A return trip to Los Santos on the PlayStation 4 was inevitable, given Grand Theft Auto V's gigantic success on Sony's previous home console. An open world with real attitude, the game's sprawling American state is still its greatest achievement – it's full of life, it's incredibly dynamic, and it just feels like the perfect place to spark up some chaos with the title's three protagonists. But with so many other games releasing in time for the holiday rush, is it worth considering another colourful vacation with Michael, Trevor, and Franklin?
The pivotal personalities at the heart of Rockstar's creation haven't changed for this second outing, and most wouldn't have it any other way. Franklin is still a young man from a rough neighbourhood who's arguably in too deep, Michael remains a struggling family man who loves a good bank robbery, and Trevor is still, well, Trevor. The cast and narrative are generally strong as far as sandbox titles are concerned, and although nothing new has been added to the central tale of trying to get rich quick, improved character models and faces add a touch of realism – something that makes many of the game's more intense scenes that much more gripping.
Gameplay, on the other hand, feels better with a DualShock 4. Where the PlayStation 3 version had you clambering around the controller hitting X to sprint and a dozen other buttons to perform the simplest of tasks, it doesn't feel as taxing here thanks to the device's ergonomic design, but that still doesn't excuse the fact that the release's control scheme remains hilariously over complex at times.
Thankfully, the developer may have addressed some concerns with the addition of a first-person view. Like in an Elder Scrolls game, you're now able to swap between a traditional third-person perspective and the eyes of your current character at any time with a tap of the touchpad. It definitely takes some getting used to initially, but playing in first-person certainly has its advantages, and proves to be a great way to make Los Santos feel fresh all over again.
Walking down a busy street in first-person can feel eerily realistic, as you watch traffic zoom by and fellow pedestrians go about their business. When things get nasty, the new perspective can really make the action seem visceral, to the point where sprinting up to an enemy and executing him surprises you with how gritty and violent the combat can be. First-person isn't necessarily for the squeamish, then, but those who prefer the viewpoint in other releases will love the option. To an extent, the new camera angle even helps alleviate some of the title's wonky gunplay, allowing you to pick foes off with what feels like a better degree of accuracy. It's still a little clunky, sure, but it's well worth giving it a try all the same just to see how you prefer to play.
Driving in first-person is a real rush, too. Hop on a motorbike and blast down a highway at almost 200 miles-per-hour and you'll find it hard to blink. The sense of speed is quite incredible when you're watching the lights of traffic and surrounding buildings zip by as you try to weave through traffic, but crash, and you've probably got gaming's most poignant reminder that driving three times over the speed limit usually isn't a good idea.
Indeed, the terrible threesome aren't superhuman. Grand Theft Auto V has a tendency to inject quite a lot of realism into its gameplay, which will no doubt be a bit of a turn off for some. Gunfights are usually over pretty quickly since no one can survive more than a couple of bullets to the chest, and rolling out of a moving vehicle unsurprisingly results in losing half of your health bar. The game isn't unforgiving – far from it when you're kitted out with the most explosive weapons that money can buy – but its habit of leaning towards a more realistic sandbox can frustrate, especially if you're used to the PS4's more powerful protagonists.
That said, the realistic mechanics really gel with the world that Rockstar has crafted. In many ways, the game is unique in that it doesn't inherently feel like other sandbox outings. In releases like Watch Dogs or Sleeping Dogs, it can almost seem like the world is built around you – it's always waiting to see what you decide to do next, and alters itself appropriately. Meanwhile, with Grand Theft Auto V, you get the impression that Los Santos doesn't cease to exist when you turn your console off, and it's a testament to the studio's masterful world design that whether you're running around as Michael, Trevor, or Franklin, you'll feel like things aren't operating directly around you – you're just another cog in the machine.
It helps, then, that the additional power of the PS4 is put to good use. The draw distance is superb, and at night, the city looks gorgeous as lights are reflected in each and every vehicle that passes by. Even the wilderness is vastly superior to the PS3's rather barren environments due to a ton of added detail. Busy inner city areas are now packed with activity, and out in the dusty desert, things aren't as quiet thanks to a significant increase in wildlife, and, if you go and look for them, distressingly weird country folk. But it's not just about how much more stuff is crammed into each area, or how much better it all looks – it's about how the game uses its new assets.
The PS3 version of the release was already impressively dynamic, but here, things are really taken to the next level. You'll witness traffic jams, road rage incidents, brawls between pedestrians who just happen to bump into each other, couples having embarrassing feuds outside of bars, and dozens of other events that seem to appear out of nowhere as you go about your business. Somehow, Rockstar has managed to make a game where people watching is a genuinely entertaining pastime, and unlike in Assassin's Creed Unity, that's not because they're busy being birthed from the ground.
If you're not into watching computer controlled people, though, you can always take your crime spree online, where you're bound to see more madness in five minutes than Michael's seen over the course of his entire bank robbing career. Grand Theft Auto Online is an ambitious addition to an already massive title, but it's here that many will no doubt find the most fun once they're done with the single player offering – especially when you gang up with a few friends and make Los Santos your own.
The multiplayer component was relatively bare bones when it originally launched, but the developer's added a heck of a lot since, and the PS4 version of the release comes with all of the goodies ready and waiting. From competitive shootouts and races to some entertaining co-op missions, the map is covered in things to do with your inevitably ugly looking avatar, and once you've saved up enough bloodied dosh, there's a huge amount of stuff to buy, from snazzy suits, to shiny new armaments, cars, and even a whole new apartment complete with a majestic view. Of course, one of the real draws of this online offering is the ability to do really stupid things with your friends, and it's these crazy moments that the DualShock 4's share button was made for.
It comes as no surprise that Grand Theft Auto V on the PS4 is the same great game that millions of us have already played, but thoughtful additions, both big and small, mean that it's easily the definitive edition of Rockstar's stellar creation. Los Santos feels more alive than ever, and whether you're a frequent visitor or not, we'd recommend booking a seat on the next-gen flight if you haven't already.