Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox Series X) Review

Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online (2022) Review 1

Eight long years after the release of Grand Theft Auto V and its live-service multiplayer component, which has grown not only to overshadow but to subsume it almost entirely, GTA Online; it’s no exaggeration to say that Rockstar Games’ magnum opus of criminal action-adventure is indisputably the most successful, immersive open-world game ever created, and it doesn’t appear as though it will be relinquishing that claim to the throne anytime soon. And yes, that’s in large part thanks to multi-gen, repeat purchasers like me.

Case in point, despite never having actually completed Grand Theft Auto V’s gargantuan single-player campaign in the traditional sense, when I consider all the time I’ve invested in the title over the course of three generations of console hardware, two competing platforms, and two separate online character profiles, I estimate that I’ve played enough Grand Theft Auto V to roll credits on the game’s Story Mode at least three times over.

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Well, I’ve just come up for air after playing several days’ worth of Rockstar’s current gen console remaster of Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online for Xbox Series X, and if the subheading didn’t already make it obvious, the many improvements and enhancements that have been brought to bear on this title will once again will have both veteran players and newcomers alike happily shelling out money to experience the world of Los Santos and Blaine County, whether it’s their very first time or a return visit.

Heath Ledger’s Joker once said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free,” and that philosophy continues to guide the decisions of Rockstar and its parent company, Take 2 Interactive, when it comes to this remaster. Despite the combined last-gen console install base of Grand Theft Auto V on PS4 and Xbox One hovering well over 25 million copies as of this writing, this new remaster is not being offered as a free or paid upgrade patch for those versions.

“The ability to finally be able to play both Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online at a vivid, blistering 1440p60 alone is the dream realized.”

Instead, the complete package (Story Mode and Online) is being sold as a new standalone product that will cost those interested between $24.99 CAD and $49.99 CAD depending on which current-gen platform it’s purchased on and when it’s purchased (the game is currently on a 50% discount until June 15th).  Due to a pre-existing arrangement between Rockstar and PlayStation however, PS+ subscribers can claim the game sans-story mode at no additional cost during the sale period, while Series X owners can buy it outright for only $12.50 CAD on sale.

Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online (2022) Review 7

Account Migration in GTA Online allows for a free, one-time import of a single-player game save from one’s last-gen console as well as a one-time import of a GTA Online profile from last gen, and these transfers can be completed either within the same console family or even across console platforms. For example, I was able to bring in my most recent Xbox One campaign game-save and continued right where I left off years ago in Story Mode, but for my GTA Online profile, I imported my older PS4 account which I originally imported from the Xbox 360 version way back in 2014, as I had played that account for much longer and thus had more than double the progression. 

Both migrations were surprisingly quick and painless to complete, though it should be noted that things will go much faster if you have already linked your Xbox and/or PlayStation accounts to Rockstar Games Social Club and have previously uploaded your GTA Online profile to Rockstar’s servers. Also, it’s important to know that account migration to GTA Online is one-way and permanent. In other words, any profiles imported to GTA Online are erased from their previous source and can no longer be played on those older platforms. With that in mind, it’s probably best to migrate your account to the next-gen platform where all your favourite GTAO-playing friends are.

If you are, instead, starting over just for the heck of it or are diving into GTA Online for the first time ever, you’ll be glad to know that Rockstar has done a commendable job of making the complicated affair of onboarding into the world of GTA Online much easier than in past console generations. Instead of dumping you directly into Story Mode or Online upon first boot, the game warmly greets you with a colourful splash screen that first prompts you to create a new character and then instantly rewards you with $4,000,000 to start up your criminal enterprise with.

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From there, players are presented with the “Career Builder” menu screen that presents four options, Executive, Gunrunner, Nightclub Owner, or Biker, each of which ties directly to one of GTA Online’s main Criminal Career expansions. Players can then use some or all their cash to set up their base of operations, a warehouse, one or more starting vehicles and a selection of weapons. 

After designing their avatar in the game’s character creator and completing the brief, streamlined tutorial for their career path, players are free to continue building their enterprise or go completely off the golden path to participate in the countless other activities that Los Santos has to offer. There are activities such as Classic and Featured Heists, the new “Contract” expansion starring GTA V’s Franklin and guest-starring Dr. Dre, the underground racing world of Los Santos Tuners, or any of the 40+ content updates that GTA Online has brought to its platform since it launched almost a decade ago, with Rockstar promising more updates to come. The Career Builder appears to be a great way to provide some direction and goals for both new and returning players that might otherwise be intimidated by the sheer abundance of things to do in GTA Online, but if totally random chaos is your poison, there’s always Freemode.

