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Unreal Engine 5 vs. GTA 5 Graphics Mods: Which Looks Better?

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The recent reveal of Unreal Engine 5 running on PS5 has understandably cause quite a stir. Essentially our first look at next-gen graphics, that demo has understandably raised the bar in terms of visual expectations.

However, it wasn’t the only recently released graphics demo that has caused quite a stir. In case you didn’t hear, the creators of the GTA 5 NaturalVision graphics mod have released a new trailer that showcases the latest version of their project. It is, to say the least, a stunning example of what is possible with existing technology.

While you can fairly safely guess which of these demos look better given the nature of the tech that powers them, we thought we’d compare the two showcases in order to get a better look at the capabilities of current graphics tech vs. a very early glimpse at where we are headed. For reference, here are the two trailers in question:

GTA 5 Graphics Mod vs. Unreal Engine 5 – Environment Details

This is certainly one area where the Unreal Engine clearly pulls ahead.

The stunning level of detail the Unreal Engine 5 is capable of generating is clearly one of its best early features. You can practically trace the path you would use to climb a rock, and the statues that we see later in the trailer are not only popping with detail, but each features a slightly unique look.

By comparison, the GTA 5 graphics mod is battling the inherent blurriness of the textures it’s working with. Everything looks great at a glance, but the longer that you stare at a frame, the more you see that “Vaseline” smear that keeps the textures from achieving their full potential.

GTA 5 Graphics Mod vs. Unreal Engine 5 – Lighting Effects

Again, this is an area where the Unreal Engine 5 demo clearly pulls ahead, but the differences between these two tech showcases are quite interesting.

Unreal Engine 5 is using a form of ray tracing to produce lighting effects that engines which don’t utilize that technology simply can’t match. Beyond the quality of the lighting effects themselves is the impressive way those effects interact with everything else in the environment. That’s the ray tracing advantage.

The GTA 5 engine doesn’t seem to utilize a form of ray tracing, but it’s worth noting that it does feature some of the more intelligent and subtle uses of lighting that we’ve seen in recent years. From puddle reflections to realistic “light pollution,” everything is designed to create an effective sense of photorealism.

Speaking of which…

GTA 5 Graphics Mod vs. Unreal Engine 5 – Photorealism

To be honest, we think that this is one area where the GTA 5 mod actually pulls ahead.

There are times when you can pause the Unreal Engine 5 demo and probably convince people that it’s a photograph. However, the tuning of the colors, the intensified lighting effects, and the clearly indicated environmental interaction elements shatter that illusion relatively quickly.

By comparison, the GTA 5 graphics mod is aiming for photorealism and arguably achieves it in many respects. That’s especially true of the night shots and far away views where you can really appreciate how many of the mod’s subtle improvements better replicate real-life conditions.

Unreal Engine 5 could almost certainly achieve more “realistic” visuals, but it’s interesting to see how that effect isn’t always a matter of raw visual technology.

GTA 5 Graphics Mod vs. Unreal Engine 5 –Characters

Unreal Engine 5 clearly pulls ahead again here, but the difference doesn’t come down to what you may expect.

If you’re just comparing static visual models, Unreal Engine 5 certainly looks better, but perhaps not so much better that you’d assume you’re looking at two different generations of primary technology. Still, it’s clearly an improvement.

Where Unreal Engine 5 pulls ahead and doesn’t look back, though, is in the animation. From smaller details to the slight sway of a character’s arms as they walk to the way that weight shifts so accurately as they climb rocks, this is certainly one area where we clearly see next-gen technology vastly improving over even the best looking current options.

GTA 5 Graphics Mod vs. Unreal Engine 5 –Scope

This one is a bit of a cheat, but it does bring us to a point that should be made regarding these two pieces of technology.

As of right now, the only thing we know about Unreal Engine 5’s technology is how it looks in the context of this specific, linear demo. It may be a real-time demo, but it’s still just a demo created specifically to showcase this technology. In other words, cinematic experience games like Uncharted are almost always going to look more impressive than larger titles like Grand Theft Auto.

That’s what makes the Grand Theft Auto mod so impressive and the clear winner of this category. No, it’s not as visually impressive as the Unreal Engine 5 from a pure visual standpoint. However, the things that are impressive about it are stretched over a full-size game. It’s not unrealistic to say that this engine offers a reasonable approximation of what GTA 6 could look like.

GTA 5 Graphics Mod vs. Unreal Engine 5 –Overall Winner

You probably went into this breakdown knowing that Unreal Engine 5 is clearly the more advanced technology, and we’re not going to try to swerve you here by suggesting otherwise. It’s the clear “winner.”

As we mentioned, though, it’s going to be interesting to see just how much better Unreal Engine 5 ends up looking once it’s applied to a full-size open-world game developed specifically with the engine in mind.

So far as that goes, our gut feeling is that earlier games of that size may not look significantly better than what we see in the GTA 5 graphics mod. However, you can expect them to run smoother, load faster, be much better optimized, and feature improved animations.

That’s what you should take away from this comparison. The Unreal Engine 5 demo is best treated as a glimpse at the potential of next-gen technology rather than an immediate and unbelievable leap forward.

Matthew Byrd

Matthew Byrd covers the gaming industry including indies, consoles, PCs, iOS and Android apps, as well as topics related to entertainment and technology.