HD remakes. The word does leave a certain taste in the mouth doesn't it? On the one hand you have tragic failures such as Silent Hill 2 HD and the Age of Empires remake, games that have ruined the names of their respective franchises, and on the other you have fantastic re-releases of games such as Shadow of the Colossus and Halo: Combat Evolved, which worked as a sharp reminder of the quality of the original experience. GTAV was only just released a little over a year ago to sales totalling more than 30 million copies and monumental critical fanfare, all with good reason. The story didn't end there, as during E3, Rockstar announced that GTAV would go through a graphical upscaling and would subsequently be released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at full retail price.
We're quite tired, as we arrive from the airport at Rockstar's offices on Kings Road in London. Here, the mythical studio has shrouded themselves in the veil of anonymity, and it is here that we'll finally get to see whether GTAV's new-gen beauty can transcend the reservations that gamers have when it comes to HD re-releases.
We look out over Los Santos from my viewpoint in Vinewood Hills. The little flickering lights from the traffic down on Vinewood Boulevard, is reflected on the grey clouds in the sky. We turn around, and make our way through the foliage, until we stand at a small but extremely busy road, snaking itself down through the mountains towards the center of the city. A small rest stop is the only thing in sight. Apart from the tuned sportscar with sharp orange neon underbody lighting, that is so blatantly waiting for us at the side of the road. With a quick and brutal grip the door is unlocked, and just seconds later, the entire area of Vinewood Hills is vibrating to the sound of my V8. It's far past the bedtime of the rich and famous so my headlights are the only source of light in the otherwise pitchblack streets. We turn on the radio, and listen to Cara Delevigne's soothing voice, as Vinewood Boulevard's iconic lights dance over my shining bonnet. A thundering howl bellows from the sky, and the rain comes swiftly and brutally shortly thereafter. Little puddles quickly form on the road, and the pedestrians either speed up or pull the hoods of their coats up to protect themselves against the elements.
My session with GTA V is flying by, because it's difficult to not be captivated by the staggering beauty of the new-gen version. The entire experience is now presented in 1080p with a locked 30 frames per second (and that's the same across both consoles), with beautiful lighting, motion blur effects, more realistic weather effects, and an increased number of pedestrians and vehicles on the roads. Los Santos is looking lovely on PlayStation 4. But despite this, it still doesn't quite removed the ambivalent HD-remake-taste from my mouth, and I curiously ask what else Rockstar has added to the experience. "Well, we're about to show you".
With a swift push of the DualShock 4's touchpad-button, the camera flies in and creates a first-person perspective, which is, for the first time, an integrated part of the GTA experience. Down the street we go, and the camera takes on a shaky action-oriented variation. Luckily this prevents the camera from feeling floaty during movement, and it feels like it's physically attached to the player's optical nerve, instead of just being a fancy angle. The player's hands are also constantly visible (so are the feet, if you look down), and there are thousands of animations for both sprinting and crouch-stealth. "GTA is a third-person franchise, but we've chosen to mess around with the format. However, we've made sure that there is a lot of settings and customisation options available, so it all fits your individual play-style," says the Rockstar rep to put our fears to rest. These settings are very deep. You can choose how severe you want the aim-assist to be, and whether you want the camera to zoom out during rolls or if you'd like the weapon aiming to be through iron sights or sideways. There are tons of options that allow you to play GTAV in first-person on your own terms, and after a brief tutorial, I finally get to switch over to Trevor and the controller is given to me.
I rub the worn leather-steering wheel, and position myself in the broken front seat of the Jeep. A desperate policeman has raised his gun, and stands only a short distance from the vehicle. "TREVOR PHILLIPS, STEP OUT OF THE VEHICLE, AND PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD!" he screams at the top of his tiny lungs, but with the entire jeep filled to the brim with heroin and large firearms, there is no stopping me today. I place my hand firmly on the gear knob. My foot flies off the brake pedal, and the wheels kick up dust into little aggressive whirlwinds on the dirt road. I can just barely glimpse the tiny flashes of light from the policeman's gun, as he frantically fires at the jeep. The cops quickly catch up however, and I decide that a standoff on top of Mt. Chiliad would be a fitting ending. I arrive a few minutes before the many sirens, struggling to climb the narrow dirt track up the mountain. My bazooka rests firmly on my shoulder, and I smile through the attached scope. The rocket hisses onwards, and perfectly hits the bonnet of the first police car, that is directly thrown into a tragic front flip.
I put down the controller for a brief moment. That little car chase sequence in first-person had a massive impact, because the implementation itself goes far deeper than you would be inclined to think. Every vehicle in Los Santos now has its own dashboard with working rev-counters, speedometers and other measuring instruments (and it's the same on both planes and submarines), every weapon has its own reload and aiming animation in first-person. It's an impressive and brutal spectacle to experience GTAV's hectic action in such an immersive fashion, and even though it can be quite unnerving at times, the option itself is a fantastic addition.
Los Santos looks sharper than ever before, and with new character animations, prettier cutscenes, over 20 new animals (which Rockstar wouldn't discuss, but assured me includes both land and sea creatures), crisp 1080p and gorgeous new environmental detail, there are loads of reasons to dive back into the world of crime as Michael, Trevor and Franklin. However, despite the quality of the new cosmetic additions, it's the first-person perspective that left the biggest impression with me. It's the killer app of GTAV on new-gen, as it truly changes the way you experiences the game. It's well implemented, mechanically solid, and gives the opportunity for some insane and brutal action sequences, where the player is taking front seat in the action. I came to London to see firsthand whether GTAV for new-gen consoles was necessary, and with a first-person experience in the bag, I can safely recommend a return to Los Santos. And by the way, it looks gorgeous.