The profusion of new-gen remasters and ports has changed the gaming conversation. ‘What did they add?’ ‘What’s different in this one?’ I’ve fielded these and similar questions about Grand Theft Auto V on PS4 in the last couple weeks, and I’ve always found my answer to be insufficient. That’s because first-person mode, the most obvious change to one of PS3’s greatest games, changes the game in ways that words inadequately describe. I’ll do my best in this review, but suffice it to say Grand Theft Auto V is the best PS4 game yet and deserves the highest recommendation for San Andreas veterans and newcomers alike.
That Grand Theft Auto V begins in first-person mode, as if its iconic opening heist was always designed for that perspective, is a testament to its implementation. The first-person perspective is smoothly implemented at every operational level of the game. Textures and animations support close-ups on NPCs and small environmental details, most or all of which have seen visual upgrades to accommodate the perspective. The weightiness we've come to expect from modern Grand Theft Auto games translates perfectly; Michael, Franklin, and Trevor can't pivot on a dime, but there's enough acrobatic mobility to make each character effective, not cumbersome, in a frantic firefight. The small details immersed me completely. As my perspective bobbed, rolled, and soared with my character, an intense involvement produced all kinds of feelings unique to the franchise. I felt anxious as I sprinted into an alley to evade the cops—it was only a three-star pursuit, but without a pulled-out camera, I had to look up, down, and around to find an exit or a wall low enough to climb. Climbing those walls and hopping down from raised heights, my view inverted with Michael's shock-absorbing roll, disorienting me and ratcheting the intensity of the chase.
When you can't move and act with omnipotent knowledge and grace, every action is more meaningful. The results are less predictable. Your awareness, critical thinking, and reflexes are tested with greater vigor. The city, and your presence in it, feel more alive and dangerous.
The perspective also made my actions more affecting. I cringed reflexively at my first gas station robbery—I was role-playing the hardened criminal, killing the cashier who might report my face to the police. For several seconds, I couldn't shoot. It took genuine willpower to remind myself this was only a game—that my shooting doesn't say I endorse or am capable of the same behavior in the real world. Finally I shot (perhaps to confirm my defense), and it was only the sound of police sirens that snapped me out of my reflection.
Another moment stands out to me as a perfect example of how emotionally involved the first-person experience can be. While racing through Los Santos, I collided head-on with another vehicle. Experienced Grand Theft Auto players will know what tends to happen next: Michael was flung through the car's windshield and flew across an intersection before colliding, face-first, with pavement and tumbling to a stop. The whole experience, seen through Michael's eyes and exactly matching his body's ragdoll physics, closely resembled the time I broke my wrist snowboarding. A horizontal flight where all you can see is ground approaching, the helpless eternity you spend watching ground that doesn't seem to get any closer until it suddenly breaks you, the confused frenzy of images you can't begin to make sense of until the tumbling stops... I have flown through the air, and Grand Theft Auto V took me back to that moment.