GTA V: Second Time’s the Charm? | PS4 Review
Rockstar North are the closest thing our medium has to ‘auteurs’ of the open world genre. Every single one of their games, regardless of its setting, is packed to the gills with increasing levels of nuanced detail only limited by technological feasibility. Despite whatever limitations they might have faced, when GTA V was released on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 last September the level of visual splendor put on screen by those almost decade old consoles made me think that perhaps a jump into the next generation wasn’t completely necessary. I felt the same way about God of War II which came out a few months after the debut of the Xbox 360 and PS3 and still managed to hold its own.
Now that we have had more than a year for our brains to adjust to the exponential increase in graphic fidelity offered by the PS4 and Xbox One and apply a heavy dose of rose tinted glass over our visual memory of GTA V a question emerges in our time strapped brains. Would playing it again on new hardware significantly improve on what was already one of the most technologically accomplished games ever made? You have to answer that for yourself, but I will attempt to articulate one more perspective that might make it easier for you to come to a conclusion, and do so without spoiling any important plot points, which also aren’t needed as the main point of this review is a reflection on the technical differences and their impact on gameplay and overall immersion.
Unreliable, aim assist dependent shooting mechanics, driving physics that split the difference between simulation and arcade (although they have been drifting closer and closer to the simulation side) all played out from a third person perspective, these are the gameplay cornerstones of the Grand Theft Auto series. Rockstar has made the wise decision of leaving them as they were, but have instead chosen to give us the ability to shoot, drive, fly, check your e-mails and get mauled by a hungry shark in first person.
Rockstar’s characteristic attention to detail is preserved, and heightened from this new perspective. The camera, unlike some previous mods that were created post release, has not simply been buried within the eyes of the third person character models. You can aim down the sights of your weapons, see your hands and feet manipulate car doors and feel your molars rattle when being punched in the face by someone that didn’t take too kindly to you trying to relieve them of their automobile. Rockstar is pulling ideas from the same playbook as Monolith and Starbreeze and succeeds in making the player feel like they are truly inhabiting the skin of their character.
For all of the benefits the first person perspective provides it also has its downsides. And I hesitate to judge Rockstar as harshly as I might Starbreeze or Monolith, or another developer that has made its bones on producing first person games. Driving from the cockpit view of any car, especially larger verhicles like big rigs or tow trucks is more difficult than in other dedicated driving games, as the player’s perspective would benefit from some small additions like having their head turn slightly to look ahead into an upcoming turn or having the ability to decrease the turning sensitivity when you drive in first person, as I found myself turning much more sharply than I intended too because I didn’t have the same level of visual feedback that I had from seeing my four or two wheeled chariot from the chase camera.
First person shooting is also well thought out but imperfectly executed. You can pull on L2 (or the left trigger on the Xbox) to aim your weapon and click on the right stick to bring up iron sights or the attached scope, which preserves the feel of being a first person shooter, but the sights were too hard to aim through to make it an effective option for rapid target acquisition without turning on the most extreme auto aim. Shooting from that perspective, unlike other FPSs is a much more emotionally impactful act on the same level of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s ‘No Russian’ level. Putting bullets into my enemies, an innocent bystander or even a passing deer made me cringe in a way that I didn’t expect. That feeling of brutality is even greater when you are fighting with your bare hands or a hatchet.
I would be more upset if that first person perspective was required, but as it is optional, and can be switched out with the press of a button (or the touchpad on the Dual Shock 4), and set to switch to third person automatically when you are in cover, or when you enter a car makes the overall experience feel fresh, if slightly flawed new way to experience all that San Andreas has to offer.
Like all of the games that have shifted over from the last generation of consoles to the PS4 and Xbox One GTA V has been given a fresh coat of paint, and Rockstar didn’t stop at simply increasing the resolution of the game, but completely replaced every texture and added a ton of new light sources, depth of field effects, soft animal fur, and even new facial animations to bring the game in closely in line with it’s current gen contemporaries.
The extra headroom that the larger amounts of RAM and faster graphics and computing processors provide has also ensured that the game can maintain, with the briefest of exceptions, a rock solid 1080p30, even though more pedestrians and cars (and cars of different types) are on screen at one time. That allows for the gameplay to be more consistent and the player’s overall immersion to be much higher.
I played the game extensively on the PS3 when it came out last year, and that has made it harder for me not to notice the presentational remnants of the last generation like the presence of dead-eyed NPCs and the plasticky sheen of the protagonists’ skin which might have benefitted from sub surface scattering or additional tesselation, which would have required a significant overhaul to the model’s geometry, therefore making it unrealistic. I think Rockstar had its hands full in replacing every texture in the game, and adding as much as they did and I have no doubt that the next entry will set a new standard for this current generation whenever they deem it the appropriate time for it to be released.
Nothing has changed about the overarching narrative, which is still the best interactive crime drama that I have ever experienced. Playing it in first person however has completely changed my perspective on the protagonists, who I felt much more intimate with as I saw the world through their eyes, but also more distanced from their unique personalities at the same time. The swagger of Franklin’s walk, or the labored way that Michael moves as he clambers over a fence sold me on those people as being distinct individuals, I still hear Michael grunting, or see Lamar throwing gang signs my way, but by restricting the ability to see the impact of the world on those characters directly some emotional believability is lost, and I felt like I was inhabiting multiple representations of myself. Even though I could reclaim that emotional connection at the press of a button, the fact that it can be switched off is still a cause of concern for games that are as character focused as this one is.
GTA V is still one of the best games ever made and on current generation consoles it is more graphically impressive and technically consistent than it was when it was first released. The addition of a first person option is impressive and it does feel like you are playing an entirely new game at times, until the gameplay flaws that have persisted since GTA III still make themselves known. All in all, this is the best open world game on either of the new consoles and worth every penny for people that haven’t had the opportunity to experience it for the first time. For those of us that have, it is a more complicated question, do you still have your PS3 copy of the game? Then I would recommend waiting. Do you love the multiplayer, and want to continue building up your character, I would recommend waiting, because it’s kind of a technical mess at this point. Do you think the first person perspective is revolutionary? I would recommend waiting, because it is simply a nice bonus.