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Slick’s Nit-Picks: Grand Theft Auto V (2014)

The cover of GTA V, the grand theft auto game.
The cover of GTA V, the grand theft auto game.

Many fans of the GTA series, myself included, have played, beaten and moved on from Grand Theft Auto V since its initial release last year for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. At the time I wondered to myself why the launch of the game was not delayed until November to release versions for the (then) next-gen consoles. This was especially confusing considering the relationship Rockstar Games currently has with Sony. A Grand Theft Auto V PS3 bundle came out with the release of the game and people would have lost their minds if a PS4 launch bundle had come out instead. After the game’s launch, there were initial rumors that there were no plans to bring this game to the new consoles. I figured it was no big deal and that I would just have to wait for GTA VI to enjoy next-generation carnage. All rumor and doubt were dispelled at this year’s e3 when it was announced that GTA V would be coming not only to PC, but to PS4 and Xbox One as well. Everything from the previous version including all DLC would be available to the new version on day one of release. This was fantastic news but the big question was why previous players of the game would come back and buy the game again. The time has come to find out if ruling San Andreas again is worth another sixty of your dollars.

*If you have played through Story Mode or are familiar with the main story of Grand Theft Auto V, feel free to skip this section.
THE BIG SCORE, REVISITED The story revolves around three main characters, Franklin, Michael and Trevor. Trevor and Michael have history together, which you partially play out in the prologue/tutorial of the game. Franklin is a remnant of the once dominant Grove Street Families gang (a la GTA San Andreas) that is trying to rise above simple “hood life.” Ambition leads him from one mess to another, causing him to  have an unfriendly encounter with Michael. Recognizing Franklin's talent, the “retired” criminal mastermind takes Franklin under his wing and things start to go well for both of them until a big score draws the eyes of both the feds and Mike's old buddy Trevor. This is when the proverbial poop hits the fan, if it were a desk fan and the pooper were a T-Rex. The trio manage to piss off everybody you could possibly ever want to not piss off. Whether or not the story has a happy ending will be up to what you ultimately choose to do.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL The moment you gain control of Michael in the prologue, the game offers you the option to switch to first-person mode. All views are toggled by pressing the touchpad on the (PS4) controller. FP mode is very simple to use, but not necessarily easy to master.  Players will either love it or hate it because moving about on foot is simple enough but combat and driving or flying can take some getting used to. I am trying to get better at it myself, as completion of the trophy list calls for you to use FP mode for fifteen hours. Those who are used to playing FPS games will likely feel right at home with it. What everyone will at least appreciate is that the first-person view is not thrown in. Rockstar did everything possible to make use of the mode an additional experience for players. It will probably be most useful when the PC version comes out as those players will be able to use multiple monitors, but I definitely see value with the “in your face” factor this presents. I see a lot of animal attack YouTube videos coming in the near future. Let it be known that everything you previously experienced with a third person view has a first person perspective now, including picking up prostitutes. There seems to be some controversy over the up close and personal sex scenes that I am not understanding personally. First of all, the game is still rated mature so the exposure of children to this material is not something Rockstar intends. More importantly, the “graphic” sex shows you less than ten percent of what players experience during the Paparazzo mission “The Sex Tape.” Honestly, the blowjob scene from Grand Theft Auto Vice City and strip clubs from both that and this game are more detailed.
To give you an idea of just how different FP mode is over the traditional third person style of play, consider that Rockstar has added over three thousand different animations into the game just for weapon interaction; this is not counting animations for things like jumping over obstacles, driving or piloting vehicles and “extracurricular” activities. Players can also customize their first-person style by adjusting aim sensitivity and their field of view to make the game feel more like other FPS controls they have used. For persons like myself who control vehicles terribly in first-person, you can set the game where you will automatically be in FP mode while on foot and third person when driving/piloting. This is really something you have to see to get the feel of and while warfare in San Andreas may not be as advanced as other titles, players of more popular SBS games are likely to have a blast with this play style. As long as first-person mode remains optional, I welcome it to all future GTA titles.

IT’S THE SAME OL’…WHOA! I think Rockstar wants to trick players when they first start the game.  I have 50” 3D TV that looks fantastic, especially when the motion blur correction is active. For example, you can clearly see a difference in graphical detail when playing the PS3 version of Grand Theft Auto V on it versus my HDTV from 2008 (newer one is from ‘13). When playing the prologue with Michael and Trevor, you can immediately see an improvement in the detail of the graphics over the PS3 original, but it does not seem all that spectacular. Even with the PS3/PS4 comparison video that Rockstar released, my brain found itself not seeing a big difference. Fast Forward to the present when the credits are rolling and you get your first new look at Vespucci Beach and it starts to hit you as you see some of the new animals and see the water effects. Playing the “Franklin and Lamar” mission, I still didn’t get it and that could be because I was driving too fast, but I did notice that the aliens looked a lot better (confused? play the game). After finishing that mission, instead of progressing the story, I decided to explore. Veteran players may or may not remember that for some unknown reason, you can waltz right into N.O.O.S.E. HQ and never get a wanted level if you act normal. That is also the spot where you can always get a free Buzzard Attack Chopper. I hit the skies of San Andreas and that is when it really hit me: Rockstar went “Disney” on this game world. You can see many of the differences on the ground, but you need to get up in the air to really take it all in. Night falls and the moon makes everything shine. Everything from the water to the blades on the chopper start reflecting moonlight. Then there was the draw distance. In the air, You can see Fort Zancudo from the eastern side of the Senora Freeway (other side of the game map). you can see the lights of Los Santos International Airport from pretty much when you fly over the Vinewood sign. And looking at Los Santos from the air is really much more of an incredible sight. The only thing I disliked was the pop-up. As you move forward, the furthest parts of the screen just pop into view instead of slowly blending in. A small gripe, but worth mentioning. Everything is more detailed; as I was looking for free weapons I found that the bridges actually have small buildings at the top instead of being featureless and flat. The airport was amazing but I could not stay as it is restricted airspace. . . plus I kinda shot down a jet. The only thing I have yet to experience is the marine life. I held off on that because I am not in a rush to see how detailed the sharks and Orca are up close. To give PS4 owners a way to visualize, it is not quite Second Son’s Seattle, but it makes that area seem dead and boring by comparison. Also the water effects of this new San Andreas kick the crap out of those in inFAMOUS. For those who wish to get all technical and want to compare everything by numbers, Grand Theft Auto V (per Rockstar) runs at 1080p, 30fps on PS4 and Xbox One. 4K resolution will only be available on PC. Even the in-game  TV commercials have been upgraded to high definition.

