Grand Theft Auto V Review (Xbox One)
In 2013, nearly a decade since we last visited Los Santos, Rockstar returned to the west coast of the Grand Theft Auto universe with great fanfare. Grand Theft Auto V was not only one of the finest GTA titles in Rockstar's catalog, but it was also one of the best games on the last generation of consoles. Now, just a little over a year later, Rockstar's brought us back to Los Santos once more with an updated version of GTA V for current-gen consoles. This latest iteration of the popular action game shows that not only can you go home again, but home will be even better than you remembered.
From a story standpoint, not much has changed in Los Santos over the past 13 months. Michael, Franklin and Trevor are still scratching and clawing their way to victory (such as it is) much the same way they were before. The three still struggle with trusting one another completely, and each has his own unique idea of what "making it" in Los Santos really means. The narrative still holds up, even on a repeated playthrough, as the three leads are the most dynamic we've seen in a GTA game. There are a few new sidequests to partake in this time, though none of them adds much to the overall plot. It's never easy to do a crime story that's as massive and inclusive as that found in Grand Theft Auto V, but Rockstar's done an admirable job crafting a tale that will keep you engaged for the duration. No small feat given how much there is to do in Los Santos.
The real draw to return to fold, or jump in for the first time if you missed out on GTA V over the course of the last year, lies in the updated graphical prowess current-gen systems hold. Most significantly, the draw distance in this updated version is absolutely outstanding. Where the Xbox 360 would have put vague-looking shapes far off in the distance, the Xbox One is fully capable of rendering actual approximations based on your spatial relationship to that object. While the power of the new platform is certainly visible from anywhere on the map, it's most obvious when falling through the sky in one of Grand Theft Auto's skydiving activities. Though mostly found in GTA Online, there are a handful of opportunities to leap from the confines of a helicopter or plane with nothing but a giant piece of nylon keeping you from absolute death. It's here, some 7,000 feet up in the San Andreas sky, that you truly grasp just how stunning the world Rockstar's created is, and how much more powerful the Xbox One really is over its predecessor. Miles upon miles of scenery are presented as clear as if you were really there. It's simply astounding.
The Xbox One can also offer quite a bit more action on screen as well. The environments are a bit more flush with life, both flora and fauna. New animals populate the wilds of Los Santos, with domesticated pets can also be found in the inner-city. Vegetation is a bit more elaborate on the Xbox One, with more realistic trees and bushes filling areas that were barren on the Xbox 360 with more honest depictions of what the real world is like. While more animals and trees are nice, it's the added human population that makes the biggest difference. More people on the streets means more cars on the highways. While you still don't get the same feeling of being stuck in Los Angeles traffic (that would require just too many cars to be enjoyable), there's a much more significant NPC presence on the roadways and sidewalks. Though with that added bit of population comes some strange behavior, like more bizarre accidents or even cars seemingly dropping out of the sky to fill a blank space on the road.
Additionally, Rockstar has included an all-new first-person perspective in this latest iteration. This is one of the bigger changes to the overall game, as it drastically alters your perception of the world. More detail has been included everywhere, from tattoos and facial expressions, to vehicle interiors and gun models and animations. Playing GTA on a console in first-person definitely feels like a completely different game. While you can tailor the camera to use as much or as little first-person perspective as you like, we found it best to experiment with it by randomly using it during various portions of the game. Driving is the least impressive, as it's almost impossible to gauge the turning radius of cars. Since cars don't exactly handle very well to start with in GTA V, the experience is even worse in first-person. Action moments, like shooting or punching people in the face are much better, but something still feels off. GTA never handled all that badly in third-person, but there's very little advantage to going into first-person for combat outside of lining up better headshots. Of course, all of the thrills that first-person provides go completely out the window during FPS. That's first-person sex, for those wondering. It's as awkward and uncomfortable as you'd imagine, and it's not something we ever wish to experience again in a video game.
GTA Online still brings the same great feelings and experiences it has for the past 12 months on last-gen, but now you can have even more people on a map at once. Jobs like races and deathmatches are still limited, but the 30 person world map is mildly more exciting than it was on the Xbox 360 when there were only 16 people. Los Santos is still an incredibly gigantic landmass, and once you venture outside the city limits, it's rare to run across another actual human. Heists, for all Rockstar's promises, are still not available. The online did have its share of issues, though minor, when the Xbox One version arrived, but hopefully the promised co-operative heists will arrive sooner rather than later. It's already been more than a year of waiting, and the inclusion was promised as a day one feature for the Xbox One version. There are still plenty of new jobs and multiplayer matches to experience while you wait, and there's a lot of fun to be had online without heists. However, even the myriad of custom jobs can get boring after a lengthy play session, and it would be nice to have one more way to enjoy GTA cooperatively with the long-promised mode.
This year has a wealth of remakes of 2013's more popular franchises, which many gamers saw as a cheap double-dip. In spite of that trend, Grand Theft Auto V's addition to that growing list is a welcome one. The improvements make an already fantastic game that much better, and even if you've already run through everything it had to offer, it's worth another go. Grand Theft Auto V can now lay claim to not only being one of the best games of its generation, but also one of the best remakes as well.
This review was completed with a retail copy of Grand Theft Auto V provided by the publisher for Xbox One.