Whether you like it or not, 2014 has been the year of the remastered video game. Sure, we've seen a number of impressive original titles released this year, but so many of the major games have been last-generation ports with next generation visuals. And while these products certainly look better, they rarely offer enough new content to tempt existing owners to double dip. But that's not the case with Grand Theft Auto V on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This updated port does more than just boost the resolution; it offers a brand new way to play through one of 2013's best games.
For the last dozen years, everybody has known Grand Theft Auto as an ultra-violent, crime-themed third-person action game. Now, for the first time ever, Rockstar Games has given fans exactly what they've asked for -- a first-person mode. As gimmicky as it sounds, this brand new perspective goes a long way to make the series feel fresh. I must have put at least two hundred hours into Grand Theft Auto V on Xbox 360, so you can imagine my surprise when the next-generation version felt substantially different ... maybe even better.
I was skeptical going in. While I never doubted the developers at Rockstar, they're not exactly known for their first-person shooters. Adding this new perspective is fraught with potential complications, and too often this kind of tacked-on mode feels cheap and unsatisfying. Thankfully that's not the case with Grand Theft Auto V, which somehow manages to feel even larger and more exciting as this type of action game.
As a first-person shooter, this game manages to get all of the basics right. The guns look great, it's easy to control and it's a lot of fun traversing the miles of diverse terrain that makes the state of San Andreas so special. Best of all, the game comes with a number of control schemes modeled after today's most popular first-person shooters. Even the cars have freshly drawn (and fully functional) interiors allowing players to drive from the first-person point-of-view. And because the perspective can be toggled on the fly, players can revert back to the third-person with the push of a button.
I expected playing this way would make the many shootouts a little easier, but had no idea it would make everything so much more exhilarating. I felt empowered in the first-person mode, finding myself tackling each section differently than I did one year ago on the Xbox 360. And even when the shooting is done, this perspective helps drive home just how large the state of San Andreas really is. Not since Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence have I been this impressed with a perspective change.
In fact, this mode is so good that it overshadows this update's other major selling point -- the incredible graphics. If you played the 2013 original, you'll already know that Grand Theft Auto V was a great looking game. Now it looks even better, and not just because of the boost in resolution. All of the characters have been given new facial animations, the roads are filled with a sharp increase in traffic, and, most importantly, all of the animals of San Andreas have been given soft fur. The world has also been improved, with an incredible amount of added detail to each texture. Despite being a port of a year-old game, Grand Theft Auto V remains one of the best looking games on the PlayStation 4.
Beyond the obvious stuff, there are also a bunch of smaller additions that make this the definitive edition. For starters, all of the new weapons, vehicles and clothing items have been merged into the single-player adventure. There are also several new activities and events, as well as a murder mystery that ultimately unlocks two noir style filters. For those who can't stop taking pictures, there's a brand new wildly photography challenge. And don't forget about the crazy simian-inspired street artist who will give players a new monkey costume.
If you somehow missed the best-selling game of 2013, this is the story of three unlikely partners who work together to pull off a series of heists. We are first introduced to Franklin Clinton, a street thug looking for a way out of the ghetto. He sees the gang violence around him and knows he needs a change of scenery, but his best friend Lamar is content to live hustling and pulling off shady jobs for cash. Franklin spends his time repossessing cars, which is where he meets the second star of Grand Theft Auto V -- Michael De Santa.
Unlike the 25 year old Clinton, Michael is a middle-aged bank robber who is enjoying the finer elements of retirement. Instead of dodging cops and stealing money, the 45 year old retiree is suffering in a loveless marriage with two misbehaving children. He has a nice house, an expensive ride and all the amenities he could possibly want, yet there's an emptiness quietly eating away at him.
Perhaps it's not emptiness that is keeping him up at night, but rather guilt. Years earlier, Michael was part of a botched heist in Canada that sends one person to the morgue and the other on the run down to San Andreas. Enter Trevor Philips, who is has spent the last decade believing Michael was dead. As you can imagine, things get sticky when Trevor realizes that he's been lied to and his former partner has been living the good life in Los Santos.
Trevor is a mentally unstable psychopath, something of a cross between the Joker and Sam Kinison. He's unpredictable and just about anything will send him into a violent rage, making him the absolute worst person to be part of any team. Unfortunately, neither Michael nor Franklin has much choice in the matter.
Instead of using this jumping off point to weave an over-the-top story, the developers at Rockstar Games keep things grounded and relatively simple. With only a few exceptions, the story revolves around the fallout that came from that botched heist. We quickly learn that Michael is in deep with the Feds, to the point where he's forced to do their dirty work. And now that Trevor is back in town, things are about to get hairy for the retired thief.
When they're not dealing with the nastiest people in all of Los Santos, Michael, Franklin and Trevor will be setting up a series of heists. Things start out simple as our "heroes" rob a jewelry store, however it won't take long for the trio to set their sights for a much larger score. These three men are about to become multi-millionaires ... if they don't end up turning on each other first.
