A commendable amount of improvements to an already great game, GTA V comes to the new generation of consoles with more than a fresh lick of paint.
Developer: Rockstar Games
Format: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: November 18, 2014
Copy supplied by publisher
The Grand Theft Auto series isn’t the punk rock it used to be. Its ceaselessly irreverent tone, rebellious antisocial premise, and once-controversial violence represent more of a status quo in entertainment than a shocking subversion of it. GTA is big business, one of the true titans of the industry next to Call of Duty and Halo, and its particular brand of anarchy is no longer unexpected – after so many years in the field, one could almost call it quaint. What I liked most about Grand Theft Auto V was how it seemed to acknowledge this very fact with a story that revolves around the series’ place in the world, even if that wasn’t Rockstar’s intention. To me, the three principal antagonists of V represent the GTA series itself – Franklin is ambitious but may not be as smart as he thinks he is, Michael is old and wants to change, but eventually learns that sociopathic mayhem is what he’s good at, while Trevor is a joyful celebration of everything degenerate, shocking, and macabre. And none of them are worth looking up to. Grand Theft Auto V is as much a game about Grand Theft Auto as it is about Los Santos’ trio of antiheroes, and while it’s become popular to resent the game in the year since its release, I still confess that I love the unsubtle, sometimes disturbing thing. Maybe I shouldn’t, but them’s the breaks!
In a year that’s seen a remarkable amount of rereleases, Grand Theft Auto V comes to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, joining the likes of Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs, and The Last of Us. Unlike some of this year’s prominent double-dips, however, Rockstar has done an impressive amount of work in justifying asking for money a second time around, providing more than a simple visual upgrade. Every facet of GTA V‘s visuals has been given an overhaul, with more detailed character models and clothing, more densely populated city streets, and an increased draw distance that makes Los Santos feel bigger and more believable than before. New animals can even be seen running around the world, because why the hell not? At first, the upgrades don’t seem quite as dramatic as something like The Last of Us, which delights with sixty-frames-per-second (sadly not seen here), but once you play for long enough, you get to appreciate just how many subtle additions have been introduced to the presentation, making for something that doesn’t instantaneously impress, but thoroughly pleases over the long haul.
Even better is the fact that Rockstar acquired a whole bunch of new music for the game’s radio, and now V boasts one of the best licensed soundtracks in the sandbox genre. The Non-Stop Pop station is absolutely crammed with guilty pleasures and unironic joys, while Los Santos’ various DJs and talk show hosts have recorded a bunch of fresh dialog to further add to the experience.
Much has been made of the game’s new first-person mode, a highly customizable feature that allows a fresh way of experiencing the city. New animations have been added to make the transition seamless, while car interiors have been remodeled to make the whole thing feel like a truly integrated option as opposed to a hastily cobbled-together gimmick. That said, however, it’s quite clear that the game was never suited for first-person viewpoints, and while I won’t call the mode unplayable, it’s certainly… challenging. The way the camera thrashes around when jacking cars, the way one has to walk eye-first into doors in order to open them, and the general lack of spatial awareness while driving makes this view rather difficult to cope with. There are multiple control options, and one can even choose to make first-person contextual – for example, you can choose to have the game switch to it only while firing a gun, allowing for greater combat accuracy while retaining traditional control in other circumstances. While I wouldn’t recommend this new mode for full-time play, it’s definitely worth screwing around with, and toggling options to see if there’s a context that works for you. The fact that one can switch in and out at any time makes dicking around with it tempting, even if it’s not altogether convenient.
I’m a sucker for DualShock 4 controller gimmickry, and the PS4 version of GTA V delivers the goods. NPC phone conversations, as well as police radio chatter, can emanate from the controller’s speaker, which also lights up blue, green, or orange depending on whether one’s using Michael, Franklin, or Trevor. The light also flashes between deep red and blue while being chased by cops, a little aesthetic touch that I found quite charming. As always, none of this particularly adds to the gameplay, but I’ve always appreciated the touch, and it’s great to see Rockstar toss it in when it didn’t have to.
GTA Online is now included with the base package right out of the gate, so one won’t have to wait a month to see it unlocked. As well as boasting every content update released to date, all the visual upgrades and options present in story mode can be enjoyed here, while the campaign also gets weapons and vehicles that were introduced through Online. The player count has been bumped up to 30 with two spectators. Returning players will be able to transfer their existing GTO characters while acquiring exclusive content, and my experience with it so far has been stable and free of trouble, though loading times can be thoroughly exorbitant at times. Loading is, overall, a prevalent issue throughout the production, and it’s a shame the generational leap couldn’t have made more marked improvements to the waiting times. Also, GTO is still more than happy to mop up your cash with microtransactions, something I’ll forever be displeased with in a full-priced retail game, and would be a lot more disappointed by here if GTO wasn’t part of a package that validates its asking price with the solo campaign alone.
Writing reviews for games that have been rereleased a year or two after their debut is often a difficult prospect, as one struggles to find new things to say. It’s telling, then, that I was able to find talking about Grand Theft Auto V‘s improvements so easy, eating up almost a thousand words on detailing all the advancements. More than perhaps any other game out there, GTA V could easily have gotten away with churning out a slightly better looking game and calling it a day. That a game could be guaranteed money no matter how slapdash the production, and still go above and beyond what other publishers have done this year, is incredibly laudable, and at least worth a golf clap. Even if you don’t care for the series, one cannot deny the pride Rockstar appears to have in its games. While I’d love 60fps, and could do with the overall controls feeling a little bit tighter, I can’t deny that Rockstar’s put the effort into this one, and it’s one of the few double downs I’d feel relatively confident recommending to those who’ve already played it. That, in itself, is profound.
As for the game itself? Well, I already reviewed GTA V back in the day, I loved it back then, and I love it now. Its attempts at clever humor can be embarrassingly misjudged, its content is often alarming, and I think those who point out the game’s problematic elements are perfectly within their right to do so, and they’re very rarely wrong. Still, I can accept that the game is troubling while still enjoying it, and the extensive augmentations found within the PS4/Xbox One version makes it all the more pleasant. Also, Trevor is still Trevor.
Damn, that Trevor!