On the morning of September 17, 2013, I attended college and barely half the class had turned up. By the afternoon, everyone had left - including me. This was the day Grand Theft Auto V (or GTA V as its wider known) launched to the world. A pivotal day in the history of video games.
Conducting a review for something like GTA V in some ways feels a little daunting. Everything that can be said has likely been said. It's a game that has broken every record in the book, most notably being the most profitable entertainment product of all time. There's simply nothing bigger, yet as we all patiently wait (insert it's been 84 years meme) for GTA 6, the new next-gen release is as perfect time as any to return to Los Santos.
GTA V first launched on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 before being revamped for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC over a year later. Now almost a decade from its original release, the Rockstar phenomenon, which will likely keep selling copies until the end of time, is back with its new "expanded and enhanced" version for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X / S. This includes new graphics modes, DualSense support, performance enhancements and 3D audio. Is it enough to pick up again or worth jumping in for newcomers in 2022, though?
Note: Grand Theft Auto Online is not included as part of this review as while packaged with GTA V, it's essentially its own separate game and would require its own review as such.
Grand Theft Auto V PS5 review: Price and Release Date
- What is it? An enhanced version of the fifth entry in the main GTA series for next-gen consoles that plays as an action-adventure in an open world
- Release date? March 15, 2022
- What platforms can I play it on? PS5 / Xbox Series X / S
- Price? $39.99 / £34.99 / AU$59.95
Grand Theft Auto V PS5 review: What is it?
GTA V revolves around three protagonists: Michael, a middle-aged former conman enduring a midlife crisis; Franklin, a low-level younger criminal who comes under Michael's wing; Trevor, Michael's psychotic best friend. It's no different from the original release when it comes to story, having the trio perform various missions and heists to either clear debts or get rich quick.
Michael is by far the most compelling of the bunch, arguably the focal point and throughline for the narrative. Having a family breaking down for his actions is as stereotypical as it sounds yet also brings about some of the most interesting levels and relationship dynamics.
On the other hand, Trevor is extremely one dimensional. He was my least favourite in 2013 and my least favourite today. All of his dialogue is trying to be controversial, never making for a well-rounded believable character. The biggest loss to all of this is Franklin, the most likeable of the bunch who is severely lacking an arc. Franklin is the same at the beginning as he is at the end. A truly interesting, complex protagonist in the series is still something Rockstar has thus far failed to crack. Hopefully, lessons will be learned come GTA 6.
The city of Los Santos is free to explore as an open world area, either to run amuck by getting into fights with the public or local law enforcement, take part in sports – golf, tennis, darts, triathlon and an 18-hole golf course – invest in the stock market or even become a real estate mogul. It's an extensive set of activities that are still great by today's standards.
The level of detail is pretty much unrivalled still (we'll come onto the graphics shortly). No joke: GTA V has multiple full TV series hidden within, like the talent show spoof Fame or Shame and the satirical cartoon series Kung Fun Rainbow Lazerforce. I can't think of another video game that commits this hard for something so few will discover.
It's also worth addressing the controversial topics that come hand-in-hand with GTA, whether that be the violence, depiction of women or general portrayal of stereotypes across all sexualities. Rockstar is clearly aware of its influence, seemingly removing a number of transphobic jokes and stereotypes of the LGBTQ+ community (as spotted via Twitter) that not even the king of controversy felt comfortable leaving in. It makes perfect sense for today's audience, as a lot of these characters/moments now come over as eye-rolling rather than funny.
Maybe it's also because I'm desensitised to the daily atrocities that are happening in the real world today but GTA V does not feel as controversial as it once was. Not to say hearing Jimmy (Michael's son) jokingly threaten to rape his little sister for being annoying doesn't raise an eyebrow or two. And yes, the infamous 'By The Book' mission, where the player must torture a suspected terrorist via waterboarding, wrench, electrocution and pulling teeth, is still as uncomfortable as you remember.
It's just having lived/living through the Ukraine-Russia war, Trump presidency, Jeffrey Epstein case, George Floyd murder, Brexit, COVID-19 pandemic and the many other insane things to take place over the last few years, a game where you can run over people feels kind of tame in comparison.
Grand Theft Auto V PS5 review: How does it play?
The structure of GTA allows you to control either Michael, Franklin or Trevor at basically any point, allowing them to progress the main campaign or roam the open world. The story is wonderfully cinematic, from the second you walk up and initiate a mission. This carries through the main levels that go from a drug-induced trip where you are kidnapped by aliens to a coordinated FBI kidnapping on the side of a skyscraper.
The biggest spectacles are 'Heists', a number of interconnected missions that are typically larger in scale than regular ones. The first has Michael and Franklin casing and robbing a jewellery store before escaping on motorbikes in a thrilling chase through the sewers. Undoubtedly, the high points of the game, there are only five with the first two coming in quick succession and the others far too spread out.
