I’m still in the process of working my way through Rockstar’s latest massive open world crime saga. Closing in on the final story missions, and at 53% towards what they’re calling 100% complete (you don’t need to finish every single mission other than the story missions, but that’s something for another time). Enjoying the game quite a bit, and the one thing that stands out during my time playing is the amount of detail Rockstar has put into their world of Los Santos and its surrounding communities. It’s an amazing amount of work, and for the most part the payoff is terrific. But there are the occasional lapses, and when they get something wrong, it seems to stand out simply because so much has been gotten right.
Now before you get too upset, understand that this is just an observation. For the most part, GTA V is a beautiful looking game. And these errant details tend to be more of a minor quibble, and they really don’t affect gameplay. But like I said, when they get something wrong, it stands out, though the artists have gotten far more right than wrong.
I’ll get to the couple of minor things that struck me as off (or flat out wrong) in a bit. First I’ll touch on the things they’ve gotten right. First thing is the lighting. Shadows fall where they’re supposed to fall, and the change is sunlight as the day progresses is done very well. Add to that the nighttime effects, where sometimes the moon is full and sometimes it’s not present at all. It all gives a real sense of the passage of time in Los Santos, making you feel like you’ve actually spent a day (albeit a speeded up day, of course) in the world of the three main characters. Add to this changing weather effects (something Rockstar has used in the series since GTA III), where the day can go from sunny to stormy over the course of its passage, and the game becomes even more immersive. It’s a nice touch, even giving you the glare off of vehicles as you come out of a tunnel onto a sunlit street or the light flare towards sunset as you drive through the mountains. All of this helps to bring the world to life.
Speaking of bringing the world to life, this may be one of the most vibrant, living games created by Rockstar (though it’s a toss-up as to whether this world or that in Red Dead Redemption is presented better). Traffic flows much as it would in a big city, complete with drivers who just aren’t on the ball. The pedestrian models are quite varied, though you will come across clones from time to time. It is a nice touch that all of the NPCs don’t share the same body type, and enemies are varied, even within the same faction. The snippets of dialogue you hear as you move about range from quite amusing to mundane, and don’t often repeat (unlike some games, where you hear the same lines in the same voice over and over again, even though you’ve moved to a different locale within the game world). This contributes to making the world seem more of a living entity rather than just a computer simulation.
People and vehicles aren’t the only things moving about in GTA V. Animals are a frequent sight, with birds randomly flying overhead and dogs barking in the distance. Deer graze and run along the roadways that cut through the forests and mountains, along with the occasional mountain lion. Coyotes move in packs through the desert environs, and fish of all kinds can be seen as you explore underwater off the San Andreas coast. It is with these animals, however, that Rockstar stumbles a bit. Animals were done extremely well in Red Dead Redemption, and so the missteps stand out here, at least to me. In one mission, Trevor goes elk hunting with buddy Cletus. Unfortunately, it seems that someone never researched as to what elk look like, instead using the model for large whitetail deer. Many may say “So what? It’s a member of the deer family. Who cares?” To a point, they may be right, as it doesn’t affect the gameplay (Curiously, the female elk look right-it’s the males they got wrong.). But when they’ve gotten it right before in a previous game, it seems odd they wouldn’t have gotten it right here. Similarly, the mountain lions look off, appearing to be more stocky and closer to an African lioness with the cougar’s rounded tail. Again, this is a minor quibble and just something I’ve observed, and it stood out because so much else is nailed.
Note these side by side comparisons, one from GTA V, and one from Red Dead Redemption Both are called elk, but the one on the left is a whitetail deer, while the one of the right is an elk.
Among the other bits of scenery that stuck out were the roadways. Many players might not ever notice the many touches to the roads, as they serve to get you from Point A to Point B, and when you’re speeding along, weaving in and out of traffic, sometimes trading bullets with foes, who has time to notice details? But look closely, and you’ll see that they’re there. Rumble strips are placed along the sides of roads and along the center lane markers. Little reflectors guide you to the proper lanes in the night. Some roads are brand new and nicely macadamed, while others are cracked and you can see the patches made by road crews to fill potholes. Dirt roads stir up dust, and vehicles make tracks across snow covered highways. Even rain can alter the traction your vehicle has, making you hydroplane should you hit the gas too fast. Other roads even have glass chips in the asphalt, sparkling when the light just hits them right. All of this adds up to a level of detail that just makes the world more real, and helps to immerse us further.
These are just some of the details I’ve observed during my time with the game. What have you noticed? Or are you too busy speeding along, living the life of a gangster, and having fun to notice? Let us know in the comments below and keep checking back for our full review on what may be the biggest release in gaming for this year.
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