- Enhanced graphics make Los Santos more immersive
- Consistently smooth frame rates
- Vast amounts to see, do and explore
- More players in GTA Online
- Optional first-person view
- Not a huge amount of new playable content
Review Price £44.00
Available on Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed)
Reworked and enhanced for next-gen consoles, GTA 5 might have been our game of the year this year if it hadn’t been last year’s already. After twelve months in which so many games have settled for slightly better or almost great, this PS4 and Xbox One remaster is a welcome reminder that giants still walk the Earth, producing games as bold and ambitious as this. Playing GTA 5 again after Watch Dogs, it isn’t Ubisoft’s mildly disappointing Chicago hack-a-thon that feels like the future of open-world games, but Rockstar’s masterpiece. Watch Dogs promised to change the gaming world, but GTA 5 did more with last-gen hardware and half the fuss.
The enhancements for Xbox One and PS4 are mostly cosmetic, and might initially seem not as profound as you would hope. Everything looks that bit crisper and clearer in full 1080p HD, with higher-resolution textures, improved tessellation to provide smoother surfaces with more detail, a more complex, realistic lighting system and a fantastic depth-of-field blur. It looks fantastic, but perhaps not as startling as what we’ve seen in the latest next-gen landmarks; the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Forza Horizon 2, Destiny and Far Cry 4.
Luckily, it isn’t long before you appreciate what Rockstar has done here. The combination of the enhanced lighting engine and a tweaked night/daylight cycle radically improves how Los Santos looks at different times of day or night. New weather systems leave the streets slick with waterm while the sea has never looked so good, either above it or below. Head out into the hills or drive up into Blaine County, and there’s denser vegetation and a lot more wildlife. Meanwhile the city gets more people, more traffic and more wandering cats and dogs.
Most importantly, the whole shebang now updates at a steady, locked 30fps, and while we’ve had one or two brief moments of barely noticeable judder in the PS4 version, the action rarely skips a beat. Draw distances are unbelievable, particularly from a high vantage point or from the air, while texture pop-in is barely noticeable in all but the flying sequences – and even then not much. The result of all this isn’t so much tastier eye candy as an even more convincing, detailed and solid-feeling virtual world.
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In a way, this simply adds to all the good work Rockstar had already put in. What elevates Los Santos above gaming’s other cities isn’t so much how it looks as the whole experience; the snippets of chatter you hear as you pass by, the way drivers react when you prang their vehicle, or your fellow citizens seem to be doing something, going somewhere. Sure, we know it’s all just smoke and mirrors, but Los Santos feels alive in ways that Watch Dog’s Chicago or even the superb Sleeping Dog’s Hong Kong can’t match.
The new first-person view is an interesting addition, and you can switch to it at almost any time with just a few clicks of the Dual Shock 4’s touchpad. It’s a more direct, immersive way to play the game – and sometimes a little too immersive when Trevor’s indulging his more violent tendencies – but it’s impressive that Rockstar has implemented it to the extent that it’s perfectly possible to play the whole game from a first-person view.
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We wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for two reasons. Firstly, while it’s beneficial in gunfights, which now play out much like a conventional FPS, it’s not so beneficial when trying to drive around the city, nor much cop in missions where you need to be aware of everything that’s going on around you. Secondly, the first-person view creates a weird disconnect between the action and the cinematics, as you flick from ‘being’ Franklin, Michael or Trevor to watching them. Personally, I think GTA 5 works better from the old third-person view, but if you don’t agree, Rockstar has you covered. There are enough options here for movement and auto-aim that you can easily customize the game to match your preferences.
Playing GTA 5 again, it becomes clearer how smart its narrative structure is. Each of the three protagonists brings a different feel to the action, with the stories of retired career criminal Michael and the young, ambitious Franklin showing different sides of a corrupt capitalist dream, while Trevor brings the mayhem that is – if we’re honest – the twisted, comic heart of GTA.
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Our heroes aren’t always likable or sympathetic, with Trevor possibly the most deeply unpleasant, vile individual to ever take a central role in a video game. Yet the meshing of the three storylines works brilliantly to keep you hooked, and it’s not hard to see the themes building up. Meanwhile, Rockstar’s brutal, black-hearted satire hits more often than it misses, with something to offend, well, just about everyone, no matter what your politics or personal creed.
Play lesser open-world games, and you’re often left thinking that there’s a lot to do, but most of it feels the same. Play GTA 5 and you’re hit with a bewildering range of choices, not just in terms of the three characters’ story missions, but in terms of all the side-content out there to explore. From assassinations to paparazzo capers to Trevor’s rampage and arms trafficking, there’s no end to the ways to explore Los Santos and Blaine County, while simply getting in a car or on a bike and roaming around can feel like an activity in itself.
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The Xbox One and PS4 versions only add a handful of side-missions, including wildlife photography and a murder mystery to solve. Still, it’s unlikely that you played all the existing ones on your first run-through, which means there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into if you’re playing for the second time around.
GTA Online also benefits from enhancements, the biggest being a rise of the player cap from 16 players to 30. This makes it much, much easier to get multiplayer jobs going – we’ve consistently had better turnouts than we did last year – but also means there’s more chance of getting involved in some ad-hoc mayhem on the streets of Los Santos. What’s more, the PS4 and Xbox One versions benefit from all the improvements Rockstar has made to GTA Online over the last twelve months or so. Sure, the basic deathmatch and team deathmatch jobs remain a little underwhelming, but there’s more variety in the jobs, more to do out on the streets and who knows? We might eventually get multiplayer heists.
It’s possible to pick holes in Rockstar’s handywork, or to argue that San Andreas had more activities, or that Vice City and GTA 4 had stronger protagonists. You could say that the characters and situations are crime movie cliches, or that the writing is too indebted to the movies of Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann and Martin Scorcese. Yet the more I play GTA 5, the less these things seem to matter. It’s not a product defined by checkbox features or competition with other games, but a work made by people trying to push the frontiers of gaming. Their reach sometimes outstrips their grasp, but at least they’re reaching for something.
Remasters are always an awkward thing to review. Even with the best – Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD or The Last of Us: Remastered – there’s a real question whether you can recommend them to people who’ve already played the original, or just those who are new to the game.
This still holds true for GTA 5 to some degree, but it’s an easier choice. There was so much packed into Los Santos and Blaine County – a real smorgasbord of people to see, places to visit and violence and depravity to (almost) shamelessly indulge in – that a double dip feels like its worth the cash, particularly when it looks and feels even better now. The result? One of the defining games of the last generation is now a defining game on this one too.
The enhanced visuals look fantastic, but that impresses most about Rockstar’s remaster is how every little addition builds up to make Los Santos an even more immersive open world than it was last year. GTA 5 can be depraved, amoral, sickeningly violent and childishly desperate to shock, yet it’s also one of the richest and deepest games ever made, with an ambitious three-stranded storyline that holds so many disparate parts together. The last-gen version was a masterpiece. This next-gen version is better.
If you want to read the full last-gen review of GTA 5, click onto page 2 of this review. It originally scored 9/10 when it was reviewed in September 2013.