Grand Theft Auto V
On February 28, 1998, Grand Theft Auto hit the North American market, giving gamers a bird’s-eye view of a gangster’s world overrun with violence, drugs, and an alarming number of civilians crushed by runaway cars. Although the characters looked like ants from the game’s top-down perspective, players became immersed in the open-world chaos, praising its unique gameplay and freedom of choice. The diminutive violence from that first Grand Theft Auto title created a rock-solid foundation for a series that was about to revolutionize gaming – all through the switch of a camera.
Shifting to the third-person perspective in 2001’s Grand Theft Auto III reinvigorated this series, serving as the ideal viewpoint for developer Rockstar North’s biting commentary. In a year filled with companies re-releasing games on new-gen hardware, the return of Grand Theft Auto V on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One may not sound like big news, but this new version contains another significant breakthrough for the series – one that once again involves the position of the camera.
Players now have the option to trek across Los Santos and Blaine County in first-person. Zooming into the eyes of Trevor, Michael, and Franklin delivers a remarkable sense of intimacy for all of the actions in the game, be it driving, skydiving, swimming with sharks, or running down a darkened alley with a pistol drawn as the police give chase.
The first-person view is more than a simple camera switch; it’s a fully realized component that delivers a new experience for GTA players. Rockstar created thousands of new animations to deliver a sense of realism from this viewpoint. When hotwiring a car, the camera pans down to show the character working the wires under the steering wheel. When Franklin lights up at his mom’s house, his hand and his weed touch the screen for each long drag. All phone usage shows the character’s hands moving across the touchscreen. When Trevor’s temper flares, his middle finger is flipped in the center of the screen. All of the actions from this perspective look fantastic, and deliver that same high level of quality seen throughout the remainder of the game.
When the action heats up, the first-person view ups the intensity and difficulty. Given that this perspective limits awareness of the character’s surroundings, I found I had to be more cautious in firefights. I also wasn’t as skilled while driving, since the vehicle’s frame obscures the view, and it’s far more challenging to thread the needle between cars when the camera positioning can’t be altered on the fly. That said, I enjoyed both avenues of play more from the first-person perspective. Aiming down the iron sights of a gun is easier than lining up the tiny white dot for a headshot. The sense of speed tied to driving is far greater, making uncontrolled descents down the mountain on a motorbike a terrifying affair.
The new viewpoint is optional, activated with the press of a button. It offers a host of settings to tweak, including aim sensitivity, control schematics, head bob, and the ability to zoom out to third-person while using cover (a recommended switch, since using cover properly is difficult in first-person).
This version of the game also boasts a bevy of graphical improvements, including a 1080p resolution, greater draw distance, better textures, and an array of new lighting and atmospheric touches. The streets are loaded with more vehicles and pedestrians, and the wilds are denser in fauna and home to a handful of new animal types.
Players continue to uncover new content and secrets. Racing now consists of fun stock car events, which reward the player well with new muscle cars decked out in the decals of Los Santos’ biggest brands. Franklin can now veer away from his life of crime to take on a wildlife-photography side activity, and Michael is intertwined in a new murder mystery, which, as of this writing, no one has solved. A hatchet and rail gun up the number of armaments, and the clunky Dodo seaplane returns. Long story short, there's plenty of new content here.
I spent hours of my life tracking down peyote plants, a new collectible that makes the character hallucinate and transform into an animal for a limited amount of time. During one trip, I played as a coyote that mauled two people to death, made another frightened citizen run directly in front of a trolley, and at the end of his reign of terror, was sent to coyote heaven by a police officer.
I can’t stress just how much fun it is to experience Grand Theft Auto V again from a new perspective. The impact it has on the series is huge, but is somewhat muted from it debuting in a re-release and not a new entry in the series. I went into this review expecting to play the same game again, and I did, but Rockstar made it feel new.
Grand Theft Auto Online
The enhancements for the single-player campaign transfer over to Grand Theft Auto Online. The multiplayer component has expanded to include 30 players, and the first-person perspective breathes new life into the action. In my time online, I experienced minimal lag or issues in the expanded firefights and races. If you played the last-gen versions, your online persona (and everything you’ve earned) can transfer to the new iteration, so you can upgrade without losing progress.
A re-release that feels new again.