Then & Now: Grand Theft Auto IV

See how Grand Theft Auto has evolved through GTAIII, Vice City, San Andreas, and GTAIV.

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 People

Your 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.

Main Character

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

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.

Citizens

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

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

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

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

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

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 Cities

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

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.

The Environment

The GTA world environment includes mostly urban areas with a touch of nature here and there with beaches in Vice City and rural areas in San Andreas. GTAIV has upgraded all the in-game environments with more polygons, higher-resolution graphics, and incredible lighting.

Lights

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

This Times Square-like Star Junction area from GTAIV isn't exactly the 3D "lighting" we're talking about, but we were impressed with how realistic the game looks in comparison to a similar area in GTAIII. Las Venturas has a passable Vegas strip, but it's still not close to the graphics in GTAIV.

Streets

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

Lifelike streets aren't just asphalt roads with concrete sidewalks. The streets in the older GTA games have pedestrians and the odd mailbox or fire hydrant, but GTAIV's streets come to life with all sorts of physics-enabled debris including boxes, garbage bags, dumpsters, newspaper stands, trash cans, and random litter.

Bridges

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

The bridge comparisons show off GTAIV's postprocessing effects and graphical detail levels. As with the other GTA games, GTAIV invents an excuse to prevent you from crossing bridges into advanced areas early in the game. This time it's the threat of terrorism that keeps you out of Staunton Island.

Skyline

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

Sunsets in GTAIV bathe the city in a warm, red light. Sure beats lens flare, the killer graphics effect from the PS2. Cities in some of the past GTA games don't look that great at a distance because there are invisible buildings waiting to pop-in, but you can now see the entire city from a helicopter in GTAIV.

Foliage

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

Grand Theft Auto has always had terrible, cardboardlike trees built with flat, intersecting texture slices. We were surprised to see that the shrubbery hasn't changed much in GTAIV aside from using a higher-resolution texture and more slices to create more complex plant sculptures.

Water

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

GTAIV has beautiful water that throws off great reflections and reacts realistically as you move through it. Water became less deadly in San Andreas, when your character finally learned how to swim. Falling into the water was instant death in GTAIII and Vice City.

The Civil Service

Grand Theft Auto wouldn't be the same without its army of police, fire, and emergency service workers. We devoted an entire section of this feature to the fine people and vehicles that will interfere with, respond to, and sometimes even aid you during the game.

Police

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

The police force cuts that real American cities are seeing haven't yet made it to Liberty City. It seems as though there's almost always a policeman nearby when yet another careless pedestrian jumps in front of your car. GTAIV's policemen now come armed with coffee cups and hats that seem to fly off at every opportunity.

Police Cars

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

The boxy patrol cruisers from GTAIII, Vice City, and San Andreas now look like real patrol cars in GTAIV. Finishing the Crime and Punishment mission in GTAIV will give you access to the game's optional police missions. You'll be able to complete vigilante tasks or hunt down "most wanted" criminals around the city.

Police Department

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

All buildings in GTAIV, including the police stations, feature higher-resolution textures and realistic lighting.

Fire Engines

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

The fire engine was the easiest vehicle to find in GTAIV. You can now request fire department assistance by calling 911 from your cell phone in-game. The water hose could also work as a fun, nonlethal weapon for those pacifist players trying to beat the game with the least amount of bloodshed.

Ambulances

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

The ambulance comparison shots here illustrate how much extra detail each GTAIV vehicle has compared to past games. We have some bad news for all of the aspiring EMS medics out there: Unlike past GTA games, GTAIV doesn't have any optional ambulance missions.

The Places

Shops and services have evolved quite a bit in the Grand Theft Auto series. Some businesses such as fast food restaurants have flourished while others such as Ammu-Nation have disappeared. Other places of interest present in all the games include the docks and the airport.

Ammu-Nation

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

Ammu-Nation has finally followed through on its going-out-of-business threats in GTAIV. Niko has to make new contacts and find underground markets to pick up his weaponry in Liberty City. You'll also be able to set up deliveries once you build up a relationship with one particular contact.

Pay 'N' Spray

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

Using a paint shop to evade police has become slightly more difficult in GTAIV. You can still lose your wanted level by getting your car repainted, but the shops won't do the work if the cops see you enter the garage.

Fast Food

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

The fast food restaurant has grown into an important part of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. GTAIII started off with a few Punk Noodle and Bolt Burger facades, but you couldn't actually go inside one until Vice City brought us Well Stacked Pizza walk-in restaurants and Burger Shot at the mall food court. Cluckin' Bell and Burger Shot became much more important when eating became a game mechanic in San Andreas.

The Docks

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

You can't have a Grand Theft Auto game without a visit to the docks. If there's one thing we've learned from playing GTA, it's that crime always follows container ships.

