Last year was an interesting year for me. It was the first year I transitioned from doing industry-specific news to doing all of the features, previews, and reviews that come with writing for USgamer. It was the latter writing that worried me the most, leaving words that would be forever tied with a specific title that took developers hundreds of hours of hard work to ship. My first written review was about Hotline Miami, published on June 28, 2013.
As I was still coming to terms with this new situation, I was assigned Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto V. One of the year's biggest games and I had to review it. Even worse, I hadn't liked Grand Theft Auto IV at all. Would GTA V be a repeat? I spent a solid week playing nothing but Grand Theft Auto V, sometimes for 10 to 12 hours a day, and at the end of it I gave the game a 4.5 out of 5. Diving back into the game this July proved to me that I gave the game the right score; it was still a ton of fun.
All that was still rolling around in my head as I essentially freebased Grand Theft Auto V for PlayStation 4 over the past few days. I know Grand Theft Auto V was a great game for me, but what about the remaster? If there enough here for a double-dip?
Let's get that part out of the way. If this is your first time playing Grand Theft Auto V, you really loved the game, or you're an avid GTA Online player, then by all means pick up this year's release. If you don't fit in any of the previous categories, it's a bit of a hard sell. This is the version of Grand Theft Auto V you would've gotten on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC if things like time, logistics, and reality didn't exist. It's the same game with graphical improvements and some new options. Rockstar isn't even branding it as the "Definitive Edition" or "Grand Theft Auto V Remastered," despite the fact that they could've easily done so.
Now saying that Grand Theft Auto V is largely the same is true, but it diminishes all the extra stuff Rockstar North has added to Grand Theft Auto V in the last year.
More Power, More Shiny
The jump to current generation consoles and PC means there's more hardware power available to Grand Theft Auto V and Rockstar has put that power to work. That means the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions run at 1080p and 30fps, while the PC version gets 4K resolution support. The character models look to be the same, but sporting new upgraded textures. Character models are normally where other remasters start, but Rockstar decided on a different tactic, instead they used the extra power on the details.
That means Grand Theft Auto V now sports a greater draw distance, a new depth of field effect, a more robust lighting engine, improved weather and water, fur on animals, new animals, better foliage, better anti-aliasing, great traffic and pedestrian density, and more. Even with all the changes, the game's performance remains largely the same; there's the occasional stutter on scenes where the city pans by, but nothing causes the game to grind to a halt. Rockstar colored in the corners of GTA V, a game that already looked great.
With all the changes, the city feels more alive than it did in the past. When you're in the city, there's more vehicles and pedestrians to contend with, but Rockstar didn't go overboard. You won't notice the greater traffic everywhere, just in certain areas at certain times. Morning rush hour feels like a real thing in Los Santos now. The sun blooms over the city as it rises and casts real shadows everywhere. Once day gives way to night, the city center or the boardwalk are the place to be; the colored neon highlights the people and vehicles as they pass by. Light of all colors is reflected in the vehicles and puddles created by the onset of rain (I did notice an odd twitch effect in these reflections if I was driving at a high speed.). Dust and paper blow in the wind, smoke pours out of refineries.
Even the countryside looks better. The new foliage not only includes more detailed trees, bushes, grass, and scrub, but there's more of it dotting the landscape. Bushes part as you pass through, the trees sport detailed bark, and the grass sways in the breeze. The county was a wide open expanse to explore in old GTA V, but now it feels as much as a real place as the city does. The effect of the new grass system does break down a bit if you're driving through a heavy field - you can see the grass "grow" in front of you - but for the most part it works.
GTA V looked great last year and it looks great this year. Yes, the last-gen heritage still pokes through on certain models or objects, but otherwise Rockstar has done what it can to let GTA V stand alongside 2014 releases.
Act Now To Get This Extra Stuff At No Additional Cost!
Grand Theft Auto V's new version also adds a ton of incidental extra content. That means all 29 vehicles added to GTA Online are available in the campaign, improving vehicle variety. In fact, Rockstar has been slowly adding new content to GTA Online over the past year and all that returns in this version. There's even new random events and challenges, the like new Wildlife Photography Challenge or Stock Car Races in the countryside.
