It’s staggering to think that GTA 5 got its start on the PlayStation 3. Even today, almost a decade since it first debuted, Los Santos feels more lived in than virtually any other open world. In fact, compared to its urban contemporaries, like Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City, it’s startling just how believable the Hollywood-inspired backdrop is. Stand in traffic and angry NPCs will stop, honk their horn, and plead with you to get out of the way. Some will curse at you, as they eventually attempt to steer around you, while others will be less kind and just drive through you as they seek to beat the morning rush.
A lot of what’s going on in GTA 5 is an illusion, but it all helps to build a sandbox you can embed yourself in. Take the short trip to Vespucci Beach, and you’ll find revellers sunbathing, playing volley ball, and jogging on the sidewalk; travel further east to Cypress Flats and the seaside setting is swapped for something more industrial. Los Santos may not be the biggest open world you can find on consoles these days, but few have character quite like it – the type of cars you see and the behaviour of people you encounter all depends on which district you’re in and what you’re getting up to.
Ten years of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor may have turned enthusiasts against Rockstar’s massively popular open world, but you can’t help but appreciate what the team achieved here. Spanning its third console generation, the PS5 port greatly improves the release’s image quality, bumping performance as high as 60 frames-per-second and the resolution up to native 4K. You’ll need to pick between refresh rate and raw image quality, but that’s your decision to make, and all of the available graphics configurations deliver smooth performance and dazzling visuals.
While PC players may be non-plussed by the improvements, those coming from the untouched PS4 version – which was still running in 1080p at 30fps, even via PS5 backwards compatibility – will be seeing Los Santos in a new light. Raytracing support, which resolves better shadow quality, and native HDR functionality provide the icing on the cake. It’s certainly showing its age in places – character models look ancient compared to modern titles like Horizon Forbidden West – but stand on the sidewalk of Vinewood Boulevard and few games are able to convey quite the same sense of place.
The single player campaign’s storyline is somewhat dated these days. The problem with parodying modern life is that the gags age quickly, and so while there are still belly laughs in the way big brands like Facebook are conveyed – known, pointedly, as Life Invader in Rockstar’s canon – some of the jokes will draw sharp intakes of breath as societal values change. It’s still fun seeing how the title’s trio of protagonists interact, and we love the way their stories intertwine and overlap – even down to the way character switching is handled, giving the impression they’ve been busy while you were away.
The flow of the gameplay is improved with the new uber-fast loading times, too – down to just six seconds – but the controls still feel terrible, with Rockstar doing nothing to modernise their overreliance on animations and stodgy acceleration. To be fair, the developer has put a ton of work into the DualSense specifically, with directional haptic feedback allowing you to physically feel when a car zooms past you or a bullet flings overhead. Even the subtlest of details, like rain and wind, are represented to awesome effect here.
But GTA Online, for all of its unparalleled strengths, is still a bit of a mess. A new menu screen, which allows you to jump directly to the title’s most popular activities, helps with the overall flow – but you’re still going to be at the mercy of hosts when lobbies populate, and without a good GTA Online guide to help get you started, you’re going to feel lost with all of the businesses and content available these days. New additions, like Short Trips, allow you to play brisk co-op stories with characters like Franklin and Lamar, but the mission design is lazy and the gameplay largely unbalanced.
Of course, there’s still nothing quite like this unique multiplayer experience, and when you’ve overcome the hurdle and have all your businesses intertwined and dovetailing, laundering virtual money can be a great time. The barrier for entry is high, though, and with so many bits-and-bobs bolted on over the past near-ten years, the whole thing could do with a top-to-bottom reset. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be playing GTA 6 any time soon.
GTA 5 is beginning to show its age, but it’s a testament to Rockstar’s original vision that Los Santos still stacks up. The improvements to image quality and framerate give this sunny sandbox a new lease of life, and while some of the single player gags may not hit as hard as they did in 2013, there are still plenty of memorable missions across the release’s 30 or so hour running-time. Meanwhile, GTA Online’s freeroaming multiplayer lobbies remain unmatched, and while newcomers may find the learning curve borderline impenetrable, if you can overcome its idiosyncrasies there’s nothing quite like the crime caper on offer here.