WELCOME BACK TO LOS SANTOS
Grand Theft Auto V was one of the best games to come out in 2013 and was a generation-defining experience for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners. With GTA V already selling more than 34 million copies on the previous generation, Rockstar hopes to continue the life of their most popular franchise on the new generation of consoles. However, is it worth the upgrade for those who have already played it last gen?
After sinking close to 100 hours into GTA V on the PlayStation 3, I had my reservations about purchasing the game again for the PlayStation 4. However, Rockstar managed to lure me in with their first person experience trailer (seen below) — just two weeks before launch. The ability to roam the streets of Los Santos and see the world at eye level is something truly special. I have already spent countless hours just wandering around and experiencing the world in this newfound level of detail.
By comparison to the old generation, GTA V for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is a much improved visual affair. Running at a full 1080p, you will notice improved textures and surfaces, along with better lighting and weather effects. The dynamic weather will bring sudden storms, leaving the roads with puddles of standing water from the rain, and the darkened sky will be lit by bolts of lightning. In addition to the impressive weather, the enhanced visuals are displayed throughout the game. Whether it be the smaller details–like the sand blowing across the roads in Blaine County–or the bigger events–like Trevor causing chaos and destruction.
Whilst the game is running on a more powerful console, it does unfortunately still have some visual limitations. In certain circumstances, I found that the game would have occasional frame rate drops below its regular 30 frames per second. Luckily these were infrequent, and normally when I was driving at high speeds in high density areas. You will also experience some occasional pop in, again normally found when travelling at high speeds and most noticeable when flying. Despite that, the draw distance has been greatly improved of its old generation predecessor (the view from the top of the Vinewood Hills is breathtaking). Whilst it is unfortunate that these technical faux pas occur, it should be remembered that San Andreas is one of the largest, most detailed worlds we have experienced in video games.
If you’re playing on the PS4, the experience isn’t limited to just on screen. You will hear your cell phone conversations and beeps come through the controller’s speaker, and the touchpad can be swiped to quickly change weapons or, if you’re in the car, the radio stations. The color of the light bar will also change between blue, green and orange depending on whether you are Michael, Franklin or Trevor respectively — unless you have a wanted level, then it will flash red and blue.
The main story within GTA V remains untouched from the previous version — with your three protagonists, Michael De Santa, Franklin Clinton and Trevor Phillips, taking centre stage. Despite playing for a second time, it only reminded me how much fun the story is (even if they do continually find ways for you to not be financially rewarded for completing missions). The chemistry between Michael, Franklin and Trevor is what helps make it so enjoyable. The voice acting is first class and you will frequently find yourself laughing at the dialogue. The heists are at the center of GTA V’s story and they are the perfect combination of entertainment and intensity. Most heists do give you two different approaches so, whilst the game is the same, I found myself experiencing heists in a brand new way. Add in the first person view and, at some points, it genuinely felt like a brand new game.
Along with the visuals, the optional first person view is the biggest enhancement to GTA V. This addition was the tipping point on my purchase decision and, for the most part, I am impressed. The first person mode is at its strongest when you are on foot or in combat. The number of animations on the weapons is incredible, with each weapon displaying their own authentic recoil. For a game that wasn’t intended to be a first person shooter, the quality of the combat is a testament to Rockstar — it actually feels better than several dedicated first person shooters I have played. There are a range of options given to you to help your camera preferences, with my favourite being an option for the game to seamlessly pan out to third person when you take cover. I found this to be an essential feature — taking cover in first person mode was simply too restrictive.
Restriction is also the word I would use for driving using the first person view. Whilst Rockstar has done a fantastic job in creating unique cockpit views for their different cars, bikes, boats and aircrafts — including fully functioning dials and speedometers — I found myself reverting back to third person to help reduce the regularity that I would crash said vehicles. As I mention, this wasn’t because I’m unimpressed with what had been created — although it was disappointing that the rear-view and side mirrors did not display any reflections — but there is so much going on in the world of San Andreas, that I just needed to be able to see more of what was around me.
The level of detail that went into making San Andreas feel alive is incredible. No matter where you go in this enormous world you will uncover something that makes you appreciate just how special this game is. Just two quick examples of this is a fully operational subway network that you can ride below Los Santos, and a bus tour that takes you around the Vinewood Hills with a very amusing tour guide. Neither of these are even mentioned in the main story or any of the side quests, but they are just there to give the city an additional sense of realism.
Whilst there is more than enough to do in the single player world of GTA V, there is also the added feature of Grand Theft Auto: Online. If you are returning to GTA V, then you have the ability to transfer your character from the old generation. This process is straightforward and Rockstar must be credited for allowing people to continue their online progress. I have already played many hours of GTA: Online from the previous generation and, when it works, it is incredible. Unfortunately that is the only positive thing I can say about GTA: Online — at this moment in time. I have tried to connect to GTA: Online many times over the past week and my success rate was around 50%. It has improved since the latest update, but there were still times where I would get into a session and then lose connection a short while after. I was really looking forward to experiencing the new thirty player sessions, but they will have to wait a little longer.
The Verdict: 9.7 out of 10
Grand Theft Auto V still remains one of the best sandbox games of all time. The size, scope and detail of the world is unprecedented in video games and any future open world game should use GTA V as inspiration for what is within the realms of possibility. GTA V looked great before but now looks even better on the new consoles. If you haven’t played it before, this is the best way to experience it — with the fantastic new first person mode. Online issues aside, this is an amazing game and one that everyone must experience at least once. Whether or not it is worth another $60 is subjective but, coming from someone who was not going to buy the game again until two weeks ago, I have thoroughly enjoyed my visit to San Andreas once again and will continue exploring for many hours more.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.