With sales of more than 30m copies, Grand Theft Auto V was the biggest game release of 2013 by a considerable distance.
Set in the vast city of Los Santos, a hyper-sleazy take on Los Angeles, the incendiary action adventure follows three criminals as they attempt a series of outlandish heists. Much of the fun however, is in the huge open-world map which players are free to explore, causing all manner of chaos, violence and traffic congestion.
So is the refreshed version worth a look? Here’s what to expect.
The visual overhaul
Naturally, the world of GTA V is getting a makeover for the more powerful new consoles. Landscapes are more detailed, thanks to higher texture resolutions and improved anti-aliasing and tessellation on surfaces. Lighting effects have been updated to allow for more range in the day/night cycle, and the dynamic weather system brings in sudden rain storms which cover the roads in a glinting slick of water that also effects car handling. There is more traffic on the roads and a greater variety of wildlife in the deserts and mountains.
Then of course, there’s the optional first-person view. GTA has historically been viewed from the third-person perspective so you can see the character you’re controlling on screen. In the new version of GTA V, you can play almost all of it (barring some mini-games) like a first-person shooter.
According to reviewers, this leads to a much more intense experience, accompanied by a greater sense of culpability and sheer physical presence. Kirk Hamilton at Kotaku says:
In terms of shooters, it feels closest to Far Cry, given that series’ commitment to putting you in the body of your avatar. But actually, GTA V’s FPS mode just as often reminded me of the 2008 first-person parkour game Mirror’s Edge. (I know!)
However, Gamespot points out that the cover system doesn’t really work in first-person and driving is extremely tricky, especially in chases or the more demanding car-based missions. Perhaps anticipating this, Rockstar has provided a variety of perspective switching options that will automatically put you into third-person view while driving or in cover.
So how does all this play out in practise? Initial responses suggest the game looks gorgeous, especially with the improved draw distance allowing for ever more dramatic vistas. Apparently, the game is mostly maintaining its 30fps frame rate, but most game sites are reporting some slow down at busy moments. This from IGN:
I’ve seen a few instances of objects, cars, and pedestrians popping into existence when the laws of real-world physics indicate they should not. The frame rate generally does a good job of maintaining a steady 30 per second, but maybe a couple of times per hour I notice a slight dip when I’m speeding through a crowded city street and come to a busy intersection – particularly when I happen to collide with something in said intersection.
There are few reports so far on how the PS4 and Xbox One versions compare against each other, but both run in native 1080p at 30fps. tech site Gearnuke has produced some comparison screenshots showing reasonable parity between the two versions.
Purchasers of GTA V on the new consoles will get all the free downloadable content that Rockstar has provided since the launch of the original version of the game last September. That’s a lot of cars, weapons, events and clothing options.
On top of this, there will be new challenges and missions, extras vehicles like the brilliantly named Dinka Go Go Monkey Blista and Bravado Sprunk Buffalo, and, yes, yet more new weapons.
The audio is getting an overhaul too, with more than 100 new tracks for the in-game radio stations.
Bonuses for returning players
The big question is whether the new versions of Grand Theft Auto V are worth purchasing for those who played on PS3 and Xbox 360. Rockstar is certainly trying its hardest to tempt veterans back.
To begin with, saved characters from the previous versions of GTA V can be imported to the next generation updates. This means all the weapons and items you’ve unlocked and cash you’ve earned will be available on your new machine. In theory. New sites are currently reporting that players
There will also be extra content, exclusively available to returning players, including several mini-quests. There’s a murder mystery challenge in which Michael must solve a grizzly killing, and a wildlife photography competition where the prize is a personal submarine.
On top of this are new vehicles including a blimp and a Cheval Marshall monster truck, as well as the Imponte Duke O’Death muscle car and the classic Dodo seaplane, both of which can be unlocked through completing challenges. Weapon nuts also get to play with a hatchet (ugh) and a rail gun.
These are little extras rather than major, epoch-shattering additions, but they will add interest for those gamers who have bought the title simply to experience the refreshed visuals and immersive FPS mode.
GTA V’s multiplayer mode gets the first-person treatment, alongside the single-player experience. Rockstar is also increasing the player count to 30 in quests, races and the free mode, which should increase the chaos and competitiveness accordingly.
The Creator Tool has also been updated allowing players to create much larger more ambitious challenges of their own, using vast open spaces and double the number of props. Character customisation is also being refreshed to offer a greater variety of personalisation options.
Its worth noting, though, that GTA Online suffered significant technical problems when originally launched for PS3 and Xbox 360 last October, including disappearing saves and cash. Rockstar has already put a note on its Newswire service asking players to remain patient. So don’t expect things to be glitch-free from the outset.
The critical reaction
Most game sites are postponing their reviews of the new GTA V until they’ve had more time with the single-player campaign and GTA Online component. However, early reports are favourable.
In its 9/10 review, Gamespot writes, “Even if you’ve played through GTA V once already, it’s worth going back just to be reminded of what an outstanding achievement it is.”
It’s a view reflected by Kotaku: “In porting their already successful game to new consoles, Rockstar could very easily have polished up the visuals, added a few new musical tracks, and called it a day. Instead, they chose to go well beyond that, and in the process have challenged what we should expect a Grand Theft Auto game to look, feel, and play like in the future.”
So where’s the PC version?
That’s coming in January 2015. Rockstar said it needed more time to get this right – and we can expect more new content, including support for 4K monitors.
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 18th November 2014 15.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010