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It’s a remaster alright, but the problems of the original remains

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    Grand Theft Auto V

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    It’s a remaster alright, but the problems of the original remains

    Early on in the life of the PS4, the console had some struggles with actually feeling worth the money for many people; the step wasn’t as big as when 2D went to 3D, or when SD went to HD. When the PS4 released, GTAV had been released on the prior generation consoles just two months earlier, and with an early lineup made out of yearly sequels, remasters and Knack it’s no wonder the console had problems lifting off. For some reason consoles nowadays doesn’t come with a system seller out of the box like they used to do, like the SNES which had Super Mario World or Wipeout for the original Playstation. So many were a bit surprised that with the new generation so close by, that Rockstar actually decided to release GTAV for the old consoles instead of making a slighly better version for the newer ones – it would’ve been a system seller, and while it wouldn’t matter too much for Rockstar it’s a bit strange neither Sony or Microsoft offered them money to do it. While the PS4 took a while to regain itself – it was only during 2016 it started blooming out with good AAA titles and also low-print indie games – it still managed to get a GTA release about a year into the consoles life. It didn’t become that much of a system seller considering how it wasn’t a new game, but it’s a nice addition to have to the game library nontheless. But for both old and new players, let’s get into the detail on what the appeal with GTAV is – and if there even is one.

    Graphics

    Even though the graphics has only been a bit improved, it’s still hard not to be a bit amazed by this level of detail in an open-world game. Usually games taking place in more confined spaces can squeeze out some really nice graphics, but being able to get looks this neat by just remastering an old-generation game is really impressive. In addition to just increasing the resolution of the textures the remaster people also added a lot of other small details to the game, like more particle effects and increased foilage in forest areas – small stuff that doesn’t matter TOO much but helps making the world feel a bit more lifelike. Each area in the game feels like it has a unique look, and considering how the game is stretched out across two counties, containing one big city, a few smaller villages, forests, a desert, a mountain and everything in between, then it’s also easy to forgive the times when it’s not perfect and you can see that those foilage additions are just in 2D if you look closely enough. The overall environment design is very impressive too; nothing really feels rehashed and each area or street feels like it has its own stuff to make them stand apart from each other; even things that would’ve been really easy to rehash without anyone noticing, like cracks in the road, has been individually modelled.

    The character design and motion capture is pretty good too. Just as in the case described above, sure, it isn’t as good as in games that are really focused on making that one of the selling points, but for a game that’s so much about other things it’s really good enough. All the main characters has really nice mocap and animations; stealing a car really shows you smashing the window, opening the lock from the inside, open the door and then jumping in. While it’s been that way in GTA for quite a while it feels like GTAV is the first where it really feels evolved. Apart from the main characters, the random pedestrians scattered around the city and other areas also come in a huge variety of body shapes and looks; hobos, hikers, yuppies, hipsters – it’s just nice to see. Then there’s the looks of all vehicles; while the PS3 version had some pretty nice details like sunlight reflection and damages showing, the newer version really puts it to shame with how much more detailed it is. Also if you drive them into a Los Santos Customs you can buy new colors and other mods; rims, tire smoke, and you can even go from normal lights to xenon and it really has a visible effect! However the most impressive things are all the colors; not only can you choose between the actual color, but also the type of varnish to be used – metallic, matte, pearlescent, and even some type of chrome-like coatings. While it’s not something you really realize when you speed down a sidewalk at 80 miles per hour, if you stop and think about it for a second it’s really obvious how much the developers cared for the cars, and how they could improve the remaster in the best ways without redoing the whole game.

