There’s nothing quite like coming home – or so they say. In truth, this editor has spent the last couple of decades living in the exact same sleepy city, so wouldn’t really know what it’s like to return after several years away – but we imagine that it’s a little like playing Grand Theft Auto V on the PlayStation 4. Sloppy segues aside, we’ve just spent a few hours with Rockstar Games’ re-released opus, and figured that we should get some first impressions up while we polish off our review.
This is the same supremely cynical game as almost 34 million PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners have already played, so we probably don’t need to delve too deeply into the premise. You assume the role of three ne’er-do-wells named Trevor, Franklin, and Michael, all of which are adept at swearing, stealing, and, well, not a lot else. Beneath the gratuitous violence and bad language, though, there’s a scathing cultural commentary here, which is at the heart of the sequel’s sandbox.
Los Santos may be a playground for the three protagonists to occupy, but it’s also a caricature of the kind of real world that we all inhabit. The characters that you encounter are all intentionally larger-than-life, but the developer finds ways in which you can relate – and that’s its underlying genius. Take the work shy Jimmy de Santa, a good-for-nothing layabout who spends his days cursing at opponents in Righteous Slaughter 7. Sound familiar? Right, ironically you’ve probably encountered someone just like him while playing, er, Grand Theft Auto Online.
Each protagonist’s story overlaps, which helps the open world to feel much more like a living place. As you progress, you’ll unlock the ability to switch stars with the tap of a button, each transition prompting a short cinematic which gives the impression that the character hasn’t been simply sitting waiting for you to take control. It’s this kind of attention to detail that makes the title shine where others quite simply don’t, and it must keep executives at other major publishers awake at night.
Unfortunately for Bobby Kotick, Yves Guillemot, and Andrew Wilson, this PS4 port adds another layer of Autoglym to an already perfectly polished product. The visuals do have flaws – some scenes look a little jagged – but the scope of the world pushes it so far beyond anything else currently available on next-gen consoles that it’s dizzying. Granted, inFAMOUS: Second Son’s got its ageing textures beat – but on scale, Sucker Punch’s superhero sequel simply can’t compete.
The gameplay’s still not quite as on-point as we’d like, though: shooting feels woolly and you need to mash buttons like you’re playing International Track & Field to sprint. The widely publicised first-person viewpoint does mitigate some of these issues, however, and is sturdily implemented, giving you a great sense of place through excellent animations and some top-notch depth of field effects. Racing adjacent to Vespucci Beach in the cockpit of a pink sports car gives the game a different flavour, and while the roads and sights remain identical, it’s a noteworthy novelty all the same.
And there’s also plenty that’s new here, which you may not notice straight away. Foliage, for example, sprouts out of undeveloped areas and dances in the seaside breeze, while wildlife is rife – particularly in the northern countryside of Blaine County. For a game that features a cast of morally bankrupt characters, this is undeniably beautiful – and it does make us wonder what the inevitable Red Dead Redemption 2’s going to look like.
For now, though, we’re happy to embrace Los Santos all over again. This is still an exhausting game, so if you couldn’t stomach its cynical take on society the first time around, you’re not going to find a whole lot has changed here – even if it is running at 1080p. It’s a title that very much deserves to be played, however, simply to sample the scale of what Rockstar has achieved. The studio may not make likeable characters, but it sure knows how to make you fall in love with a world.
It’s good to be home.
Are you playing Grand Theft Auto V on the PS4? What are your thoughts on the re-release? Have you decided to skip it in favour of other titles? Plan a heist in the comments section below.