We've returned to Los Santos to see what the new-gen version of GTAV has to offer.
Here's a timeline of my first hours of GTAV on PlayStation 4:
6:30 p.m. - Along with Trevor, Michael and Franklin I've got a job to do.
6:35 p.m. - I switch to first-person, although I'm not normally a fan of the perspective in what's originally a third-person game.
6:40 p.m. - I note that the transition between the two perspectives is seamless.
6:47 p.m. - I probably don't need to tell you how the heist went.
6:55 p.m. - I've seen a cat.
7:01 p.m. - Along with my homie I've robbed my first car.
7:50 p.m. - I get bored.
8:03 p.m. - Nikki is my new love, but I suspect she might be into my money more than me.
8:50 p.m. - I come to think that Nikki possibly had small glistening sweat beads on her skin and to make sure I do proper review job, I return. And yes, she now sweats.
10:18 p.m. - I've had enough of the temptations of the big city after being killed by an ill-tempered Rottweiler, and so head for the mountains and tranquility.
10:25 p.m. - I steal a bike and make my way to the top of the nearest summit.
11:29 p.m. - Killed by a cougar.
11:33 p.m. - My parachute doesn't open as planned - what button was it again? Splat.
11:55 p.m. - I have discovered new fish in the sea. Time for a break.
2:07 a.m. - I still have my first-person perspective on. Damn it's awesome.
2:55 a.m. - I declare this the best GTA to date.
3:12 a.m. - I relax on top af a freight train, while I enjoy the view of Grand Senora Desert, Taaviam Mountains, and Murietta Heights before getting off in East Vinewood.
3:40 a.m. - My conscience catches up with me. Have I been neglectful in my reviewing duties just enjoying the views?
Bedtime - Tomorrow's a brand new day.
That's a quick summary of my first few hours with the remade Grand Theft Auto V. A lot of great new-gen experiences have been promised in Rockstar's sandbox, and while I started out with some healthy skepticism, as my journey unfolds I find that this is a developer that keeps their promises.
I was not in complete agreement with our review of GTAV on the last-gen consoles. I felt it struggled with framerate, and much like its predecessor I found its technical shortcomings troublesome, even if it was the most beautiful GTA to date. It annoyed me that you were unable to be anything but bad tempered and angry with everyone you came across (this still holds true). I didn't care much for the controls of the cars, the animations, or even the story, and while the surroundings were pretty, they were also kind of dull. I still appreciated the concept of the open world and the many distractions you could engage in, but Assassin's Creed (especially Black Flag) has filled that need for me for years, with the exception being San Andreas and Chinatown Wars. The fact that Assassin's Creed: Unity left me disappointed with its limping framerate and pop-ins, didn't help my anticipation levels for this game. Especially as Rockstar promised more on-screen characters, 1080p, and lots of other extras.
But unlike Ubisoft it is clear that Rockstar knows its limitations. More characters on screen may be true, and there are times when this is noticeable, but it pales in comparison with Unity. Where there were hundreds of characters on screen in Ubisoft's stealth game, here you'll probably see 20 characters at most and then you have to really look hard. But it is clear that Rockstar have taken their time getting to know the hardware and its limitations; GTAV runs like a dream.
At long last we get a GTA that never freezes or dips in framerate, but rather a game that sticks with 30 frames per second. Yes, I did manage to make the framerate drop once in my first six hours. For about a second. Simply put, Rockstar kept their word. And the result is glorious.
But what's even more impressive is the first-person perspective. Like I mentioned earlier, I don't normally enjoy this viewpoint, unless it's in a fully formed first-person game - but the work that has been done here is tremendous. I cannot recall seeing anything as well crafted as this before. When you're swimming you can see your arms, if you look down you see your feet and hands, if you're standing still you may see yourself crack your knuckles or wipe a weary forehead. Put on a helmet and you'll see the edges of the helmet and the visor. The mobile is now held in your hand and thus it doesn't take up valuable real estate on screen. This happens at various angles depending on whether you're walking or driving. Naturally you'd never use your mobile while driving, would you?
It is extremely satisfying to fire guns and switching between third- and first-person on the fly is just as smooth as switching between characters. A plethora of settings allows you to tailor how much of the original third-person features you want to maintain, all the way down to the the angle of your field vision, or whether you want your control settings to be separate in third-person and first-person (or run across both modes). And, naturally, you can also decide when you want the camera to switch over. Do you want to drive in third-person and shoot in first-person? Do you want to play GTA Online in the first-person view (you can also decide to set this for those you invite into a game)? Aim-assist can be set to three different degrees, or even turned off. You're the boss.
