Grand Theft Auto 5 review
By now there are certain things that you’ve come to expect in a Grand Theft Auto game. Pedestrians ambling about the pavement going about doing their daily business, cars careering down the vast streets at breakneck speed, and, of course, some of the most absurdly abject violence known to man. But here’s the unsurprising truth about GTA V on Xbox One: you’ve never seen it like this before.
For its Xbox One release, Rockstar has not only given the flash and superficial city of Los Santos an immaculate visual upgrade that makes it among the best-looking games on the console, but has shucked convention by adding in a first- person mode that pulls players closer to the action.
From this perspective, everything buckles under the immediate visceral nature. The violence is in-your-face graphic, the car chases given more tension thanks to the confinement of the driver’s seat, and gunplay is heightened by the improved sense of control. Some may simply regard it as a way to transform the GTA experience into a first-person shooter, but it’s much more than that. If anything, Rockstar has given players more ownership over the Grand Theft Auto experience than ever before.
But here’s the rub: it doesn’t work that well. At its best it’s a novel distraction from the game at hand. An option that enables you to view Los Santos from a street level and interact with its citizens (in whichever morally dubious way you see fit) up close and personal. But as soon as you try and do anything with any competency then the whole experience shatters quicker than Trevor’s warped psyche. Driving is extremely limited, as you’ll struggle to navigate through traffic without bumping and smashing into other vehicles busying up the road; shooting is fine as long as you’re snapping to targets, but take off the guide-rails and you’ll find a weightless combat experience that lacks the punch of a real FPS.
As a tool to further drink up the atmosphere and superlative art design of the game, it offers the best viewing angle of Los Santos. But as a functional perspective by which to play, it falls short of its genre contemporaries like Far Cry 4. As an experiment it certainly shows real promise, but with the depth and variety to the gameplay, right now Grand Theft Auto doesn’t feel like a game designed for first-person.
But, you know what? That’s absolutely fine. Because Grand Theft Auto V is still the spectacular, immersive and batshit crazy gaming experience that it was a year ago. For those returning you’ll immediately notice that not a lot has changed. Everything looks crisper and you can see much further into the distance, but this is still the bitingly funny story of career criminals Franklin, Trevor and Michael, who go about preparing their last big heist.
Leading up to this monumental crime though are the series’ best missions, encompassing the idea of cinematic action as it catapults players across land, sea and air. The main campaign offers a depth and variety both new to the series and sets a high bar for what a videogame open-world should be.
The new-gen version doesn’t change that but adds a few new side-missions and collectables as the icing on the towering cake. One of the eccentric highlights of the new addition is being able to control some of the wildlife of Los Santos – and believe us when we say that there’s something quite magnificent about taking control of a poodle and nipping at the heels of the residents of Los Santos.
But the real draw for many will be the aesthetical spiff job at playing the game in full 1080p at 30fps. Kudos then to Rockstar for making the game feel right at home on Xbox One, rivalling new-gen specific games when it comes to immense detail and staggering spectacle. Hit the Vinewood Hills and stare out over the skyline and you’ll have one of the most breathlessly impressive views you’ve ever seen in a videogame. Or plunge into the depths of the ocean and watch the light pour through and bathe the sunken treasure in a glorious iridescent glow.
Rockstar has dramatically enhanced the lighting, weather effects and textures, easily making it an essential purchase for those that like to pour gorgeous game visuals straight into their retinas. Yet, there’s still some room for improvement. At the time of writing GTA Online was still finding its legs on Xbox One. Server connections at launch made the experience sluggish – with notable connection problems on launch day – while we’ve yet to find a server that features more than a handful of players at a time. So far it falls short of the promised expansive online playground. Not that it stopped us from having fun whacking people around the head as an elderly lady avatar covered in clown make-up.
Grand Theft Auto V is a tough game to reappraise because, essentially, it’s just a great game tying to be even better. In some cases it works, in other cases it doesn’t. But, ultimately, if the idea of playing a superior version of one of the best games of all time appeals to you (and why wouldn’t it?) then this is a more than worthy excuse for a double-dip.