It’s almost hard to believe that Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 released in September 2013. With so literally hundreds of thousands of hours of content created, multiple updates from developer Rockstar North, and tens of millions of copies sold, one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to believe that GTA 5 has been around for a while. What’s more significant are the changes Rockstar managed to make to the current gen version of Grand Theft Auto 5, recently released on the Xbox One and PS4, such an enormous leap over the Xbox 360 and PS3. Granted, there are several areas where it could have done better but for the most polished Los Santos experience, GTA 5 on current gen can’t be missed.
Before getting into specifics, it’s important to note how Rockstar went about beautifying Grand Theft Auto 5. Rather than just up scaling everything into 1080p, Rockstar meticulously improved the vegetation, texture quality, skyline and geography to a degree not seen in most open world games (or at least, not on this kind of scale). The quality of the gravel and asphalt when walking down the road is excellent, reflecting not only the moisture from rain but headlights from oncoming cars. The vehicles are largely unchanged in terms of structure but detailing on the chrome and finish looks far better than on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
The quality and detail of faces along the improvement in lighting and shadow details is amazing. Dynamic weather is ridiculously good, as we’ll get into in a bit.
Both the PS4 and Xbox One versions run at 1080p and a 30 FPS frame rate. The frame rate tends to take a dive at certain points – usually when there are tons of explosions and cops zipping around – but only up to 27 or 28 frames per second. All throughout, it remains fairly solid at 30 frames per second which is already a significant improvement over the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions.
Anti-aliasing and ambient occlusion are also significantly improved on the current gen consoles, leading to better and most realistically lit scenarios with no jaggies. It really helps the detail come alive in so many ways, whether you’re watching Michael sit on a couch and discuss his family problems, observing the details on your assault rifle in first person mode or just admiring the sunset on top of Mount Chiliad.
The addition of dynamic lighting and volumetric effects for the same has also helped transform many of the game’s typical scenarios. It results in a different experience at night, especially when you’re walking through the well-lit carnival on the pier. Interestingly and rather surprisingly, the texture filtering appears largely unchanged from the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. This isn’t the worst thing to ever happen but it does prevent Grand Theft Auto 5 on the PS4 and Xbox One from truly breaking out of the previous gen mould.
That being said, the added horsepower of the current gen platforms does result in a better game overall. Though the number of pedestrians feels more or less the same, Rockstar did up the traffic density of the game, resulting in a more metropolitan-looking Los Santos compared to the previous generation. Oddly enough, there’s no motion blur when one is driving at top speeds throughout the streets. Perhaps Rockstar is saving it for the PC version?
There’s also the case for the dynamic weather and water effects. By itself, Grand Theft Auto 5 on the PS3 and Xbox 360 had some amazing water effects which was realistically rendered and reacted as such throughout the game, whether you were in a swimming pool, swimming through the ocean or deep-sea diving. The PS4 and Xbox One versions take this to a whole new level at times thanks to the improved texture quality and fluid mechanics. Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs still has arguably the best water physics in an open world but it’s a testament to Rockstar’s hard work that GTA 5 is a close second.
Dynamic weather effects, on the other hand, have to be seen to be believed. The rain effects are incomparable to the previous gen version. While not overstated to a large degree, you’ll find the droplets affecting the environment around you. Roads become damp, wet metal refracts and reflects light shining on it and tell-tale haze becomes apparent through the headlights of vehicles. Flying in rainy weather is also a harrowing experience as wind velocity can affect your handling. The odd lightning bolt will also ring through the skies. Even for those who haven’t played Grand Theft Auto 5 on the PS3 and Xbox 360, the current gen versions present a sumptuous feast for the eyes.
Of course, the question arises as to whether the PS4 or Xbox One version is superior. The PS4 has had better performance in the past with its GPU and the Xbox One has been reporting better performance with games thanks to a software update which unlocked additional CPU power. When observing both current gen versions side-by-side, you’ll notice virtually similar texture quality, pixel density, object geometry and physics. Neither version has the advantage in frame rate, occlusion or detail either.
In tasks which involve heavy GPU computing though, the PS4 manages to edge ahead. Foliage is rendered much better on Sony’s console and there’s a better pronounced depth of field effect at play. You’ll notice much less pop-in on both versions though, which eliminates one of the bigger complaints of the previous generation. Another odd facet is how the lens effects tend to look better in some places than the PS4. It’s weird but obviously, when it comes to overall features, the PS4 is ever so slightly superior to the Xbox One.
Another rather curious note is the subtle black crush effect seen in places on the Xbox One. Similar to Titanfall on the Xbox One (compared to the PC version), this effect tends to make certain details darker. It’s not overwhelming to the degree of obscuring major details but it’s definitely noticeable compared to the PS4 version.
Grand Theft Auto 5 re-defined our expectations of what an open world game could be capable of on the Xbox 360 and PS3. With limited and aging hardware, Rockstar managed to squeeze every last drop of performance and somehow maintain parity across both platforms. On the Xbox One and PS4, Rockstar presents a more refined and nuanced portrait of its crime saga. It deftly walks the line between port and HD remaster in many ways, offering new content and a first person perspective but exponentially bumping up the visuals rather than redoing everything from scratch.
Regardless, whichever platform you choose to play on, Grand Theft Auto 5 on current gen platforms is an experience unto itself. It begs to be explored and documented as much as destroyed and desecrated. Even if you’ve had your fill of open world mayhem on the previous gen, its well worth experiencing it again at full price.
One also can’t help but think: If Rockstar managed to pull off this much by building off of its previous gen template, what could it deliver when creating an open world game from scratch for the PS4 and Xbox One? If GTA 5 is any indication, we can’t wait to find out.