Note: We actually reviewed this more than five years ago when it first landed on the Xbox 360. Incredible as it may seem the game remains a dominant force in the market so when I returned to it again with the Xbox One version it seemed appropriate to review it again and see what’s changed.
An unlikely trio of characters banding together to prove that crime does pay (eventually) is the story driving Grand Theft Auto V. You start the game with a heist gone wrong which acts as an introduction to the mechanics you’ll soon be using for the main story.
As the real game starts we briefly get (re)introduced to Michael, an ex-crim that we saw in the introduction who is now living the retired life but not enjoying it in the slightest. It neatly transitions over to Franklin who is trying to make ends meet working for a dodgy car dealer. His friends have dreams of being gangsters and start dragging him into bad situations.
Lastly there is Trevor who worked with Michael during the heist and who you could safely describe as being “a little unhinged”. Through coincidence and circumstance they are all brought together to make some of the biggest scores of their careers. How successful they will be is up to you.
Franklin and Michael’s interactions takes on a student and mentor relationship early on when both characters see what the other offers. From these two we also spend time with the character switching mechanics that not only work within missions but in the open world too. For anyone who has played past games they will feel at home with these two.
Then we come to Trevor. Normally you’d be playing the straight guy dealing with the craziness around them but with Trevor you’re at the top of the heap. His introduction makes a point of stomping on the past, literally. The writers really seem to have reveled in that from his chaotic behaviour to character transitions which occasionally find him in strange situations.
Each of these characters have a story arc to play through that will occasionally intersect with the other characters for the larger scale missions. Some of these bigger ones are heists that require some decision making by the player on how to complete them as well as sub missions to find the necessary resources. These are highly entertaining and help expose players to a lot more of the game’s mechanics and parts of the map that they may not have discovered themselves.
The mission routine is usually that of travelling from point A to B then shooting or stealing your way out to cash in the rewards. This routine however feels less like that thanks to the amazing clockwork city of Los Santos that you’re inhabiting. No matter what time of the day or night there is so much activity going on around you it creates a great impression of a living and breathing world. People walk down the street, drive their cars, use ATMs and even throw shade your way too. Having all of this happen around you also brings out a lot of random elements that give variety to these experiences.
On top of that there’s a lot of additional activities to find or play within the game that could consume your time even further. I still can’t believe that what they implemented for golf and tennis are good enough to have been sold separately. I think that their willingness to go the extra mile to make even a small thing like a tennis minigame the best it can be is a great example of what the game is like as a whole.
Graphically the game holds up quite well. The detail is a step up from the 360/PS3 versions and draw distances seem to go on forever which really show off Los Santos. Flying above the city at night in a helicopter is still spectacular with some great use of lighting. Character detail is best on the main three but animation is probably the real star here. Movement is great with a good dose of realism thrown in. Even pedestrians have a lot of variety in their movement which again sells you on the world you’re in. Transitions between animations can occasionally be jarring but it doesn’t happen enough to be a big negative.
The audio can do no wrong from my perspective. The choice of music tracks, the radio station DJss plus the great voice actors for all the roles means this is a game you need to keep the volume up for. This aspect of the game never gets old and is fantastic to come back to again.
The most immediate difference between this and the 360 version I previously played is the first person mode however it’s not really integral to playing the game and in some cases makes controlling your character even harder, such as in driving/shooting sequences. Additional content has also been added included previously available DLC but there is already so much to get through in the game you may not even pick them out. Playing it now on an Xbox One X and the game runs perfectly smoothly at 1080p/30fps but I wish they would consider giving it a 4K boost to match the PC version.
Then we move onto the online component. The amount of work that continues to go into Grand Theft Auto Online after all this time is staggering. During the holiday season, the environment had taken on snowy conditions that impacted the world around you with low visibility and dangerous roads. It’s another step the developers have taken to keep the world feeling like it is a living thing that never remains static.
For players though it can still be the Wild West out there as it’s quite easy to find yourself taken down by randoms simply because you happened to be in the wrong place and were an easy target (you find out about “passive mode” after dying the first time). So once you get through the tutorials it’s best to get into group and start making money quickly so you can get yourself some safehouses. And there’s more ways to make money now with different criminal enterprises to be a part of as well as the heists which had taken so long to appear after GTA Online first launched. Additional features have been rolled out over the years to help keep it interesting – the most recent being Bomb Ball which is GTA‘s take on Rocket League.
Even with all the praise the game deserves the passage of time hasn’t been completely kind to it. Load times are horrendous even if you’re running off an Xbox One X. Switching between the campaign on GTA Online can take minutes making this not the game you go to for a quick session. Gunplay is literally hit or miss with controls that are sometime more complicated than they need to be but the lock on feature does alleviate that sonewhat. Trying to shoot out of your car at targets is a messy exercise though and early missions will reveal just how overly complicated they are.
Until the arrival of Red Dead Redemption II GTAV was by far the most ambitious game the team at Rockstar have ever done. Even with its much younger sibling now out it continues to remain relevant thanks to its modern setting which still succeeds in feeling like a living world. And the substantial amount of content it provides means that anyone (except your little ones!) who enjoys this style of game will be playing it for hours on end.
Grand Theft Auto V is out now for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Note: the game is still available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 but may not support the latest additions to GTA Online.