    One of the biggest additions to the PS4 version of GTA5, at least if going by the hyping of it before it was released, that it’s now possible to play the game in a proper first person mode all the time. Not only a hood camera when driving, or when sniping or using the camera, or the odd first person view you used to get when standing still for a while, no but instead a real proper first person mode. It’s really neat how they added highly detailed inside textures to all cars, and how things like the speedometer really works, and it certainly gives some of the more shooting-heavy missions a very FPS-like feel. However while it’s really fun to see GTA from a new perspective, it also has some problems since some things get really difficult; your field of view gets much more narrow, and since the game isn’t originally meant to be played that way it gets harder to spot enemies, you often risk crashing in traffic since you can’t swerve for cars coming from the left or right in an intersection if you run a red light and flying is really hard to do since it’s difficult to tell where things like the rotor blades or wings are so you runs a high risk of crashing into something you can’t see. The first person mode is definitely a neat addition, but the spectrum of how well it works in different situations is actually really wide, so while it’s fun to try out from time to time it’s not really something you’ll be able to have activated all throughout the game.

    Sound effects and music

    Grand Theft Auto has always had a pretty awesome approach to music in the games. Instead of having a soundtrack of ambient songs that plays randomly or heavily scripted action tracks during more explosive scenes, you’ve got a car radio. Each time you enter a car or other vehicle, you get to listen to what’s on the radio right at that moment. That whole thing has evolved, from just one or a few tracks per radio station (many which were in-house compositions even if they sounded like real songs) in the first game, to the 3D games which had a handful of radio stations looping hour-long tracklists with a lot of announcements, ads and talking in between. GTAV has about the double of that per station, many more stations and in this version along with later updates even more songs has been squeezed in. Now the thing is that obviously your own music taste really affects how good you think it is – but seeing as GTAV has a few rap stations, a rock station, a country station (which was really missing from GTAIV!), a hardcore rock station, a pop station, a few talk radio stations as well as many others it’d be surprising if you weren’t able to find something you’d like among these. The track choices are varied and nice, and to take the country station as an example it contains both really big hits like Highwayman by The Highwaymen and Convoy by C.W. McCall, to more odd songs by famous artists like General Lee by Johnny Cash to pure obscurities like She Made Toothpicks out Of the Timber of my Heart by Homer and Jethro. So even if you tune in to a radio station that has a music genre that you like, there’s a big chance you’ll end up finding and liking a song you’ve never heard or paid attention to before.

    The voice acting in the game is really good too; while the script itself might not always be the best, all of the actors really manages to deliver well on what’s there. While a few of the older GTA games used famous names for a few major characters and supporting roles (like Burt Reynolds was a mission giver in GTA Vice City) here it has returned to be more obscure actors who has mostly done small supporting roles or one-off TV show characters, which actually is a pretty good thing since it cements them more as the characters they are in THIS game rather than you thinking of them as Samuel L Jackson or Ray Liotta every time they open their mouth. Still it’s pretty nice to see that the guys portraying the main characters seems to have been thrown more into the light by their work in GTA5 and has now featured in some bigger stuff. When it comes to sound effects the game performs well too; engines and guns sounds like they should, maybe a bit action movie-esque from time to time but that just fits the game well.

    Story

    Now, unsurprisingly the story haven’t changed at all since the PS3 version, and while it’s understandable since it’s still the same game after all, it’s also a bit problematic since it’s without a doubt the biggest flaw the game has. While it isn’t too shabby compared to the PS2-era GTA’s which were – very quickly described – a revenge story, a mob story and a gang story, it’s after the great immigration-gone-wrong story of GTAIV with its added DLC featuring a lot of interesting characters and twists, and featuring satire so dark that Rolling Stones would like to use it to paint with that GTAV feels really shallow. Also worthy of a comparison is another Rockstar game – although developed by a different studio – Red Dead Redemption which is a bit more slow-moving to fit its wild west movie roots, but still manages to keep the interest up with a vastly diverse cast of characters that you also started to care a lot about.

