Mirror's Edge

Mirror's Edge is one I'd been looking forward to for a long time, firstly because it's DICE - Battlefield: Bad Company, like most Nordic gaming endeavours, was a technically brilliant piece of code - but more than that, to see how it made out with Epic's Unreal Engine 3. The jury's still out on just how well this middleware performs on PS3, and if DICE can't make it work on a technically demanding game, it's fair to say that nobody can. Finally, there's the fact that this game's development led on PlayStation 3, which should in theory mean good news for owners of the Sony platform.

As you can see from the video, there's barely anything to tell these games apart. They're both equally excellent to look at, and the overall gameplay experience is virtually identical. However, proving that direct performance of UE3 isn't completely identical, there are technical differences in how Unreal Engine 3 runs. First of all, there's the question of anti-aliasing. Mirror's Edge is a game with a hell of a lot of detail and hard-edged architecture, meaning a lot of potential for the dreaded 'jaggies' to make an appearance. PlayStation 3 has nothing in the way of anti-aliasing to smooth off the image, whereas the Xbox 360 code employs AA selectively to make the game look marginally more appealing.

There's also the question of v-lock and screen-tear and the way each console handles it. For the most part, the 360 version is v-locked, but when it drops frames, it can do so quite severely - and you get a couple of frames of bonus screen-tear to boot. The PS3 version isn't v-locked, so runs a touch smoother in a few rare instances, but has noticeably more tearing. Curiously, both games have difficulties handling different scenes. In terms of real-life impact, the tearing is a minor annoyance on the PS3 (most noticeable on left-to-right panning motion - for example, the introduction scene), and the dropped frames on the 360 game are weirdly only noticeable on the cut-scenes with close-ups of other characters - Faith hugging her sister being a case in point.

These miniscule issues, along with minor variances in contrast on each level, are all that divides these games. Fundamentally, DICE has done a magnificent job on both versions, regardless of the platform it may have led on, and Unreal Engine 3 has been proven as a cross-platform middleware capable - with minor compromises - in producing like-for-like multiformat games.

Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway

War is hell, apparently. Brothers in Arms, on the hand, is not so much hellish as fundamentally lacking in excitement, a state of affairs eerily paralleled in both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game.

Having born witness - repeatedly - to every single cross-platform development faux pas ever committed in the HD era of gaming, Hell's Highway is refreshing in that it does actually look identical on both console platforms. This is doubly impressive because while the game itself is really rather dull, in a world of Unreal Engine lookalikes Gearbox's effort at least has its own very distinctive visual identity, even though it too runs on UE3.

In terms of the basic pixels being rendered, we really are seeing a like-for-like display, bar the usual contrast differences (though in this case, it's the PS3 game that boasts the richer colour palette). Both games run at the prescribed 720p with zero anti-aliasing, but the only real dividing factor comes down to the frame-rate. It's clear that 30fps is the target refresh rate, but both PS3 and 360 games deviate from this at the drop of a hat. Any hat. There are no v-lock issues, but this does make the frame-drops that much more noticeable and, of the two games, it's the PS3 version that suffers the most.

The difference in refresh rate is rather puzzling bearing in mind that while it's an attractive game, it's hardly '20 per cent better than Gears', as Gearbox chief Randy Pitchford told Eurogamer back at the end of May. However, in the final analysis, any superiority the 360 version may enjoy is diminished by the more strategic gameplay; Brothers in Arms isn't about the kind of ultra-fast response required in an action shooter that demands a smooth frame-rate. As such, while the 360 has a slight tangible technical advantage, both games are equally as good, or bad, depending on your viewpoint.

The final thing to add is that there's 1080i/1080p support in the PS3 code - something that's becoming a lot more common. It's upscaled of course (and without an anti-aliased image to work with, neither PS3 nor 360 look that great blown up) but at least it's there providing proper support for the aged CRT HD displays out there.

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.