This is the third time we’ve covered Grand Theft Auto V, and on a third generation of hardware to boot – who knew back in 2013 when we explored what Los Santos had to offer for the first time we’d still be playing 9 years later. I don’t think even Rockstar planned the game would have legs that long. With this being the GTA V next gen version (though I suppose we should be calling it the third gen version), we can expect all the bells and whistles that the latest hardware brings, alongside what should be the definitive edition brimming with all the content we know and love. If you’ve visited San Andreas county before you’ll pretty much know what to expect, but should that stop you from taking in the sights and sounds once again?
Firstly, the GTA V next gen version comes in an option of packages depending on what you want to play. It’s possible to buy the story mode and GTA Online separately this time around, so those invested in the multiplayer component don’t have to be interested in what Michael, Trevor and Franklin get up to. As of launch the online is free on PlayStation for 3 months (and doesn’t need PS+ either for the same timeframe); and the story mode costs around £8, a pretty low entry fee for upgrading to the latest version. Xbox gamers will have to pay a little more, but it’s still a relatively low price. Debates at whether there should be a free upgrade are moot – it last released 6 years ago, it’s worth buying it again, and the dev team shouldn’t have to work for nothing. Whether the online subscription should be launching is another conversation entirely and not one I’m going to visit here… mainly because my heart has always been in the single player campaign.
What GTA V next gen brings visually probably isn’t quite as striking as you’d expect – it’s not the same as brand new titles – though it shows that the asset work in the original game was so good in the first place. There are three modes to pick from which boil down to 4k/60 performance, 4K/30 fidelity with ray tracing, and 1080p/60 with ray tracing. Seeing the world running at double the framerate consoles are used to is a step up and makes it feel fresh, whilst the graphical improvements in lighting, shadows and reflections add to the level of immersion. Switching between each of the display modes is done in the pause menu, so it doesn’t take much to find the one that you want. Visual purists might want the full resolution experience, but to be fair it looks pretty impressive locked in an HD pixel count with all the nice graphical effects working away.
It’s not just the visuals that have a boost, it feels like the city is busier than it was before. Traffic appears to be denser, as is the level of pedestrians on the streets. Los Santos was never devoid of life and now it seems like the population is richer than ever before. If you opt for the first person mode, which is the default that I highly recommend, you’re treated to a view of the world where the incidental details come to the fore rather than being hidden behind an over the shoulder model. There’s a huge amount of attention paid to creating the streets and buildings, and the only way it feels like they can be experienced fully is to see them from the characters eyes. It extends to the interiors of vehicles as well, and whether this is something I’ve only recently seen, it’s impressive to see things like the radio displays in cars each being unique whilst showing the station you’re listening to. It’s a neat trick that continues to show how much thought has gone into creating Grand Theft Auto V.
The changes that were made for the last gen update follow through here, and the music is updated to reflect more current tunes, as well as keeping the satirical elements. As with most of Rockstar’s output, it manages to still have on the nose social commentary despite being at least 10 years since it was written. None of the main protagonists have particularly dated, each are distinct personalities and it’s fun to see their view of the world. Trevor remains the standout because of the sheer frantic energy that Steven Ogg brings the role, but you can’t understate how good Shawn Fonteno is as Franklin. Balancing each of them is a tricky job that continues to impress, as well as reminding players that in nearly a decade no open world game has come close to delivering anything like this. GTA V next gen doesn’t try to change what it is or amend itself for the current era, it only brings the existing tale to a new audience… or lets an old one go through it again.
Returning players aren’t left short, you can import your existing progress easily enough from the last time you played via the Rockstar Social Club, and make the decision whether it’s the story mode or online, or both. Getting into either mode is simple enough, and becomes the first point you witness the impact of improved loading times. The initial boot might take a bit longer than some other titles, through it’s still considerably faster than last gen. Swapping between characters in game is a delight too with the Google Earth style zoom out and in to change locations now taking seconds rather than being protracted. For those playing on the PS5, the DualSense delivers with haptic feedback, adaptive triggers for shooting and driving, and the cell phone calls/in ear comms playing through the speaker. None of the effects are ground breaking, yet they leverage the new capabilities to bring you closer to the action.
I’d like to try and make this sound like continually releasing the same game on new platforms is a bad thing, and that we shouldn’t be happy as gamers that this is setting a precedent. However, I can’t because GTA V next gen only manages to cement that it is probably one of the greatest games of all time, and has a level of technical achievement only surpassed by Red Dead Redemption II. This isn’t really a remaster or a remake, it’s more an upscale with some additional lighting treatment, and manages to be captivating no matter how many times you’ve already finished it. It’s bound to have some controversy surround it at some point, Rockstar don’t seem to be able to avoid that, but this should be recognised as a game that was so well constructed and detailed that it puts most other titles in the genre to shame some ten years after the original release. Is it perfect? Well, that’s in the eyes of the player, but for it to still feel as good as it does speaks volumes to me.
A PS5 review copy of GTA V next gen was provided by Rockstar’s PR team, and it’s available now on PS5 and Series S|X for between £8 and £20 (depending on platform) until June, then it’ll go up in price. Story mode and GTA Online can be bought separately.
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