    But for this game, all of that is gone. The game starts out nicely with a prologue set in 2004 in a desolate little rural town and an ongoing bank robbery. The heist itself goes according to plan, but during the escape the three robbers crash their car and when trying to escape by foot two of them are shot down while the third gets away. Cut to modern day Los Santos, a pastische of Los Angeles we’ve seen earlier in GTA and San Andreas, and we start playing as a totally different character; Franklin. A young ex-gang member guy who’s now trying to do an earnest living by "repossessing" cars for a local car dealer. This switchup might seem a bit disjointed, but it’s one of the key points of the game – the three-character system. After getting a bit into the story of the game, you’ll be able to unlock two of the bank robbers from before and switch between them and Franklin at pretty much any time you’d want to. The missions in the game is a blend of solo adventures for one character to bigger stuff where all three participate, but it makes the story feel a bit unfocused when you have to jump between the three different characters to play the game, and while some of the transition screens are funny it’s also a bit annoying – you don’t know in which part of the map you’ll end up before you’ve already switched, and in some cases you might automatically end up in the middle of a fight or police chase. The fact that they made it so that when you’re not playing as a character their "life still goes on in real time" is a bit annoying since while haircuts and facial hair you get stays the same, it’s totally pointless to pick an outfit out of the hundreds of available clothing items, since the characters tend to change outfits when you’re not playing as them. It’s really a case of when "realism" should have been substituted for player convenience.

    Let’s go back to the characters for a bit though. There’s a big problem with them and their personalities, and it’s the fact that they’re either extremely shallow or very cliche, or a mix of both. Starting off with Frankling he’s just a kid who grew up in the shadier part of town, lost his mother to drugs while still very young and is now living with his aunt after getting out from a shorter time in jail. After this prison visit he decided to end his life of petty crime and instead got a job of repossessing cars, which might be a better job than dealin’ or hustlin’, but still not exactly clean either since the his car salesman boss is a really shady type. Now even though Franklin has ended his gang days, it still feels pretty much that’s where he’s coming from – he talks like a gang member, pretty much acts like one and he goes along when one of his friends try to kidnap a member of a rival gang. Now not to say that a gang member character can’t be interesting, and while the "once I think I’m out they pull me back in"-thing has been done to death it’s a neat little internal conflict for a GTA character, which kinda ends in cognitive dissonance and that Franklin feels like he’s way too easy for others to push around. The next main character is Michael, one of the robbbers who got shot from the prologue, who is now living in a big mansion in the Vinewood Hills, the rich part of town. Now Michael has big potential to be an interesting character; he’s actually pretty haunted by the things he’s done and his destructive behaviour towards himself and his family, and in his first appearance after the prologue he’s talking to a phychiatrist in a very Tony Soprano-esque moment. Like Franklin, Michael wants to stay away from the life of crime and has actually succeeded, now living his rich but boring life in the hills, with his last dream of getting into the movie business feeling further and further out of reach for each passing day. Much of the problems doesn’t come so much from Michael himself but rather his family; the whole thing with Sopranos and the conflicts found there was how utterly human the characters felt. Here it’s instead a cliche-ridden trainwreck; the bored housewife who sleeps around with tennis coaches and yoga instructors, the naive teen daughter who wants to become famous no matter at what cost, and the lazy son who just sits in his room playing online videogames. It’s pretty obvious that GTA couldn’t work as a drama as Sopranos as it’s more satire when it comes to writing, but when so much of it is possible to predict before the lines are delivered or the events happen, it just loses momentum; there’s nothing in this setup to surprise you. As the final of the three main characters we’ve got Trevor. Oh boy have we got Trevor… Introduced a bit later than the other two characters, he just manages to bring forth hatred towards him from the first minute you see him. One of the first things he does is to kill off an actually interesting and complex character from a previous entry in the series, then it’s just an orgy of distaste and obscenities whenever he’s on screen. He’s meant to be counted as a comic relief character, and while he has some scenes when he’s genuinely funny (like when he’s trying to explain his past to a friend in the form of a fairy tale) most of the time he’ll just remind you that Rockstar didn’t grow up along with their fans, but instead tries to aim towards a target audience that’s a few years younger than the age rating on the game would suggest being suitable. Black comedy can be funny, really funny, but it has to be more than a random generator of swearing, raging, drugs and sex to work for anyone who’s not a teenager still in school; for the older gamers it’s just a depressing regression to see after the much more mature characters Rockstar managed to present to us in GTA4.

