REVIEW – Michael, Franklin and Trevor return in the next-generation remake of Grand Theft Auto V, with a story that’s as gritty, gritty and cynically witty as it was in 2013. While a lot has happened in nine years, Rockstar’s classic is still a true mirror to the world. And with the just-released PS5/Xbox Series X/S update, the world of Los Santos is more beautiful and lifelike than ever, while you can rip through the roughest cars at 60 fps.
It’s shocking to think that GTA 5 launched on PlayStation 3. Even today, almost a decade after its launch, Los Santos still feels more alive than any other open world. In fact, it’s staggering how lifelike – even by today’s standards – this Hollywood-inspired open world is. Angry NPCs will stop, honk, and beg you to move out of the way if you stop in traffic. Some will berate you as they eventually try to avoid you, while others will be less kind and simply run you over as they try to beat the morning rush.
Much of what happens in GTA 5 is an illusion, but it all helps build an open world that you can really get into. Take a short trip to Vespucci Beach. You’ll find people sunbathing, playing volleyball, and jogging on the boardwalk, travelling further east to Cypress Flats and replacing the beachfront setting with something industrial. Los Santos may not be the most open-world you’ll find on consoles these days, but few have the character of this one – the type of cars you see, and the behaviour of the people you meet depends on which district you’re in and what you’re up to.
4K HDR, 60 fps – but ray-tracing is not the real deal
While Rockstart has been accused by many of sitting on their laurels and the success of Grand Theft Auto Online, you can’t help but appreciate what the team has achieved here. The PS5 port across the third console generation significantly improves the release’s image quality, with performance up to 60 frames per second and resolution upped to native 4K. You’ll have to choose between refresh speed and raw image quality, but it’s a choice you’ll have to make, and all available graphics configurations deliver smooth performance and dazzling visuals.
While PC gamers may not be surprised by the improvements, those coming from the PS4 version – will see Los Santos in a new light even though PS5 backwards compatibility ran at 1080p at 30fps. Ray tracing support for improved shadow quality and native HDR functionality is the cake’s icing.
Unfortunately, this new remaster isn’t amazing in all areas; the aforementioned ray tracing, for example, could have been improved, especially if you take Cyberpunk 2077 (2020) or Wach Dogs Legion. Unfortunately, it’s the new effect on shadows that we’ll notice the least. Although the shadows make use of the ray tracing, the reflection effects don’t. And the reflections are still very weak; for example, the rear-view mirror does not work.
Elsewhere, the age of a game first released on PlayStation 3 shows – the character models, for example, in some cases feel ancient compared to modern titles like Horizon Forbidden West – but standing on the sidewalk of Vinewood Boulevard, few games can quite recreate the same considerable city experience.
Of course, it is evident that the next-generation remaster of GTA V is light years better than the classic GTA Trilogy, which was simply awful.
A thrilling, twisty, brutal gangster story and a hilarious, sarcastic satire
In the Grand Theft Auto series, GTA V was probably the only episode set entirely in the present day, so after ten years, you’d think that parodying modern society would be considered outdated, but I didn’t feel that way. In fact, I think GTA V’s incredibly cynical, sarcastic humour – which comes through in its most nihilistic and cruel anti-hero, Trevor, played by Stephen Ogg, and his ‘adventures’ – hits home more than ever. Stephen Ogg has since starred in three hugely popular series, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead. All three owe a lot to Trevor in GTA V. Recently, when I finally got around to watching all the seasons of The Walking Dead, Stephen Ogg in the seventh season not only took a lot from Trevor in looks and demeanour, but even Negan, the other anti-hero of the series and Simon’s (Stephen Ogg) boss, resembles him in many ways. Although many were shocked by Trevor’s cynicism, cruelty and nihilism in 2013, it is perhaps for this reason that he has become one of Rockstar’s most memorable (anti-)heroes.
But of course, the other two controllable members of the central trio (Mike and Franklin) and all the other supporting characters (Lamar, Lester, Martin Madrazo and his milf wife, Felton, the paparazzi guy) are also incredibly memorable characters, with the kind of hilarious, brilliant dialogue that perhaps only Dan Houser can really do. (Let’s hope it’s not just him because the “father” who founded the company is no longer at Rockstar.)
Summa summarum: the story of Grand Theft Auto V is a huge gangster film parody and a mirror of society, which is particularly refreshing in the face of the push for pizzazz, woke, BLM, cancel culture and similar movements that are so prevalent today. But GTA also makes a fool out of Donald Trump’s silly populism (it’s no coincidence that Dan Hauser once said that GTA’s social critique is somewhere in between and smacks both tendencies), which is why Rockstar couldn’t make another episode during Trump’s presidency and instead came out with a Red Dead Redemption II-like Wild West at the end of 2018. But GTA V is the only game where you can kill Mark Zuckerberg’s in-game counterpart Jay Norris, the boss of Life Invader, so that’s a massive plus to the story.
However, the crime story in GTA V is also top-notch, with the jewellery store heist beating the heists of Michael Mann or Brian De Palma’s best gangster films.
Fast charging and maximum DualSense feel
One aspect of Grand Theft Auto V that has always been much criticised is the awfully long loading times (especially on the first load of the game), and now, thanks to the more powerful hardware and SSDs on modern consoles, you can get into the game super-fast.
But on PlayStation 5, we also have to mention the brilliant support for DualSense. You’ll notice it right from the intro of the game when the fire protection system kicks in, and shower spray sprays you during the bank robbery. Still, you’ll also feel the control of all the vehicles, the feel of the different terrains, the weapons and explosions while driving, all perfectly realistic.
For 8 EUR, it’s a „robbery”
Rockstar has had its ugly moments in the (near) past. Still, the next-generation version of GTA V is a must-buy due to its significant graphical overhaul and, especially on PS5, its thorough use of DualSense – especially for 8 EUR, when there are new games nowadays that cost almost ten times as much and don’t offer a tenth as much frenetic experience.
I should quickly add that my review was only and exclusively about the single-player part of the game (GTA Online is free on PlayStation with PS Plus); I deliberately left out the multiplayer, which is now a completely separate section. (I was never a fan of it, actually.)
If you haven’t played it yet, have a new generation console and love the genre, get started now! I last played GTA V on PS3 eight and a half years ago in 2013 (I only got halfway through on PS4 and PC, those two versions somehow didn’t give me as much extra), but I’m definitely getting to the end of Michael, Franklin and Trevor’s adventures again.
+ Overall, a professional graphics facelift, especially on 4K TV
+ The satirical, genius story is hitting today more than ever
+ A living, breathing open-world world that few games can beat
– Although there is ray-tracing, it’s not a big deal here
– Character models are also slightly outdated
– Trevor’s “darus” mission is tedious and boring
Publisher: Rockstar Games, Take-Two Interactive
Developer: Rockstar Games
Genre: open-world action game
Release date: March 15, 2022