Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Developer: Rockstar North
This game was supplied by Rockstar for review purposes
Note: you can read my original rambling review of GTA V by clicking HERE. This re-review will purely be tackling the additions found in the new Xbox One/PS4 version of the game
Perspective is everything.
Replaying the newly released Xbox One edition of Grand Theft Auto V has been a bittersweet experience because it has confirmed the nagging doubt I’ve had in my head for around a year now; I scored the game too high when I first reviewed it. It’s a great game to be sure, but I’m not invested in the characters and the combat is clumsy and the driving is awkward and there’s a host of things that bug me. Hell, the writing isn’t even very smart, the once sharp and subtle sarcasm of GTA now hitting with all the subtlety of Thor’s hammer.
The truth, I guess, is that I gave into pressure. It was GTA V, and who wouldn’t rate it as high as the scoring system allowed? With so much time to reflect and this chance to replay it, I’d likely shave half a point off my original review. It might seem small and inconsequential to you, but to me that half point represents quite a lot. This new edition is a little trickier, though. It’s a better game all round on a technical level, but the major flaws that have nagged at me are still very much there. In short I don’t think my new, adjusted opinion has been shifted by this newer version of the game, despite some improvements. Regardless it remains one of the best gaming experiences around.
Perspective is everything.
The big change that needs to be talked about is the inclusion of a first-person view, a shocking design decision when one considers that the game was built from the ground to work in third-person. It also raises the fascinating question whether future Grand Theft Auto titles, or maybe even the inevitable Red Dead Redemption sequel, may feature first-person viewpoints. Being able to switch between third-person and first-person on the fly (it really is as simple as a button press) provides a perfect demonstration of how perspective really is everything. In first-person mode GTA V sometimes feels like a whole different game.
Pointing a gun at someone in the street feels more personal. Pulling the trigger feels…different, a brief second remorse for a usually remorseless action. The change in perspective places you more firmly into the world, creating the sensation that it’s you holding the gun rather than Trevor or Micheal or Franklin. Comparing this to playing GTA V using the normal camera is a perfect example of how a first-person perspective can bring you into the world. Of course this sense of extra immersion is damaged when the game throws you back to third-person for cutscenes or other moments, reminding you that you’re playing as someone else. It’s a little jarring to change between the two views in this manner, but the new perspective ultimately compelled me to completely ignore the story this time in favor of simply running around town causing mayhem, placing myself into the game rather than taking on a preset role.
The Grand Theft Auto series has always used the over-the-shoulder perspective to keep the player and the mayhem separate, a method of distancing them from the violence of it all in order to keep it lighthearted and fun. Sure, you’re running people over and shooting dudes in the face at point-blank range and robbing banks, but it isn’t you doing it, it’s Trevor and Michael and Franklin. Look, they’re right there on the screen! You’re just playing the part. By placing the players into the violence it does change the tone of the game, something that some people may be oblivious to, but that for me was quite pronounced. I often felt less inclined to go on the same level of rampage that I might have had while playing as Trevor, for example.
This did have a know-on effect to the story, once I finally got around to it. Being able to see Trevor, Franklin or Michael while playing meant that I was found myself gravitating to playing in a way that seemed to match their respective moral compasses, which inevitably mean wrecking everything when playing as Trevor or being more careful as Michael. But in first-person you’re playing as yourself, and thus between cutscenes you might hear the disembodied voice of the man you’re inhabiting as but it becomes almost meaningless. It adds immersion in one respect because you can more fully place yourself into the world, while taking away some of the role-playing aspects of the game as you feel less like you’re playing as one of the characters, thereby taking something away from the narrative.
Rockstar’s almost legendary attention to detail is fully present here. It’s clear that they didn’t just throw in the new camera and be done with it. There’s a palpable sense of weight to everything you do; throw a punch and you can really feel it connect, take a tumble and you’ll be left reeling. Clamber into any car and you’ll see a modelled interior with lovely detail such as working speedos and digital displays that show the radio station you’re currently tuned. Speaking of which there’s 162 new songs to listen to. Likewise every boat, bike and aircraft has been lovingly modelled and new animations have been put into place to make the new view feel as good as possible. A quick trip to the options menu also lets you turn off things like bobble when moving as well, which is very much appreciated. There are some details missing, though. You won’t see your character twist the throttle on a bike, for example, or change gear in a car.
It’s also impossible to entirely escape from the fact that this was a game built around third-person, though. Movement feels slightly too sticky, for example, with a touch of latency and an odd, awkward habit of swinging you around when trying to turn when sprinting. Gunplay becomes even more noticably weak in comparison to other games, although the option to switch to third-person when taking cover is very welcome, not that you’ll need it as the first-person view works quite nicely with the cover system.
Then there’s the driving. In third-person it’s very twitchy and takes some getting used to, a style of handling that never did feel entirely right. In first-person, however, that twitchy handling becomes a real pest and I struggled to get to grips with it. Spend enough time playing the game and you’ll learn to drive around the twitchiness of it, though. Happily another trip to the options let’s you set the game to switch over to third-person whenever you clamber into a ride.
There’s also the increase in graphical fidelity that needs to be talked about. This isn’t a complete remastering so the game hasn’t been taken apart and rebuilt from the ground up to truly utilise the full power of the Xbox One or PS4, something perhaps most apparent in the very long loading time when starting the game. But the resolution has been upped giving the entire game a sharper look and the draw distances have been increased, the two facts combining so that you can now make out things from much further away than before. Meanwhile traffic is denser and there’s more animals in the world, weather effects have been improved and there’s even cats roaming the streets. GTA V doesn’t quite manage to challenge the best looking games to arrive on these consoles, but it was already a decently pretty game on previous-gen and this re-release is an undeniable improvement. The world just feels that much realer, that much more tangible and pretty.
Getting a tad more detailed both this Xbox One version and the PS4 run at the full 1080p and have a more powerful post-AA to help the increased draw distances. Things pop just a tad more now thanks to parallax occlusion, and the lighting has gotten an upgrade, most noticeable when walking through the city at night. In terms of framerate the game aims for 30fps and manages to maintain it for most of the time, but I did note drops to around 25fps or so that were more frequent that I’d like, especially during hectic moments.
The online side of things is now far more functional than it was upon its launch last year, and is a hectic affair. There’s still some connection problems that stop it from realising its full potential, namely by rarely managing to find a game with a full complement of players, but once you’ve got a match going it’s a blast.
Finally there’s some new content in place, like food than can be eaten to turn you into an animal. Awesome? Yes.
If you have never played GTA V this is without any shadow of a doubt the edition to grab. Despite my own review misgivings and ponderings it’s one of the biggest games of the generation and a fantastic title to play. The characters are deliciously dark and the narrative is great and the open world is a pleasure to explore. There’s weak elements, but in truth they only stand out so much because the rest of the game is of such high standard.
So of course the ultimate question is whether this is worth buying if you already own it or have already played through it, and that’s tough to answer. The graphical increase is lovely but hardly warrants another purchase. The first-person viewpoint is an entirely different matter, completely altering the feel of the game and strangely, at least for me, encouraging even more so than normal abandonment of the main missions in favor of just going off and doing random stuff. Rockstar have clearly put a lot of effort into ensuring the new view fits neatly into the game, and while it’s not enough for me to recommend buying the game again on its own merit, if you’ve been idly thinking about playing through GTA V again then this is the perfect reason to trade in the old version and get an upgrade.
Perspective. It really is everything.
(Note: given that this is actually a sort of re-review there’s no score for this one.)