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Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online PlayStation 4 Review

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  • Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online PlayStation 4 Review

    The best just got better.

    A little over a year ago I provided a review for the single player portion of Grand Theft Auto V for the Xbox 360. In it, not a detail was spared as I shared my praises and complaints about the game. Here we are, one year later and I'm back at it. It's not often that I get to offer up a second review for a game, let alone one that has been re-released on a new platform and given significant number of improvements since its initial release.

    Yet here we are in late 2014 playing the PlayStation 4 version of Grand Theft Auto V and Grand Theft Auto Online. I'll spare you the detailed analysis of the game. For that, you can simply read the original review for the simple fact that things like the less than exceptional writing and third-person gameplay experience remain largely unchanged. Instead, a focus on the new features and gameplay mechanics are in order, along with a look at GTA Online to see if it's managed to tackle the issues that landed it on our biggest disappointment list for 2013.

    The first and most obvious change to the game is the fact that it now runs at a near rock solid 30 frames per second at 1080p resolution on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Without a doubt, a solid 60fps experience would be preferable but let's examine what we're coming from here. The old generation of consoles had massive framerate drops and only pushed a resolution of 720p. Here we are pushing a 1080p resolution and a near solid 30fps at all times. It's not ideal but that is a tremendous improvement compared to what the old consoles managed.

    On top of that, Rockstar says that they've upped the draw distance and the level of detail distance, both of which are quite apparent while driving around the vast expanse of San Andreas. They also upped the texture resolution on almost every texture in the game. This resolution bump is most easily noticed when you examine some of the smaller objects in the game. Other more subtle improvements include some parallax mapping on some surfaces, namely bushes. There is also some improved AA and AF compared to the previous generation of consoles but it still isn't free of jaggy edges and a "shimmering" type effect can sometimes be seen while driving or moving around.

    Another major improvement over the previous generation is the addition of more flora and fauna to the game. There is now a wider variety of animals in the game both on land and in the water. Unfortunately, these animals only show up in the single player portion of the game for some inexplicable reason. Still though, it was great running around and seeing some cats hanging out in an alley. It was amazing watching someone out jogging with his or her dog right behind. Just be prepared to have the dog attack you if you hurt their owner. I found that little detail out the hard way. The PlayStation 4 version also boasts an increased amount of tall grass and vegetation throughout the game. It even has a far greater amount of grass when compared to the Xbox One version as some people have come to notice. The trees have also been given a visual overhaul, featuring more dense leaf coverage and better texture work.

    Again, it cannot be stressed enough just how insanely amazing the worlds are that Rockstar creates. They may not push the boundries as far as bells and whistles go. They may not have the highest resolution textures or super intensive effects. What they do have, however, is an insane attention to detail. The world of San Andreas remains one of the most believable open world locations of this or any game generation. Litter can be seen in alleys, on streets in some parts of town, and even on lawns in the bad parts of town. Lights in houses flicker on in the middle of night if you crash into a house with your car. "Painted" on street arrows look as though they were actually painted onto the road instead of being a texture that is flush with the street texture. It is mental to think about just how many little things that are in the game that often go overlooked by most players.

    You experience all of this just roaming around town and you already think it's amazing. Then you switch over to first-person mode.

    Now, Rockstar could have just brought over the old version of the game, upped the resolution, added some nicer textures, and stopped for the day. Instead, they went the extra 20 miles and added in a first-person view to the entire game. The first-person mode offers up full body awareness. Rockstar has added new first-person animations to every single action and reaction that will happen to the player during the course of the game. Jumping, shooting, hijacking cars, skydiving, swimming, viewing your phone, taking cover, rolling, and tons more are all a completely fresh experience in first-person. If you can do something in third person, you can do it in first-person and what an incredible difference it makes.

    It's a very interesting experience standing on the edge of one of the tallest buildings in the game, looking down to the streets below and you feel your stomach jump up to your mouth. Similarly, it actually feels thrilling when you jump out of a jet or helicopter at the highest elevation and there are those few moments where your character is falling out of control prior to being able to pull your parachute. Every weapon type comes with unique and new animations when compared to the third person view. You can even enter into a ragdoll state while in first person. You will never be more disoriented than when you get blindsided by a car and thrown to the ground while in first-person view.

    Without a doubt, the addition of the first-person mode is an absolute game changer not only for the game but for the series that has been nothing but third person or overhead views since its creation. Rockstar allows for the player to transition between both view modes simply by clicking in the touchpad on the PlayStation 4 controller. If you prefer to run around in first-person but drive in third person, you can set that option up easily and the game will automatically swap between the two based on the parameters you define. Rockstar was even so kind as to include different sensitivities based on the two modes and also included an FOV slider for first-person, even if the FOV is still just a bit too narrow for my liking even when maxed out. Even minor touches like putting on tinted sunglasses or a helmet are reflected properly in first-person. Do you have a pair of red tinted shades? Put them on and your first-person view will be slightly tinted red until you take them off. It's a small thing but my God, it goes a long way to adding to the immersive experience of the game.

