Last year when Grand Theft Auto V came out for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3, it was a masterpiece for the then-current generation console. May people thought that developer Rockstar would simply wait until the next generation consoles came out before letting GTAV out of the garage. But instead it came out for the PS3 and 360, and really pushed those consoles to their limits in terms of graphics and gameplay. Many people, myself included, used Grand Theft Auto V as an example as to why the next generation console systems were unnecessary, or at least coming out early, because quality games could still be released on the then-current generation machines.
Given that history, I was unsure whether or not I would actually, or should actually, be excited for Grand Theft Auto V to make the leap a year later onto the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and even the PC (though it probably should have made the leap to PC before now). Having played the game completely through twice on the PlayStation 3, doing both options for all the big heists, would the new pretty package offered by GTAV really be enough to justify repurchasing the game?
As such, this review is going to be aimed at two different groups of players. The first would be those who never played GTAV. The second will be like me, who already have the game for the now-older generation console.
First off, for the new players. Get GTAV. Taken as a whole, it’s actually one of the best games ever made. It features hardcore action, notably adult themes and three different protagonists who approach the world from very different perspectives. In addition to the main missions, it’s packed with side quests and activities that can actually end up taking up the bulk of your time. Beyond that, the world is so well detailed that its actually fun to just wander around, stealing cars, getting into fights with people, dating and sexing up strippers, robbing the occasional liquor or convenience store and exploring the highly detailed city, surrounding forests and even the ocean that surrounds San Andreas.
As a returning player, I really didn’t think that I’d be all that enthralled with the game again. But I was wrong on that count and find myself diving back into GTAV every chance I get. In general, the living city of the last-generation consoles is so much more active and alive now. Whereas you might find a few people milling around on a street before, now there might be a hundred people shopping or otherwise interacting with each other on some of the more busy thoroughfares. Outside of popular areas like restaurants or night clubs, you might even find crowds gathering, all dressed appropriately for that area of the city.
The beaches have been given a particularly big update, with lots of sunbathers, lifeguards, jet skiers and even people swimming and playing out in the surf or the blue waters beyond. The whole place just feels more alive, more like a true simulation of a skewed version of reality than just a video game. There is even a robust animal population now with much more wildlife outside of town and a big population of dogs and cats living alongside of people in the city proper.
Complimenting the new graphics, the draw distances go almost to the horizon now. So when you are standing at an overlook, on top of a building or putting around in a helicopter or blimp, the landscape will really sprawl out in all directions, which is pretty incredible.
There is also a new first person mode which can be set to trigger during various points in the game. So you could have it turn on while walking around and then back off while driving. In my experiments, driving in first person mode is really difficult compared to being able to see the whole car in the world. Doing missions in first person is better, and its fun to be able to see the world in first person for a more immersive experience. However, I often found myself creeping back into third person as that felt more comfortable. Hardcore FPS players will enjoy this new feature for sure, and everyone else should at least try it. And in certain places, like when pursuing the game’s more adult themed entertainment, first person can be quite an enhancement.
The one slight disappointment is that there does not seem to be a lot of new interiors added to the game. I was kind of hoping that with all that extra processing power, that the developers would make a few of those non-interactive shops, bars, night clubs and restaurants come alive too. Sadly this does not seem to be the case. Most businesses now have better signage out front (some of which is quite funny) and customers that look like they belong there too, yet you still can’t go inside a large majority of buildings, leaving large stretches of town as little more than pretty facades. I was hoping that they would at least open up some of the closed off 24-7 marts or gas stations that weren’t interactive like their companion stores, or give us a Burger Shot or two like there was in GTAIV. Even making the hot dog carts interactive would have been an improvement. But sadly, pretty much whatever was interactive before still is, and what is closed off remains that way.
There is some new content added to the game in the form of a few new missions that weren’t available before, including a pretty cool mystery that has overtones of L.A. Noir as well as new activities like wildlife photography contests and a collection quest involving murals of monkeys painted throughout the city.
Obviously, in addition to the higher populations of people in the game, there is also a huge visual leap with this version. If you thought Grand Theft Auto V looked amazing before, you should see it now. Characters and NPCs sort of approach that weird area where they are almost too realistic. More than once I stopped dead in my tracks to admire the way an NPC person or creature looked. Sadly, this often resulted in a fight since people don’t like to be so closely examined, including one incident where I was admiring a group of huge female body builders (there were only men on the beach before) and they all decided to give me the beat down. I was able to take them all out, but it was quite a fight, though it would have helped if I wasn’t laughing so hard the whole time as they took their shots on Michael.
The water effects deserve special mention here too. When it rains now, water will eventually pool up in low spots and you can splash through puddles on foot or in vehicles. And swimming or using a mini-sub in the ocean now is incredible as there is a huge population of fish and bright colorful coral all over the place that makes GTAV look like a high-resolution nature video. Exploring shipwrecks or crashed airplanes (or the occasional spaceship) is quite an eerie experience now. Oh, and if you thought those great white sharks were terrifying before, then you really don’t want to get a glimpse at their maw of teeth now, especially if they are coming right for you or stalking behind your jet ski.
Finally, there are a ton of songs added to the in-game radio stations. While I was kind of lukewarm about the selection of songs before, now there are plenty of old school, 1980’s type songs, that I really enjoy. Fans of other genres will also find much more to love, and some new commentary and talk radio shows as well. All in all, its a lot more bang for your musical buck.
Online play has also been given a bit of an upgrade. You can now have more people online in the same game world. I was in one world that had 32 simultaneous players. In general this means that there is a much greater chance of people jumping in when you need to do activities. Events like team death matches are now much more popular as the groups tend to fill up right away with full teams. Never once was I wandering around with nothing to do, unless I wanted to do that. It also means that there are more psychopaths out there in the world, so you are likely to get randomly attacked by other players quite a lot. If you are into that type of thing, great. For those who enjoy online play, there is simply more of everything now, so have at it. Also, if you have a lot of progression with your online characters from an old console, you can transfer them over to a new one and continue from there.
Rockstar did a nice job of adding little incentives to convince players to reinvest in the game too. When you log on to the Rockstar social club from a new console, the game will recognize you as a returning player and add in some new vehicles like the classic Dodo seaplane from GTA3. You also get access to weapons and gear like the firework gun that previously came from DLC expansions. The blimp is also given an upgrade into a more nimble little craft for those that enjoy taking the scenic route around town. You also get a bundle of cash to spend online as a gift to returning players. If you are new to the series, all that content is still available as a DLC, so you are not locked out all together.
As a returning player, I was quite happy with the Grand Theft Auto V upgrade to the new console, and I didn’t think I would be. The more populated city is wonderfully impressive. The developers did a good job of modeling each area of the city with people and vehicles that were appropriate for that neighborhood, and the new power of the consoles really helps them push that. I could almost be dropped into any part of Los Santos now and know immediately what part of the city I’m in after only a few seconds of looking around.
Of course, I always want more, but even so, Rockstar has really done the impossible. They’ve taken one of the best games ever created for the last generation console and turned it into one of the top titles for the new machines too. New players or those returning home should both enjoy the ride.