One big new content addition is on the soundtrack side. Rockstar has added 150 new songs to the mix and recorded new talk radio shows just for the new version. My personal favorite stations, Space 103.2 and Los Santos Rock Radio, now play host to a bunch of new old songs like the Bee-Gees' Night Fever, Genesis' Land of Confusion, and Starship's We Built This City. Grand Theft Auto V is one of the few games where I don't to replace the music with my own and Rockstar's commitment to great, licensed music is the reason.
Immersive Free-roaming Murder
All that aside, the biggest new addition is a brand-new first-person mode. It's probably Rockstar's crowning achievement for the title and it represents a big reason to at least rent Grand Theft Auto V again. See, the developer didn't just snap the camera to the front of each character and call it day. They put in the effort to truly integrate first-person into the game and make it work.
If you want, you can now play the entire game in first-person. Every car crash can be in that camera mode, with your viewpoint flipping end-over-end as you careen towards death. Skydiving, biking, operating a blimp, running from the the police; doesn't matter. To make the mode work, Rockstar made new, more detailed weapon models and added new animations for everything your arms and legs could possibly be doing. They also modeled interiors for every single vehicle in the game, with additional care being put into each character's signature vehicle. The first time you get on a motorcycle in first-person and your character puts on a helmet - which adds a slight tint to the world - you'll appreciate the effort.
You can quickly toggle between view modes on PS4 by clicking the Touchpad (sorry, no clue what the option is on other platforms) and Rockstar added a number of options to fine-tune the experience. You can choose camera modes for different situations. I'm not a first-person driving fan at all, so I set my driving camera to be third-person, while shooting was in first-person. Maybe you don't want your camera to track ragdoll deaths, combat rolls, or movement head bobs? You can turn all that off. Need to change your first-person field of view? You can do that too.
There's also four targeting options to help you out. The basic mode is Full Assisted Aim, which is the classic GTA-style; hit L2 on the PS4 controller and lock-on snaps to the nearest target. Then there's Partial Assisted Aim which works like Full, but the lock-on wears off after a few seconds. Assisted Free Aim offers a quick lock-on when you press L2, but otherwise is full free-aim, while Free-Aim is 100 percent lock-on free. Without a mouse and keyboard, I stuck to classic GTA-style.
I found that despite a new first-person cover and targeting system, I wasn't a big proponent of the lack of available information in first-person cover. If you're behind a box you can peek out, but you can't pan the camera around to spot targets like you can in third-person. So Rockstar added an extra option that snaps you into third-person when you duck into cover. Need a different aim sensitivity for different cameras? That's available, too. There's even new control schemes, like Southpaw options and an FPS-style option. You'll probably burn 30 minutes like I did, trying to fine-tune your first- and third-person control experience.
There was one odd tuning issue, one I'm guessing is by design. Your movement speed is one level higher in first-person. Basic movement speed is equal to your third-person sprint, while holding the sprint button in first-person is equal to repeatedly jamming on it in third-person. It was weird when I noticed it, but I assume Rockstar found the third-person walk to be too slow in first-person.
All in all, first-person works about as well as it does in Far Cry 3. If you had problem with it in that game, you'll probably not be a big fan of it here. Luckily, you can turn it off completely and never worry about it. I found a mix of both camera modes was best for me. Ultimately, it's up to you.
Grand Theft Auto V is another remastered title released around a year after the original version. Yes, the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions are listed as "Grand Theft Auto V," but I'm sure Rockstar is hoping some owners of the old version are willing to pick up the new one. I could some of those owners being angry about this release, but the truth is Rockstar stepped up here.
In the absence of any story DLC to throw in the package, Rockstar went back to Grand Theft Auto V and made it look and play as good as it could on new hardware. They even beefed up the soundtrack and added a few new events to keep you playing. No, this is not a true current-gen Grand Theft Auto and yes, there are still some rough edges, but Rockstar has undeniably made a great game even better. Even with the extra year, that's enough to keep Grand Theft Auto V in nearly-perfect territory.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: The remastered city and county of Los Santos stand confidently up to this year's game releases.
- Sound: The original soundtrack was huge and Rockstar added 150 more songs. Plus new talk radio.
- Interface: Same as the original. I wish the map was a bit easier to get to.
- Lasting appeal: If you're into GTA Online, you find hours and hours here. If you're not, you'll still pop back in for a rampage once you've finished the story campaign.
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