We’ve already looked at how the latest version of Grand Theft Auto 5 adapts to the new generation of console hardware – we’ve seen the core improvements over last-gen hardware and what’s carried over from the existing PC. version. The big remaining question hangs over platform comparisons, and so today we’re focusing squarely on delivering PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X-enhanced gaming – with an in-depth look at the upcoming Xbox Series S more late.
Let’s start with the basics. On the PS5 and Series X, there are three graphics modes: Performance, Fidelity, and Performance RT – the latter pair supporting ray-traced sun shadows. While dynamic resolution scaling cannot be ruled out, in all tested scenarios the fidelity mode operates at an apparently fixed 4K resolution at 30 fps, while the performance offers locks at 1440p at the spot, targeting 60 fps. In addition to these three modes, HDR is implemented in GTA5 for the first time, along with texture upgrades and all-around distance improvements over the last-gen version. The PlayStation 5 also receives support for haptic feedback and adaptive triggers on the DualSense controller, which translates perfectly to adding a feeling of impact to GTA5’s shooting controls.
Loading is also significantly improved. Fast travel or reboot missions now take no time on console platforms, so the only real load-time sticking point is the initial load in the open world. As an example, the Trevor trailer only takes 20.76 seconds to load on Xbox Series X, dropping to 23.18 seconds on PlayStation 5. That’s not particularly fast judging by the best new consoles, but it’s a profound improvement in a world where the same charge takes more two minutes on Playstation 4.
If a 2.42 second difference in load times sounds like nitpicking, the same conclusion can be drawn by looking at the visual differences between the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 renders of the game. One thing to point out is that EQ conditions for accurate testing is a real challenge in Rockstar’s engine, due to the dynamic nature of the open world itself: time of day, crowd density, car dispersion, weather vary all to the second. Fortunately, several missions at the start of the game synchronize all of these elements, so we can confidently say that textures, lighting, effects, and draw distances are matched between Sony and Microsoft consoles. Either way, there’s not much to separate the two.
There are a few weird differences though – minor footnotes if you like: the PS5 renders extra shadow under cars, around foliage and at the feet of characters, whereas currently the series X doesn’t seem to do this – something that happens in all three modes. However, ambient occlusion and environmental shadows correspond to both systems. It looks like the PS5 is rendering an additional cast shadow texture: this is a technique used by Rockstar separate from typical screen space ambient occlusion or shadows, drawing a baked texture in the shadow at specific points. Right now, whether it’s a bug or a simple oversight, it seems to be missing on the Series X and we hope to see it fixed.
The other difference? Again, a small detail: the cube map’s reflections on vehicles look better on Xbox Series X – at least at times, like in the initial car takeover scene at the start of the story. This difference is only apparent in the non-RT performance mode and most subsequent scenes show little to no difference. Otherwise, the systems match in terms of visual features, as you’d expect for what is effectively a relatively minor overhaul of an existing game. The extent of parity extends to all areas that really should have improved too. Texture filtering quality is very poor, with only the 4K fidelity mode offering a boost (and only then because the higher resolution offers more texture filtering points).
The PS5 and Series X are then closely linked – but does the performance hold up? Generally speaking, all modes on all systems play relatively consistently at their 30fps or 60fps targets. However, there are times when performance can drop. During missions, especially the explosive shotgun-wielding stuff with Trevor, we get bigger drops in the region of 50fps and even 40fps. Anything involving explosions and vehicles taxes both the PS5 and Series X. While driving around town, you can also force framerate drops just by starting a shootout with lots of cars in the road. This is hardly out of the ordinary in GTA and inevitably, the more you clog the roads. However, the general gameplay in the missions tends to go as it should.
Curiously, the PS5 and Series X lose lock on their target frame rates in different areas, to different extremes in the preferred performance RT mode. Take the “Mr Philips” mission for example, where Trevor goes on a rampage, where the PS5 takes a hit at almost the 40fps line in the most explosive scenes. It’s a sharp, noticeable drop in an otherwise 60fps experience, making oncoming riders look choppy on approach. On Xbox Series X, there is still a drop, but this time at 50 frames per second. However, we see the reverse fortunes in other missions – such as a takeover mission with Franklin – where the PS5 continues to play locked at 60fps while the Series X dips below. Different scenarios seem to favor different consoles. The bottom line? Both are capable of dropping below 60 frames per second, but never too long to disturb the experience.
Of course, you can use the non-RT performance mode to mitigate the impact of these drops. Alas, a fully locked 60fps in all scenarios isn’t entirely possible, but this mode closes the gap somewhat. The “Mr Philips” mission with Trevor, for example, only briefly drops to the 55fps line in this mode on PS5 during the biggest explosion. That said, most other missions showing a drop below 60fps are fully tightened to 60fps on PS5, which is great news – and gives performance mode a reason to exist. Upgrading to Series X also improves results, although performance drops are significantly more common than the PS5.
Switching to 4K fidelity mode, performance is robust at a 30fps ceiling, even forcing a car to pile up on the streets of Los Santos. It is possible to see drops below, however, by combining a large traffic jam with rockets and grenades. During the missions, I only saw one drop: yes, Mr Philips strikes back, this time dropping to 20 fps on PlayStation 5, where the impact on the Series X was much less pronounced at 27 ips. In this and other performance drops, I have to wonder if implementing dynamic resolution scaling might have made the difference.
Still very much based on existing versions of the game, the new and improved version of Grand Theft Auto 5 manages to get the job done on current-gen consoles and perhaps predictably the PS5 and Series X are difficult to separate. Frame rate drivers are interchangeable, by and large. Depending on the mode you’re using and the mission you’re playing, the PS5 or Series X may drop a bit harder or farther. As for the visual comparisons, it also says a lot that the main difference is that the Series X lacks shadows under cars, which are present on PS5. The notable contrasts end there. Draw distances, world details, physics, quality of ray-traced shadows – everything is basically matched in between.
Although the ambition of this new remaster is debatable (as is the choice to charge for it if you already own the PS4 or Xbox One version), at least the gaming experience for console owners has improved considerably thanks to the inclusion of 60fps modes. Seriously, it’s the most crucial game-changer, with deep improvements to one of the game’s biggest issues: input lag. As attractive as the 4K fidelity mode may seem, it’s hard to get back to 30fps on this one. Ultimately, if you’ve never played the game before, this is the best way to play – and if you’re a GTA Online fan, the framerate upgrade is a big improvement. However, those looking for a more comprehensive revamped experience that fully exploits the capabilities of the new hardware may be a bit disappointed.