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Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3: Round 31

Brink, Mortal Kombat, WWE All-Stars, MX vs. ATV Alive, Virtua Tennis 4.

Mortal Kombat

Xbox 360 PlayStation 3
Disc Size 6.8GB 9.84GB
Install 6.8GB (optional) 1539MB (mandatory)
Surround Support Dolby Digital Dolby Digital, 5.1LPCM

Built upon a heavily modified Unreal Engine 3, NetherRealm Studios has streamlined the underlying tech in order to target and maintain a fluid 60Hz update instead of the usual 30FPS favoured by the engine. Sub-systems have been stripped out, code vastly re-written, and key optimisations have taken place to accommodate this task. Usually we find that the UE3 tech favours the 360, and while that still might be the case, the end results are rather comparable on the whole.

Mortal Kombat compared on PS3 and 360. Use the full-screen button for 720p res, or click on the link below for a larger window.

Mortal Kombat operates at 720p on both platforms with neither getting any form of anti-aliasing. Instead, what we have here is a distinct 1x1 pixel wide edge blur that only partially smooths over edges successfully, but at the expense of giving the game a slight sub-HD look to it. Aliasing isn't an issue regardless, although having no blur filter and no AA would have been a preferable alternative.

Interestingly, on one particular stage - Shao Kahn's Throne Room - the overall impression is of a sub-HD presentation on PS3 around the 680p area. We're not entirely sure about the reasoning behind this, as it does seem localised to just this stage, which doesn't look to us like the most taxing in the game.

Mortal Kombat operates at native 720p on both platforms - except in the case of Shao Kahn's Throne Room, where it appears that the game runs at 680p on PS3. It's a bit of a mystery bearing in mind how close the two versions are elsewhere. Here you can also see the different emphasis in lighting on projectile attacks too.

Moving on, it's clear that both versions are visually very close with regards to the baseline art, save for a few mild texture and normal map differences on some stages, and perhaps the odd rendering bug - for example, the texture work on Reptile looks very odd on PS3.

On the other hand we see that texture filtering is better on the 360, sporting higher levels of anisotropic filtering (AF), whilst the alpha buffers - smoke, fire and so on - are rendered in quarter resolution on the PS3. However, only some of these effects are actually filtered, leading to visible pixellation in some scenes.

Other projectile effects/specials feature a lighter upscale on the PS3, thus looking almost identical to the ones on the 360. There is also a difference in the way lighting is handled across both formats as well. In certain shots in the comparison gallery we can see that the intensity of the lighting given off by certain special moves is noticeably lower on the PS3. It almost looks as if projectile attacks aren't bespoke light sources, when they in fact are.

However, despite the few graphical differences, it's fair to say that in motion both games look so alike you'd be hard pressed to notice most of them when playing. More importantly, the gameplay remains completely unaffected at all times - and this is a sentiment echoed when looking at the game's performance across both systems.

The developers hit the target 60Hz refresh for the most part, with just a little screen-tear outside of gameplay.

First up, let's take a look at the Xbox 360 game. As we've already mentioned, Mortal Kombat targets a v-synced, 60FPS update, and this is solidly maintained mostly throughout an entire match. The only time we see a deviation from this is during the performance of both X-Ray moves and Fatalities - where control is removed from the player. V-sync is disengaged when the frame-rate drops below 60FPS, and as a result there is some barely noticeable slowdown and some mild screen tearing.

As with many titles running on the PlayStation 3, NetherRealm Studios has chosen to have v-sync permanently enabled . The game delivers the same locked 60FPS experience during normal play, only forgoing this level of smoothness during X-Rays and Fatalities. Here we see lower frame-rates compared to the 360, but on the upside, there is no screen tearing at all. The reduced frame-rate manifests itself in the form of what looks like an extra slow-motion effect while the game is purposely slowing down the action to further highlight the bone-breaking attacks.

The PS3 version of Mortal Kombat is effectively a match for the 360 version, though screen-tear is gone in favour of a lower frame-rate in Fatality and X-Ray moves.

In short Mortal Kombat runs well on both systems, holding to the targeted 60FPS/16ms update where it matters. 360 gets a mild advantage in this area, but as this occurs during what are effectively cut-scenes, it makes very little difference considering that the performance drop is mostly masked by the game's use of slow-motion.

Elsewhere PlayStation 3 owners get the welcome addition of 3D support, which surprisingly results in better image quality than with the 2D mode on either version. The framebuffer is rendered out as an upscaled 720p image (960x720) but without the pixel-wide edge blur present. As a result, even with the additional horizontal upscaling taking place we still get a crisper, cleaner image overall, in some ways preferable to the game's output in 2D. It's just a shame that the 3D effect itself is rather disappointing, presented more as a series of 2D layers.

That said, the way the stereoscopic effect is handled from a technical perspective is rather interesting: both characters remain in 2D (visible to those without wearing LCD shutter glasses) while both the foreground and background seem to be presented as a diorama effect similar to that seen in Crysis 2. While there is some sense of depth to the scene, there's no real feeling that 3D is being used anywhere near as effectively as it could have been if the developers had the rendering resources available to generate a true stereoscopic image. True 3D X-Ray and Fatalities could've been pretty awesome.

Overall, NetherRealm has delivered a solid multi-platform release, and a convincing, entertaining reboot of the Mortal Kombat franchise. Minor graphical differences may favour the 360 version, but in terms of an actual purchasing decision, the PlayStation version gets the nod. Owners of the Sony console get an additional character in the form of God Of War's Kratos - expertly integrated into the Mortal Kombat storyline, which is far more important than a few graphical niggles that are likely to go unnoticed by most people.

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About the Author

Richard Leadbetter avatar

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.


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