There should be no confusion about whether GTA V is a good game or not. Sure, the signature playstyle and humor of GTA doesn’t click with everybody, but if GTA games have ever ever clicked for you, this latest debauchery-filled adventure hits the same familiar notes with some new features. Rockstar’s latest game is currently sitting pretty as one of the highest reviewed games of all time for it’s next-gen releases and is wholly deserving of such accolade. GTA V is fantastic game and Rockstar’s best sandbox yet, and it’s re-release onto PS4 and Xbox One isn’t Los Santos reimagined, polished or remastered, it is GTA V fully realized. While this is very likely the pillars of the game’s foundation tweaked and pushed to their absolute limits, the result is a living, breathing world that pulls you in like no other and feels like the game the original release always should have been.
Whether you’ve played the original game or not, it’s unlikely you know nothing of the setting but just in case, and for all those under-a-rock-dwellers out there, let’s take a brief overview. The world of Los Santos is a twisted mirror of Los Angeles and facsimiles of its neighboring areas full of lively inhabitants that feel like clamorous caricatures of the people you would find in such an area. There are muscle-heads on the beach, vapid yuppies shopping downtown or partying in mansions and small-town country folk up north. It is built like and behaves like exactly how a satire of the LA area should. The diversity of the world extends to the protagonists and you bounce from one to the other throughout and in between the story, which gives you a great sense of the different walks of life in San Andreas.
Michael is an ex-criminal whom made a slippery deal with the government in order to live out the rest of his years in a swank witness protection life with his wildly dysfunctional family. Trevor was Michael’s ex-partner whose special brand of both sharply verbose intellect and downright psychotic impulses lead him through a delusional life of creative entrepreneurship, in the trailer trash treasure trove that is Sandy Shores in northern San Andreas. The third and final protagonist, Franklin is young black guy who’s sick of pulling amateur scams and small-time crimes with his hood rat friends and hopes to move up into a higher class lifestyle. A series of chance encounters and Rockstar style chaos pulls their lives together for an overarching story that forms new friendships, repairs old ones and sends the player on a frenzied misadventure full of action, gunfights, epic set-pieces and more “wtf moments” than you can shake a stick at.
While Trevor’s sadistic antics and half-baked rants were the highlight of the characters for me, they all have their moments in what ends up being Rockstar’s most outrageous story yet. The real character in GTA V is the world itself and in the next-gen rerelease it shines more poignantly than it ever could have on PS3. The beauty isn’t just in the people and the locations as much as it’s in the near-infinite minutiae of details. Whether it’s the cars with their impeccably detailed designs, from the appearance to the sounds they make or how precisely damaged they become as you beat them with reckless driving, the dynamic weather and the way the rain forms realistic puddles over time that affect your driving, or just walking around and listening to and observing the people of Los Santos living out their ridiculous lives. GTA games have always been a satirical mirror of American society and this reflection of Los Angeles and it’s culture is an even more warped funhouse mirror than Rockstar is known for filtering their games through.
Along with brand new features, such as the first-person mode that completely changes how you immerse yourself in the world, comes some tweaks the mechanics and a few more customization options in the control scheme and settings. As much as I’ve enjoyed every game in this series to some extent, the aiming has always been an issue. Whether auto-aiming onto the wrong target or seeing my reticle jump out of place rather than remain in the same spot after leaving and reentering the aiming mode, I always felt that I needed to wrestle with the mechanics for a good while before getting it to actually work for me. In the original release of GTA V it wasn’t impossible to aim, but it was still a huge pain to adjust to and this new release completely optimizes it.
I recommend spending some time in the shooting range as early as possible, though the story will suggest you do so pretty early on anyway, and experiment with the settings to personalize them to your style. You can choose from a spectrum of full auto-aim, assisted and fully manual, adjust the sensitivity as well as the size and type of your aiming reticle. Spend a few moments tweaking it to your preferences and shooting your way through Los Santos will be a breeze. I personally never spent a lot of time in the first-person mode as I find it disorienting while driving and just feel more at home playing a GTA game in third person, but I did spend enough time to see that it’s a full featured FPS mode with all the settings you’d expect to find and all of the immersion that the perspective offers–for better or worse.
GTA V honestly has far more high points than lows. It is a bottomless pit of side missions, character specific missions divvied up between the three protagonists and even more dynamic things to do that can be limited to the more structured activities like robbing a convenience store, playing golf or tennis, scuba diving or racing. Or they can be completely unlimited to your imagination and creativity in coming up with your own activities within this massive playground Rockstar has built–but it does have its lows, while they’re minute and so minor that they’ll not only not hinder your enjoyment, but may even go unnoticed by some, they are well worth mentioning.
