There are very few games that rival Grand Theft Auto V’s scope and gameplay diversity. Layered between chaos, social commentary and the psychopathic Trevor, lies an entirely different game. GTA V is both a gangster drama and a virtual excursion through California's colorful landscape. Players can either run around killing mercilessly, robbing grocery stores and beating up random pedestrians, or they can enjoy a bike ride through the countryside and hike across mountains. It’s easy to spend just as much time doing side activities and exploring Rockstar’s stunning world as filling the gangster role. This freedom has always been Grand Theft Auto’s appeal, and with Rockstar’s latest HD upgrade, the experience has never been more exhilarating.
Grand Theft Auto V HD is a prime example of how Rockstar is one of the most creative and dedicated developers in the industry. Calling this a mere HD remake is an understatement. Instead of just boosting resolution, Rockstar included a first person mode that completely changes the gameplay mechanics. GTA V HD may not completely hide its last-gen roots, but it portrays a believable, living and breathing world and is one of the finest sandbox titles in years. Both players who’ve already beaten GTA V and those who missed its original release should pick up GTA V HD in a heartbeat.
"Grand Theft Auto V HD is a prime example of how Rockstar is one of the most creative and dedicated developers in the industry."
When GTA V’s first person screenshots surfaced, it seemed too good to be true. But Rockstar doesn't joke around when it comes to their hallmark franchise. Playing through GTA V in first person mode feels like an entirely new venture. It’s fascinating how a simple change in perspective impacts both gameplay and narrative. Trevor is already uncomfortable to play with in third person, but actually seeing through his eyes is a whole new kind of crazy.
Thousands of new animations have been added to make the new mode more immersive, including driving animations, weapons handling, and of course character movements. The first person mode is reminiscent of the Condemned series, where head bobbing and ragdoll physics create a sense of realism, unlike the super clean movement seen in games like Call of Duty. It takes some time to get used to the wobbliness, and the new mode makes gameplay more challenging. Hectic gunfights and car chases are far more dynamic. Taking cover in first person makes it hard to pinpoint enemies when surrounded. It’s easy to see whether enemies are approaching when squatting in third person, but the new mode encourages players to realistically peek out and analyze the environment. Driving with the new mode is particularly fun. The handling feels more responsive and arcade-like, making street races and cop chases more enjoyable (although shooting when driving in first person is somewhat finicky).
"Trevor is already uncomfortable to play with in third person, but actually seeing through his eyes is a whole new kind of crazy."
The best part is that each mode is completely customizable. Head bobbing and ragdoll physics can be turned off, the field of view can be widened for more visibility, the depth of field effects can be adjusted to appear more or less realistic and independent camera modes can be set to automatically switch between first person and third person depending on whether gamers prefer walking in one mode, and driving in another.
GTA V was an already impressive looking game on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, although several assets affirmed the consoles’ aging hardware. With a higher resolution, sharper textures, increased draw distance, richer level of detail and the new EQAA (Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing) implementation, the HD remake is striking, even photorealistic at times. Walking the streets of Los Santos during sunset, as rain covered streets reflect neon signs of the crowded downtown area, is absolutely breathtaking. Add to that the heavier foot and auto traffic, and GTA V is substantially livelier than the original.
"With a higher resolution, sharper textures, increased draw distance, richer level of detail and the new EQAA implementation, the HD remake is striking, even photorealistic at times."
On the downside, the 30 fps frame rate drops frequently when driving through traffic and there’s notable judder when panning the camera. Better motion blur implementation could potentially iron out the background stutter, but it’s not clear whether a patch could fix the frame rate drops. The gamma setting is still set too high, making most scenes look washed out. Luckily, bumping gamma down by about 30% makes everything look richer with more balanced values. But all of these are small complaints that don’t detract from what is an otherwise gorgeous game.
"Rockstar has added enough visual upgrades and gameplay tweaks to warrant a second purchase, even for those who feel like they’ve seen everything Los Santos has to offer."
The enhancements extend to GTA Online as well. Previous updates that introduced new weapons and vehicles are all included in the retail release. The character creator has been completely overhauled with over 150 new props. The “heritage” feature is still used to create your base character, but their features can be tweaked further with robust new sliders and accessories. GTA V Online now offers up 30 simultaneous players, which can lead to some spectacular heists and shootouts. Players can now duck while driving, and the added ability to quick throw grenades while aiming makes hectic PVP gunfights particularly explosive. Sadly, the connectivity issues are still a major problem. Despite our fast connection, sessions have been interrupted dozens of times since launch. Hopefully this is something Rockstar can iron out with a future patch.
GTA V was one of last year’s best games, and there are still very few games that offer as much value. Rockstar has added enough visual upgrades and gameplay tweaks to warrant a second purchase, even for those who feel like they’ve seen everything Los Santos has to offer. The first person mode alone is worth a second trip. For everyone else, well, it doesn’t really get better than this. GTA V is a massive adventure with what seems like limitless gameplay value and a fantastic narrative. A must buy!
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 4