2K Games has taken the unusual step of responding to negative fan comments over the PS3 version of its forthcoming Mafia II, claiming that the game code has been optimised for each specific platform.
"When designing Mafia II, we optimised for each of the three different systems the game would run on to make sure the core experience was the best it could be," wrote 2K's senior manager of interactive marketing, Elizabeth Tovey, on the company's forum.
"Because of this, there are some differences from one platform to the next. In terms of the PS3 version, I wanted to clarify a couple points you have been asking about. There will not be highly detailed grass or large pools of blood, the cloth movement is less noticeable than, for example, the PC version, and the visual fidelity in the demo is generally representative of what you'll see in the full game."
Previously unconfirmed reports had suggested that the build of the game used for the PS3 demo wasn't complete, a state of affairs that isn't unknown in putting together playable samplers, but definitely very rare. Due to prolonged QA and submission processes, it's more often the case that demos are built in the very closing stages of development, or after the game has been sent off to the platform holder for approval. It appears that Mafia II complies with the norm in this regard.
So just what are the main differences we see in the demo? Let's tackle the grass issue first. Mafia II is an interesting game in that grass and foliage actually uses 2D sprites, given some element of depth thanks to the dynamic lighting. Pop into a bush, spin the camera around and take a look at the make-up of the greenery - you'll note that it doesn't actually render in three dimensions at all. However, it is clearly the case that while major foliage is rendered on PS3, the grass isn't, making for some rather barren areas compared to the 360 build.
It's also confirmed that downed NPCs do indeed spill blood, which results in bloody footsteps if you walk through it, and this does appear to be omitted on the PS3 version. Also apparent are differences in the anti-aliasing setup that favour 360 (though this is not exactly hugely apparent when comparing the two games side by side) while screen-space ambient occlusion (SSAO) is another effect we only see on the Microsoft console, as you can see on the bottom set of comparison shots.
Where 2K hasn't commented is on issues with the game's frame-rate, which again has come under fire as being inferior to the 360 version. This is something we can address fairly quickly with a montage of action taken from the demo.
The difference here doesn't look to be so much of an issue, as it's clear that both games have issues in sustaining 30FPS based on the sampler code. In like-for-like areas we can see that the Xbox 360 code has fewer torn frames, but in crucial gameplay areas the game performs at a similar level.
"Our aim is to make a cohesive and immersive experience and optimise the game for each platform so that it could run its best," Elizabeth Tovey continues. "And while there are some differences between each version, I'm sure you'll find that the core gameplay and the heart of Mafia II remains no matter whether you play on PS3, 360, or PC."
It does seem to be the case that "optimising" in the case of this particular PS3 game seems to involve the removal of features, but at the same time, regular Face-Off readers will know that this is part and parcel of the reality of multi-platform development on a great many games. The question is whether the missing elements impact the overall game experience. Certainly, based on the demo code, it's hard to imagine that the omitted features will have that much of an impact on whether or not the game is worth buying.
We'll be carrying out a full triple-format Face-Off as soon as we can.