Airport

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

Francis International Airport returns in Grand Theft Auto IV, but racing through the airport isn't as easy as it used to be. Getting near the runway will get you an instant wanted level in the post-9/11 Liberty City.

The Vehicles

Several types of vehicles appear in all four modern GTA console games. All the GTAIV vehicles look incredible compared to their past counterparts. We take a look at a few of them here to show you how the graphics have changed from game to game.

Commercial Trucks

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

Commercial trucks have come a long way since the Triad Fish Trucks in GTAIII. They're not a top choice for automobile elitists, but sometimes you have to make concessions if you're stuck in an industrial area without a ride.

Trashmaster

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

We originally planned on getting a Rhino tank for this spot, but couldn't get one to appear in GTAIV even after spending 15 minutes trolling around Staunton Island with six wanted stars.

Taxis

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

You'll get the ability to call taxis to ferry Niko around the city fairly early in GTAIV. The best part is that you can use the taxi to get to your destination almost instantly. The rides are expensive when you're just starting out, but you'll be taking cabs everywhere when the money starts rolling in. The Crazy Taxi-like missions are no longer in the game, but we won't miss that one particular fare who wants to go to that out-of-the-way place all the way across the map.

Stallion

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

The Stallion is one of the first sports cars that you encounter in all of the GTA console games, which also means that it's one of the first cars you steal and immediately drop when something better rolls by. Who hasn't abandoned a Stallion to jack an Infernus?

Vehicle Damage

GTA 4 GTA: San Andreas GTA: Vice City GTA 3

Vehicle damage is much more realistic in GTAIV. The individual car panels, lights, and tires can all sustain localized damage, which can cause the vehicle to slow down or even list to one side. Cars can also take engine damage that will make the vehicle impossible to start.

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Discussion

719 comments
xIN3N
xIN3N

Sounds like a real hero..........! Amigo you the man man, Call yourself a man man

Ur_Daddy_711
Ur_Daddy_711

lV kicked @$$! After playing lll, Vice City and San Andreas, I was glad to see that R* sacrificed the extra bells and whistles for modern graphics and realistic physics. Is it jus me or did anyone else feel like there was much to be desired by the time San Andreas came out, in regards to visuals. One area where lV mounted San Andreas was the radio stations. The radio in SA sucked @$$! The music stations were inhabited with songs from the 90's that had already been played to death (I've heard Dre & Snoop's "Nuthin' but a G thang" more times than I'd like to remember) and the talk shows were not as sharp and funny as in lV or even Vice City (I loved KCHAT with Amy Sheckenhausen). Those who have a problem with this game, do a swan dive off your roof!

3nd_Of_The_Lin3
3nd_Of_The_Lin3

I've played GTA IV for two weeks. It was fun, but then... WTH am I going to do now? Mehhh, I'll play GTA SA. GTA IV has ,by far, better graphics than any other GTA. but you basically do missions, maybe have a pursuit with the cops... And... that's all the fun it provides.. Unlike IV, I've played SA since release, and I just can't get tired of it! GTA IV bores me! GTA SA 4ever!

Tevi
Tevi

you unlock alqonqiun pretty early in gta 4 I was stuck in gta 3

silentapache25
silentapache25

they remake gta san andreas with the gta IV engine

luziorava
luziorava

"Let's face it: Girls walking the street aren't exactly Emperor's Club VIP material." Yeah, especially the one in San Andreas.

spy2828
spy2828

Just look at the realese dates. We still (even once a year) play SA (2004) but in 2014 we won't play IV. In graphics, IV has better than SA had in his age

hamoksha0000
hamoksha0000

i Have played all gta series the games are pretty good and have thoughts really the graphics are good according to the period that came off

Cois_MACtorch
Cois_MACtorch

All though I love GTA IV I think they could have given us the parachute. It was so fun in GTA SA, That's the only thing i have a prob with in GTA IV. LOVE IT MAN LOVE IT!

dorjebodh
dorjebodh

water was better in vice city than in san andreas

coolkid93
coolkid93

It's great that the franchise improved over the years. I think that GTA IV is the best GTA yet.

SmashBroChamp94
SmashBroChamp94

OMG the people in part 3 looked WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY better than all the games.lol

SmashBroChamp94
SmashBroChamp94

@AirForce-I gave you a "thumbs up" but i think its a cigarette lol.

AirForceGamer
AirForceGamer

Is it just me does the woman of the night on GTA SA have a nasty left tooth hanging out?

casket56
casket56

lol you should have done a then and now including the original gta's

ne0man
ne0man

"This time it's the threat of terrorism that keeps you out of Staunton Island." This time the second island is actually Algonquin...

ZinPhyo
ZinPhyo

It is interesting to see how much the GTA franchise has evolved in 7 years.