LET’S GO ALL THE WAY Grand Theft Auto V had hours of combined music, talk radio and commercials when it released on September 17, 2013. I honestly doubt that anyone would have complained if Rockstar had just used the same music for the new version. On the other hand, they would not have wanted anyone being able to say they half-assed anything. The 2014 release of the game has over one hundred and fifty new songs added to the stations along with new talk radio segments (Dr. Ray De Angelo Harris is back!) for all to enjoy. A full tracklist is not available at this time, but I can tell you that there is something for everyone. The moment you hear “Let’s Go All the Way” by Sly Fox, you won’t be able to help thinking to yourself “that’s the song from the commercial!” and considering the age range of GTA players there will be many other songs that players recognize. The additional driving music is definitely welcome, but it seems we’ll be sitting on our hands waiting for a full soundtrack as Rockstar still has not announced anything of the sort. The only downside of the game’s music is that you can only enjoy all of it by playing the game. I am not complaining when I can cruise the Senora Freeway listening to Dr. Ray ramble on about cave paintings; that man is insane and fans are gonna love his new stuff.

ON LINE FOR ONLINE Fans bought Grand Theft Auto V because of the madness that was shown in story mode. It was the online community, however, that made the game what it is today. As such, Rockstar had to go harder than ever in bringing Grand Theft Auto Online to the PS4 and Xbox One. The original version allowed for sixteen players in a lobby and jobs allowed anywhere from one to sixteen players at a time, depending upon type. Now there can be up to thirty people in free roam as well as jobs and up to two additional people can spectate while a job is taking place. As an added incentive, veteran players can bring their PS3/360 online characters to their new version and it is not console specific. A 360 player can bring their character to the PS4 or (when it launches) PC. If you have a choice, just be sure of where you are sending your character because you can only do the transfer once, even though the character can continue to roam the streets of San Andreas in the last-gen lobbies. To keep even more good times rolling, the creator mode has been vastly improved as well, allowing double the prop placement limit and adding over 150 new props to the creator tools. With access to all Rockstar added content from the initial launch through now, the new version of GTA Online is sure to be the best one yet.
The above is all assuming that the online works. I am giving a pass because it is day one and server issues are understandable. I tried to enter a race earlier and it took about five minutes to start, the other racers appeared as ghosts and I showed in first place even though I clearly started after the others. And then the race just stopped, my car disappeared and I was back in first-person free roam. I could not leave first person mode and I could not start any other jobs or enter my safehouse. This was easily fixed with a quick restart, but I expect Rockstar to get things working sooner rather than later. As of November 19, the online is working much better and player interaction is a lot smoother. Expect the service to keep getting better.

I have to say that I am truly impressed by the new version of Grand Theft Auto V. Graphically, it is not pushing the power of either the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One, but it is a big improvement over the original visuals which were already very nice to look at. The attention to detail even puts some better looking games to shame. I can only hope that this level of quality and commitment goes into the inevitable Grand Theft Auto VI. However, I do not want people to think that this game is perfect. For all the praise and adoration I have for this remastering of Grand Theft Auto V, the truth is that Rockstar made the game extra shiny to somewhat obscure the fact that it is essentially the same game many purchased in 2013. No attempt was made to add San Fierro or Las Venturas, areas that fans will remember from their first adventure in San Andreas. First person mode furthers that illusion by adding a new experience to the game and no one can take that away from Rockstar, but it is still the exact same game. There are additional side missions, more animals looking to chow down on you, and the traffic density has been improved both on the ground and in the sky to give a more realistic California feel. Regardless, the story is the same unless Rockstar adds new chapters to it via DLC (which are unlikely to be free). The first person mode is something that all players should try and decide for themselves if they want to adopt, but there should have been a demo on the consoles allowing potential players to do that. As a game, the “new” Grand Theft Auto V gets top marks across the board, but purchasing it at full retail is an iffy situation. If you have never played the game before and have a PlayStation 4, Xbox One or high end gaming PC (and you can wait til late January), then you should run, not walk to your local store and buy the game. As a sandbox-style adventure, they do not come any better than this game. If you are a hardcore fan of GTA V and want to upgrade your story and online experience then you have to ask yourself a few questions. Consider how much you have progressed in the online mode and ask yourself if you want to play story mode all over again. Also consider that you paid anywhere from sixty to over one hundred and fifty dollars last year depending upon which version you bought. If you don’t mind paying again the absolutely go for it. I personally would recommend looking for deals which will not be hard to find considering Black Friday comes is next week. Even if it is not the newest edition, everyone should be playing this game.