertly upcycled their PSP titles full HD resolution at 60 frames per second, and with no less than optional stereoscopic 3D modes.
Quality didn’t fall by the wayside: Rayman Origins showed a brilliant use of 2D art in 1080p60 that still looks brilliant today, while Daytona USA delivered a near-definitive, full-resolution, full-frame-rate remaster of the arcade classic that only was affected by the poor implementation of mip-mapping. Pixeljunk Shooter 2 and Pixel Junk Side-Scroller continued Q-Games’ line of exceptional 1080p60 titles, while Bluepoint’s Ico also impressed, only Shadow of the Colossus’ 960×1080 rendering left something to be desired (quite understandable considering how bad the performance was on the PS2 original).
The third chapter of our journey through the PlayStation 3 Full HD library covers the year 2011 and the beginning of change. Sony itself led the way with the exceptional, if not very successful, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo followed with its “difficult” Wii U console. It didn’t stop there when it came to new hardware, Sony refreshed the PlayStation 3 with its third and final “Super Slim” iteration. An upgrade that made history for its cheaper build, ugly looks and cheap BD drive.
The device’s Full HD offering dwindled to include mostly smaller games with less demanding graphics, but Motorstorm Apocalypse bucked the trend with 1280×1080 rendering at 30 frames per second and an optional and technically stunning stereoscopic 3D mode.
There was still plenty of quality to admire on the smaller projects, not least through Capcom’s Okami HD. Back then there was talk of internal 4K rendering downsampled to 1080p, but based on what we’re seeing today we think we’re actually seeing Full HD rendering at 4x MSAA to deliver an exceptionally clean presentation. The refresh rate is also 60 frames per second, albeit with slight drops and the resulting screen tearing. Also worth checking out are Sega’s remasters of the Model 2 arcade classics Virtua Fighter 2, Fighting Vipers and Sonic the Fighters, all presented in full HD resolution, albeit in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Coming up is the final chapter in the Full HD journey spanning the final years of the PlayStation 3, with 1080p games spanning the years 2012 through 2015, well into the PS4 lifecycle. However, if you enjoy this series and want to support our continued expansion of DF Retro, you should consider the DF Supporter program. To put it bluntly, it is this support of John’s work that makes these massive projects possible. In addition to the main episodes, there is retro content such as interviews, retro Q+A, and pickup truck specials, all in addition to the early access, bonus material, and more offered for the standard and premium backer tiers.
Originally written by Richard Leadbetter, Technology Editor, Digital Foundry