Additionally, you can find 'Strangers and Freaks' scattered across the ginormous map, offering different side-missions specific to the three leads. Each typically goes for humour instead of a "wow factor" compared to story missions, acting as more of a fetch quest or excuses to traverse Los Santos. Risk Assessment, a mission where Franklin races an adrenaline junkie by skydiving onto a mountain and then cycling to the finish line was one of the few exceptions I really enjoyed.
Moving onto the controls, there's so much that works seamlessly like the weapon wheel and slick driving that is a major step up over its predecessor. Cars feel fast, arcade-like and for that – I love it. That said, there are a couple of bizarre control choices like having 'X' to run as default feels hugely outdated, together with 'O' as a dedicated cinematic button when driving. Most triple-A video games feature a reasonably similar outline when it comes to controls for action adventures and this is one of the things where GTA V shows its age.
Fast-travel was another outdated component. It requires a cab to be called (or hailed) and then waited on, before jumping in the vehicle, selecting your destination and finally skipping the ride. Realistic for the sake of it? Just let us pick a point on the map and load there.
What's new and very welcome are the inclusions of haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, which are only available on the PS5's DualSense controller. This is most noticeable with shooting and less so with driving. One small touch with the LED lights is that whenever pursued by the cops, they will flash blue and red like sirens. Very cool.
Something else that has remained very cool is the Google Maps-like transition whenever changing character. It shows more than ever how ahead of its time this feature was – now better than ever thanks to the improved loading speed. Going from the PS5 home menu to loading into the main game took me 26 seconds, a huge jump from the multiple minutes this took back on the PS3.
Along with this, I have to acknowledge cheats. While it's just as fun to sometimes obey traffic laws, walk down the street like a normal citizen and generally integrate with society, it's equally (if not more so) as fun to spawn a Buzzard Attack Chopper and leap out at 500ft in slow motion, only to realise you forgot a parachute before hilariously falling to your untimely death. This is arguably GTA at its best and is no doubt what has kept GTA Online alive all of these years.
Grand Theft Auto V PS5 review: How does it look and sound?
GTA V is still an extremely good looking game. Whether it's the Hollywood Hills of Vinewood or the outback of Sandy Shores, each has its own distinctive style. This is best represented during the Caida Libre mission, where Trevor must chase the damaged aircraft through the lands on a motorbike.
Three new graphical modes are available on PS5 and Xbox Series X: Performance, Fidelity and Performance RT. All of which offer 4K resolution with the latter two supporting ray tracing. 60FPS is available for both Performance modes while Fidelity is locked at 30FPS.
Considering GTA V's resolution was capped at 1080p back in 2013, it feels notably impressive as the game looks exactly how I remember it. That never happens! Just go back and check out what games on the PS3 look like now – they rarely hold up, even with 'improved' ports. This does. Maybe it's the adding inclusion of HDR or improvement on draw distances but you'd be forgiven for believing this was a new game.
No complaints can be issued to the voice acting talents of Ned Luke (Michael), Shawn Fonteno (Franklin) and Steven Ogg (Trevor), all elevating the material the best they can. Having phone calls play out of the DualSense speakers helped with this, another neat perk. Audio design is another thing that doesn't really take advantage of the console's capabilities, except for engine revs from cars and motorbikes that amplify any situation.
The same can't be said for 3D audio, unfortunately. It's nothing revolutionary and in some ways, I preferred playing without my headphones as a result. At the very least, having 20 unique radio stations blast every type of music you can think of remains fantastic.
Grand Theft Auto V PS5 review: How long to beat?
From the outside looking in, GTA V looks like a behemoth of a game. Let me tell you: it's no Elden Ring. It took me approximately 34 hours to roll credits and I did spend a good amount of time exploring side-missions and trying out additional content. With that in mind, I can see a playthrough just focused on story-only missions easily taking less than 30 hours.
According to HowLongToBeat, an average 100% completion playthrough should take around 79 hours, so there's definitely more content there for those that are looking for it. Just don't expect it to be much different from the first 30 or so hours played prior.
Grand Theft Auto V is a once in a generation game that is now available for its third generation of consoles. Its stylish open world, cinematic scope and variety of missions hold up admirably well nearly a decade later, even if some of its controversial appeals have remained distasteful or simply don't feel as jarring in the world we live in today. While nothing substantial, the new DualSense features are cool perks and the new graphic modes are nice touches that help the streets of Los Santos feel right at home on the PS5. Ultimately, GTA V is still a mighty impressive game by 2022 standards.
The easy suggestion here is Red Dead Redemption, an open world action-adventure game from Rockstar that offers the same cinematic scope only set in Western times. Similarly, now over a decade old, many people will argue this is the peak of the studio's talents.
As only available on PS3 and Xbox 360 (unless you stream on PS4/PS5 or play via backwards compatibility on Xbox One or Xbox Series X/S), its brilliant sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, might be better to jump into for convenience sake. It stands as a prequel to the original Red Dead and can be played without the other, though you clearly get more out of it if you do. Regardless, you can't go wrong with either title.