    I will say that some things are much more difficult in first-person. Shooting from a car was already incredibly difficult to do in third person. Now, the bumps in the road result in even more penalties to your aiming, as does the restriction on how far you can turn your character's head and arm because there is full body awareness at play. Even while on foot, shootouts can be a bit troublesome because you can't always see if it's safe to pop out to take down an enemy as easily as you could with the third person view. There is also a bit of a "dead zone" feeling when you initiate a character movement. Again, I believe this ties into the full body aspect of the new mode. You are still tied to the animations of third person. Thus, it's not as if you could just swing your view one way or the other instantly like you could in games that are dedicated first-person shooter since your actual character model cannot instantly turn their head or body. It does take some getting used to and while it does feel more comfortable as time goes on, some further tweaking by Rockstar would probably go a long way to alleviating some players' concerns about the first-person mode. Even with that said, playing through the story again in first-person has been a tremendously enjoyable experience. It often feels as though Grand Theft Auto V was always initially planned to be played in this view.

    Even better is the fact that this first-person view can be used while playing GTA Online. Yes, GTA Online is back and it's made a significant number of improvements since I panned it as one of the Biggest Disappointments of 2013. New content has been added by the truckload to the online component over the past year, including new cars, new weapons, new missions, and new activities. They also sorted out the issues I had with many of the jobs not paying out enough or giving enough of a reward for completing them.

    Rockstar also addressed the 16 player lobbies by bumping them up to 30 player lobbies in this new generation release. On top of that, they also bumped up the created player detail by a huge margin. The character customization options are now more akin to a character creator from an Elder Scrolls title. Now, you can import your old GTA Online character from the previous generation of consoles and use the new system to make them look like the unique and deadly snowflake that they were originally intended to be. There are also new clothing options, new accessories to wear, new hair styles, new taunts, and more. Yes, a number of these improvements have come over the past few months via updates to the old generation of consoles. People are still largely jerks online but at least private and friends only lobbies still work and are honestly my preferred way to play the online component. Multiplayer free roam is still more akin to an MMO than the multiplayer found in Grand Theft Auto IV but I'm okay with this now. Why? It's simply because now there are a good number of activities and jobs that have been added that actually make GTA Online fun to play.

    Just looking at the laundry list of changes and improvements made to the game, it's safe to say that there is no better "remaster" or "re-release" that has come out this year. The argument could be made for Halo: The Master Chief Collection but unlike Halo, the online component for Grand Theft Auto V actually seems to work without too many issues. Then you tack on the addition of over 150 new songs to the radio, new radio DJ commentary, the visual improvements, the added first-person mode, the lighting improvements, the weather improvements, and even some added single player content and you would be hard pressed to find a better offering in 2014 for a game initially released in 2013.

    Grand Theft Auto V doesn't correct every mistake or misstep it made from its previous outing. There are still only three main protagonists in the game, all of which are male. The writing is still a bit hit or miss. Aiming and shooting while driving is still an exercise in frustration. However, the good aspects of the game far outweigh the bad. First-person mode is a tremendous addition to the game. The increased resolution and stable framerate are fantastic when compared to the old gen. The minimal pop in of objects is leaps ahead of the often-horrendous pop in of objects that often happened right in front of your face on the old gen. Grand Theft Auto V on the PlayStation 4 isn't perfect but it has certainly rekindled my love of the game. It makes me excited to think about the possibilities for future Rockstar open world titles built from the ground up with these new consoles in mind.

    + An almost rock solid 30fps experience
    + Enhanced resolution (1080p), higher resolution textures, increased level of detail, increased draw distance, increased plant density and animal numbers, and much more
    + First-person mode includes full body awareness
    + Hundreds of new or improved animations, mainly for the first-person view
    + Incredibly detailed world that actually feels like a real place
    + Small details like the tinting of the player view when wearing tinted sunglasses or helmets in first-person add to the immersion
    + Plenty of options to fine tune your gameplay experience: FOV slider, sensitivity options, auto-enable first-person or third person based on your situation, etc.
    + GTA Online has improved significantly: 30 person free roam lobbies, higher character detail, vastly improved character creator, many more jobs and activities when compared to its initial launch in 2013 with more sensible rewards, more properties to purchase
    + A few new side quests to try in single player
    + Over 150 new songs added to the radio plus added DJ lines on some stations
    + Improved AA and AF though a slight "shimmering" effect can still be seen at times
    + Better lighting and weather effects
    + Increased traffic and pedestrian density, most noticed in single player though also moderately improved in GTA Online as well
    + Fully modeled vehicle interiors with working dials and radio display create a more immersive first-person experience
    + The features exclusive to the DualShock 4 are quite useful: Quick grenade toss by swiping up on the touchpad, changing radio stations, changing weapons, and seeing the DS4 light bar change colors based on what character you're playing as or seeing it flash red and blue if you're being chased by the police
    + Subtle, natural use of depth of field looks great
    + Load times when switching between characters, even your online character, are vastly improved compared to the previous release on 360 and PS3
    - Some of the writing is still a little lackluster though this shouldn't be too surprising since this is merely an updated version of the same game from 2013
    - Aiming and shooting while driving is still troublesome and even more difficult while in first-person
    - Still no female main characters outside of GTA Online though this shouldn't be too surprising since this is merely an updated version of the same game from 2013
    - Even after all these months there are still no heists in GTA Online though they are still said to be coming
    - Curiously, there are still no animals in GTA Online
    - Distant shadows sometimes look a bit glitchy though this has been rare in my experience
    - Police are still insanely psychic and can tell a crime has been committed even when nobody was around. It does, however, feel very slightly toned back compared to the game's initial release but it may just be a placebo effect.
    Related Information
    Title: Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online
    Platforms: PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (PC version coming January 2015; PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 version were out in 2013) (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+ for blood, gore, intense violence, mature humor, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs, and use of alcohol.
    Grand Theft Auto V was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes from Rockstar Games.