Grand Theft Auto 5 is a pretty damn impressive re-release of a game that pushed the last generation of consoles to their absolute limits. The Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions of GTA5 sport a plethora of visual improvements, handily separating it from the last generation, but despite this, hints of the older engine still cling on to the title. It’s evident the game hasn’t been rebuilt from the ground up – but instead, has been reworked, rewired and given a slew of additional modes and features (first person – for instance) which make the whole experience more fun, immersible and open.
Both the X1 and PS4 muster up the GPU grunt to run its internal frame buffer at a native resolution of 1080P – which perhaps isn’t too surprising. I think it’s fair to say that anything else than a native 1920x1080p resolution would have caused quite the public outcry. It’s a large bump from the previous generation console – and the improved resolution is evident on virtually all games assets.
Both the X360 and PS3 had issues running GTA 5, and despite being quite the programming accomplishment that Rockstar managed to get the aging hardware running the game at all, performance issues and pop-in were prevalent. The pop in and performance troubles weren’t just a fault of lack of GPU render time, but also textures and other assets being streamed from the disc. While there was a mandatory install required for both versions, one could virtually hear the drives creaking as data was swapped into the paltry 512MB RAM both consoles were loaded with.
Now, things are different; the engine powering Grand Theft Auto 5 is still the RAGE engine (or, if you prefer the full name Rockstar Advanced Game Engine). It’s been around the block, and has enjoyed modifications, having been previously used on GTA4, Red Dead Redemption and even Max Payne 3. But, with 5GB of RAM available (if one factors into account the RAM reserved by both consoles rather large OS / system reserves) the engine is now free to stretch its legs and fit assets into RAM of the area, and rely less on streaming.
All of this extra memory space means that the city and terrain sprawls out in front of you like a true open world title. Panning the camera (or turning your character, should you choose to play in first person) will show a lush and often beautiful environment, Pop-in is greatly reduced – no longer will you be speeding down the street and sign posts and rarely, even cars, appear from out of nowhere with bad intentions for your front fender.
There is still some pop-in – for example, car wheels, details or decals on the buildings and so on can pop-up with little warnings. Just a few steps can produce quite an obvious difference in the quality of certain objects. You’ll likely not spot it, and if you’re sat in one spot, rotating the camera it’ll be very unlikely to happen. But running back and forth in an area will produce a little pop-up every so often.
God Rays, DoF (Depth of Field) and more realistic reflections are all there – and we can’t really spot any obvious signs that one version is poorer than the other. Being in the wilderness alone, with the moon over head and just the sparse lighting a neon sign provides in the distance, or driving through the streets as rain pelts the pavement, and the water (fairly) accurately reflects street lamps, head lights and other sources is pretty damn impressive. It’s to a scale that just wasn’t found in the original GTA 5, and really helps nail home the whole package.
That being all said – there are a few areas of the game that don’t quite live up to the expectations we had going in. Firstly – plant life. Two aspects of this really stick out like a sore thumb – the first is that the models themselves can look rather like cardboard cutouts – particularly while viewed from sharp angles in first person mode. This isn’t the lush plant-life found in Far Cry 4 – it’s not the worst we’ve seen, but compared to what we’re used to after playing FC4 just a day prior, the presence of Grrand Theft Auto 5’s last generation roots (if you’ll excuse the obvious pun) are obvious.
The second concern is less foliage in the Xbox One version of the game – now, before anyone panics, it’s not awful – but there is less density when it comes to foliage in certain key areas. A woodland from the PS4 doesn’t suddenly become a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland on the Xbox One, and you’ll likely not notice the difference unless directly comparing the two side by side, but it’s a bit of a shame there’s less density found on Microsoft’s version. The impact on larger (and likely more noticeable) set pieces – such as say trees and cacti are more like for like. But, smaller tufts of grass, clumps of flowers – they’re more likely to have been cut.
You’re going to be noticing a rather considerable difference in the the variety of the flowers on offer, on the Xbox One version you’ll spot fewer flowers, grass and everything else under the sun. There’s also less diversity when it comes to the types of grass – there’s less ‘difference’ and variety of grass. The X1 version has a more uniform type of grass, while the Playstation 4 has a much greater diversity. While some may say this is nitpicking, it’s hard to argue that it can have a bit of an effect on the overall ambiance of the area. The best way to put it is if you’re playing the PS4 version, it’s a very nice bonus – but for the Xbox One, it’s something you’ll likely be unaware of, unless you see a friend playing their version.
Regarding textures – there are obvious improvements over the last generation. Clearly, reusing the same resolution textures from say, the 360 to the X1 wasn’t going to happen – and thus, we’ve seen a nice bump in texture quality. I want to be clear here – there are still issues. You’ll still spot textures that wouldn’t be too out of place for the previous generation, while others are decidedly more higher res. At their best (combined with the myriad of additional graphical effects that the extra next-gen GPU power affords) the game is a large improvement from the seventh generation to the eighth.
