While Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V (GTA 5) doesn’t have any official VR versions or ports, modders have been working on ways to allow players to experience the title with the greater measure of immersion that virtual reality (VR) provides.
VR still hasn’t quite broken into the mass market due to the high initial investment required, however the industry is working on various ways to solve that issue. Many of the biggest entities in the videogame sphere have backed the new platform by making highly popular IPs available in a VR format, including the likes of Bethesda and CCP Games.
Since GTA 5 is one of the best selling and most widely enjoyed AAA titles of the current generation, many voices were asking whether it too will join the ranks of VR enabled videogames. During the early years of VR’s growth, Take-Two Interactive’s (the parent company of Rockstar Games, and publisher of GTA) CEO Strauss Zelnick expressed scepticism about the viability of VR, however more recently one of Rockstar’s titles made the leap – L. A. Noire.
This is a hopeful development, but we’re still waiting on GTA V(R) meaning third-party mods are still the way to go. Grand Theft VR is leading the charge in this regard – a free mod that can be downloaded by anyone, GTVR is compatible with both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive due to being based on OpenVR.
So which features make GTA 5 truly a great VR experience? (No, not the strip club…) Videogame design follows somewhat different rules when VR titles are developed than traditional videogames, however when previously non-VR titles are made available to play with the headsets, balancing authenticity with VR-compatibility is tricky business.
Much of the praise for GTA 5 was centered around the highly detailed videogame world. Los Santos and Blaine County were crafted with such extreme attention to detail. The AI governing NPC behaviour, building placement, foilage, dynamic clutter and the low amount of asset re-use made GTA 5 feel like a real, living, breathing world.
We were brought closer to that world when the Enhanced Edition added optional first-person view to the title, but VR takes things to the maximum allowed by current technology. A ridiculous amount of research was put in by Rockstar’s developers to replicate Los Angeles in a way that it would still be recognizable and familiar – all this in spite of the sweeping changes made to layout and size due to the constraints of what last-gen consoles were capable of.
Even without VR, one can spend countless hours just exploring the videogame world, mulling over all the touches of detail the developers filled it with. With VR however, it becomes a veritable sightseeing tour.
Driving is a central part of GTA 5’s gameplay and experiencing it in VR ties in to our previous point of exploration. Driving fits in with VR fundamentally because it bypasses the potential motion sickness issue of walking, which is usually solved by using teleportation for movement.
When you drive your body remains motionless (relative to the vehicle) and the same discrepancy isn’t present as opposed to the VR sensation of walking clashing with your actual body staying still. Since teleportation is fairly immersion-breaking, driving is a better way to experience the world of and take in the sights without teleporting around.
This applies to flying as well, even if GTA 5’s flying control are iffy at best. A title as visually stunning as GTA 5 just begs to be witnessed in VR from high up in the sky with the city of Los Santos laid out before you, Mount Chiliad rising in the distance. Speaking of driving…
Combat in VR experiences has some fundamental differences compared to how combat is designed in traditional videogames, meaning that ported VR titles usually don’t shine in this area – and then GTA 5 by default has some floaty gunplay. However, there are multiple sources of gaming thrills in GTA 5 and police chases are one of them.
As opposed to some other titles in the franchise, GTA 5’s cops aren’t pushovers. Rather, they’ve sometimes been described as overpowered due to the title’s mechanics. They have near-perfect aim at long distances, never stop coming at you and are apparently omniscient because if you shoot one mook in the middle of the desert without anyone else around, the SWAT teams will have already zeroed in on your exact location.
As police chases are usually conducted from behind the wheel, the advantages of using vehicles to move around in VR are present here as well – except you’ll be fleeing for your life instead of having a calm sight-seeing tour. This adds challenge and, well, gameplay to the experience.
As a title that was in no way developed for VR, playing GTA 5 with a headset may leave some things to be desired. GTVR modifies some elements of GTA V to make it better suited to VR but it still isn’t a flawless transition. Should Rockstar ever bring their flagship IP to this growing platform, we’ll be able to experience it in its full glory.