Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3: Round 25

Episodes from Liberty City, SSFIV, SEGA All-Stars Racing, Superstars V8, Dead to Rights and AVP.

As we reach the quarter-century of cross-platform Face-Off features, we thought it was time to do a little spring-cleaning on the format itself. The idea was to supplement the already vast range of video and screenshot assets with additional analysis and data.

The reasoning was that while we love telling you what we think, the more information you have, the more informed your purchasing decisions will be and the more discussion points there are for the inevitable post-article comments pile-up.

So what's new? We've ignored the superior range of surround sound options possessed by the PS3 for too long, so for those of you who have their consoles hooked up to a decent amplifier capable of multiple audio decoding options, now you can see where PS3 employs less compression or additional sound channels. While Xbox 360 games are standardised at max quality 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1, PlayStation 3 supports the same format and also 5.1 lossless PCM, 7.1 lossless PCM, plus fan-favourite DTS. This is now highlighted for each game.

More precise installation data is also included in an easy-to-find manner - potentially useful if your hard drives are filling up. The actual amount of data the game uses on the optical disc is also included.

Here's where things might get a bit confusing. The Xbox 360's NXE hard disk install function works by stripping out the entire game data partition on the DVD, compiling it into the equivalent of an ISO file and copying it to the hard drive. So install size will always be identical to the storage space used. On PS3, installs - if any - are pretty much always a selected copy from the main disc.

So why include disc space at all here? Well, it better informs us as to how developers are utilising the superior storage options offered by the Blu-ray disc. Check out how Capcom has made use of the extra space for Super Street Fighter IV for example.

So, let's check out the wares we have lined up for the Face-Off quarter-century.

It's been a while since we've published a full-on multi-game Face-Off, so let's get on with it. Coming up soon in Round 26: Lost Planet 2, Skate 3 and many more...

Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City

  Xbox 360 PlayStation 3
Disc Size 6.6GB 8.05GB
Install 6.6GB (optional) 2.75GB (mandatory)
Surround Support Dolby Digital Dolby Digital, 5.1LPCM

With Microsoft's $50m exclusivity deal done and dusted, Rockstar recently released its two GTA IV DLC episodes on PSN and also as a retail release for both PS3 and the PC. The differences between the two download and physical SKUs are significant. Download the Episodes from PSN and you're required to own the original copy of GTA IV, while the retail release is a completely standalone affair: useful to know if you've sold or traded in your original copy.

The chance to revisit Liberty City is significant, as it also allows us to cast a retrospective glance over our original, somewhat mammoth GTA IV Face-Off, to validate our initial findings and also to see whether any of the deficiencies we found in both versions of the game have been put right for the DLC extensions.

Let's kick off with a comparison of the first episode, The Lost and Damned.

The Lost and Damned on PS3 and Xbox 360. Use the full-screen button for full HD, or hit the link for a larger window.

This initial episode shows something we didn't see in the original game: a film-like grain filter, which can be turned off from within the options screens. Otherwise, aside from a somewhat-muted colour scheme in the initial missions, it's GTA as we know it and business as usual.

That being the case, our initial findings seem to tie-in closely with what we've seen before in the original release: the Xbox 360 version renders at native 720p with clear implementation of 2x multisampling anti-aliasing. PlayStation 3 remains sub-HD: 1152x640 to be precise, but with one correction to our original findings. The PS3 version does feature AA - specifically the blur-inducing 2x Quincunx technique. It's difficult to see, and doesn't seem to be evenly applied to say the least, but when you switch to the internal view while inside a car, the edges on the bonnet give the game away.

Performance-wise, the basics of the two engines remain the same. Xbox 360 operates with an uncapped frame-rate, meaning that we can see anything from sub-20FPS in some areas to frame-rates in excess of 40FPS in others, with a very small, barely noticeable amount of screen-tear. PS3 on the other hand is resolutely v-synced, and capped at 30FPS.

However, it is definitely fair to say that performance appears to be much more like-for-like than it was in the original GTA. This selection of cut-scene and in-game action from The Lost and Damned should illustrate that nicely.

Performance analysis of cut-scenes and in-game action: best described as 'variable' on both systems.

So, what do we find with the second episode in the pack, The Ballad of Gay Tony? Rockstar really went all out to make this episode more vibrant, fun, and colourful than its predecessor. It's also more vertical too thanks to its crazy base-jumping scenes - one of several new concepts that eke out more from the established GTA engine.

Once again, there are no real surprises in the direct comparison footage.

Direct comparison scenes from The Ballad of Gay Tony. Use the full-screen button for full HD, or hit the link for a larger window.

Interestingly though, across the range of our performance analysis clips we do see a marked increase in frame-rate compared to The Lost and Damned - for Xbox 360 owners at least. In this case though, the initial intro scenes (which beautifully demonstrate how Rockstar has achieved the "living, breathing city" dream) account for most of the skew towards the Microsoft console, thanks mostly to its uncapped frame-rate. In-game, once again we see that things are far more similar between the two SKUs.

Here's how Gay Tony looks via the wonder of frame-rate analysis.

While revisiting the original GTA IV on PS3 to re-evaluate the anti-aliasing situation, it's apparent that the episodes do appear to run smoother than the original game. While performance is still very uneven in places (and probably always will be owing to the sheer scope of what this engine is doing), there is the sense of improvement on PS3 while things seem much the same as they always were on 360.

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