    A kind thing to say about the story in this game, however, is how well the missions fit together and what a good flow it has. Mixing up the characters means that there are fewer filler missions than in the earlier games, even if there still are some that feel like introductions to new gameplay elements. Sadly even though three main characters should be able to carry the story on their own there are still many moments when you feel like you’re just pushed around by other characters for one reason or another; while the missions themselves are usually more interesting the errand-boy type of structure found in earlier games still shines through a bit. But one really neat part is that there are many multi-part missions where a small string of missions will lead to something bigger – the most notable example being the heists where you get to do several small preparation missions before you can actually undertake the score. It helps the overall progression in the game to feel a lot more coherent instead of individual events. One pretty interesting move is that there are also scenarios where you’ll be locked out of using characters or entering areas due to what’s going on in the storyline; while this would’ve been an annoyance in many games here it works well together with the three-character system. Just swap to one not involved in those events, and you’re free to go in and out as you wish. So the story certainly has its ups and downs; the character swapping might lead you to annoying side events or setting you in the middle of nowhere, the characters themselves are annoying, but the mission progression even with its faults is probably the best in the series.

    Controls

    While there are a few different control schemes available for you if you want to customize your experience, all that’s mentioned here is based on the default one. Basically, there are two different control layouts used in GTA 5, and that’s one for when you’re on foot and one for when you’re driving. While there are an almost insane amount of vehicles available in the game, the general controls for them are in most cases the same, the biggest difference is for weaponized and other special-case vehicles having some of their extra stuff assigned to X, the D-pad or the shoulder buttons. But let’s start off with the on-foot controls.

    The control sticks are, as usual in games like this, used to control the character with the left one and the camera with the right one. The D-pad is used to get your smartphone out with a press up, and then you navigate the menus with it. Down lets you zoom out the GPS map in the lower left corner if you tap it, and if you hold it you’ll bring up the character switching quick menu. The face buttons are used for several different things depending on what you’re currently doing – with X you accept in menus (like the phone and when paused), hold it to jog, tap it to run, use it in shops like Ammu-Nation to check their wares. The Circle button is used to cancel in menus, reload the weapon you’re currently holding or if your hands are empty to throw out a random jab. Square is used for jumping or dodging when you’re in combat, and Triangle is used for the tradition GTA move of hijacking or breaking into a car to steal it. All of the shoulder buttons are used for weapon controls – with L1 you bring up the "weapon wheel", a direct transfer from Red Dead Redemption that makes it quick and easy to change weapons without clunky menu navigation, and with R1 you duck behind cover. Holding L2 will cause the player to peek out from cover and take aim, or just take aim if not in cover, so you’ll get the aiming dot on screen, and R2 is used to shoot. A press of L3 will cause the player to go into sneak mode; while only useful in a handful of cases and missions it’s still nice to have it there to be able to knock out unsuspecting victims quick and easily. Also, pressing both L3 and R3 at the same time when your special bar isn’t empty will activate the characters special modes; Michael gets a bullet time effect not totally unlike Dead Eye in combat, Trevor rages to get nearly invincible and deal a lot of damage, and Franklin can slow down time and increase control when driving.

