Face-Off: Mafia II • Page 2

Which to Vito?

At this point a couple of further observations can be made. Firstly, texture resolution in certain places appears to be lower on PS3. Secondly, the distinctive "icy" specular map on the road appears to be missing, or at the very least pared back (the environmental light causing the reflection may have been removed) as you can see them elsewhere within the city. There's little actual consistency to changes in the world map, suggesting it was done for performance reasons based on location.

The more you play, the more minor tweaks you see. Both the Xbox 360 and PC versions apply their own custom (and somewhat selective) anti-aliasing, which is absent from the PS3 version. There's also a blur filter added to distant parts of the cityscape to create some semblance of depth, but again this is dialled back on PS3. Missing, too, is a subtle motion blur effect employed by the Xbox 360 game when your car is travelling at high speeds.

The extent of the changes and compromises grow as you progress, and this applies to the cut-scenes too. It's clear both consoles have issues with this. Any given shot within a cut-scene either renders at 30FPS, or when detail-heavy characters are shown close-up, drops to 20FPS. This is what happens when v-sync is engaged on a double-buffered game (one frame being drawn while the other is displayed) when the engine is put under load.

However, tearing also seems to occasionally appear in these scenes too, suggesting that to maintain something approaching a fluid frame-rate, v-sync is dropped if the frame-rate dips below, say, 20FPS. It's difficult to shake the impression that the engine couldn't consistently deliver what the developers wanted from it - a theme you can see repeated throughout the whole experience of playing Mafia II.

And yet, even in the most insignificant areas, there's evidence that the engineers continued to nip and tuck at the PS3 version of the game. For example, in this shot you can see that the shaders on the glass are either of a lower resolution or less precisely generated compared to the Xbox 360 game.

There's a high probability that we could play through the entire PS3 game and pick out many, many more tweaks and compromises made. There's no doubt that if you treat the PC version as the template for the console conversions, the Xbox 360 is definitely the closer game.

The reality, however, is that the Czech division of 2K Games has done a fairly good job of making cutbacks in areas that you're unlikely to notice as you go about the business of actually playing the game. The combination of all the tweaks is noticeable but not distracting, and you're only likely to be swayed if you've already played the 360 version extensively.

On one hand it's disappointing that such a big game is lacking in any respect on the PlayStation 3. On the other hand, neither of the console versions acquit themselves particularly well overall: frame drops and considerable screen-tear are ever-present companions, and while there is strong art direction, there's also a sense that the tech itself is outdated: GTA IV offered a richer world with similar frame-rates and barely noticeable screen-tear years ago (and there's no tearing at all in the PS3 version).

There's also what amount to head-scratchingly bizarre technological decisions. For example, while grass may have been omitted on PS3, all three versions present foliage generated using exclusively 2D sprites.

The leap to polygon 3D in mainstream console titles happened almost 16 years ago with the launch of PlayStation and Saturn, but 2D sprites are still very useful. Why generate complex 3D shapes for incidental stuff like foliage that's far away from the player? Far better to substitute in a 2D sprite. Even new games like Halo: Reach swap 3D objects - such as like enemy characters - for dynamically generated sprites when they're far enough away that the player won't notice. Yet in Mafia II all of the foliage is 2D all of the time, which results in some bizarre moments.

Mafia II has somewhat two dimensional foliage.

Mafia II has been in development for six years and that may explain why some of the technological elements come across as old and decrepit, but the PC version is interesting in its ability to overcome the main issues of the console games through sheer horsepower alone.

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