A solid year's gone by since we ran our last Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3 graphics comparison. The differences between the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 have diminished with every passing batch of games, but some variation still exists between the two machines. Our first graphics comparison between the two consoles showed that the Xbox 360 looked better on most of the games, oftentimes drastically so. The second graphics comparison showed that the PlayStation 3 looked nearly as good as the Xbox 360 in some games, and actually looked better in a few as well. Now with both consoles well into their respective life cycles, developers have had plenty of time to figure out the nuances required to code beautiful games. With our third batch of games, the two machines seem evenly matched. The two trade blows on various games, each with its own set of advantages.
We've upgraded our capture equipment since the previous installments in the series. We captured all 720p images through an HDMI connection and then resized them for use in the article. The fullscreen shots are, of course, shrunk down to fit onto the Web page. The pixels in the zoomed-in shots are 1:1 representations of the original image captures, but cropped to fit our page width. We compressed the images slightly to make them more palatable for the Web, but they haven't suffered too much in terms of quality for it.
Assassin's CreedAssassin's Creed is a great example of what a next-generation game should look like, with well-rendered environments that are nicely shadowed and filled with intricate details. The game looks beautiful on both systems, but we did notice that the Xbox 360 has sharper textures with better 3D-depth simulation readily noticeable in the flat cobblestone streets. Edges look great in both games, as do graphical effects such as shadows, smoke, and lighting. The extra time it takes to install the game on the PlayStation 3 doesn't seem to give the console any benefits over the Xbox 360 in initial or subsequent loads of the game.
The Orange BoxThe Orange Box includes five games, but we stuck with the Half-Lifes for our graphics comparison. Half-Life 2 and all of its variants have been out on the market for quite some time, and the game still looks impressive on both the PC and consoles. The first image set is from Half-Life 2, and the second set is from Half-Life 2: Episode 2. The PlayStation 3 graphics appear blurrier in both games, due to either a lower overall resolution or low resolution textures. The difference feels like sitting in an optometrist's chair and flipping between two different lenses, one of which is clearly not the right prescription. Like with Assassin's Creed, the PlayStation 3 also lacks depth here in its textures, indicating a lack of normal mapping. That said, the PlayStation 3 seems to have a better antialiasing routine. The electric wires in the Xbox 360 disappear almost entirely, and the curbsides have decidedly more steps to them. Once again, we didn't feel that the PlayStation 3's hard-drive installation conferred any benefits over the load times of the Xbox 360. However, the clincher lies in the motion of the game, and the Xbox 360 has the PlayStation 3 beat hands down. Frame-rate issues mar the experience on the PlayStation 3.
Grand Theft Auto 4One of the most important games to come out in recent history, and certainly the one with the most clout in this batch of games, Grand Theft Auto 4 is a game that will make people buy a console if they don't have one. If there are any benefits present in either version, it might be enough to tip the scales when a late adopter is wondering which console to get.
Visually, the two games differ slightly. A large part of the difference emanates from their color palettes, which is evident regardless of weather or time of day. From the second set of images, on a technical level, the 360 renders the Ether billboard with better clarity, but then its falls behind the PS3 when it comes to cleaning up the checkered stripping of the Burger Shot. The PlayStation 3 also keeps up with its blurrier look, but it's not as apparent, considering that the game looks only slightly less blurry on the 360.
Neither of the machines run the game smoothly enough to confer an advantage, given that moving the camera quickly or speeding through the city makes both versions hiccup from time to time. The PlayStation 3 has a nearly 10-minute-long installation sequence, which helps slightly in terms of in-game loads. However, saved games take equivalent periods of time to load on both machines. If we had to definitively pick a version, we'd go with the 360's rendition of the game for its crisper visuals, but we wouldn't be dejected if we had to play the game on the PlayStation 3.
Call Of Duty 4Call of Duty 4, one of the most popular first-person shooters released in a while, provides fast-paced action in modern combat environments. The game renders war zones filled with derelict buildings, burned-out cars, and amazing environmental effects. Call of Duty 4 plays and looks great on both consoles, but each has its strengths and weaknesses. The PlayStation 3 does a better job of dealing with antialiasing and shadows, whereas the Xbox 360 provides a slightly more detailed environment with better textures and normal mapping.
Burnout ParadiseThe latest edition in the Burnout franchise doesn't disappoint on either of the consoles. The game looks largely the same on both, and we were hard-pressed to find significant differences. The PlayStation 3's images seem to be a bit blurrier than the Xbox 360, but it also looks cleaner in some areas. The differences are noticeable only if you zoom in and nitpick like this. If you're actually playing the game, none of this would be apparent because the backdrop of the game regularly turns into a blur of carnage and wrecked cars.
Rainbow Six Vegas 2Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is a clear-cut victory for the Xbox 360. The PlayStation 3 version of Vegas 2 lacks good lighting, forgets about normal mapping, and appears to have slightly lower resolution textures. The golden dragon is probably the most obvious example of normal mapping, but the issue pops up everywhere from the card tables to the carpet. And of course, the lights provided by the lamps don't look anything alike. The Xbox 360 provides lighting with deep dark and overbrights, whereas the PlayStation 3 has simple lighting of uniform intensity.
Need For Speed Pro StreetNeed for Speed Pro Street turns the usually informal racing series into a more, well, professional affair, with actual racing circuits, point systems, and racing events. Although the game may have taken a more professional stance, the graphics didn't exactly follow. The game doesn't look eye-poppingly great on either of the consoles, but the PlayStation 3 looks decidedly worse. The PlayStation 3 version comes with lazy shadows, fewer onscreen elements, and--in what seems to be the theme of the article--a blurrier look. You'll find shadows in both games, but the PS3 version doesn't bother to completely render the object's shadow. The sides of the track on the first set of images also lack many small details such as shrubbery.
Madden NFL 08In a way, sports-franchise games have it easy. They build the game once and tweak for the next release. From a screenshot perspective, the differences between the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions border on negligible. Aside from a marginally blurrier look on the PlayStation 3, the games look virtually identical. The players have similar shirt and pant folds, and the shadows match up completely. However, the Xbox 360 is considerably smoother in motion, given that it has nearly double the frame rate. The PlayStation 3 version of the game is more than playable, but the 360 definitely edges it out.
ConclusionAfter going through another eight games, we've found a few trends that follow both of these consoles around. Outside of Rainbow Six Vegas 2, our findings didn't show any drastic differences in image quality between the two consoles--nothing compared to what we found when we compared first-generation games in our original comparison feature. The PlayStation 3 generally lags behind the Xbox 360 in high-quality textures and the depth/normal maps that go with them. However, in the same games, the PlayStation 3 sometimes comes ahead with better shadowing and antialiasing. Games on the PS3 do tend to be blurrier than their Xbox 360 counterparts, but the PlayStation 3 games can look just as good as the Xbox 360 games when developers put some effort into it, as is evident with both Grand Theft Auto IV and Burnout Paradise. Overall, the PlayStation 3 outputs visuals that are either on par with the Xbox 360 or only slightly behind.