Imagine standing in line for hours at the local game store. Everyone is trying to edge in front of everyone else while conversing with the person next to them in an unintelligible language. There’s a feeling of anticipation, anxiety and most of all, excitement, because after five long years, “it” has come back.
You saunter ever-so-slowly to the door as faces rush out of the game store, adulation spewing from their mouths as they exclaim at the prize in their hands. A few moments later, you enter a brisk store and all around you see one game: “Grand Theft Auto V” (GTA V). After purchasing the game with haste, you exit out into the world, a new game in hand.
This is the first step into a life with GTA V.
Fast forward seven years – or six, for the eighth generation of consoles – and GTA V and GTA Online have been able to stay relevant. And so, that begs the question: how has GTA V stacked up?
(Note: for this review, GTA V and GTA Online will be treated as one game.)
1 - Visuals
Even when playing this previous-gen title on an Xbox One, GTA V is still a good-looking game. The sunny beaches and grimy streets of Los Santos complement the sandy roads of the aptly named Sandy Shores. Each of the aforementioned areas are unique and it never really feels like any particular area is the same.
The visual mood of the game is akin to living in Southern California, with everything flowing together almost seamlessly. A bright, cloudy day may turn into a downpour with lightning piercing the night sky. Rockstar’s Advanced Game Engine does a phenomenal job handling moments of serenity with moments of terror as the characters wreak havoc on the unfortunate denizens of Los Santos, rain pouring down all the while.
The character design is still top-notch, with Franklin, Michael and Trevor – the protagonists – wearing clothes that cater to their personalities. But while GTA V single-player graphics still hold up, GTA Online graphics don’t.
Online should run at a steady 30 frames per second (FPS). But there are times when the frame rate drops to below 20 FPS. Additionally, the special effects – particularly the particle effects – don’t hold up, causing the game to look bad.
In first-person mode, the game looks even worse: vehicle interiors are pixelated and reused from other cars and the player models look bad up close. Even in third-person mode, the player models don’t look good either. With all the customization options, Online can’t render all the different elements of each character well anymore.
Lastly, pop-in is a major issue. Expect to hit an invisible barrier somewhere only to see a small object a few seconds later. Also, when driving a fast vehicle, the roads will often be unrendered. There have been times when I drove from my safehouse to the closest “Los Santos Customs” – about a 30-second drive – and the roads look like massive, stretched-out jpegs and sprites until the game catches up.
Overall, GTA V’s combined graphics gets three stars.
2 - Audio
One of the strongest parts of GTA V is the audio. Car crashes sound visceral while gunshots and explosives are concussive to any player caught in the crosshairs. Conversely, the voice acting is excellent as well. Shawn Fonteno, Ned Luke and Steven Ogg do a phenomenal job bringing their characters – Franklin, Michael and Trevor, respectively – to life.
Other characters in the game, be it in V or Online, are also superbly voice-acted and really add to the eccentric nature of the game.
The radio stations, like all Grand Theft Auto games, feature a fantastic music selection. From classic hip-hop to country and everything in-between, there’s music for everyone. There’s also ambient music in-game, depending on the situation.
For instance, hearing a jazzy bass play accompanied by synths as I flew through the clouds was surprisingly calming while the various “Wanted” themes added to the suspense of trying to lose the police. Overall, the ambient music provides a nice touch; props to Tangerine Dream for helping create V’s soundtrack.
The audio mixing gets four stars.
3 - Story/Progression
GTA V’s single player is a satirical representation of the United States during the early 2010s, focusing on the excess and frivolity following a recession. It strikes a fine balance between having moments of levity interspersed with moments of horror.
However, these moments are never out of place; there’s always a proper lead up. Everything flows and the motivations behind the heists and other missions – no matter how outlandish – doesn’t detract from the experience.
As such, the objectives aren’t too hard and the game isn’t too difficult. I can confidently say that I never had to put down my controller in silent fury at my failures. It would have been nice to see story downloadable content (DLC), but that’s neither here nor there.
Online, though, is different. Although there is a “story,” gameplay and story segregation is extremely apparent. Back in 2013-2014, when players first booted up Online, it made sense for characters to treat players like nobodies because players were nobodies.
I remember grinding specific missions – Rooftop Rumble, anyone? – just to buy a million-dollar penthouse for Heists. Now, because of microtransactions, players can automatically get millions, drive the fanciest cars, get the snazziest clothes or the most customized weapons and still be treated as a nobody, which is strange to say the least.
Online’s story progression is determined by player levels so players won’t have access to certain missions like Heists until level 14 (more on Heists later). But that was subverted by having a higher-level player invite you into the session. That’s essentially it for Online’s “story.”
In all, GTA V’s story gets a combined three-and-a-half stars.
4 - Gameplay
GTA V is still incredibly smooth even after all this time, as no movement is wasted. Everything controls fairly well and though submersible vehicles take some getting used to, driving and piloting various vehicles becomes second nature after a while.
Because of how easy it is to pick up and play, V is infinitely replayable. The mechanics work well and Rockstar did a great job utilizing so many different button layouts to make the game enjoyable.
Online’s stock missions are fairly standard: go here, do this, kill this person, etc. However, the player-created game modes and Rockstar-made Heists are always exhilarating, when they work. Credit to Rockstar for constantly updating Online with new missions and DLC so players have more options.
Additionally, while single player missions don’t have difficulty settings, Online missions do: easy, normal and hard. There’s no discernible difference between normal and hard, except enemies take slightly more shots to kill. What makes Online difficult though, are the servers; they are extremely bad. Loading into Online takes an average of three minutes. Even then, players are subjected to constant connection issues and oftentimes are dropped.
The fact that Heists require four people at all times makes the server issues worse. If one person gets dropped, the Heist ends with an all-too familiar message:
Also, there are no checkpoints when a player gets dropped as checkpoints only trigger when a player dies. Even then, there are so few. I’ve routinely spent hours looking for other players, only for them to get dropped and leave the game because they keep dying or the servers become unavailable.
Rockstar’s servers need upgrades badly, especially with next-gen around the corner. It’s saying something that what makes a game difficult isn’t the actual game, but the servers.
GTA V’s story gets three stars.
5 - Context
GTA V is one of the most-hyped games of all time; just look at all the sales records it has broken in recent years. It’s one of the most profitable games of all time and is the basis to which free-roaming games are compared.
Years later, GTA V is still relevant; in 2019, GTA V was the fourth-watched game on Twitch, with over 520 million hours.
Altogether, GTA V’s Twitch presence nets it four stars.
Seven years later, GTA V is still a viable option on which to spend your time, whether it’s the inconsistent Online mode or the abandoned story mode. If anything, you can just watch it on Twitch.
GTA V’s single player is still engaging, plays really well and is beautiful. The sound design is still second to none as well. However when it comes to Online, it feels like everything is a step down. But if you’re having fun with the game and don’t care about the graphical issues, server issues or others, then Online is fun as well.
Overall, GTA V gets 3.5 stars.