Wednesday, April 30, 2008

GTA IV: Head to Head to Head Comparison

After searching for days for a reliable head to head comparison between the PS3 and XBOX 360 versions of the game, I came to the realization that no “reliable” journalist was going to point fingers at this game, especially considering the universal 10/10 marks.

There have been reports of texture pop in, frame rate inconsistencies, and longer load times for the XBOX 360 version ever since it was cracked. Most of these reports came from users of the cracked version available on torrent sites and 90% of these reports are found on forum posts so I won’t link them here. But if you read the reviews from Metacritic, especially the ones for the 360 that are scored below 100%, reviewers will mention such issues. One such review by MEGamers, mentions pop in to the point where “the pool table spawned right in front of the character, then the balls and then the texture details.” I can’t contest to the reliability to these sites, what build of the game they actually played for review or their machine specifications. While many reports across the net has stated that both versions of the game plays beautifully and the graphical glitches are few and far between. With that research under my belt, I decided to conduct my own head to head.

Before I begin, I will preface this article with a bit of background information to help you better understand my point of view:

  • For the test, I used the following consoles:

o XBOX 360 Arcade Edition (no HDD) modified with latest custom firmware: DVD Drive speed 8X Benq, Falcon

o XBOX 360 unmodified Elite edition with 120GB HDD: DVD Drive speed 12X default Samsung, Falcon

o PS3 60GB Version: Last batch of manufactured 60GB with latest official firmware

  • I am a PC gamer first, and I own a high end gaming rig that I built.
  • I am used to a 24” monitor’s 1920 X 1200 resolution for gaming and daily work
  • I run a 8800GT Overclocked by me, and a Core 2 Duo E6600 OC to 3.4mhz
  • I am used to having my games take one hour to install (World of Warcraft anyone?)
  • I am accustomed to load times taking between 1-10 seconds max.
  • I play these games regularly and so my bias would be towards what I am used to seeing: World of Warcraft (PC), Team Fortress 2 (PC), Mass Effect (360), Rock Band (360), Guitar Hero 3 (360), Hot Shots Golf (PS3), Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Galaxy, God of War 2, Final Fantasy Tactics (PSP).
  • I am not a fan-boy/girl as I do own all current gen, last gen, last-last gen, last-last-last gen, and portable systems. I believe that to be a true gamer, you must own all platforms where your creative media is publishes to receive the widest exposure

I have also 4 copies of GTA IV used during this test:

  • Grand Theft Auto IV NTSC XBOX360-101 ISO burned at 2.4X with imgburn on Verbatim Made in Singapore DL disk using a Pioneer D212 Drive
  • Grand Theft Auto IV NTSC XBOX360-101 ISO burned at 4X with imgburn on Verbatim Made in Singapore DL disk using a Pioneer D212 Drive
  • Official Retail NTSC GTA IV PS3 Version
  • Official Retail NTSC GTA IV XBOX 360 Version

Some additional background information:

  • I have been playing the torrent version for the last week already
  • I have spent a minimum of 1 hour with each version of the game
  • I have not modified any of the default display settings
  • The PS3 is connected via HDMI to DVI into a Sony Grand Wega Rear Projection displaying at 1080i on a 42” screen
  • The Elite 360 is connected via component to the same Sony Grand Wega
  • The modified 360 is connected via HDMI to a Samsung 37” LCD at 720P

I will begin to list the issues found on each version of the game.

Grand Theft Auto IV NTSC XBOX360-101 ISO burned at 2.4X:

  • Load times from the first appearance of the Rockstar logo to the start of the cut scene was 36 seconds
  • No pop ins were witnessed during the cut scene
  • During initial drive back to your safe house, store fronts would pop in, textures of buildings would pop in and out, some cars were “floating” as the road beneath them did not load
  • During cut scene in safe house, Roman’s hand would clip into the table
  • Regular game play produced various pop in where whole buildings would not load in time. During a particular chase scene, I ran directly into a building because it didn’t load
  • Tree textures would load one filter at a time (think from bare branches to fall colors layer by layer)
  • Walking into the cabaret show, the entire room was white except for character model, then railings and structure started to load in wire frame first, then textures, and finally colors
  • Cut scene during First Date mission showing the various entertainment locations took between 10-35 seconds each to load

Grand Theft Auto IV NTSC XBOX360-101 ISO burned at 4X (only difference from 2.4X are noted):

