Grand Theft Auto 5 Xbox 360 vs PS3 Faceoff

 
Xbox 360
PlayStation 3
Disk sizeDisc One: 7.7GB, Disc Two: 7.8GB17.4GB
Install7876MB (mandatory)8486MB (mandatory)
Surround soundDolby DigitalDolby Digital, 5.1 LPCM

Never a series short on ambition, Grand Theft Auto’s latest instalment brings to life one of the most beautiful and lavishly detailed sandbox worlds of the current generation. Long-time readers will recall that GTA4 represented a similar milestone moment in the showdown between PS3 and 360 back in 2008, with each version handling the newly-forged RAGE engine with unique visual trade-offs and Microsoft’s platform taking a lead in the performance stakes. Five years on it’s high tide for round two: the core engine work has seen great upheaval and the 49 virtual square miles of game world are impeccably presented on both platforms. Once again though there are key advantages to either side.

At its heart, RAGE is comprised of mostly in-house developed parts, from the animation engine and rendering framework to a bespoke scripting language – allowing developer Rockstar North to custom-tailor unique events for missions, and even design mini-games such as golf and tennis. But its core strength, stemming back to earlier iterations on PS2, is its ability to stream assets such as textures, buildings and oncoming vehicles seamlessly on memory-limited hardware. Level-of-detail scaling is used subtly, and in the case of thick, urban sprawls, skyscrapers act as occluders to allow culling of unseen geometry. Given the tight memory budgets of the PS3 and 360, tricks like these are crucial for keeping the game running at a fair clip, and to avoid abrupt pop-in.

For PS3 in particular, the technology has come a long way in harnessing the console’s notoriously finicky split-pool setup for RAM. The limitation evidently proved to be a roadblock for budgeting on the video memory side with GTA4, where the decision was made to render at a native resolution of 1152×640 – a 20 per cent cut-down compared to the Microsoft release. Thankfully this has now been addressed, and for the latest entry the PS3 version matches the 360′s full 1280×720 framebuffer. It looks gloriously clear, and image quality is now identical down to the pixel.

Thankfully Grand Theft Auto 5 synchronises the time of day before each major mission in a timelapse-style speed-up, though as always we’re at the mercy of the game’s simulated weather and randomised car placement.

It’s clear that, while each version of GTA4 offered a different look that befitted the technical limitations of each platform, now we have two versions that look very close indeed. The expensive 2x multi-sample anti-aliasing used on 360 is now gone, and so too is the PS3′s forceful blur filter – both releases now opting for a refined post-processing approach. The resulting image is minimal on blur, and very reminiscent of Rockstar’s Max Payne 3, covering all details such as geometry and alpha transparencies at minimal expense to tackle jagged edges. Dropping the Vaseline blur on PS3 stands as an especially big coup d’etat for image quality purists – something recognised by Rockstar itself during development of The Ballad of Gay Tony expansion, where it was axed outright. Similarly, we’re pleased to see the 360′s distinctive dithering artifacting has disappeared.

But, as with most late-generation Face-Offs, the best way to put differences into context is to start with the assumption that everything is otherwise the same. For Grand Theft Auto 5 this is very much the case – and overlooking some nitpicks, just about every single geometric detail and effect across Los Santos is like-for-like between PS3 and 360. However, there is one glaring contrast throughout our tests that can’t be ignored.

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