Speaking of driving. This is where I feel the most important improvement has been made. Finally, I enjoy driving in GTA. There's now more control and I enjoy all the various details in the many car models. The dashboards have been designed with loving care. Some come with modern stereos that show the name of your radio station on the display, while knackered old cars may simply have a hole where the speedometer should have been. To sum it all up, the first-person view has been brilliantly implemented.
And I find myself regurgitating the same words of praise to describe the surroundings. The first time I see a rainy street, it simply stuns me. I will be rather surprised if you don't, like me, take some time jumping in puddles like you would if you were a child. It looks great. The puddles aren't the only improvement though, and you will be able to tell the differences between fair and poor weather much better this time around. The same goes for lighting, as well as plants and trees, smoke and buildings.
It looks great. It's as if you're taking a road trip through American towns. There's nothing on the technical side that breaks the illusion. There are no pop-ins with the characters or textures. The level of immersion is unmatched.
But Rockstar didn't simply promise visual delights, but also additional content like collectibles, music, cars and wildlife. I've noticed some great examples of the latter. There are more species of fish in the ocean, dogs now also include sheep dogs and golden retrievers, and the more vicious dogs appear in new colours. And then there are the aforementioned cats. I can't recall having seen animals that look like hyenas or coyotes previously. All of them have, much like the pedestrians, gotten improved animations and are more detailed.
If you were a fan of the space mission that was triggered via collectibles, you will no doubt enjoy the fact that there's a new similar mission for one of our antiheroes . It's a photo mission with Franklin who goes hunting animals. I still miss a main collectible that runs across the entirety of the game (like in Crackdown), but others may appreciate collecting with purpose as opposed to collecting simply to gather a certain number of orbs or whatever it may be. It's largely a matter of taste.
But there can be no rose without some thorns. The cars come with rear view mirrors, but in first-person they don't actually show what goes on behind you but rather they simply show some washed up rendition based on the colours of the backdrop. They have pretty much zero use in car chases as they don't show other cars or pedestrians. It's a flaw I'm willing to look past, as it's clear that Rockstar have focused on making sure the overall experience is optimised rather than going all out on bells and whistles (not that there aren't bells and whistles, they just haven't overreached). The framerate is solid as I've previously stated, and it looks as if Rockstar has prioritised well in this regard. You can see if you turn around really quickly, or if you speed around in an attempt to bring the game to its knees, that there is a bit of judder in the far distance, things that lack a little detail. But it's far away and not where your focus as a player is, and so it doesn't affect the experience. There are also examples of posters that cannot be read. Though as far as we're concerned, Rockstar has got their priorities right.
As these were some of the main challenges this remake faced, you're probably beginning to realise there aren't a lot of problems to be found. On the other hand there's plenty of great minor additions and new ideas. You will hear mobile calls via the speaker on your DualShock 4, and it may come as a surprise to hear the police radio from the same speaker. It adds a new dimension to the car chases and it immerses you better and further highlights the great voice acting on display.
There is little to note with regards to the online component until Rockstar brings out the long awaited heists. Up to 30 players (and two spectators) can enjoy the online side of things together. The character creation has been expanded with more ways to customise your character.
Then there's always the final question you're faced with - what does this deserve as far as a score goes. Personally I would have scored GTAV on last-gen consoles an 8/10 for the reasons I've mentioned earlier in the review. I'm not crazy about the overly "masculine" mentality of the store, lack of main collectibles, the at times stiff animations and the flat, stereotypical characters. But most of all the framerate ruined my experience with the original. I found myself enjoying the story way more this time around, simply because of improved animations that draw you in more and make you feel as though you're watching the good kind of B-movie rather than a cutscene in a video game. The environments are gorgeous, the cars are shiny, and in my opinion the game is better at encouraging exploration. It offers the kind of experience we were hoping for on the new generation of consoles and that alone is an accomplishment. We awarded the original, and even if I didn't agree with that score fully, I can't do anything other than award the highest score to this edition. While there are still some shortcomings, nevertheless it's a masterpiece. GTA has never been better.
In my view The Last of Us on PS4 was the best remake in recent times, mainly due to the wonderful and captivating story, but it didn't change the overall premise of the game. GTAV tops this thanks to content, the improved technical side of things, gameplay tweaks and new additions. This is a remake that is recommended to those who have had the same issues with the franchise as me, as well as fans of the game who already own it on old-gen. Not simply because of an improved framerate and gorgeous surroundings, but also due to the cleaned up gameplay and the many new features. All of the above makes the harsh world of Rockstar's flagship title all the more engaging and attractive.
10 / 10
Solid framerate, Gorgeous effects, Brilliant implementation of the first-person perspective, Gameplay improvements, Visually stunning.