Like most people it seems, I have been playing Grand Theft Auto V, the many DLCs that have come out, and its online component GTA Online on and off for the past 10 years. I started out with the original game on the PlayStation 3 and went all the way through the single player game on that platform, plus dabbled in GTA Online when it launched. Then when it moved to the PS4, I played the single player game again, and even got a little more into Online. I was still playing it on my PlayStation 5, but only as a backwards compatible PS4 game. Now, Rockstar Games has finally released the fully upgraded version, ready to play natively on either the Xbox Series X|S or PlayStation 5 consoles.
GTA Online upgraded to the PS5/Xbox Series X for free. And you can either move your existing characters over to the new console or start a new character, whereupon they will give you several million dollars of in-game currency to help get you started, which should let you afford at least one business, maybe two if you go cheap on the upgrades. Of course, most of us have been getting a million a month for almost two years, so sticking with our existing characters and their fortunes is the way to go. All of this is Rockstar’s efforts to make GTA Online a separate title, or perhaps a spinoff from the core GTA V game.
Now, if you want to play the single player game again, you unfortunately don’t get that content for free. You have to pay $10 to upgrade your game to the PS5, which includes moving your saved game over so you can continue where you left off (which is done through the Rockstar games online club). Xbox Series X|S players have to pay a little bit more to upgrade their single player game, but it’s still pretty cheap, as one would expect from a 10-year old game. Honestly, given how many millions Rockstar made from GTA Online over the years, I would have expected the single player game upgrade to be free, but can at least swallow that nominal charge without really liking it.
I am going to be upfront here and say that the upgrade (for GTA Online and GTA V) is not completely shocking or anything like that. When we moved from the PlayStation 3 and Xbox up to the PS4/Xbox One, it was almost like night and day. This move to the next generation is nice, but it’s more of a minor bump in terms of graphics and performance. When I did the upgrade and launched a new GTA Online game, my character woke up in their tricked out bedroom in my Agency office building, and my first thoughts were, “Am I actually playing the new version of the game?” With close up and indoor areas, there is not a lot of noticeable difference. When I looked out the windows however, I could see almost all the way across the city, so that was a nice change. Later on I started to notice other things too, like the shine on my car’s paint job. There is definitely a visual boost, you just have to look closely for it.
It doesn’t help that there are actually three graphics settings to choose from, and the game defaults to one that you might not like best, depending on your graphical preferences. The default is called Fidelity mode (you can switch them by going into your graphics settings.) Fidelity mode offers the highest graphics quality, up to 4K, but only at 30 frames per second. Most people are probably going to be perfectly happy playing in Fidelity mode, especially since it’s the default game setting now.
Another mode called Performance is designed to take a little bit of a load off your processor. Advanced features like reflections are removed by Performance mode, and you will see less details when you get close up to things like people or objects. It still looks good, and does try and render everything in 60fps. The decreased processor load makes for more responsive controls. Those who play competitively online might like Performance mode best since it maximizes their reaction times. Finally there is Performance RT mode, which has ray tracing and most of the new graphical whistles and bells, but also tries to render things at 60 frames per second. It ended up being my favorite mode.
Regardless of which mode you play in, you are going to see some great graphical improvements, even if they don’t hit you right away. The water textures are pretty amazing now, and the rare rainstorm is quite the experience. The beaches look great too, perfect for a swim. And a lot of work went into fire and explosion effects too, which is no big surprise given how much of that there is in a crazy game like this. So blow stuff up, because it looks great.
Other improvements include haptic feedback on the PS5. This makes cars feel different when you drive them depending on their class. Feedback is also very strong when you shoot different guns, which is a fun touch. And you can even feel that feedback when you drive fast on a rough road. Talk about realism. I really didn’t think the haptic feedback would be too big a deal, but adding in another sense really does makes GTA V much more immersive.
The audio is also upgraded. You get 3D audio on the PS5 and special audio on the Xbox Series X. This helps to increase the realism quite a bit. You can hear things all around you, and if you look in the direction of a noise, you can see where a sound came from, just like in real life. Playing with a headset pushes this even more, and is quite the experience. It’s really nice when a quiet park has a completely different atmosphere than a gas station sitting along one of the game’s busy freeways.
The other major upgrade is the performance of the game. Everything is more responsive now. I had to be careful not to oversteer cars, because they were suddenly much more responsive to slight corrections. In the single player game, you can also switch between characters very quickly now, so no more watching the clouds while the game loads up whatever crazy thing that Franklin, Michael or Trevor is doing when you switch to them.
There is a good reason why GTA V has lasted for 10 years when most games don’t get half that much playtime. Rockstar created an amazing game in GTA V, and then expanded the world and its activities through GTA Online. Yes, we all want GTA 6 to be released as soon as possible, but the next generation upgrade for GTA V is a good one, and gives us one more excuse to either keep playing GTA Online, or jump in with the guys of GTA V for another wild trip through the crazy streets of Los Santos as we help them live their impossible lives one more time.