Last year, we reviewed Grand Theft Auto V for Xbox 360 and walked away all kinds of impressed. We thought the game’s only real weakness - the only thing holding it back from a perfect score - was that it was a current-gen game with next-gen ambitions, which resulted in minor technical complications that could occasionally detract from what we think is one of the best open world games of all time. In fact, it would probably be top dog if Red Dead Redemption didn’t exist. Now that the latest and greatest game machines have replaced the hardware of yesteryear, developer Rockstar North have decided to bring their magnum opus to a new generation with visual upgrades, a first-person mode, and plenty of other meaningful additions. Long story short, it's fantastic.
There’s no point spending a ton of time discussing what makes GTA V so exceptional, because we’ve already gone over those details. We will say that t says a lot about a game when we’re so eager to replay its 30+ hour campaign in the middle of a very busy holiday release schedule. If you’re not catching onto what we’re saying, let’s make it clearer: GTA V is a phenomenal game, and none of what makes it so special has been undone in this re-release. In fact, we’re happy to announce that the changes and additions have made it better than ever. Let’s break down why that is.
First off, there's been a lot of work done to ensure that GTA V isn't merely a last-gen game ported to current-gen hardware. The visual upgrades are impressive and are often so convincingly new-gen that we often forgot we were playing a game that originally released for the Xbox 360. Textures are more detailed and prominent, foliage has been given more realistic attributes and is denser than before, and perhaps the most effective change is the dynamic lighting and reflective surfaces that provide the world with a greater sense of depth and vitality than before. We had a concern that these upgrades might cause the technical problems that were present in the 360 version to exist here as well, but thankfully, outside of the occasional case of slow-to-load textures and environmental decor, performance is very, very smooth. In certain areas you can still see the engine rendering the smaller details in the distance, but this never once imposed on gameplay in any way. And if it's the price we have to pay to forgo loading times of any kind (seriously, outside of a lengthy initial load, there are zero loading screens), so be it.
Perhaps the most significant additive present, especially for those considering a reinvestment in a game they played last year, is first-person mode. Now, with the simple tap of a button, players can leave third-person view whenever they want to see Los Santos or Blaine County from the eyes of the three playable characters. Not only does this alter the perspective of the world and immerse you into your role more than ever, it also changes up the mechanics when it comes to gunplay. The shooting mechanics aren't as precise and reliable as they are in the industry's biggest FPS titles, but after getting acclimated to the quirks, we didn't want to participate in shoot-ups or shakedowns any other way.
While driving in first person provides a much more satisfying view of the intricately-designed storefronts and breathtaking views, it's not necessarily the most ideal for being aware of the cross traffic when running red lights (which, admit it, we all do in GTA). For the most part, we managed just fine and learned how to zip through the most congested of circumstances with only minor dings on our ride, but the fact remains that the third-person view deals a more encompassing view of the surroundings. More than anything, though, it comes down to personal preference, and Rockstar has allowed for customization options that grant players with the choice to select which perspective they prefer for each style of gameplay. If you like to drive around in third person but think first person is more suitable for your gun-handling needs, you can make those changes in the settings. From aim assists, to choice of reticle, to allowing head bobbing while running, there are plenty of options available to let you experience GTA V how you want.
In regards to the soundtrack, which was already stellar, Rockstar has spread 150 new songs throughout the various radio stations of San Andreas, and there's even additional commentary present. The selection of music blends in seamlessly with the pre-existing lot, with plenty of universally-known tracks like "Take Me Home Tonight" by Eddie Money and "I Want It That Way" by The Backstreet Boys that serve to make memorable moments all the more memorable — there's nothing quite like fleeing a gas station robbery at night with "Black Velvet" purring from the car stereo. The fact that the developer put money into spicing up a soundtrack that didn't really need anything more is a prime example of the care and consideration lavished on freshening up GTA V for returning players.
With all the aforementioned improvements, replaying the story mode has been an utter pleasure for us. Between the larger-than-life action sequences and the evolving narrative that spans three rather different characters, it's easy to become so absorbed in this staggering open world that you can lose track of the real one that actually surrounds you. What's even more impressive is how the smallest details are the ones we appreciate the most, because they're what gives this virtual space its sense of life. Thanks to all of the upgrades and alterations made here, and there are many, there's no question that this is the definitive way to play the gripping crime drama that's enclosed within.
Not only does GTA V feature an incredibly ambitious story mode that succeeds on practically every level, it has an equally ambitious multiplayer offering as well. When the Xbox 360 version launched last year, it didn't launch with GTA Online. For that reason, we weren't able to review it. This time around, GTA Online is ready to go right off the bat, and it's pretty great. How it works is very similar to solo play, expect this time you can navigate the entire map with up to 30 online players moving about. Playing as a custom character, your job is to succeed at being a criminal in order to upgrade vehicles, own better properties, and invest yourself in a seemingly living and breathing world. Whether you decide to team up with other people to form a crew, or go it alone, there's a lot of fun to be had here.
Activities range from street races, robberies, PvP modes and so on, with heists said to be coming soon. Most of these jobs take place in the open world, with other players going about their own business, which can make circumstances very interesting. Driving past a shootout between cops and human players, or seeing helicopters trail players through the mountains in the distance is an incredibly surreal experience. Even when the actions of others don't directly affect you, they help to bring this world to life in a pretty spectacular way. However, dealing with players that navigate the city strictly to cause hell and annoy everyone is a major downside. This is no different than dealing with immature players in any other online multiplayer game, but it's still a major headache when it does occur. Thankfully there's an option that allows you to enter passive mode, which is for those times that you want do your thing and sight-see without anyone else getting in the way.
Performance-wise, GTA Online has been very smooth for us. Not since the introductory sequence with Lamar have we experienced any frame-rate or slowdown hiccups, and even though the rendering of the environmental details appears to be slightly slower than it is in single player, it's been nothing more than minor visual blemishes. We did deal with a couple disconnects from the server, which occurred while trying to get into PvP matches, but these were isolated.
There's a ton to do in GTA Online if you're interested in putting the time in...a lot of time. The mode hasn't quite reached its full potential yet, but it's nearly there — the introduction of heists could be what takes things to the next level. The story mode easily warrants a perfect score as it's truly a genre-defining experience, and GTA Online just serves to add even more value to a game that already offers 30+ hours of entertainment without it. The question many of you are likely asking yourselves, is whether this upgraded version of something you played last year is worth the reinvestment. We think, if you're interested in revisiting Los Santos, it absolutely is. It should be obvious from this review alone that Rockstar spared no expense reinvigorating an already phenomenal package, and simply diving back into this familiar world from a first-person perspective is something we'd highly recommend. And if you're one of the few people that missed out last year, then don't hesitate to buy GTA V for your Xbox One immediately.
Rockstar North has gone above and beyond to transplant Grand Theft Auto V from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, and their efforts pay off in a big way. Thanks to a long list of additions and improvements, what was already a genre-defining masterpiece has been lifted to all new heights, proving that such an epic vision feels more at parity with the current wave of hardware than it did with the last. It doesn't matter if it's your first time visiting Los Santos or if you're thinking of booking a return flight, we give GTA V our highest recommendation. This is simply a marvelous game.