    Moving over to vehiclular controls, the shoulder buttons now take on a totally new role. This is the first GTA game that really forces you to play with it, but since the R2 and L2 buttons are the only analogue ones on the PS4 it just feels natural to use them as accelerator and brake pedals respectively. The sticks are still used to control the car and the camera, but the D-pad gets a few new functions. While up still summons the phone (while not recommended in real life, driving while texting might be the least illegal thing you’ll do in this game!) and down takes you to the character selection left and right actually has some use – left is used to change the radio station, and you can either hold it to bring up a "radio station wheel" similar to the weapons one, or you can just tap it go through the stations one by one. Right is used to change the headlights setting on the car; no lights on, dipped headlights or full headlights are what you can choose from, and if you’re in a convertible you can hold it when stationary to pull the top up or down. For most cars, X and R1 will have the same function, and that is to pull the handbrake to make sharp drifting turns, however some vehicles that’s been added in later updates has sacrificed this use of X for other things like folding wings, activating hover modes or opening parachutes. The rest of the face buttons are used for getting out of the car with Triangle, selecting a weapon that you can fire or throw from a vehicle with Square and changing to a cinematic camera mode with Circle. The other camera modes are selected with a tap on the touchpad, and that can be done both on foot and when in a vehicle. The only remaining button for car controls, L1, is used to shoot from vehicles. It’s a bit difficult to actually hit what you’re after on the first try, seeing as auto aim is always turned off when you’re in a car, and you need to aim at the same time as the gun automatically fires. So it’s a bit difficult to aim, but it’s not a given that separate aim and shoot buttons would’ve been better as that could’ve been too much to keep track of and might distract too much from the actual driving of the vehicle.

    Controls for flying objects work in a similar manner. The L1 and R1 buttons are used for turning the rudders instead, which lets you turn the plane (albeit slowly) without tilting it too much; seeing as how your plane is always centered on the screen with the belly towards the bottom edge it means that maneuvers like vertical loops and inverted flying can make you really dizzy if you wave around too much. Helicopters tend to keep on the right side up though (if not, something has gone horribly wrong – please consult the instruction manual), and while L1 and R1 are used for turning here too, the L2 and R2 buttons are used not to accelerate forward but rather give more or less power to the rotor engine so that you’ll climb or descend. For going forward in a helicopter, you need to do as in real life and tilt it forward. Other than these, there are also other forms of transportation like parachutes and bikes, but those are just side stuff and the ones worthy of mentioning are the ones we’ve just been through.

    The thing with having such complex and differing controls not only for one part of the game but for the two distinct "modes" of the game is that it’ll take some time to learn. From the start, at least if you haven’t played the game on PS3 and is more of an old-school GTA veteran used to the X-to-accelerate type of controls, it might take a bit of time getting used to it. The gun usage is a bit odd too; having L1 to fire when in a car when it’s used to select a weapon on foot is a bit confusing, and even after 50 hours of playtime mistakes due to the two vastly different controller setups can happen once in a while. But other than being a bit inconsistent between situations and therefore a bit hard to learn, the controls are actually very good and responsive. The difficulties that can be with controlling stuff like water vehicles or helicopters doesn’t come from a problem with the controls themselves, but rather that those kinds of vehicles ARE difficult to control due to outside forces like waves or turbulence.

    Gameplay

    Now anyone who has ever played a GTA game before will recognize the formula. You’ve got an open game world, in this case consisting of a city and a countryside (and unlike previous entries in the series every part of the map is unlocked from the beginning) where there’s people; people driving cars, people walking on the sidewalks, people who you can interact with in a number of ways – take their car and use it yourself, run them down, punch them, blow them up. But that’s just for fun, and they’re mostly there to make the game world feel more alive, since way more interesting that just causing havoc with random people you have the important people, which are the protagonists and whoever they learn to know across the course of the game. In order to progress forward through the story, almost always you have to go to certain "activators" that are marked on your map (accessed from the pause menu, a small radar/GPS is also available in the bottom left of the screen) to get to do missions. These are extremely varied, but the most basic of them involve driving, shooting or a combination of thereof. The missions, not only in story as mentioned but also in gameplay, are actually a bit better balanced than they were in the old games; there you started with very short and basic missions then the long ones came all at once towards the end of the game. In GTAV the missions instead have a very varying degree of difficulty and length; like the heist preparation missions which usually lasts only a minute or two as you fetch a specific car or gather information, while the heists themselves will take up towards 20 minutes to complete. Thankfully, this is the first GTA game to have a checkpoint system, so if you fail a mission part you can just press X on the death screen to get another shot at it without having to redo that much (especially the long driving sections many missions have as intro are really nice to get rid of). What’s a stranger decision though, is that if you fail the same stretch of a mission three times in a row you get the option to skip that entire section of that mission. Now there’s surely some people who can appreciate it, but what is gaming about more than feeling like you actually accomplished something when you beat a tough section? Especially since the people playing this SHOULD be old to not give up immediately but instead know that rewards (ie story progression) comes after hardships. Strangely enough games like this have no problem including features like this but kids games can have really difficult sections for the young ‘uns with no solution like this.

