Sunday, April 27, 2008

GTAIV: PS3 vs. 360

In a little over a day and a half, thousands of gamers will be lining up at stores all over the country so they can be among the first to get their shaking hands on Rockstar's long awaited Grand Theft Auto IV after a painful six-month delay. Since I'm a cheap bastard my wait is more like 3 days, which is when my copy from Gamefly will hopefully arrive.

Since Halo is an Xbox exclusive and past GTA titles were always Ps2 exclusive at launch, GTAIV stands to be the biggest multiplatform release ever. This also presents a predicament, since, for the first time, multi-console owners will have to decide which platform they want to play the game on.

While most people have probably already decided whether they are going to spring for either the 360 or the PS3 version, Kotaku has a good comparison between the two for those still sitting on the fence.

Rockstar has always maintained that the two versions would be virtually indistinguishable from each other and Kotaku confirms that is the case.

It seems that the biggest difference between the games (which itself is still only a slight difference) is the mandatory 3.4GB installation on the PS3 version, which takes about 7 minutes. This installation significantly reduces the amount of graphical pop-in PS3 players will experience during gameplay and also results in missions loading faster.

I've always planned on playing the 360 version, for a number of reasons, but I have to say that I'm disappointed to hear that it is more prone to pop-in, something that I find annoying in games. The worst part is that it is completely inexcusable. There's no reason Microsoft couldn't have allowed Rockstar to create an installation option for the 360. If I was Microsoft I would want to make sure that the 360 version matched the PS3 version feature for feature, especially since they paid $50 million to secure exclusive rights to the downloadable episodes Rockstar will start releasing this Fall.

As far as I'm concerned, anything that makes the game run better IS a feature.

In the case of Devil May Cry 4, the mandatory installation was viewed as a joke, since, after the 20 minutes it takes to install, all you end up with is a game that runs exactly the same as the 360 version does straight off the disc. It's not ideal, but for PS3 owners a 20 minute installation sure beats a game without one that runs like garbage.

On the same note, I don't think any 360 gamer would be opposed to being given the choice of a 7 minute installation of GTAIV if it would mean a significant reduction of pop-in and diminished load times. I don't know if this wouldn't be possible on 360 or if Microsoft simply wouldn't allow it but knowing Microsoft and their absurd rules I'd lean towards the latter.

For me, all the other subjective benefits the 360 version has: a better controller, better online where everyone I know will be playing, and the exclusive DLC, still make it my version of choice, but it's a shame that the PS3 version edges it out in one area when it doesn't have to be that way.

The good news is, now that the embargo on reviews is over, the game is getting 10's almost straight across the board and the little bit of extra pop-in really isn't going to mar the experience. I have to hand it to Rockstar, I was pretty fed up with GTA after San Andreas and they still hadn't fixed some basic things like aiming, but I'm actually pretty excited for GTAIV despite not really paying it much attention over the past year.

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