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The arrival of Mafia II on consoles and PC has certainly caused plenty of controversy, not just on the respective merits of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions but also, more importantly, on whether the game itself is actually a worthwhile buy.
Many gamers on the official 2K forums weren't happy about the graphical omissions they found in the PS3 version in the demo. It actually turns out these compromises, tweaks and changes are actually the tip of the iceberg. The question is, bearing in mind the relatively poor performance level of both console games, how much does this actually matter?
Let's kick off, as usual, with a comparison video covering outdoor and indoor gameplay, along with the detail-rich cut-scenes. Remeber to use the full-screen button for full HD resolution. A full, triple-format 720p comparison gallery is also available for your viewing pleasure.
One thing worth pointing out here is that the Xbox 360 version of Mafia II lowers the brightness significantly by default. We've upped the brightness, but didn't quite get the match we wanted.
Our initial analysis of the demo code in our older blog entry seemed to indicate that actual performance was mostly similar in the section of gameplay available and somewhat disappointing overall, so let's run some more frame-rate tests on like-for-like sections of the final retail code.
The results in these sections show an overall advantage to the Xbox 360 games, but it also confirms that performance is below par in general on both consoles - a point we'll pick up later when we factor in the PC version of the game. In places, Mafia II doesn't look or feel like a modern console game at all.
The warehouse fight, for example, should be pretty solid - it's an enclosed space with few characters in the scene. Yet we see some tearing and dropped frames on 360, and an even more disappointing showing on PS3. The driving sections also show a performance difference that is much more pronounced than in the demo, though both console games struggle when there are a lot of dynamic lights in play (as you'll see when going through Chinatown, or entering a tunnel).
The existing DF blog post examined some of the claims being made about the respective merits of the two console versions - we looked at the complete omission of grass from the PS3 game, the lack of blood leaking from downed NPCs, plus the lack of screen-space ambient occlusion (SSAO). Others have pointed out that the cloth simulation on PS3 is similarly lacking.
The more you play the retail game, the more you can see how various nips and tucks have been made to the PS3 version. Just about all of them appear to be graphics-based, suggesting that the 2K Czech team did not do much in the way of offloading GPU tasks to the CPU - a practise that many cross-format console developers now use to make up for (and sometimes exceed) the more advanced graphics chip found in the Xbox 360.
Let's start our autopsy at the beginning. The initial level, set in Europe during World War II, has you storming a chateau occupied by enemy troops. Right from the off we can see that shadow detail appears to be lower on PS3: LODs are more aggressive, resulting in what looks like less depth to the scene.
This same area also shows that while the omission of SSAO on the PS3 often makes little difference, in other places it can transform the look of a scene, by adding more depth and making objects appear more at home within their environments.
Once the WWII chapter is over, there's a scene where you're driven through the environments and dropped outside your family's apartment. This scene allows us to match time, place and motion across both consoles so we can get more of an idea about what changes the developer may have made.