  • Load times from the first appearance of the Rockstar logo to the start of the cut scene was 37 seconds
  • Cut scene during First Date mission show the various entertainment locations was taking between 15-40 seconds to load

Official Retail NTSC GTA IV PS3 Version:

  • Load times from first appearance of the Rockstar logo to the beginning of the HDD installation was 4 seconds
  • Installation to HDD completed in 7 minutes and 25 seconds
  • Colors of the PS3 version compared to the ripped ISO were more natural and less contrasted
  • Aliasing was also noted to be smoother, you can tell the difference by paying attention to the ships various round openings during the cut scene, PS3 AA was much better
  • Clipping was not noticed during any cut scene
  • More detail was witnessed during initial cut scene for the road surface texture and the character models
  • Pop ins were limited to the “shimmering” effect of building shadows and certain filtering of dense trees
  • Loading time during First Date cut scene was between 2-5 seconds
  • “white room” during Cabaret show was not witnessed
  • Fast drives, explosions, crashes, and 3 star wanted rating produced no noticeable pop in

Official Retail NTSC GTA IV XBOX 360 Version (only differences between PS3 are noted):

  • Load time from first appearance of the Rockstar logo to the beginning of cut scene was 7 seconds (no HDD installation was required)
  • Colors of character models and scenery during initial cut scene were more contrasted compared to both PS3 and Ripped versions
  • Anti Aliasing appeared the same as the ripped version but more jaggy lines were noticed on all curved surfaces compared to PS3 version
  • During initial cut scene, building silhouettes as the ship approaches the harbor were noted to pop in and out for a brief second
  • Pop in for shadows and trees were more frequent. For every one shadow on the PS3, there were 3 that popped for the 360 (average).
  • Fast drives, explosions, and crashes produced no noticeable pop in
  • 3 star wanted rating created pop ins at the same location (hospital) for surround trees and building surface textures across the street

So what does this all mean? It means that from a technical perspective, the PS3 version is the better of the 4. The burned ISO (I did burn this 4 times with 2 other friends also testing it out) faired the worst out of the bunch. The pop-in and load time makes that game barely playable compared to other games I’m accustomed to. I am not sure what the source was for this burned ISO but others have validated my findings, locally and on other forums. While there are those that have said their burned version did not suffer from these pop ins, but there is no way to validate those points as pop ins do not occur in the same place every time or for everyone. The retail 360 version holds its own very well, considering its limited technical power (compared to PS3 specs). The HDD install for the PS3 certainly helps, as it should, with the load times and frame rates. Texture pop in was also minimal on the PS3, but I cannot say if it is because of the HDD install. Colors were more photo-realistic in the PS3 version. It looked grimmer at night, and cleaner at dawn, and murky at dusk. That’s how I would imagine a place like Liberty City would be, think of The Wire and you will understand. Colors on the 360 were much brighter and contrasted and the lines on the faces of the character models were more pronounced, causing a harsher look. Primary colors were very noticeable on the 360 which lends to a more “cartoon” feel. Load times were slightly longer but negligible for someone not comparing this to a 6.5 GB install on a high end PC. These are actually very fast load times for a console game of this size and complexity. Load times were the worst for the burned version. There was actually a period during that First Date cut scene that I contemplated getting a drink and a snack because it took so long.

As for a recommendation on which version is the best you will have to look past the technological analysis. This is unfortunate because the PS3 is clearly (to me at least) the better programmed and performing version. However, the consumer has to take into account the following factors:

  • PS3 user base is smaller than the XBOX 360; therefore, there will be a lower maximum amount of users online for multiplayer
  • PS3’s PSN is free to play where XBOX 360 Live service is $59.99 (Canadian MSRP for 12 month subscription)
  • PS3 control scheme differs from XBOX 360 control scheme. PS3 controls are more familiar if you have played previous GTA games on PS2
  • Downloadable content is coming for the XBOX 360 version only (for the moment) and could arrive as soon as this summer
  • PS3 60GB systems have been reported to suffer from game freezes (I did not witness this during my 2 hours with the game on PS3 60GB)
  • XBOX 360 has online achievement points and a gamer score tie in

