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By now, so much has been written about Grand Theft Auto 5 that very little of it bears repeating. But in case anyone reading this has been locked in an isolation ward for the better part of a year, here’s the skinny:
Grand Theft Auto 5 isn’t just one of the best games on the last generation of consoles, it’s one of the best games ever made, period. Rockstar North has always reigned supreme in the third-person open-world genre it helped shoot to prominence with Grand Theft Auto III, but for its last iteration in the series, the Edinburgh-based developer seriously outdid itself.
NEW GEN CLONES CAN'T COMPETE
Grand Theft Auto 5 is the benchmark for open world games. Even new gen offerings such as Watch Dogs, Dead Rising 3 and the HD port of the really rather good GTA clone Sleeping Dogs can’t compete with it. Players controlled three protagonists, sure, but the game’s biggest and most important character was the city of Los Santos itself; even though it’s a pared down version of the City Of Angels, Los Santos felt – and still feels – like a living, breathing city – albeit one whose denizens are beyond twisted.
Los Santos perfectly captures the essence and otherworldliness of the city it’s based on; it’s a place where the American Dream and its twin Nightmare mesh into some ungodly whole. A place in which the luxury mansions of Rockford Hills gazes down over winding streets on rolling hills into the glistening glass and concrete of downtown. Blaine County’s dustbowl of trailer parks and gas stations looks positively post apocalyptic and the ghetto neighbourhoods of Ganton and Davis buzz with palpable menace.
But beyond its neon-encrusted strip malls, towering skyscrapers and beachfront hipster hives, what really immerses players in Los Santos is its population – both the NPCs walking the streets and the antagonists that the players run into. The paparazzi scumbag motorcyclist, the abusive fitness freak at the beach, the bounty hunters in Blaine, the beggars on the street, the odd couple yelling about which movie they should see – the density and detail of these NPCs bring Los Santos to life and makes players feel like a part of it. And it’s on bringing the player closer to this sense of immersion that Rockstar North has wisely focused for its new gen version of Grand Theft Auto 5.
The first way it’s done this is through the new gen versions’ swoon-worthy visuals. That’s not to say GTA 5 on the last gen was something of a visual slouch – far from it – but on the PS4 and Xbox One the game’s presentation gleams with a gilt-tipped edge.
Everything from concrete textures, foliage, water and animals has been thrown into sharper relief making the natural beauty of both Los Santos’s urban jungle and its outlying areas a wonder to behold. The improved draw distance is also something of a boon. The ability to see further ahead than on the previous iteration makes blasting through the streets in a supercar or flying in a plane a far more rewarding experience and one that’s easier to navigate too. Take a bicycle up to the top of one of the many hills surrounding Los Santos and marvel how the greenery of the countryside stretches out as far as the eye can see.
The other marquee new feature is the player’s ability to toggle between Third and First Person perspective. It’s handled very well overall; simply tapping the corner of the PS4 controller’s touchpad switches views and once having adopted a FPS perspective, players will notice there’s quite a bit of weight to their chosen character’s actions and movements.
There are some teething problems, to be sure; if you’re used to playing FPS games, the X-button sprint mechanic – mapped usually to the right thumbstick in shooters – takes a bit of getting used to. It’s also rather fiddly to use when you’re driving; players used to steering in first person perspective in sim racers may have less trouble, but reversing and spatial awareness for the rest of us has a bit of a learning curve.
The real advantage to the First Person View is how close it makes all the action seem. Shootouts and punch-ups feel far more brutal than before and lend the whole experience an immediacy that Third Person View just can’t offer. Simply walking down a street in this mode brings players closer to the social madhouse of Los Santos and it makes every car and motorcycle crash feel a lot more eye-wateringly painful.
A BOATLOAD OF CONTENT TO ENTICE LAST GEN PLAYERS
But GTA 5’s improvements on the new generation of consoles go beyond bringing players ever closer to Los Santos. Rockstar has front-ended its latest release with a boatload of content – and a lot of it is aimed at enticing anyone who bought GTA 5 on the last generation to shell out the requisite sheckles for the new gen version.
Beyond the pre-order bonus – which tipped $1m of in-game cash into player’s accounts, split in $500,000 increments between the online and campaign mode – returning players have some new weapons to play with, vehicles to drive and activities to get stuck into. Players can solve a series of murder mysteries with Michael, which will unlock a gritty filter for the game that they can access through their smartphone, and a wild life photography challenge for Franklin to complete, which unlocks a rather sweet submarine called The Kraken.
GTA Online has also been expanded – and returning players can port their character across from the last gen platform, complete with all their weapons, cars, properties and jobs, so long as they have a Rockstar Social Club account. There are more features in the character creation suite and the overall player cap in online has been increased to 30 – although an extra 2 players can observe the action.
There’s a lot about Grand Theft Auto 5 that remains unchanged; the protagonists in it – in fact all of the characters – remain relentlessly hateful, the campaign veers between nuanced storytelling and fart-gag immaturity and the online mode contains as many trolls as it does players genuinely interested in forward progression. But on the new gen, this is still worth exploring.
Remember, it’s one of the best games ever made – period – and the jump between last gen and new gen hasn’t changed this fact one iota.