What doesn’t help the texture quality though, is the lack of texture filtering. It’s a real shame – and whether it was an oversight, Rockstar ran out of GPU grunt, or whether an engine fault (which is doubtful), texture quality certainly isn’t what it could be. Even lower quality textures, particularly when viewed from more extreme angles, an be helped with a nice smattering of Anistropic-Filtering. Yes, it looks better than the last generation – but it’s fairly clear that it should. But, it’s still a step or two behind what we’d likely hoped for. Setting AF to x8 or 16 would have made a rather large difference.
Shadows and lighting are obviously one area that the next generation really is helping separate itself from the last. We’re used to HBAO+, we’re used to shadows so real we could play shadow puppets should our characters allow us too. But with GTA 5, this isn’t quite the case. Shadows can look… well – weird. At sharp angles, particularly if interfered with by grass, foliage and other such ‘things’ you’ll spot the shadow doesn’t behave quite the way that it should. It also appears to have issues when you play around with the camera and first person mode – you’ll spot shadows switching in quality. It’s a not what we’d hope for.
Earlier in this very article, we’d spoke about lighting. And yes, it’s much improved. It’s not as arbitrary as the previous generation; instead everything is more subtle – more gradual and more natural. Bright lights, reflections, sunsets, headlights – lens flare, god rays, volumetric lighting – everything is there. The PS4’s lighting appears a shade (no pun intended) nicer than the X1, but I’d once again argue that the majority wouldn’t notice the difference unless really looking, and you’d be extremely hard pressed to find the differences without running them side by side.
Now onto the frame-rate – we’ve already covered frame rate in the early portions of the game – and the good news is that unless things become particularly hectic, the systems will stick to the 30FPS target that has been set for both versions of the game. There are times when this isn’t the case – passing through a busy intersection at speed, particularly if causing a rather large amount of carnage, will drop the FPS down a bit. Because of the shear number of titles we’re trying to cover currently, we’ll tackle our final frame rate analysis in the not too distant future, but you can check out our early embedded results below.
From our early testing, the Xbox One version suffers slightly more than the PS4 – particularly when there’s a lot of effects going on. It’s not ‘all the time’ the Xbox One falls behind, in a few cases it can take the lead – at a pure guess, those reasons are likely the same as discussed in our AC Unity analysis. The CPU advantage the X1 enjoys over the PS4 (1.6 GHZ for Sony’s console, while Microsoft’s hits 1.75GHZ) isn’t enough to offset the rather clear and decisive GPU performance and memory bandwidth advantage of the Playstation 4. The PS4’s additional memory bandwidth helps too – but once again, both consoles stomp their predecessors into the ground.
I’d point out at this point that there’ll likely be some who’re disappointed that the title is ‘only’ running at 1080P 30FPS, rather than 60FPS that other remasters (such as Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us -check our analysis here) managed to achieve. It’s a fair comment, but do remember that some of it is down to the rather more open world nature of Grand Theft auto 5. It’s a pity that there’s not a more stable frame-rate, and it’d seem that if one wishes to experience 60 fps glory of GTA 5, you’ll have to do so on a PC (and we’ll do an analysis of that too, stacking it up versus the consoles).
Grand Theft Auto 5 PS4 vs X1 – The Judgement
From the stand point of performance – the PS4 and X1 trade blows often, but from our current testing (which might change over the next few days) the PS4 slightly edges out the X1. Mostly, 30FPS will be sustained in gameplay – but there’s certainly a few circumstances on both (in say the down town regions) where the frame rate will dip to the mid to high 20’s.
From a graphical stand point, the lighting is slightly superior on the PS4, but the differences are extremely subtle. With a native frame buffer of 1080P, the general image quality appears a wash through both versions. Occlusion Mapping, God Rays and so on are all there on both versions.
There are however a few areas the PS4 version clearly wins out. The first – and perhaps the most talked about currently, is the foliage. It’s clearly a case where the PS4’s additional resources are happily able to render the details, and Rockstar likely weren’t so happy to do so on the X1. It’s not a deal breaker, and if you’ve only got an Xbox One, you’ll be missing out very little. But if you’ve access to the PS4, it does make foliage rich areas look that bit nicer.
The PS4 also does make use of the Dual Shock 4’s touchpad – and can be a nice touch if you wish to enjoy radio navigation or weapon switching. I’ve got to admit, when I first saw the pad flashing like crazy it took me a second to realize I’d accidentally ran someone over, and I was now a wanted man.
Fortunately – it’s not that either version of GTA 5 is ‘bad’ it’s just that the Playstation 4 version gets the slight nod.