    The missions have one more update that haven’t been in a full GTA game before, but was introduced in the final GTAIV DLC "The Ballad of Gay Tony", and that’s the mission requirements. For each mission, after you’ve completed it you’re presented with a checklist of how well you performed some goals that Rockstar pre-chose for you and you’ll be rewarded with a bronze, silver or gold medal depending on how many you managed to check off. Several missions have similar kind of basic goals, like doing a speedrun, getting a set number of headshots or just having good aim percentage, but some have goals that are truly unique to that specific missions ("Punch out the event coordinator", "Run over the actor") and the amount of challenges can range from one to five. This is something that was pretty common in mission-based games like this around the time of release – Assassin’s Creed had it too during the mid-to-late PS3 era, but the question is if big games like these really need that kind of replayability to prolong the play time. Getting the possibility to replay missions without having to replay the game or do some save management is nice, but having to do them several times, like one time focusing on speed, one on accuracy, just feels unnecessary, especially as there’s no real reward at all for completing the missions with gold medals – a trophy is awarded for getting 70 gold medals out of the 114 available in the game, but that’s all you get. Also a somewhat annoying thing with them (though kinda understandable due to spoilers) is that you won’t know what you were supposed to do until after you’ve finished the mission the first time – meaning that sometimes you’ll have to replay a mission to do something really easy just because you didn’t know you were supposed to do it. How mission replays work is also a bit annoying; you can easily access them from the pause menu, and when you do a save state of your exact location will be made so you’ll be back there when you finish the replay (same type of save as if you choose "Quick save" from the phone menu). The mission will start up quickly, however if you finish it or die and choose to not continue from the last checkpoint the game will start loading the save – and the game itself. It’s not as slow as when booting the game, but it still is quite the waiting time. It would’ve just been a nice feature to have to be able to fully restart a mission from the pause menu or when you die; many challenges are voided if you restart from a checkpoint, and also if you finish a mission without fulfilling all of the requirements it would’ve been nice to be able to do an instant replay of it without having to go back to the normal open world save.

    In addition to the storyline and its big and small missions there is also a huge amount of extra content to keep you busy in the game. While some of the side missions, in the game nicely enough called "Strangers and Freaks", are just like the main missions when it comes to getting graded with a medal and having objectives, there are even smaller mini-missions than that. These are the random evens, something that turned up in Red Dead Redemption and is now introduced to the GTA series; it’s random things that pop up when you’re exploring the city or countryside, like giving a hichhiker a lift, killing an escaping thief to get back a stolen handbag or do a spur-of-the-moment robbery of an armored car transporting valuables. This helps the city feel more alive, and often it’s a fun distraction when it happens, though it can also be a bit annoying if you were going somewhere to suddenly be involved in something completely different. There are also various sports activities you can participate in, them being golf, dart and tennis. Darts is pretty fun to play a few rounds, but it’s pretty easy to get a hang of and get really quick checkouts every set, so you probably won’t stay around too much. Golf is pretty fun too, and even though there’s just one 9-hole course available it can still be fun to go for a couple of rounds, and it actually is pretty advanced reminding much of how it feels in pure golf videogames. Tennis though is just one big sluggish chore; just getting through one set of it will test your patience, as it just goes on and on and on and you won’t really feel like that much is happening. More of it will play out in animations of "resetting" after one of the players miss the ball and the other gets a point than you’ll spend time actually playing it.

    Of course, since it’s a GTA game you’ll also have a chance to pick up your old hobby "get the police on your tail then try to get away". This can happen as scripted parts of many missions, but those chases are usually pretty well-directed, but if you do something illegal when just running around in the city the polic

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