If you’re waffling back and forth, wondering whether or not you should pick up Grand Theft Auto V on next-gen consoles, and you don’t have a whole lot of time to read a review, let me give you a brief statement summing up my thoughts:
This refrain ran through my head as I explored the sun-drenched sands of Vespucci Beach, as I drove across the labyrinthine freeways of Los Santos, as I swam through the depths of the ocean or flew to the greatest heights. Holy. Freaking. Crap.
Grand Theft Auto V on PlayStation 4 is gorgeous. Grand Theft Auto V on PlayStation 4 feels like the game Rockstar wanted to release in the first place. They’ve overhauled the lighting, the cloth physics, the textures, the draw distance, and more. Everything just feels so much more alive, more vibrant, than ever before. It’s really absurd that a game this huge and this dense is able to look so sharp on a moment to moment basis.
What really highlights this is the newly implemented first-person mode. It sounds really basic on paper: How could a simple shift of perspective change a game so much? What that shift does, though, is put you that much closer to the world Rockstar wants you to inhabit, and it works. You’ll stop to glance at billboards, watch a banner flap in the wind, punch a random busker in the face, notice a cat leaping off a fence, or whatever else happens to catch your fancy. The viewpoint really does give you that Skyrim effect, where you want to point your camera in a direction and just walk until you find something cool. Driving takes some getting used to, and certain actions (like shooting while driving) will take some serious skill to get halfway decent at, but there’s so much detail, and it generally controls so well, that you’ll likely find any excuse to tuck that screen in as close as you can.
This increase in fidelity does highlight some of GTA V’s lingering issues: namely, the animations are still the same, regardless of whether you’re in first-person or third. For the most part, this is fine, and the animations for each character are varied and distinct. But where the graphics have gotten a general overhaul, the animations (especially when riding in a car) haven’t really been touched. Sure, you’ll get a whole slew of new attacks, reloads, and other animations while in first-person, but when you’re riding in a car, you’ll notice that the person next to you is just sitting there and moving their mouth up and down. It’s a small nitpick, but it’s noticeable.
The overall gameplay and controls haven’t really changed all that much either. Characters and cars have a weird weight to them, that take some time to get used to. Movement speed also changes drastically when you’re transitioning from third-person to first. Rockstar is also a slave to their own attention to detail, and they care so much about putting you in the world that contrivances like fast travel are non-existent.
This even extends to the mission structure. Before pulling off a heist, you’ll need to complete a series of missions to prepare. This means sourcing your equipment with filler missions, casing the joint, then performing the same actions you completed when you actually rob the place. It makes sense, but from a gameplay standpoint, repetition doesn’t add to the fun.
Plus, the narrative is still surface-level satire masquerading as something deeper. It’s the story of three incredibly angry men constantly swearing at each other while trying to steal all the money. Trevor is completely deplorable. Franklin is so unbelievably passive that he’s basically a non-starter. And Michael, the aging gangster, has moments of relatability, but he’s just as angry and as unwilling to actually change in a meaningful way as everyone else. This is no different as it was when the game first launched, and there are definitely some great moments here, but as a whole GTA V’s narrative lacks focus.
The online mode is also unchanged, meaning it’s practically throwaway. You create a character, complete a series of “story” missions while a bunch of other humans run around Los Santos, generally causing all sorts of mayhem. It’s entertaining enough, and with the right crew of friends can be mindless fun, but it’s clearly not the draw here. Heists are coming soon to GTA Online, but whether those could salvage an entire mode from mediocrity remains to be seen.
Rockstar has given returning players a reason to come back to Los Santos in the form of a bunch of exclusive missions. Most of these are fairly pointless, like a photo challenge requiring you to take pictures of every single animal, but it’s a nice thought to give people who might not want to take the plunge again a little incentive to do so.
What Grand Theft Auto V does best is build a fully cohesive and believable world to explore, and the PlayStation 4 version of the game does just that. It’s just as fun as ever, and the graphical overhaul makes exploring every nook and cranny that much more enticing. I just wish the story had something more important to say.