If I were to recommend one version over the other, it would depend on what you value most. If you don’t care about multiplayer with your friends (note: cross platform multiplayer is not available, so if you want to play together, you have to own the same version) or achievements/gamer score then choose the PS3 for its technical polish. If you do care about online with your friends, achievements and gamer score, then choose the XBOX 360 version. For all the 360’s faults, they are not so bad to the point it distracts you from the experience (unless you are playing the downloaded version). For myself, because I really value visuals and that I rare play online with XBOX Live (I can’t stand the kids!!) I am leaning towards the PS3 version. However, I am an achievement whore. I love the idea of having secondary goals to give incentive to people like myself that are not so story driven. There is also the promise of downloadable content, which may not be great, but with Rockstar’s history it should be the size of an expansion pack (let’s hope it’s not GTA IV: Pets!) I am still on the fence because of my personal preferences but if you are not in my situation, I would rent both before committing (if you have not already). I have both copies of the Special Edition still sealed but only one will be returning to the store…which one will that be? Tune in next week (or sooner) for the verdict!

UPDATE: As per suggestion, I retested both my burned copies at 8X drive speed with optional HDD installed to see if load times and pop ins would be comparable to the retail 360 version running on my Elite. I used the same 120GB HDD from my Elite 360 and installed it on my modified arcade. Here are my findings:

  • Load times from start of Rockstar logo to beginning of cut scene was 31 Seconds (this is a 5 second improvement)
  • The load times during the cut scene for First Date mission loaded from 7 seconds to 28 seconds (this improved from 10-35 seconds)
  • Textures of shadows and trees were still popping in and the shimmering effect was still seen, although it appeared to occur less frequently
  • AA issues still apparent
  • There were no disappearing roads or popping in of trees during the 1.5 hours I played the game
  • Garbage cans, picnic tables, and certain other destructible elements did suffer from pop in
The installation of the HDD did prove some slight improvement of load times, in some cases, this improved by 3 seconds. However, pop in and texture loading still occurred. There was a noticeable reduction in pop in compared to the first round of testing, and during the 1.5 hours of play, the road did not disappear on me or did a building pop up in my path. This does not mean that everyone should run out and get a HDD as the load times was not a significant increase and texture tearing and popping was already reduced with the retail version for the XBOX 360 compared to the burned version. On a related note, I noticed that the burned version had a slightly different cut scene than the retail version on the PS3 and 360. There is a part where a stripper is dancing on a pole, in the retail versions for both consoles, she is wearing a white bikini top. However, on the burned version, she is not wearing a bikini top and instead there is a black "X" taped across her nipples. I'm not sure if that means the ripped release was actually from a non-retail source or if the code was modified. As for my own decision of which version to keep, I will be keeping the XBOX 360 version despite the graphical improvement. I don't want to run the risk of the downloadable content being fabulous and having to replay the whole game again just to have access to it. I will eventually purchase a PS3 version due to its technical merits, but that won't be until it becomes less than $30. Too bad, I liked the PS3 Special Edition's box art better. Scratch one on the board for Microsoft and their foresight in securing some exclusive content. They made at least one graphics cynic look past its faults and choose 360 over the more polished PS3. EDIT #1: I will update tonight after a reader suggested that in all fairness, I should test the burned copies with a HDD installed on the modded box. I'll time the loads and see if there's a difference in load times and other issues.


WarpedCore said...

Good comparison. I'd like to note however, I just noticed one of the strippers in the strip club had "x"es over her nipples in the PS3 version. It's not prerelease material.

Aves said...

I noticed the same thing in the PS3 version as well. Graphically Sony won I agree, people used to be nuts over graphics. If they were better, that game was taken. Times have most certainly changed with the evolution of games. One thing worth noting in reguards to the DLC (which is always an option) I would dare say that sinse Microsoft charges for everything and Sony finds a way to give you more for FREE, expect Microsoft to get their $50Million back for that DLC deal by charging for the DLC. What exactly is that content going to be? Is it not possible that Take-Two will find a way to hype up PS3 owners as well sinse PS owners have been loyal sinse day one? Was Lost Planet exclusive forever? Nothing is exclusive these days. That is something to take into consideration. A $60 game on Xbox LIVE! can quickly become a $90 game. Good job though.

hHh™ said...

Hi, I just wanna ask a few thing, hope you can clear things for me?

1-The default DVD-ROM speed for the Arcade and Elite are different?

2-If I was to buy a 360 hard disk and attach it to my XBOX 360, is the Arcade equal to Premium/Elite?

Thanks for your time.

Mad Man Moe said...

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