- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now (PS4/Xbox One), January 27th (PC)
- Publisher: Rockstar
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Players: 1 (offline), 2-30 (online co-op), 2-10 (online competitive)
- Site: http://www.rockstargames.com/v
Last generation, GTA V was less a product release and more a globally publicised event; we think it’s fair to assume some existing knowledge of the game on your part. This re-release for the latest round of consoles (well, PS4 and Xbone anyway, with PC to follow) could have simply been exactly the same game but slightly shinier, and it still would’ve sold millions. Rockstar must know that. Pleasingly, however, the easy road was not taken here.
In fact, the graphical improvement is – to be frank – the least impressive aspect of the new version. This is more a comment on how lovely the original release looked, though (those water effects!) and of course, this is a port rather than a GTA made for more powerful machines from the ground up. There’s a huge list of visual tweaks and improvements, but most of them can only be seen in carefully constructed comparison videos. What is immediately obvious – and actually enhances the experience – is the massive improvement in the frame rate. Things now run smoothly almost constantly.
There’s been a big bump in resolution though, which is most noticeable in the much-publicised first person mode. Modders got there first for GTA games, but this is an officially implemented option (which you can switch to and from at any time) that’s been very carefully designed. You can tweak first person controls to be different from third person should you so wish and, on foot, you have the option of third person cover a la Deus Ex. There’s a load of models and animations specifically for first person shooting, and we finally have a proper driver’s-seat view for vehicles. Before you get too excited however, we’re afraid that – no matter how long you spend in the menus – it’s impossible to get the combat controls as smooth and user friendly as a dedicated FPS title (or indeed, as a dedicated third person shooter).
Yes, although more options than ever are now present, and combat controls are still the best of any previous GTA, they’re still – bafflingly – not up to the standard of other, lesser games that model themselves on Rockstar’s unstoppable series. This is partly down to the fact that the aiming reticule is still ridiculously difficult to see most of the time and, in first person, partly down to the fact that this is a game originally designed with the knowledge that the player would have generous peripheral vision. Again however the controls are far from a disaster, and first person shooting is enough of a GTA novelty to keep you coming back. Besides, if – like us – you were frustrated at being unable to get a closer look at the insane amount of detail in the world, first person fixes that.
The core game is exactly the same as before. There’s a big chunk of new radio content, Michael has a new mini murder mystery, and there’s a greater variety of animals in the world (amusingly, cats are sometimes thrown into compulsory story sections so you can’t miss their presence), but the world and story are otherwise exactly as before. And that’s no bad thing. The script is witty, and often laugh-out-loud funny. There’s little of the unwelcome bloatedness of San Andreas, with well spaced activities supported by saving and taxis immediately accessible via your in-game mobile. It’s great to return to the heists (perhaps you’ll choose a different approach this time?), and there’s simply so much content, when we met a character we hadn’t seen on PS3, we were genuinely unsure if she was a new addition or if she had been there all along.
Sticking close to the template also means that the less desirable elements return, too. We’ve already moaned about the imperfect shooting and, more generally speaking, there’s no denying that there are a few uncomfortable elements to the story. Women are presented as either treacherous or dumb, and black characters fit rather too comfortably into a small number of Hollywood and sitcom stereotypes. Then there’s Trevor. Divisive as ever, he really is a love-him-or-hate-him character. Generally speaking you find him either a breath of fresh air in an industry saturated with faultless protagonists, or a genuinely unpleasant character that you resent being forced to play with. It counts for something though that in a game of such scope, those are the only notable complaints that we have.
And then, there is GTA Online.
Obscenely generous, the online component of GTA V is a game unto itself. There are online exclusive missions and cut scenes, but that’s only the beginning. The idea is to gather cash constantly through morally reprehensible behaviour with complete disregard for the rest of the human race, like a banker. Money is used not just for weapons and ammo, but also for clothes, your very own vehicles and even apartments. You can simply wander the city alone or with others, senselessly killing and being senselessly killed (unless you enable Passive mode) and/or take part in the many activities such as tennis, golf, darts, and much more. But there are also ‘jobs’, structured PvP missions – and there are so damn many of them. Even more for the new gen release, and some now support up to 30 players. GTA Online is furiously addictive, and will likely end up demanding even more of your life than the traditional offline game.
If you failed to pick up GTA V the first time around, this is the definitive version, and most definitely deserves your pennies. If you already have it, is this worth the upgrade? If you’re one of the many completely obsessed with the experience, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. If your main concern nowadays is the online mode, this is definitely worth picking up. Not only is GTA Online now packed full of more content than ever, you can of course transfer your existing character. Also, first person shooting as a passenger is unbeatably cool.