Earlier this week, Rockstar revealed a massive component of its new-and-improved Grand Theft Auto V, one that a no-doubt sizable chunk of its development efforts over the course of the past year have been channeled toward. First-person mode is real, it’s fully realized, and it’s coming to PS4 and Xbox One on November 18th.
That’s all well and good, but as the gaming media collectively ogles over the sheer attention to detail, the volume of reworked graphics, camera physics, et cetera lovingly woven into the original Los Santos we met just 13 months ago, I can’t help but wonder about what to me seems relatively obvious. For all the work that’s been funneled into this, how often are players actually going to use it?
Now, the immediate counter-argument and probable position of Rockstar Games is that this hardly matters; GTA and open-world titles in general have long-needed a compelling first-person approach, and as gaming’s triple-A trendsetter and aggregate white knight, Rockstar heroically answered the call. The less glamorous answer is the one you’ll find boorishly plastered across Disqus at least once per every gaming site in existence; Rockstar strategically revealed first-person mode two weeks ahead of release to “dupe” players into double-dipping. Rumor also has it that North’s Edinburgh HQ ran out of toilet paper, and plans to refill stock with actual bills of paper currency.
First person view extends to the game’s vehicle cockpits.
That’s not my own perspective, and frankly I could care less how Rockstar uses its time and money as long as the quality is there (and all signs suggest that it is). Some are infuriated that online heists have again been kicked down the road, but I’m content to patiently wait, knowing they’ll be released when they’re ready. What I’m more curious about is whether or not this first-person mode is something I’ll be able to really sink my teeth into, and as a gamer who has done exponentially more third-person action adventuring in my lifetime than FPS running and gunning (and even then, it’s largely been “first-person adventuring” thanks to the Metroid Prime series), I sincerely hope that it is.
The facts on paper are certainly encouraging. Over 3000 new animations created specifically for first-person mode. Vehicle interiors that have been completely revamped to include functioning dials, levers, and input systems. An actual, 3D-modeled cellphone, so you can stare at a convincing, miniature screen within your screen (my discordant feelings on which are probably enough to support a whole other article). It all sounds incredibly immersive, but somehow GTA V’s immersion has always been of a different breed than most games that use the very same word to describe themselves.
You aren’t invested in Michael, Trevor, and Franklin’s world because you are them, but because you guide them. I don’t know about you, but I highly question whether carrying out Trevor’s acts of murder and arson during the Crystal Maze mission (where he extinguishes the lives of an entire family without so much as a second though) are going to feel more “immersive” because I’m actually committing the acts from behind Trevor’s eyes as if it were me. In fact, I’d wager it’ll transform the entire affair from a renegade-cool, Western-style triumph to an unpleasant, uncomfortable, and possibly nauseating act of violence. Rockstar may say “well, that’s the point,” and to that I tip my hat. But I can’t guarantee I’m going to enjoy it.
Some scenes in first-person will be elevated to a whole new level.
Emotional implications aside, at the end of the day I still question whether a first-person view can realistically win the day over tried-and-true third-person auto-aiming. Yes, it’s possible to retain the standard control scheme while adopting the new perspective, or configure it such that taking cover reverts to a standard view until shots are fired. You can also toggle between first and third person views whenever you want with the click of a button. It’s convenient, but I can’t help but yearn for something more — in some ways I almost wish this wasn’t an option, and that I’d be forced to carry out an entire first-person playthrough or avoid the mode entirely instead. This is undoubtedly a matter of personal preference (nor is it Rockstar’s duty to enforce my own willpower), but including first-person mode as an unlock or even a tickbox the player must check before loading a save would go a long way in earning it the attention and playtime it more-than-likely deserves. Those 3000 new animations didn’t rig themselves overnight.
Still, there are a number of very specific activities I’m absolutely itching to try from behind the eyes of GTA V’s three “heroes,” and perhaps like most things GTA, it’s the desire to experiment that will prove to be the game’s primary modus of attracting players to new features. Even if I play 75% of the story from a standard perspective, I want to go parachuting in first-person. I also want to hijack a fire truck, bike-jump the cliffs of Mount Chiliad, and throw Michael’s son Jimmy from a speeding motorboat via the new perspective. And regardless of my feelings on committing acts of torture rather than merely triggering them and watching them unfold, I can’t deny that a new view at the very least doubles the game’s possibilities, and stands to completely reinvigorate experiences players have already had. All told, that’s something I find difficult to complain about.
There is one place I know I’ll draw the line, and it’s the final moments of Grand Theft Auto V’s story. I won’t spoil it here, but those familiar are well aware that there’s an “easy way out,” flanked by two incredibly tough choices to pursue instead. Those are choices I’ll openly admit I want nothing to do with in first-person mode, and call me a wimp, but it’s something I already know I won’t find enjoyable. When I frame things that way, I guess I should be thanking Rockstar for dividing perspectives with nothing more than a simple toggle. I guess those guys really do think of everything.