The jokes about buying Grand Theft Auto V again have by early 2022 become a mainstay of the gaming community. Perhaps the best selling video game of all time, GTA V first released in September 2013 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. We played it on both, and since then also bought it on Xbox One, PS4, PC, and now Xbox Series X and PS5. Yes, GTA V just got a new version for the most recent consoles from Microsoft and Sony. The good news is that this version is the best yet in technical terms, managing to outdo the PC version in its unmodded state, which released in late 2015.
Sure, it can be argued that every time Rockstar and Take-Two sell another update of GTA V successfully, GTA VI becomes a more distant possibility. And if you’ve already played GTA V and had enough, then there’s no reason to get the latest remaster. But if you’re a fan or it’s your first time, then the Xbox Series X and PS5 version is by far the most impressive. Let’s take a look at some highlights.
On every previous console version, and even on PC with a hard drive, GTA V was a notorious slow loader. Especially loading into story mode from the main menu. That took forever. Now on Series X and PS5 it takes what feels like just a few seconds. Alongside Horizon Forbidden West, this is the most impressive demonstration of the custom SSDs used by PS5 and Series X/S to date. It’s not limited to the initial loading, in-game as well there are essentially no waits for stuff to load. Also, everything from the phones used by main characters to the map feels very snappy.
Rockstar sure took their time to optimize this version. You choose from fidelity, performance, and performance RT. Fidelity is, as usual by now, 4K 30Hz and we don’t recommend this one. It’s supposed to have the highest visual settings, and it is full 4K, but also feels sluggish. Performance mode is upscaled 1440p in locked 60Hz, while performance RT is the same but with ray tracing, so there are supposed to be some compromises in frame rate to accommodate ray tracing. We’ve tried all three and performance RT is by far the most enjoyable and best looking.
Sure, fidelity mode is slightly sharper but we don’t like gaming in 30 frames per second if given a choice. Performance mode seems a little bit odd, since performance RT has an excellent frame rate plus ray tracing.
Within the context of GTA V, a game we first experienced nearly a decade ago, the performance RT mode is a technological marvel. This has to be the most appropriate and relatable application of ray tracing we can think of. It’s not incredible like in a tech demo or benchmark, but looks very convincing as you walk and drive around Los Santos. The adventures of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor never looked this impressive. This becomes especially apparent at night, when the lights of Los Santos reflect convincingly off pools of water and storefronts. Also, cars showcase reflections on a whole new level compared to previous versions of GTA V. This is one of the few times we felt the addition of ray tracing has been a real game changer.
Effects like specular lighting, occlusion, bokeh, and many others have been implemented superbly in this version of GTA V, resulting in beautiful presentation. We found ourselves snapping screenshots left and right because everything has so much more depth to it. It’s not entirely revolutionary, and if you’ve been gaming on reasonably powerful PCs you’ve seen this before, but not in GTA V. And because we know this game so well, the impact of seeing it in such an improved and refined state was really something.
We’re not sure what Rockstar did, but characters have much more detailed models and facial animations have been taken to a much higher standard. They’re quite different from before, and remind us of the realistic technology used in Rockstar’s excellent L.A Noire.
While previous versions of GTA V also had high dynamic range, none did it justice like this iteration. The HDR calibration we’ve experienced in the remaster so far is excellent, and adds to the depth we described above. If you have a capable display, you’ll appreciate the HDR effect and the work Rockstar put into redoing textures and improving wide color gamut support. Colors in the latest GTA V appear much more vibrant and convincing than before, and that helps create the illusion that Los Santos is a living place, and not just a parody of Los Angeles.
Question mark because we’re not sure what Rockstar did to the audio. But it definitely does sound a lot better than before. Strangely, music feels more subdued, but dialogue is a lot more pronounced. Some characters even sound so different, we almost want to think their lines were recently re-recorded, though that seems unlikely.
Rockstar mentioned improved pedestrian AI, and we think they delivered. They also created a bunch of new models for the local population. When you walk and drive, random NPCs do behave more naturally, which is especially notable when they’re in groups. There was more than one occasion when we were tempted to just stand and look at people outside buildings, because their body language and overall feel was really compelling. However, the traffic and driver AI doesn’t seem any different from previous releases of GTA V. It’s OK, but still not great. Also, pedestrian and traffic density don’t seem increased to us compared to older versions of the game.
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