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Grand Theft Auto IV 7-Years Later Review

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Graphics:

Normally I keep the performance information in the second part of this section, but for this title I am making an exception and going to talk about part of it at the top. The first point I want to mention is something you may have to do, depending on your machine's specs. There is apparently a bug in the engine concerning how it scans your system specs that some more powerful hardware will be interpreted as underpowered. When I first launched GTA IV it locked me down to the minimum settings and only by researching the issue did I discover why and how to fix it. It still does not believe I have powerful enough hardware, but by employing two launch flags, -norestrictions and -nomemrestrict I was given control over the settings again. It is possible only the first flag here is needed, but I saw both recommended and so I used both. There were some other flags I experimented with, but I will cover those later.

The second point I want to mention is that for the bulk of the game I ran without shadows enabled. The reason is that, again when researching performance issues, I saw a mention that disabling shadows improved performance. Based on my experience, this is most definitely true. With shadows enabled the performance was worse and would often drop so low to be unplayable. Without them I could reach the framerate cap (yes, GTA IV has one) and never experienced the same, severe stuttering. It is actually disappointing that I had to disable the shadows, because they really do help the game look its best, but I put playability above looks when possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will come back to performance later, but because these two point so dramatically influenced the playability of the game, I felt it best to mention them early on.

When you first look at GTA IV you will almost certainly notice that the past seven years have not been kind to it. Many textures can look blurry, some effects seem almost crude, animations can look flat or inhuman, and overall it looks like what you would expect from such an old console port. Let us start with those textures.

While I do not doubt that there are areas with sharper textures, the road textures are what I am most concerned with because they are what I most often saw, with general ground textures next. The roads looked quite flat and lacking in detail, like they had been scaled up more than they should be, in some places. In others they are practically blurry. The ground is even more lacking in definition and tends to just be a green surface, turned brown when your wheels dig into it some.

 

The cars you drive around can look pretty good, especially after you run them through the car wash. That kind of detail is something actually somewhat common throughout the game. When a car is dirty, you can run it through a car wash and have that dirt removed, and the difference is very noticeable. I tended not to just because I use the vehicles to get somewhere and not to look nice doing so. After some collisions, any vehicle can look to be in bad shape, with large dents, fenders just barely hanging on, scratches, and exposed engines. The engines and dents can look really bad, as the engines can just be a flat texture exposed when the hood is removed, and the dents can be so large yet so unimpactful to look more like a foam wracking ball had done the damage. What I mean is that a rear end collision can collapse the back end of a vehicle, but without looking like serious damage, beyond the crumpling, and does not really look like a car hit it. Collisions to the front are not any better, as an entire corner may be pushed in, but if you look at it, everything is still there.

To be fair, the game is seven years old, so it deserves to be forgiven for a lack of high physical accuracy. Still, I think it is fair to expect more from a game that has the detail of breakable glass in front of headlights. Also the hanging fenders after a collision do look pretty good and on some occasions really made me want to go and repair the car. You cannot have everything.

 

 

The models look exactly like you would expect from a seven year old game that was also made for the consoles of that time. The animations are what become less forgivable, as some reminded me of the animations on an even older generation of consoles. Still, they serve their purpose well and do not horrendously break, so it is not that bad.

Without shadows enabled, I am limited in what I can say for the lighting to just what happens in the night or enclosed areas. To put it simply, switching on the high beams can make a big difference when driving around in the dark. It can help the detail come out, and make it safer to drive around, like in real life. Without a light source, like when you are on foot, you can come to wish you had one at night to make things, like enemies, clearer. Fortunately muzzle flashes can also help in that situation.

Fluids are definitely not that impressive. Fire is definitely just a stock animation being played over a model and lacks much life to it. Explosions, too, are somewhat lacking, but they get the job done. Water is kind of weird in that the surface appears to use canned reflections that are horribly distorted to make it look like thousands of tiny ripples are affecting it. Really it just looks to be speckled to an absurd degree and personally I never found it pleasant to look at.

 

 

Time to get to the full performance section, so here are my specs:

  • Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
  • Cooling: Corsair H110
  • Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
  • GPU: NVIDIA GTX 980 4 GB
  • PhysX: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
  • PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
  • OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit

Aside from the shadows, as I explained earlier, I had every other option turned up to its maximum, including View Distance, Detail Distance, and Vehicle Density. The poorly-named Definition option was also turned on. Playing around with that option, and looking it up, reveals that the option is apparently to enable blurring, both motion and static, that was on by default on the consoles. To me it looked like the game was being rendered at a lower resolution and scaled up, so I kept the option On. Yes, On means those filters are off, improving the definition of the image.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, GTA IV does have a framerate cap at the curious number of 55 FPS. There was no solution I could find to remove this cap, or at least elevate it to 60. Even so, the framerate would not infrequently drop below that, but still remain above 30 FPS. Without shadows I never suffered any serious stuttering, though definitely pop-in to varying degrees.

 

This pop-in could be objects popping in at a much closer distance than I would prefer (as in well in view), as well as details suddenly appearing on buildings and cars. In some places, full textures would be missing until they were loaded in. Specifically in a tunnel, the road would take a brief moment before manifesting, and this always happened when I was approaching it.

One option that I know I would have appreciated being present was that of anti-aliasing, but alas GTA IV lacks the in-game capability. Sure there are ways to enable it, such as through the drivers, but it is generally my preference to avoid using such measures.

All-in-all, the best, general way I can think to describe the graphics of GTA IV, both for visuals and performance, is that of a port and not an altogether good one. While many of the visuals can be and probably should be forgiven, the fact that it can struggle to run on such new hardware just reveals its poor optimization. It is definitely playable, and nothing is too horribly broken, except the shadows and memory issues I mentioned at the start of this section. Once you address those, nothing should be serious enough to stop you from playing.




  1. Grand Theft Auto IV Review - Introduction
  2. Grand Theft Auto IV Review - Graphics
  3. Grand Theft Auto IV Review - Story
  4. Grand Theft Auto IV Review - Gameplay
  5. Grand Theft Auto IV Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. Grand Theft Auto IV Review - Conclusion
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