GTA V and GTA Online Xbox Series X Review: A Marginal Upgrade

Rockstar Games has officially released Grand Theft Auto V for the third time on its third generation of consoles. After selling over 160 million copies in just eight years, it's no surprise that Rockstar wants to keep the momentum going. It has done so by not only releasing the core game once again, but also splintering GTA Online off into a standalone game. The two can be purchased all together or separately, signaling a long-term plan for GTA Online on Xbox Series X|S and PS5. With that said, this remaster/port is not going to be for everyone. 

This seems to have been made in mind for people who either haven't played Grand Theft Auto V before, which is likely a minority of gamers at this point, or those who enjoy GTA Online and want to stick with it for the long haul. If you haven't played Grand Theft Auto V before, this is a must-have game. It has a rich story with sharp satire, blockbuster-esque set pieces, and a detailed open world. It's everything you could ask for from a Rockstar crime epic, there's not much else that needs to be said about the core game at this point.

If you have played previous versions, the Xbox One, PS4, and PC remaster of Grand Theft Auto V felt like a far more significant leap because it had a wealth of new content. The first remaster included an incredibly innovative and ambitious first-person mode which gave players a whole new incentive to replay the game. This feature was so well-received that it ended up being implemented in Red Dead Redemption 2 about four years later. In addition, there was new side content in the campaign such as a murder mystery, new races, and more. It all added up to be a pretty premium package.

(Photo: Rockstar Games)

Of course, all of this previous content is included in the new Xbox Series X|S and PS5 versions of Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online, but they don't bring a lot else to the table when it comes to meaty content. Unless you're a die-hard fan, it's unlikely this will entice you to buy the game again for $20. Some of the standout features include a new main menu, enhanced explosions and fire, new vehicles and upgrades in GTA Online, and performance modes that allow the player to experience the game in up to 4K resolution and 60 FPS (but not at the same time). 

The 60FPS mode is a game-changer for console players. Grand Theft Auto V is a very sluggish game when it comes to its controls, and it certainly feels like a Rockstar game from 2013, but the new frame rate options make this game glide like a dream. With the smoother performance, you get a real sense of speed now as you zoom around the streets. This is particularly noticeable with the new vehicle upgrades courtesy of Hao's workshop at the LS Car Meet. These upgrades were able to take my $100,000 Bravado Banshee, one of the cheaper cars in the game, and turn it into a borderline rocket. Within two seconds, the car was at 80 MPH, and within about 10 seconds, it was at 140 MPH. 

With that crisp frame rate, the driving felt slick and magical. This is a game that has always felt chaotic and exciting, but this new presentation enhances that experience. Maybe console players have been shortchanged for too long and this shouldn't feel like such a big deal, but it does.

(Photo: Rockstar Games)

On last-gen consoles, GTA Online's performance would often sink below 30FPS, sometimes reaching the low 20s. To double or even triple that in the most extreme cases is a feat worth celebrating. It's hard to imagine playing this game any other way.

Although there is a fidelity mode that allows you to play in 4K/30FPS, it's not really worth it. Even things like ray-tracing go largely unnoticed unless you're looking for it making it feel like something that was implemented at the lowest level so it can be used as a marketing buzzword. Sure, the game looks more polished and marginally prettier, but that particular mode doesn't offer any massive visual upgrades that are worth sacrificing the frame rate.

Generally speaking, all graphics modes look beautiful thanks to new effects. Rain puddles reflect the world around them in an accurate, eye-popping way which looks particularly stunning around neon lights at night time. Explosions also carry this visible blast wave and feel punchier particularly when you see all of the debris fly off of an erupting vehicle. Fire looks far more realistic and emits a much thicker, darker smoke with ash and embers. It feels more dangerous and less controlled than it did before, almost emphasizing the immensity of the destruction you've caused. That dense smoke is also replicated when your vehicle does a burnout by kicking up puffy clouds rather than thin trails.

All of these elements are relatively minor quality of life improvements, but they help give the game some weight. Some of the more significant quality of life upgrades center around the general user experience. Players who make a new character in GTA Online will get a whopping $4 million to spend on businesses, cars, and weapons, offering a way for newcomers to play catch-up with ease. 

(Photo: Rockstar Games)

Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online are notorious for their absurdly long load times which are made worse when the game kicks you out of a lobby or boots you back into story mode. Countless minutes of my life have been wasted loading into the other versions of this game, but that's far less of an issue now.

For starters, you're not immediately thrown into a loading screen when the game starts. There's a new front-end menu that allows you to quickly look at the news or boot up GTA Online or the story mode. If there's a specific activity that you're looking to do in GTA Online, the front-end menu also lets you load directly into heists and featured missions. From there, the load times are relatively fast. Within less than a minute, you're in a lobby or story mode. Things slow down a bit more when switching directly from Online to story and vice versa, sometimes taking up to 2 minutes. Given it takes time to find a match and allow the game to exit the mode you're in, it's understandable. 

This is a competent remaster, but competent isn't the most ideal for the third rerelease of a game that came out less than a decade ago. Not to mention, this isn't free for most players. PS5 players can get GTA Online for free for a limited time, but Xbox players are out of luck. Rockstar is offering the game at a discounted price of $20 right now ($10 for GTA Online, $10 for story mode), but in three months, the price will go up to $40 ($20 each for both versions). This is not a $40 remaster – this one may be worth $10 for GTA Online diehards and $20 for those who haven't played the game before. Maybe it would've been easier to swallow had the GTA Trilogy not been released as a total mess.

(Photo: Rockstar Games)

Without industry standards like cross-play, the long-requested story DLC, or something else to enhance the wow factor of this rerelease, it's hard to get excited about it. It's good, just feels like it's lacking the Rockstar polish after it was announced nearly two years ago. Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said in 2021 that he was confident that Rockstar would deliver a great experience, but "you can't do that if you're just doing a simple port". Although some work has been done here, and it likely wasn't easy, it's all minute in the grand scheme of things.

The Xbox Series X|S and PS5 versions of Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online are good, this isn't a bad game, it's just not as impressive as one may hope. It has some flashy new graphical effects, a menu redesign, and the 60FPS mode is remarkable, but it's all marginal. For newcomers with little to no experience with the game, this is going to be an absolute treat. For veterans, this may ring a bit hollow. It's worth picking up if you want to keep up with GTA Online and have the best possible version, but otherwise, there are no enhancements that demand you replay the story once more.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online are out now on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One PS5, PS4, and PC. A review copy for Xbox Series X|S was provided by Rockstar Games.