Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series has changed greatly since the franchise first arrived in 1997 as an urban-themed action game with an overhead camera. The first game did well enough to merit a couple of expansion packs and a sequel, but GTA didn't transform into the game we know today until the franchise made its way to the PlayStation 2 with Grand Theft Auto III, which took the 2D game into a 3D world filled with interactive elements. GTAIII immediately dominated what we now recognize as the open-ended sandbox gameplay style, which lets players interact and experiment with the people, places, and modes of transportation present in the game's world simulation.
We decided to compare GTAIII, GTA: Vice City, GTA: San Andreas, and GTAIV for this graphics comparison. All four games have a 3D world and follow the open-ended gameplay now standard in the series. The graphics only improved incrementally over the first three games, which were largely bound by the PlayStation 2's graphics capabilities, but they made a dramatic leap in GTAIV, which uses a new game engine to take advantage of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360's graphics power. Note that some of the GTAIV shots will appear slightly fuzzy due to the game's daylight postprocessing effects.
The PeopleYour character and people on the street comprise the bulk of the character models you encounter in each game. The graphics quality didn't improve much over the first three games, but Rockstar made up for it by adding more character models and giving the main character more customization options in each sequel. Characters became much more lifelike in GTAIV thanks to the advanced game engine and the new consoles.
The main character evolved from a nameless protagonist in GTAIII to Tommy Vercetti in Vice City, C.J. in San Andreas, and, finally, Niko Bellic in GTAIV. You don't have the ability to turn around the character to face the camera until San Andreas, so we sneaked in a cutscene image for Tommy and a side-view shot for the GTAIII protagonist.
The citizen graphics don't change that much between GTAIII and Vice City before getting photo-textured faces in San Andreas. The GTAIV characters all have defined facial features and perfectly modeled clothing. The pedestrians have also become much more talkative and emotive in the new game. You'll find yourself stopping to eavesdrop on them while completing missions throughout the city.
Vagrants, much like other random pedestrians, often function as driving targets in GTA. However, seeing characters like this poor guy trying to keep warm in front of a drum barrel really humanizes them, making us all the more uncomfortable when we have to run them over if and when they get in the way.
Women of the Night
It's no secret that the general GTA population includes its fair share of streetwalkers. The prostitutes in the older games were pretty easy to spot, but they didn't really reflect their real-world analogs until the later games. Let's face it: Girls walking the street aren't exactly Emperor's Club VIP material.
The GTA games have all had draw distance limitations and an abrupt level of detail transitions, but pop-in has become less of a problem over time, and gone are the days when incoming vehicles first appear as smudged boxes only to sharpen up as they get closer. Textures look great near and far. We were particularly impressed with how detailed Staunton Island looks when viewed from Portland Island.