This is the final chapter of one of DF Retro’s largest projects to date. Every Sunday this month, we’ve taken a look at 1080p gaming on Sony’s controversial PlayStation 3. We’ve looked at the beginnings of the Full HD dream from Sony’s first marketing statements to launch in late 2006. We’ve seen triumph and disaster, and a gradual metamorphosis, with 1080p taking flight on projects at more small scale with less advanced visuals – punctuated by the arrival of stereoscopic 3D, requiring higher pixel counts, providing a backdoor to additional 1080p support for the ‘Triple’. In this final chapter, we cover the years 2013 to 2015 – a period of transition as the difficult era of the PS3 gave way to the resounding success of the PlayStation 4.
2013 is proving to be an intriguing year for 1080p gaming on Chad Warden’s favorite console and it begins with the arrival of the HD remaster of Zone of the Enders 2 – or rather, its second Arrivals. Originally released in sub-optimal form at 720p with missing effects and dismal performance, Konami has taken a remarkable step by bringing the project back to life, handing it over to the brains of Hexadrive tech – an HD remaster of an HD remaster, if you wish. What we got was a game that made more full use of the PlayStation 3’s SPUs, resulting in a 1280×1080 masterpiece, with full 1920×1080 vector work. It’s a fascinating story that was also one of John Linneman’s first works for Digital Foundry. The only regret with this one is that Konami didn’t drop Hexadrive on the original ZOE HD remaster, which isn’t particularly great.
Other impressive 1080p titles in 2013 included the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix Collection, with a dynamic 900p to 1080p resolution upscaling system included in the Final Mix remaster of the first Kingdom Hearts, as well as a 1080p remaster of the Game Boy Advance offer, Chain of Memories. This would be joined in 2014 by the remix of Kingdom Hearts 2.5, with the sequel remastered to the same specs as the original release (complete with DRS), plus a port of Birth by Sleep, a 1080p rendition of a technologically excellent PSP version.
Beyond that, 1080p support on the PlayStation 3 continued to be further adopted by a range of indie titles, while also being exploited for 2D art – Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown (a visually arresting Dungeons-inspired brawler and Dragons) being a spectacular case in point. Soundshapes and Guacemelee also caught our eye for similar reasons, as did WayForward’s Duck Tales Remastered. The crème de la crème is Rayman Legends – remember when Ubisoft took chances on mind-blowing games like this? – which leveraged the UbiArt framework to dramatic effect, producing an unmissable experience.
2013 ended with some excellent 1080p releases. By then the PlayStation 4 had arrived and was making its mark, but it was fascinating to see the arrival of XGen’s Super Motherload, a relatively simplistic title that saw you dig for minerals and gems on Mars. Yes, it’s not exactly pushing the envelope with its 2D visuals. However, side by side with its contemporary PlayStation 4 version, we see a virtually identical PS3 game. Both run at 1080p.
The year ended with the last major triple-A PlayStation 3 release – and the last top-tier 1080p title: Gran Turismo 6, perhaps the greatest GT game ever made in terms of vast array of content . Polyphony Digital upped the resolution from the GT5’s 1280×1080 to the 1440×1080 seen in its original GT demo at system launch. However, MSAA anti-aliasing was dropped in favor of the less efficient MLAA, and performance was highly questionable, especially on tracks using dynamic time-of-day and weather effects. Thankfully, users can drop down to 720p via system menus for a smoother ride. Polyphony Digital pushed hard with GT6 – perhaps too hard – and we can’t help but think it would have been better suited as a PlayStation 4 launch title.
In 2014 and 2015, we reached the end of our Full HD odyssey, and as the PlayStation 3 era began to end, support for cross-generation titles continued. It led to a number of terrible PS3 disasters – simply because the system had so little technological continuity with its successor – but it brought us the Final Fantasy X and X2 remasters, which were also impressive beasts on PlayStation Vita. On the PS3 these games ran at 720p with FXAA, but it also turned out that you could run them at 1080p without any anti-aliasing, with only a slight drop in performance.
Beyond that, PS3 1080p support is fleeting. We’ve already talked about the Kingdom Hearts 2.5 package, while Drinkbox offered another 1080p gem with Mutant Blobs Attack – another example, like Guacamelee, of art and technology working together to produce a beautifully polished presentation. The latest full HD title we could find? It would be the weird Tennis in the Face, a platform puzzle game about tennis balls in the faces of enemies scattered around the screen. It’s a bit anti-climax, but that’s it!
So, at the end of this marathon project, what have we learned? At first glance, defending the PlayStation 3 as a 1080p gaming machine (initially with of them HDMI ports, remember) seems spectacularly overoptimistic, given the deep limitations of the RSX graphics chip. We tested 88 titles with 1080p support (defined as 1280×1080 to full 1920×1080), representing only three or four percent of the roughly 2,500 game library that the PlayStation 3 had throughout its lifetime. It may seem like a small amount, but it’s more than Xbox 360 and Wii U combined. On top of that, out of those 88 titles, 52 of them targeted a frame rate of 60fps. It’s impressive.
It’s also worth remembering how much impact 1080p could have across the ages. Full HD gradually became the norm for screens of the time and those razor-sharp presentations could look truly exceptional, especially when looking at visuals as impressive as those of Ridge Racer 7, Gran Turismo and Super Stardust HD. Most other titles targeted 720p or less – inevitably upscaling to another display resolution – remember that actual native 720p displays were extremely hard to come by throughout the build.
More generally, the developers aimed to push the envelope, but the results were often muddy and with poor performance. What’s impressive about the 1080p library for the Triple is how often game creators have built these visuals around system limitations, with the clear presentation and often smooth performance levels helping to ensure that they stand the test of time.
As you’ve seen if you’ve been following this series of DF Retro videos, John Linneman rated each game for effectiveness at Full HD resolution, then averaged the results over each year. Yes, that’s a somewhat arbitrary metric that can be compromised by the number of entries per year, but from that totally unscientific point of view, the best year for 1080p gaming on PlayStation 3 is 2013 – maybe not the best Full HD games per se, but the combination of GT6, HD remasters and the expert 2D/2.5D rollout of 1080p made this a great year for the system.
However, it’s a close race with a notable double of finalists! The launch of the PlayStation 3 in 2007 saw some interesting experiments with 1080p, while 2012 was also a great year for Full HD gaming on the triple. It’s as if the trend started strong, waned for a few years, then came back strong – and that’s just because those early experiences with triple-A fares have mostly dissipated, while the the rise of indie titles and 2D has definitely helped flesh it out. leaving the library.
All of which brings us to the end of this most ambitious DF Retro project we’ve yet undertaken – which is no small feat when we’ve also reviewed the entire OG PlayStation lineup, performed an analysis technical on every Mega Drive/Genesis Title 32X and even rated every console port of Doom! from id Software! We have many more plans for bigger projects like this – work that’s only made possible by the retro level of the Digital Foundry Support Program, so consider supporting our work, but if you have any ideas for other projects along these lines, let us know!
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