Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V was the swan song for the last generation, the proud final hurrah for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 before their trip to the retirement home. Having the game release so soon after the new console left many to wonder whether or not it would see a re-release. Next-gen ports are a great way to revitalize a popular title and fill in a new console’s launch window. However, unless it comes with updated graphics and/or all previously released downloadable content, no one is likely to be interested. Those who held out for a next-gen version of Grand Theft Auto V will be happy to know that their patience has been rewarded. The game feels reworked from the ground up with new textures and technical enhancements that turns Los Santos into a muchthe experience.

Rockstar took advantage of the PlayStation 4’s new hardware to deliver a version of Los Santos and Blaine County with a level of fidelity the PlayStation 3 can’t match. Grand Theft Auto V looks fantastic in motion, although the game’s finer details can only be appreciated when standing still. Street signs and window postings, T-shirt logos, newspaper kiosks, all of the incidental text that Rockstar labored to create are easy to read. Cracks and other faults in the concrete gives the city a sense of weathering and tall foliage have replaced mounds of green and brown. During a rainstorm, puddles of water are noticeable by the numerous ripples and droplets of water on the surface. Shoes leave finely detailed footprints on sand, the sun glistens on the frozen streets of North Yankton, and a cloudy sky makes for some spectacular sunsets. And the ocean. That big, beautiful ocean. At night, Los Santos is a neon paradise, with signage advertising everything from liquor to strippers shine so brightly against the headlights and lamp posts. Blaine County lacks the Vinewood glitz and glamour but the sunsets are to die for. The night hours are made all the more impressive with fantastic lighting and shadow effects. Draw distance has been given an ample boost as well. While screwing around in a blimp, just as I was about to fly over the Vinewood sign, I could clearly see the tram station that sits atop Mount Chiliad. That may not sound so impressive in print, but the new unobstructed views make for a dazzling scenery. These visual enhancements are sure to please the emergent population of players who practice in-game photography. In its short release period, the current-gen version of Grand Theft Auto V has already proven itself to be the most photogenicgame of the year.

The console’s power does more for the game than improve how it looks. The busy streets of Los Santos and the dusty backroads of Blaine County teem with life. An increase of people, traffic, and animal helps to make the world feel less empty. A stroll through neighborhood alleys reveals the city’s new rat problem, as a group of five or six rodents fearfully ran away as I walked by. People can be seen walking their dogs in town and, call me crazy, dog breeds appear to be relevant to their neighborhoods. Around the Vinewood area, people were accompanied by smaller terriers, while those found at the beach and urban areas were labradors and rottweilers. The sandy, sun kissed beaches are now occupied by the appropriate number of sunbathers, swimmers, partiers, joggers, and muscleheads. Traffic density has been increased in all areas which can make car chases far more intense and unpredictable. The sky is as busy as the streets, with helicopters, blimps, small private planes, and jumbo passenger planes buzzing above the city. With so much activity, Los Santos finally looks like a living, breathing playground.  An expanded music list provides proper accompaniment as you explore Los Santos' every nook and cranny.

Another substantial change for the re-release is the first person view mode. While not a total game changer, I’m guessing Rockstar included the view so that we may appreciate the game’s high resolution detail. The mode isn’t half-assed, either. Look down and you can see the character’s feet and arms. When using the camera, they lift the device in front of them instead of superimposing the image of the phone’s home screen over the UI. Almost everything you can do in Grand Theft Auto, be it stealing cars, getting into shoot outs, visiting a stripper, go for a walk, can be done in first person. The game’s settings menu lets you control when you want the game to switch in and out of first person view, which is a really great idea. Speaking to Rockstar’s attention to detail, if your character wears sunglasses, switching to first person will cover the world in a noticeable tint. It’s small touches like this that make you say, “Hey, that’s cool.”

Casting the visual and technical improvements aside, Grand Theft Auto V is the same as it was last year. You’ll control three characters joined by fate as they plunder and pillage Los Santos. Along the way, you’ll help Michael try to break out of his emotional impotency and reconcile with his family, steer Franklin towards a better and more lucrative future, and bear witness to Trevor’s sheer insanity. Playing through the game again, I was reminded why I loved Michael as a character so much. No other character in series has endeared themselve to me so much. The believability of Michael’s angst is a testament to Rockstar’s writing and the acting chops of Ned Luke. Original criticisms levied against the game are still valid. Things can get unnecessarily brutal when Trevor is around and attractive locations, like the casino and racetrack, the Blaine County prison, the UFO hippie grounds, and the military base feel like a waste of space. I can only hope that future DLC will make good use of these areas. Grand Theft Auto: Online is functional and contains the free content updates released throughout the year. Returning players can easily transfer their characters and get a second chance to customize them before sending them out into the world.

Grand Theft Auto V was amazing last year and it’s still amazing today. Rockstar could have easily saved themselves the time, effort, and money and port the game without the new bells and whistles and the game would still be fantastic. They didn’t and that speaks volumes of Rockstar’s design ethos. The PlayStation 4 version of the game even makes use of the Dualshock 4 controller by changing the light bar to match the main characters, flash red and blue during police chases, and cell phone calls come through the speaker with a surprising amount of clarity. If you held out this long to play Grand Theft Auto V, wait no longer. I wouldn’t call this a “definitive” version, but it is damn near close.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.