GTA 6’s first hurdle will be the Xbox Series S’ hardware

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It’s still a while away, but GTA 6 has been announced to launch in 2025. With a PC launch not on the cards just yet – the game is scheduled to land on current generation consoles. This includes Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and S. Provided that there aren’t any major delays, by the time it launches we’re going to be well into the fifth year of their lifespan. The most powerful of those seem likely to handle the stress of Rockstar’s highly anticipated title, though I have  some concerns that the Xbox Series S might not be cut out for the job.

Rockstar’s upcoming title has been in the works since 2014, according to Bloomberg. By the time it launches, there’s going to be nearly 11 years of development behind the game. You can already see this in the trailer. Vice City is gloriously textured, dense, visceral and alive. This is, however, a cinematic showcase of what the game could look like. We’ve yet to see any gameplay footage to suggest what visuals the next RAGE (Rockstar’s game engine) might offer up.

A screenshot of Lucia from the GTA 6 trailer. They’re holding a wad of cash in the front seat of a car. (Screenshot from the trailer)

If there was ever a game that could even try to live up to the expectations of GTA 6 – it’s Starfield. A game also in development for an extraordinarily long time, Bethesda’s space opera took heavy criticism before and after its launch thanks to the 30FPS cap on Xbox Series X and S. According to an interview between IGN and Todd Howard (Director of Bethesda Game Studios), the game was limited: “because we want that fidelity, we want all that stuff.” If it’s consistency that developers are seeking when releasing mammoth games like Starfield and GTA 6 – then the hardware disparity between the Xbox Series S and its peers will surely play a part in how the game is designed from a foundational level.

Game series as expansive and dense as Grand Theft Auto need to scale. GTA V, for example, launched on the PS3 and Xbox 360 originally over 10 years ago, eventually seeing releases on current generation consoles. Of course, this was also matched by major updates to the game engine and the version differences are essentially remasters themselves. However, fundamentally, the games were the same. Textures might be vastly different across consoles, alongside graphical features such as ray tracing and resolution upscaling being introduced but these are aesthetic vanities. The structure of the game, which is down to crowd density, object placement, cutscenes and scripted sequences has had to stay the same.

While GTA 5 on PS5 might look pretty natural among other recently released AAA games, at its base it’s still a seventh generation game. Now, this isn’t a stain on GTA V, but it does warn us of the potential restrictions that developing a game for Xbox Series S might produce. It’s by no means a weak console – it can run games at 1440p at 30FPS pretty happily – Starfield included. That said, it’s a game capped at 30FPS on a console that should reach 60FPS in most games. This means we could see the hardware really start to struggle and hold back the potential of the software simultaneously. 

Rockstar, no doubt wary of the Series S’s slight limitations against its peers, will likely need to implement serious scaling to keep this consistency between consoles. Sacrifices will likely need to be made. Unlikely to limit the resolution, which most people are interested in, the game’s either going to need to see a frame rate cap like Starfield on console, or there’s going to need to be scalability built into different versions of the game. Think roads with half the cars, half the trees, and half the population. Whether it’s going to be a sacrifice in optimisation or immersion – it’s hard to see how the Series S version of the game can ever live up to the PS5 and Series X versions. Considering how much like PCs the current-generation of consoles are with dedicated graphics settings such as performance and fidelity modes, Rockstar could go a step further in optimizing its latest open-world game for the hardware of today, while planning iterations for the consoles to come in the near future.

We’ll only have to wait a few years to find out.

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