Identical to last year’s release on older consoles in terms of story, the simply titled Grand Theft Auto V is reworked to utilize the power of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Without so much as a “HD” or “Remastered” on the box, there’s nothing to suggest anything is different with this release. And for the most part that is true, as you’ll be replaying the same story, but in such a way that it won’t feel the same – especially when that is done from the first-person perspective.
First-person mode is clearly the defining new feature to the game that does in fact, “change the game”. Driving in first-person is twitchy, but immersive, save for the smeared mirrors of the cars’ interior. But the working speedometers, the radio displays what song you’re currently listening to, and more make it that much more enjoyable. Drive-bys are more personal when you’re pulling out a gun, and having to maneuver getting yourself aimed while maintaining on the road. On-foot this intimacy with you and whoever is at the other end of the barrel of your gun is intensified as you are much closer to them to see the emotion and blood that streaks across their face. It adds an interesting, almost disturbing layer of closeness that felt disconnected, up until this release. You don’t have to play the game from the first-person view, but just the fact you can shows the extra thought and care that went into improving on what was a stand-out title of the last-generation of consoles.
Your preferences are even remembered as you transition from vehicle to on-foot, and even into air vehicles or boats. You can have the camera settings be symmetric across all areas, for consistency. Or if you prefer, driving in first-person, but on-foot to be third-person – you can totally do that, and it’ll always remember those settings.
The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions benefit from a whole host of graphical improvements that Rockstar carefully detailed in a 5-page printout. Things such as: replacing every texture in the game, improved anti-aliasing, increased pedestrian density on foot and on roads, three times the light sources, and 1080p resolution. The more meaningful changes are seeing more animals, barely getting past your car as it crosses the road. The increased density of non-player character adds a level of challenge, like driving fast down the highways or just trying to chase someone on foot. It’s busier, and has more feelings of realism. There’s a much more stable framerate that sticks closer to 30fps, as opposed to the mostly sub-30fps we got on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
The new songs for existing radios stations are noticiable. While I wish I was flying a jet at the time, flooring it in a Vapid Bullet, weaving in out of traffic to Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” is incredibly satisfying. While there’s no mention of sound improvements, the thunder that follows the astonishingly beautiful lightning is startling. It’s the kind of beauty that has you just stop and stare, whether it be the rain falling to see the individual drops, or watching a golden sunset slink beneath the horizon on the beach. The city of Los Santos hasn’t looked so beautiful.
Playing the game on PlayStation 4, the game used the DualShock 4 to the fullest: the lightbar flashes red and blue when being pursued by the cops, police chatter and phone calls come out of the controller’s speaker, and the touchpad can be used to swap weapons without opening the radial menu. While these aren’t overly impressive or game-altering, they are neat, little details that Rockstar is known for. As for the Xbox One, it does take advantage of the haptic feedback of the triggers when shooting and driving. But the PlayStation 4 wins out as far as controller features, if you care about that sort of thing.
For those who may not have played last year’s release, the game’s prologue begins in the snowy state of North Yankton, that sets the stage for things to come. But more importantly, it organically teaches you everything you need to know to play the game: shooting, cover, driving, and more. It may not be apparent as you’re sucked into the narrative right from the get-go, to learn the characters, their motivations, and trying to piece together what is actually going on. Distracting the player from the inevitable tutorial is something that speaks volumes.
Grand Theft Auto V goes against the grain of not only for the series, but across many games similar to it to tell a interwoven story of three human beings, who are all connected and who need each other, all in their own way. Michael the former criminal under witness protection, Trevor the freak and sociopath, and Franklin, the gang-banger wanting to breakaway from the old life are trying to find something better. It doesn’t help that they look to crime before they all will have the chance retire to bigger and better lives.
The unpredictability of both the characters you play as, and the people you interact with is hilarious, tragic, and outright weird. Each person has their own personality and quirks, and you’ll learn to love them all. Non-player characters have places to be, and interrupting their schedule or serene place of being is terrifying. They panic, trip and fall, or want to fight. Even your own characters have schedules, able to swap between the three playable characters in story mode, you may switch to them while driving and singing down the highway, or waking up in a daze, or just walking out of a store. It’s great seeing lives being played out when you’re not watching, it makes these characters more believable.
When you’re not in a mission, you can take on side-activities to earn money like assassination contracts while tampering with the in-game stock markets, spending your money on real estate, or having fun by taking on skydiving challenges. Even without structure, you can take drives into the wilderness, be attacked by cougars, or encounter strangers that require your assistance. The freedom to play in this open-world sandbox is only limited by your imagination and time.
The fourth character in the quarter-slices of the radial character selection menu is the virtual representation of you, that you’re able to forge from a series of options. After that, you’re let loose into an online game with up to 30 other human players (a larger number over the previous generation version). It is here that you can freely roam about the city, causing havoc. Or working with others, forming a crew, and taking on jobs that level you up, as well as earning you money.
This money can be spent on cars, or real-estate. Have enough money saved up, and you can have your own apartment to walk around in and watch the goings-on from the comfort of your virtual home. If you venture outside, things get dangerous. If you get killed, you can lose your money. But, with the online banking system, you can deposit all your on-hand cash into the safety of your bank account so that some vigilante doesn’t make off with it.
At first, GTA Online is not very fun. You’ll likely be killed often in the early character levels. It’s only as you rank up and have access to more weapons, more cars, you’ll begin to enjoy it more. For those who played the game on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, you’ll be able to import your previous GTA Online character into this version, no matter which console. This is because the Rockstar Social Club is shared, so those going from Xbox 360 to PlayStation 4 will have no issues resuming where they left off.
GTA Online is also not what it was a year ago. For starters, it actually works at launch. Secondly, it has all of the free DLC that’s been added to the game, pre-included here. So no one who upgrades to this version is missing out or taking a step back in features or extra cars, guns, cosmetic items, etc.
GTA Online could be a standalone game. That statement alone shows the breadth of content that’s available, feeling similar but oh so different to the contained single-player content.
Rockstar North took an incredible game, and found interesting and meaningful ways to improve it further. Even if you’ve played the game last year, the quality and presentation is more than enough to do it all again. But there’s more to it than just being on new consoles, the visual fidelity is much more inviting and immersive, it retains the incredible story that has ups and downs of an emotional roller-coaster, and the new first-person mode (that you’d normally find as a mod on the PC version) all add to an unforgettable experience. Grand Theft Auto V is a masterpiece, and the city of Los Santos will be a location you probably know better than the town you currently live in.
A PlayStation 4 copy of the game was provided by Rockstar Games for review purposes