I don’t want to harp too aggressively the point of there not being enough female characters that are strong, positive or believable because that’s never been a staple of GTA games and it would be silly to think of this one as any different. The GTA world is so aggressively male and comically juvenile and that’s okay; that is not my world perspective but it can be fun to put on that lens on occasion and tickle the adolescent dumb-humor side of me–in the same way that the healthy adult part of me knows that Taco Bell is absolute garbage food that I have no right eating, but sometimes I want a greasy cardboard taco anyway because on occasion, it tastes good. Rockstar has always tapped into that machismo monkey part of our brains and given us the tools to humor our darkest juvenile impulses and sensibilities in a way that is just plain fun. They’ve always, and now more than ever, frolicked to and fro over the line between really dumb-fun humor and really smart satire.
Would I have loved to see GTA V lean a little more to the smarter of its sardonic satire of capitalism and cultural absurdities while still keeping the gameplay as fun as it was? Yes. Do I think this would have been the perfect title for them to put in a female protagonist that while still a caricature, broke some stereotypical tropes, or at least have a few women characters that didn’t exist purely to be punchlines? Yes? Do I fault them for not doing that? No way. If you expected a new GTA V to flip the “feminism in games” perspective on it’s head, you’ve expectations are aimed at the wrong game. As much as I would love to see Rockstar break that expectation, that’s not their job and if their job is putting out an explosively dynamic open world that is a blast to play in and is a hilarious looking-glass-reflection of the already twisted pieces of our actual culture then they’ve succeeded.
There are moments where the dumb humor gets even a little dumb for the adolescent part of my brain though and a couple specific scenes stand out as offensive (even to me and I’m never offended) such as a scene where you’re forced to torture a Middle Eastern man for no reason and whimsically profile another to assassinate. It’s supposed to be a commentary on the mindlessness of racial profiling and needless torture in American society but comes off less as commentary and more as just mindless. I would love to see the next GTA be a little less loud and dumb and a little more subtle and smart with it’s satire but this wasn’t it. Does that make it lose points on some intellectual level? Sure. Do those points take away from how fun it is to play outside of those sparingly few disappointments? Not one bit.
The story is blast to play and while a few of its shots at inducing laughter will leave you nauseous or face-palming, the rest that do hit, land hard and keep you coming back for more. Swapping between characters both while free-roaming and amidst chaotic story missions keeps the pace high and makes it hard to ever get bored of one activity or character for long, as you can always jump to an entirely different character perspective (and often geographical location) at the drop of a hat. I wasn’t sold on the three character shtick until I played it, but now I can’t imagine GTA without it. GTA V is the pinnacle game in the series that dominates open world games, and it deserves that title. You can never or hardly ever touch the story without ever finding yourself at a loss of things to do and everything that looked or felt good in it’s initial release looks incredible and feels great on PS4. It really takes remastering beyond just polishing up pixels to really reworking mechanics to perfection and adding even more content to an already colossal world that will feed whatever desire the player has the most of, be it wanderlust, killing-sprees, following an exiting narrative and anything in between.
GTA Online is an entire game in itself and deserves to be reviewed as such. It is fleshed out with more features and customization than I could fairly just touch on but I can say that if building your own character in an almost MMO like GTA world with 29 other players appeals to you, that you need to try it. It can be a little intimidating at first but has a solid tutorial and is so much better learned on the fly than something taught anyway. Somewhat surprisingly it seems to still suffer from the same dreadfully long load screens in between games–but only loading the world itself, in between matches, on a playlist, or while in the world itself you’ll almost never encounter one. The core of GTA games for me has always been the single player experience–both the narrative and all of the bits in between the main story–and it still is, but GTA Online is a meaty multiplayer addition to an already substantial game and is worth checking out whether you dabble or let it consume you.
GTA V is an epic game with a vast world of unparalleled detail that looked and played incredibly well on PS3 and is elevated on PS4 to an experience that shouldn’t be missed. It’s comedy dips the lowest brow a little too low at moments but works as a whole and the high pace of action in the story makes you feel like you’re living out a dozen of the greatest hollywood heist movies all at once. Whether you arrive in Los Santos to play out the narrative or just plain play, there’s a never-ending to do list to burn through and none of it’s missteps can even begin to taint what is easily the most carefully crafted open world in gaming to date. Whether you missed it on PS3 or have been on the fence about revisiting San Andreas, this is the biggest and best version of Rockstars most intense adventure yet.