While certainly unorthodox, having three main characters to jump between allows for better storytelling. Gone are the days when one character is expected to do everything, now the various types of missions can be divvied up between the different personalities. For example, Trevor's missions are often more violent and outrageous than what his colleagues are involved with. On the other hand, Franklin is a better driver; he ends up getting involved in races and missions that require speedy getaways.
These differences extend beyond their solo missions. Sometimes the full team (or two of its members) will take on a mission, forcing the player to swap between characters on the fly. This is easier than it sounds, and ends up breaking up a lot of the tediousness that was associated with past Grand Theft Auto games. In an aerial getaway, players are able to choose between flying the helicopter or manning the gun. On the ground, it's easy to switch to Trevor up high with a sniper rifle, Michael rushing in with his shotgun and Franklin out front making sure the police don't show up. And best of all, you can quickly switch players with a press of a button.
Outside of missions, players can freely swap between the three characters (unless one or two of them are laying low after a big heist). Each character has different side-missions to take on, as well as friends to visit. Grand Theft Auto V does a good job of giving off the illusion that each character is living a real life in San Andreas, even when you're not controlling them. You don't simply swap to another person; instead you watch a short vignette that shows what each character was doing before you took over. Michael will often be watching TV or playing video games with his son, while Trevor might wake up in the middle of nowhere sporting a woman's dress. With dozens of animations for each character, you won't run into many repeats as you make your way through the 40+ hour adventure.
It doesn't hurt that I genuinely like all three characters. Michael feels like a cross between Tommy Vercetti and the silent protagonist from Grand Theft Auto III. Franklin is level-headed and often the voice of reason. And Trevor is psychotic in all the right ways. Despite their many differences, these three work well together. They have good chemistry, which is not something you find in a lot of video games.
For a lot of people the grounded story and memorable cast of characters comes second to the world itself. This is, after all, a sandbox game. For many people, Grand Theft Auto is all about exploring the large open world and causing havoc. Players will not be disappointed with the diversity of San Andreas. From the quiet beach communities in the north to the sprawling urban landscape of Los Santos in the south, there's something for just about everybody in Grand Theft Auto V.
I don't say that lightly, as you can make a day out of hiking up Mount Chiliad, looking for water in the Grand Senora Desert, diving for sunken treasure in the Alamo Sea, sightseeing in the Vicewood Hills, white water rafting down Lago Zancudo river, biking down Mount Josiah, getting lost in the Banham Canyons, searching for bigfoot in the San Chianski Mountain Range, taking flying lessons at the Los Santos International Airport and trying to figure out where the small town of Grapeseed got its name. And this doesn't even begin to describe the variety of locations in downtown Los Santos.
Back at the secret hideout, Michael, Trevor and Franklin are busy setting up a heist. This is one of the biggest changes to the tried and true Grand Theft Auto formula. Instead of simply watching the plan come together, the player finally has some say in how it will all go down. From casing the target to choosing the right people to deciding how to perform the heist, there's a lot riding on the choices the player makes.
Most plans boil down to one of two options, usually involving a sneaky method or a violent one. In the case of the jewelry store, players can storm in and then shoot their way out after they've collected the valuables. Or, if you want to be discrete, you can steal a gas bomb that will put everybody in the store to sleep and allow for a silent getaway.
The six heists are the highlight of Grand Theft Auto V. These are the moments when all three characters are working as a cohesive unit. These situations are tense and full of harrowing moments you'll never forget. Best of all, they are as varied as the San Andreas landscape. Not only are the three thieves going after a different score with each heist, but the way they pull them off is constantly changing. And as plans become more elaborate, our heroes will be forced to track down all the parts needed to pull off a successful hit.
When you're sick of planning heists with these three criminals, it's time to take your talents to the internet with Grand Theft Auto Online. Best described as a mix between a traditional open-world sandbox game and a traditional MMO, this multiplayer mode allows up to 30 players (and two spectators) to exist in a version of San Andreas that is filled with new co-op missions, team battles, jobs, races, sports and more. And if that's not enough; players can even create their own multiplayer missions using an updated library of tools.
While I always felt Grand Theft Auto Online was fun on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, I found that certain play types weren't suited well for the third-person perspective. Now, thanks to the addition of a first-person mode, these online matches are easier to play and a lot more exciting. Game types I used to loathe are now among my favorites, all because of a simple change in the point-of-view.
For those of us who have already spent hundreds of hours in Grand Theft Auto Online, this brand new next-generation version has an option that will let players import their character and save from either the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. This transfer takes only a couple minutes and even comes with a fun cinema.
As if the massive improvements to the graphics, camera perspectives and online multiplayer mode aren't enough, this brand new version of Grand Theft Auto V also boasts a radio with 150 new additions. Players will also discover new talk shows from comedians Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down) and JB Smoove (The Millers), as well as additional commentary from Kenny Loggins, Big Boy, DJ Pooh and more.
With so many changes, there's more than enough incentive for returning players to double dip. Grand Theft Auto V looks amazing on the new hardware, the online mode is even better and the first-person perspective is a real game changer. Despite featuring the same lengthy story and massive world to explore, this is the rare remastered port that manages to still feel fresh.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.