Remakes, remasters, anniversary and HD editions have become common over the past few years and the advent of new hardware only accelerated that trend. Some of the repackaging of previously released games has been a little less than perfect and some of it has seemed like a minimum of effort has been put in to simply get an old property ported over to a new market.
Rockstar has always played by their own rules though, and with a game that’s so popular and so present in mainstream consciousness, they must have had pretty much free rein to do whatever they wanted. GTA V would have sold fantastic numbers on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One if it had simply been ported over, as-was and bundled with the bits and pieces of DLC but that’s simply not the Rockstar way.
Being just over a year old, and already a great looking game, there might not seem like there would be much to do to it visually for a release on newer consoles but in reality, it’s a vast improvement and it’s been made in very clever ways. Extra lighting sources and a greatly improved draw distance make the whole city of Los Santos sparkle in a way that you might not have noticed would be possible. The city is crisp and clear and the changes in lighting make it all the more enticing, even with a slight drop in frame rate around downtown areas. It’s interesting that one of the best looking open worlds on the new consoles is an open world originally made for the old consoles.
The more rural areas of San Andreas aren’t immune to this improved lighting either. Just as the Instagram crowd loves a bit of glare in real life, GTA V managed to trick us into parodying ourselves and a low sun must have been the catalyst for a million Snapmatic photos since the game’s original release. Prepare for that deluge of shared in-game photos to happen again, as the play of light and shade, contrast and texture is much improved here. Some of the vistas offered by GTA V on new consoles are stunning and the included first person camera option makes those full screen, distraction-free photos all the more enjoyable to take and view.
The first person mode, revealed just a couple of weeks before the release, is brilliantly integrated too. It’s obviously not the way the game was designed to be played – a lack of inertia and dampening in the movement makes things a little twitchy and very slightly disorienting, although the sensitivity and field of view settings could go some way to alleviating that. There’s also an issue with the need for cover in the shooting sections of gameplay and the concern that popping out from cover to snap to target is not ideal from a first person viewpoint. But the mode itself is wonderfully implemented, with a host of minor touches that could easily have been overlooked.
There’s the ability to aim a weapon in first person mode, with a further step of looking down the sights with a click of the right stick. Your in-game phone might simply have been left as it always was – a pop up in the bottom right corner of the screen – but instead they show your character holding it up in his hand. They’ve added first person animations for the combat roll and fist fighting too, it’s an impressive and largely unnecessary attention to detail that should be applauded, if only for its glorious geekiness.
All the improvements also seem to come over into the world of GTA Online, too. After a rocky start (and what online launch is ever smooth?) this side of the GTA V package really hit its stride and has a large, dedicated audience still playing regularly on older consoles. The ability to easily port over your character from either old machine to either new machine (it’s all based on Rockstar Social Club, rather than XBL or PSN) means that there’s one less barrier to upgrade for those most dedicated fans and a little head start back into the action for those of us who lapsed.
Of course, this is essentially the same game as the one that came out on PS3 and Xbox 360. There are a few extra little side missions based on the larger number of animals you’ll spot around the city and Michael has another little chain of missions but the bulk of the game is identical to the one you might have played before.
That said, GTA V’s story mode was a pleasure before and with an extra layer of visual splendour, it’s incredibly tempting to play through its entirety again. For some, the ability to go back to that city and play around in its open world again might be enough to entice them too. GTA V has perhaps the most realistic depiction of a living city in any open world game and the possibilities that are open to us are almost endless. The increased ability to share the random stories we’re allowed to generate for ourselves within the mayhem of this world is perhaps reason enough to warrant another purchase on new consoles.
There was never any real doubt, of course, that Rockstar would do a great job on an updated version of their masterpiece. Seeing it rendered in 1080p, beautifully lit and stretching off into the distance as you crest that northern mountain ridge and take in the view over the city, though, that’s a magical experience that says far more than a list of resolution improvements and other bullet points ever could.
GTA V’s facelift might be mostly skin deep but it’s a new lease of life for a game that was already so filled with confident accomplishment and that can never be a bad thing.