Game review: Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox Series X)
For the umpteenth time since the game's original launch back in September 2013, I find myself playing another polished-up version of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V.
Not that I'm complaining, as GTA V remains one of my favourite games, even if I have played it on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and now Xbox Series X. Yes, the crime blockbuster and its ever-involving online companion game have been polished up for another generation of consoles.
It's a bit weird, though, expecting punters to shell out for the game, again. The last-gen versions of GTA V can already be played on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S via the consoles' backward compatibility, and look very nice.
For the uninitiated, the first game, Grand Theft Auto, was a highly controversial top-down shooting and driving game released on PC and the original PlayStation in late 1997. The franchise was reinvented with 2001's Grand Theft Auto 3, becoming a 3D open-world game. GTA 3 would have two spin-offs adding a thinly veiled Miami (Vice City) and L.A. (San Andreas) to the main game's New York (Liberty City). In 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV revamped the franchise again, returning to a rebooted Liberty City, with overhauled visuals. Grand Theft Auto V is set in the same rebooted universe as the fourth game, and even includes the unceremonious death of a character featured in one of GTA IV's DLC expansions.
Grand Theft Auto V follows the criminal misadventures of retired career bank robber, Michael De Santa, up-and-coming gangster, Franklin Clinton, and violent psychopath, Trevor Philips. When Michael accidentally gets himself indebted to drug lord, Martin Madrazo, he enlists the help of Franklin and Trevor, as well as behind-the-scenes tech genius Lester Crest, to carry out a daring heist.
Along the way, Michael has to deal with his dysfunctional family, Franklin his endearing but wayward friend Breer, and Trevor his inner demons. There are also loads of side missions that involve parachuting, stealing cars, and general misdemeanours. It's a big game with lots to do.
For the first time in a GTA game, players get to switch between the three main characters, each with their own special abilities and missions. It's very similar to the way GTA IV's story interconnects with Niko Bellic and the protagonists of the game's two DLC packs, Luis Lopez and Johnny Klebitz, except with GTA V it's all bundled in the same game, this time.
Grand Theft Auto V offers players an epic plot that's full of humour (both dark and laugh-out-loud) set in an amazing living world. The voice acting and characterisation are incredible. It's an absolute testament to the developers that gameplay almost a decade old can still stand up against recent games. The cars handle well and the cover system for the shootouts works really well.
The missions are impeccably scripted and guide the player through the game. Each character usually has several missions that they can choose from by visiting locations on the game map. There are still loads of other activities and side-missions on offer. I can spend hours just driving around and causing trouble.
Whereas GTA IV allowed players to take to the skies in helicopters, GTA V goes all the way allowing players to fly single-engine prop planes and jets across the vast landscape. San Andreas and its surroundings are massive. From Downtown to the hills of Vinewood, out into the wilderness, the game gives players a diverse and very interesting place to explore and live out their criminal fantasies.
The game is violent, sometimes almost gratuitously so. It gets very close to the line without crossing it, though. But Rockstar presents the game more as a scathing satire of modern society than just a brainless shooter.
Grand Theft Auto V is still just such a good game. Playing through it again, for what must be my fourth time, for this review, was not a chore at all. The game is still as polished as it was back in 2013.
As well as the main story campaign, the game comes with a freshened-up version of GTA V Online. If you've already got a console save, you can transfer it over to this new version via the Rockstar Social Club. If you have the time, GTA V Online offers a massive extension to the game, this time putting your character into San Andreas, teaming up/fighting with other real players carrying out co-op heists, or even just taking on mission by yourself. It's not surprising it's so popular, and likely the catalyst for this new updated version of GTA V.
For this new release, we get yet another visual overhaul. I remember the game looking great on the Xbox 360, very much a step up from the visuals of GTA IV. The release on Xbox One/PlayStation 4 further refined the game's look increasing draw distance and overall clarity.
On Xbox Series X, Grand Theft Auto V gets polished up to an even brighter shine, even beyond that of the current PC version. I immediately noticed the lack of any flickering textures or pixelization of objects in the distance. The visuals are now ultra-crisp, in a manner that's more like the game's promotional artwork and cover images than real-life, but still very nice.
We get the opportunity to choose from several different video settings: Performance, Fidelity, and Performance RT. Performance allows for a compromise in visual clarity to keep the frame rate up at 60 frames per second. Fidelity knocks the frame rate down to 30 frames per second but looks nicest. Performance RT again compromises some of the visuals but adds in ray-traced lighting. Performance RT I think does look the best. To be honest, on my Sony 36” 4K HDR screen, I could see no discernible drop in graphical quality with each of the performance modes. I did, however, appreciate the smooth framerate offered and the softer lighting of the Performance RT setting.
It is a shame that we are still having to compromise to get ray-tracing and faster frame rates. But this is more the fault of the console manufacturers and their partner, AMD, for not being quite there with the display technology.
So yes, this is the definitive version of the game, until the Xbox Series Z/PlayStation 6, or whatever they call them. If the PC version gets a polish up, then I can see top-end machines armed with Nvidia RTX GPUs walking all over this version, with 144Hz displays showing off some uncompromised ray-tracing. But for console gamers with an Xbox Series X|S or PlayStation5, this is Rockstar's masterpiece at its best.
Whether this new, improved version of Grand Theft Auto V warrants your cash investment depends on your past experience with the game.
If you've never played it before, you are in for a treat, jumping in on one of the best games ever made, looking even better than ever. If already played the Xbox 360/PS3/PS4/Xbox One version of the game, then it's a tricky decision. If you are heavily invested in GTA V Online this version allows you to continue with your misdeeds looking even better. If you loved the game in the past and are up for experiencing it, one more, this version will tick all your boxes.
Grand Theft Auto V, even after nearly ten years, can still hold its own against more recent titles. The game works on so many levels. It is at once a violent action game, as well as a self-deprecating satire of modern life and the video game genre in which it resides.
The remastered Grand Theft Auto V is available now on Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5. An Xbox Series X|S version of the game was provided by the publisher for review.