Mehdi-Y
Mehdi-Y

Maybe one day we'll walk like a film in GTA5 or 6.

BDL91
BDL91

Has really come along way since gta3

yatatabien
yatatabien

Caaaaaaaan't wait for the PC release!

wapiifurung
wapiifurung

GTA IV is the BEST game in the WORLD. PERIOD

BoaMo121
BoaMo121

Gta4 uses the physics engine now but in the previous games when you killed someone it was a prerendered animation the bodies would fall with legs and arms spread out. however if u counter attack and kill somone in gta4 in a fist fight they will fall like in the previous games. just i should point it out.

DragFire24
DragFire24

The only competition GTA IV has are the previous GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas. It's awsome to see a game like this. I was a big fan of the old 2D game, got very impressed with the introduction of the 3D one, now I'm mostly amazed with the details GTA IV has. Don't want this game on a console, I don't like FPS and these type of games on consoles. Waiting for the PC version, the best thing about the pc versions is that the graphics quality can be modified easily, so who doesn't like that "oil painting" it can be modified. GTA is the best of the best for all the gamers :) Long live to Take Two, 2k Games, Rockstar, Rockstar North and all other subsidiary things!! Hope to see a rating of 10 also for the PC version.

boogernator
boogernator

GTA:SA will be much better than GTA 4 if it has smoother movements and better graphcis

SkillGamer
SkillGamer

ALL GTAS ESPECAILLY GTA4 OWNS EVERY GAME!!!

683017CA
683017CA

EACH GTA EXEPT IV, WAS SO GOOD FOR ITS TIME.

k_robert_m
k_robert_m

this is a pretty basic article; not very impressive

y2j826
y2j826

The game which i like most in GTA series is GTA III, GTA4 has good graphics but the time GTA3 comes into existence there was not any other game which can even comes near it . . . and even in GTA3 the graphics were made perfect according to conditions with some foggy environment and mostly clouds . . . things looks same as it was shown in GTA3 in bad weather . . .

Ahiru-San
Ahiru-San

gta iv is great, so much of in-game detail... but it feels like they used too much of a "oil painting" filtering on its graphics - it's not a blur, and it's not jagged - it's just confusing to look at it... and the shadows are way too grainy... that's my complain about it, which makes the graphic not look all that great... but the game is awesome indeed.

ash10692
ash10692

On graphics, GTA IV wins. But on everything else, it loses bigtime.

Martin-2-5-9
Martin-2-5-9

I am amazed how much the games have changed, I really want GTA IV, But don't have a PS3 or Xbxo360 :(

hugoagogo21
hugoagogo21

GTA is awesome. the graphics are great and i love to run around and do random things shame GTA4 not on ps2 though

george999819
george999819

Did the person who wrote the captions for the screenshots even play GTA IV? As far as I know there's no Staunton Island in GTA IV and there are taxi missions from Roman.

GTA_Godfather
GTA_Godfather

Wow! I'm actually impressed by how good VC, III, and SA look. Their shots were obviously pulled from the PC version. They have the sharpness and vivid colors IV lacks. Yes, IV has more details, but what good is it when it's covered up by low-res console fuzziness? Bring out the PC version already, so we can make a fair comparison. Comparing PC versions with console versions is like comparing apples with oranges. I do think IV on the PC will great and blow away SA, VC, and III. I want REALLY see all those details in IV.

ErkiB
ErkiB

yeah it looks amazing...Really do love the GTA series baby

trusake3
trusake3

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

mashom
mashom

Rockstar really work hard to improve GTA4.

aaronobst
aaronobst

Great article, it complements the phenomenon that is Grand Theft Auto

Auronssj3
Auronssj3

I think this article means Algonquin Isle not Staunton Island.

trusake3
trusake3

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Sparky2002
Sparky2002

ALSO HAVE TO STATE GTA V.C. HAD THE VERY BEST MONEY CURRENCY SYSTEM TO.

Sparky2002
Sparky2002

VICE CITY ALL THE WAY LOOKS BEST BECAUSE OF IS NOT REALISM & IS CARTOONISH...

hiepsitoctrang
hiepsitoctrang

Creat ! Thinking about it after 10 years , boys . Hah ! I thinks maybe ..... i died .kekeke

theminence
theminence

I WANT a new GTA for pc!!! =( How can they do this to pc gamers :S

ShadowOfKratos
ShadowOfKratos

oh sh... I 4got how the hookers looked like in San Fierro... DARN!!!

educationhater
educationhater

Vice city is still my favorite, but I think san andreas is great too. my only problem with san andreas is that I could never get used to it. I still discover a new part of los santos every day, even though I've unlocked the other cities. but that is a good thing at the same time. and gta4? I consider it on the same level as vice city.