“The most significant update Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online now bring to the next-gen table is easily the introduction of three graphics display modes…”

Moving on to presentation, the most significant update Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online now bring to the next-gen table is easily the introduction of three graphics display modes, Fidelity, Performance RT and Performance, offering a long-awaited level of versatility and player choice for display options that, up until this point, could only be enjoyed in the last-gen PC version.

Fidelity targets full 4K (3840x2160p) resolution at a locked 30 frames-per-second with Ray-Traced shadows, Performance RT targets 1440p (2560x1440p) at 60fps with Ray-Traced Shadows also, and Performance swaps out the RT shadows for the more traditional,” approximated” variety in a bid to deliver an even more rock-solid 60fps framerate at 1440p.  What’s even more impressive is how quickly players can switch between these modes on the fly via the settings menu, without any loading.

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I’ve always been a huge advocate for 60fps framerate in most if not all 3D games due to the more fluid and realistic feeling the feature can provide, so it should come as no surprise that Performance RT quickly became my preferred setting after only a few minutes of tinkering with all three modes during gameplay. The 4K visuals of the Fidelity mode are strikingly razor sharp, but in my opinion, the 30fps framerate although consistent, is still too heavy a price to pay when combined with GTA’s infamously floaty controls, resulting in a sluggish, “last-gen feel” in terms of responsiveness. This isn’t to say that the Performance and Performance RT modes visually eliminate Grand Theft Auto V’s trademark floatiness by any means, but they do go a long way towards reducing the input lag while offering a more vivid and lifelike presentation.

I was also surprised at how much of a difference that the RT shadows made during my playthroughs. Traced primarily from the sun’s position in the sky, GTA Online’s Performance RT mode boasts some of the most natural-looking shadows I’ve seen in a videogame, and thanks to the game’s day-night cycle and much of its activities taking place in outdoor environments, the effect has much more of a visual impact than one might expect. Shadows will shift and move around vehicles, NPCs and your character depending on the placement of the sun and other primary sources, and when operating a flying vehicle such as a helicopter, one can even see the larger shadow of said vehicle cast accurately on the distant ground below based on the same principle. 

Even more mundane examples left me gob-smacked, such as the license plate of my custom vehicle becoming partially obscured in shadows cast by raised areas of the car chassis, or my player character similarly getting swallowed up by naturally occurring shadows when walking in the shade of a nearby building. In short, it’s well worth having Performance RT mode enabled as opposed to straight Performance as there’s barely a noticeable hit to framerate for what you’re getting. Pair Performance RT Mode with a VRR-capable panel, and it’s practically perfect.

Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online (2022) Review 5

As one should expect of a paid Grand Theft Auto V remaster in 2022, the above effects are backed up by several other welcome improvements, including impeccable cube-mapped reflections on cars that could easily pass for ray-traced ones, pinpoint 3D surround sound, gorgeous weather, particle, fire and explosion effects, longer draw distances, and captivating, neon-bathed night driving that will instill the reckless need for speed in the heart of just about any gamer, and that’s just scratching the surface of what I’ve experienced thus far.

And then there are the load times!  The initial boot on Grand Theft Auto V’s Story Campaign used to take over two full excruciating minutes to load on Xbox One and PS4, but in GTA Online the process only takes around 20 seconds, and swapping between Michael, Trevor and Franklin in Story Mode takes only seven. It’s a miraculous achievement by both legacy and last-gen Grand Theft Auto V standards.  Load times are noticeably faster for the larger online component of GTA Online as well, but as that element of the game is dependent on a connection to Rockstar’s cloud servers, players can still expect to experience longer load times (upwards of a full minute) when transitioning in and out of multiplayer missions like Heists.

It’s much better than the several-minute-wait on last-gen consoles, but still long enough to make me fearful of the game suddenly crashing and losing my progress. Thankfully, apart from one lone Heist Finale falling apart thanks to a crew member that glitched out with the getaway chopper, I didn’t encounter any severe or annoying bugs online or off, a stark contrast from my previous GTA Online experiences.

Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online (2022) Review 2

I remember becoming quite disenchanted with Grand Theft Auto V and Rockstar after the Xbox One X came and went without a proper performance update to enable the game to take advantage of that console’s more powerful hardware, and even when the remaster for current gen consoles was announced in May of last year, I was still skeptical that I would ever return. Gratefully, however, Rockstar has since put their best foot forward, and I can now say with confidence that the final product is indeed a top-notch re-release that is far, far better than a simple performance patch and well worth its current discounted price.

For me, the ability to finally be able to play both Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online at a vivid, blistering 1440p60 alone is the dream realized. Trust me, once you’ve played them with such fidelity, just like your imported saves, there is no going back. The PS5 version can keep its extra DualSense features, and Rockstar has already promised a super-duper PC version of this remaster down the road, but it will be on my Series X where I will ultimately conclude my 8-year long criminal journey.

*The reviewer notes that the GTA+ paid membership was not available at time of review.

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