Grand Theft Auto 5 arrived this week with a new update designed to take advantage of the capabilities of the new wave of gaming consoles. Here’s exactly the thing: We’re talking about a title that first launched in 2013 on PS3 and Xbox 360 before being revamped for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. With the arrival of this new premium release, the blockbuster Rockstar is now arriving on the third generation of consoles with the promise of three quality modes, including the addition of hardware-accelerated ray tracing features.
We’ll tackle platform comparisons in another article (the truth is we only received code the day before the release – this work takes time) so today our focus is on what the new release has to offer over current versions of the game. If you’re coming from the last generation console experience, what kind of upgrades do you get? And if you’ve previously played the highly scalable PC demo of GTA5, how close is the new version to the maxed out experience? For our testing, we focused on the PlayStation 5’s performance of the game, and found that the new device offers a vastly improved user experience even before you even start playing it!
I’m not only talking about downloading, but also installing. After downloading GTA5 on PS4, I found out that another installation period was needed, which took over an hour(!). There’s a lot less friction on PS5 – just hit play and you’ll go straight to the introductory videos and from there to the 60fps menus. Full frame rate listings might not seem like much of an issue, but it is noticeable that it runs at 30fps on last generation consoles and even the PC version. Logins to Rockstar Social Club are a thing (they can be skipped for single player), but going from menu to story mode takes about 20 seconds – much faster than PS4, where the same process takes two minutes and eight seconds on my system.
Three display modes are available: Resolution at 4K30, Performance at 1440p60 and Performance at RT, also at 1440p60. These higher frame rate modes are a huge improvement over the last generation versions of the game, which were set at 30fps instead. There is obviously more visual feedback but the improved frame rate also alleviates the lingering issues in GTA5 – very high input lag. Back in the game today, it’s unacceptably high and tolerable in 60fps modes.
Not only that, but compared to the PC version, Rockstar has improved 60fps execution. While it was easy to achieve 60fps on PC, it had issues: Character animation has not been It runs at 60fps, even when the viewer is on, while the camera sinks, too. In the new console builds, character movement has been improved a lot but I still feel the camera movement in scenes could have been better – and it still didn’t feel right to me at 60fps. It’s an improvement then, but it’s not quite perfect: Canvas effects still run at a lower frame rate along with other occasional animations. However, this is an improvement over the PC and a day and night boost over the last generation consoles.
Adding to this improved fluidity are changes in image processing. In the latest generation version, motion blur was camera based, with less use of each object’s blur in first person mode. In the new version, motion blur for each object is applied globally throughout the entire game. It’s accurate at 60fps and sharper in 30fps resolution mode, which seems to be a lot of improvement over the last generation game running at the same frame rate.
Another aspect of this new sense of smoothness is due to the image quality improvements. Back on the PlayStation 4, the game ran at 1080p with a post-process anti-aliasing effect similar to FXAA, typical of the release period, but shows a lot of flicker, frequency, and other stability issues. The PC offered MSAA and Nvidia’s timeline solution known as TXAA, while keeping the FXAA if you wanted that too. You could improve the console image quality on your PC afterwards, but the costs of doing so were significant. The new versions offer a temporary anti-aliasing solution that’s more in line with today’s technology, similar to Red Dead Redemption 2. Flicker, frequency, and noise are significantly reduced to the point where GTA5 at 1440p on PS5 looks better than PC in some ways at native 4K resolution.
So, which of the three quality modes should you use? Resolution mode was compromised due to increased input lag — and among the performance issues, it’s the ray tracing mode I recommend. RT is posted here on shades only, specifically shades cast by the sun (inner shades are standard shade maps – albeit at a higher quality, with decent filtering). RT shadows dramatically reduce distortion issues, eliminate contrasting cut points found in shadow cascades as high-quality shadow turns into much lower quality at close range, and most importantly, real-life shadow properties are rendered more accurately. Shadows are preserved from small details as they often disappear with shadow maps, the so-called Peter Pan effect. This term describes how light leaks through objects where the contact area cannot be properly rendered.
Ray tracing shadows do not have this problem and more than that, they accurately display shadow softening: the farther away the shadow is from the object casting it, the greater the spread of the effect. Interestingly, the PC version has shades of Nvidia PCSS – an attempt to simulate this effect – but it’s exactly that: an attempt. It was fine for its time, but the RT gets the job done just right. RT shades look fine, but they don’t work at full resolution, which can cause some pop and fading. Resolution mode doesn’t eliminate these issues—in fact, it makes shadows a touch more pixel-precise due to the higher output resolution.
So far, the new Grand Theft Auto 5 impresses on a number of levels, but there are still many aspects of the show where I’d like to see improvement — perhaps old baggage from the game’s older renditions. This starts with anisotropic filtering, which is very similar to the console version of the last generation – only improved because of the higher resolution. Then there’s the general level of detail and the drawing of the distance – back in the day, there was a lot of debate that the PS4 had more grass than the Xbox One version, which the PC version took it to the next level. In 60fps modes, the new version of GTA5 uses the same high-grass density preset as the PlayStation 4 – significantly lower than the PC’s Ultra High or Ultra. Perhaps this is not surprising given that the effect requires many resources.
The geometric level of detail also shows no real improvement over the PlayStation 4, while the computer looking into the distance shows a much richer open world. The only way to upgrade the level of detail is to use the resolution mode, and lower the frame rate to 3-30 fps. This raises the level of the turf to a higher level, but unfortunately, it does not affect the level of the lod in the distance for the opaque geometry that looks the same. Furthermore, changes from older versions are spared – we’re talking about smaller differences like revamped fire effects or the way depth of field is no longer practically invisible at higher settings as it is on PC, but these are an incidental detail .
The PlayStation 5 is receiving some DualSense controller upgrades, but I wouldn’t call them game-changing: Driving has some tension on the triggers and uses touches to create small tensions on the controller based on driving conditions on the road, along with other small but welcome effects. It’s really standard stuff, but it’s always nice to see these added up for those who love it.
Technically, I think the new Grand Theft Auto 5 is the game’s favorite version – a huge improvement over the PS4/Xbox One era version and better in many ways than the PC game too. This is due to aspects such as increased fluidity via motion blur and static cinematography, as well as the inclusion of temporal anti-aliasing which cleans up a lot of old image quality issues. Yes, there are visual features from the PC version that are missing in this new version – but crucially, apart from the LOD distance, it goes unnoticed in the overall gameplay path. In the end, there’s a feeling that Rockstar could have done more to deliver – so don’t expect an upgrade on a par with something like the Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition. In terms of “next-gen” upgrades, what we’re effectively getting here is the mandatory 60fps upgrade, a touch of RT and a few delightful improvements.
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