What do you say about Grand Theft Auto V that hasn’t already been said by thousands of others? Every body under the sun is aware of the open world heist adventure. The Internet is full of memes, Let’s Plays, Easter eggs and walkthrough guides. If you can’t play the game, you can sure see just about all of it online.
This generation of consoles really took the open world genre to new levels. Greater console power meant larger, more detailed game worlds. Grand Theft Auto 4 wasn’t the first open world game for the current gen but it did, like its predecessors, make a rather large impact. A dense and populated world, it brought a much grittier and realistic city – but removed some of the fun from the series. GTA V hopes to bring that back.
The sun soaked city of Los Santos and the rocky mountains of Blaine County are the main stars of GTA V. Forget about the other characters, the tight gunplay mechanics and solid script. The highways, alleys and jaw dropping vistas have an awe inspiring amount of detail and character. Rockstar has always had a certain skill when it comes to creating believable and intricate game worlds. After only a few hours cruising the streets, landmarks and junctions become familiar. The game provides a GPS route from A to B, but the real fun comes from learning the fastest line through the city,
Grand Theft Auto V takes as much from Rockstar’s open world western, Red Dead Redemption, as it does from previous GTA games. The cover system and shooting mechanics are more refined versions of Red Dead’s, with a little flavour of Max Payne 3 thrown in for good measure. The dry and arid dunes of Grand Theft Auto’s Blaine County, show aspects of American West we saw in New Austin, West Elizabeth, and Nuevo Paraiso. Random events that pop up on your protagonist’s journey work in much the same way as they did for John Marston.
Where GTA V really steps away from anything we’ve seen before is with the introduction of not one, but three main characters: Michael, Trevor and Franklin. Each has their own story, their own hopes, fears, plans and dreams – yet the stories are beautifully intertwined from the prologue to the final heist.
The story is deep and absorbing. Without wanting to spoil anything, the basic premise is this: our three heroes are brought together by chance and history. For reasons, not exactly beyond their control, they are put in the position of needing to raise a lot of money quickly. Michael returns to his criminal past, Trevor re-focuses his criminal present and Franklin expands his criminal future as they join forces to help each other out of tight spots – and maybe make a little pocket money along the way. Heists are planned and executed as the story dynamic between the three evolves. It’s exciting, slick, challenging, varied, hilarious and exceptional. In short, Grand Theft Auto V is everything it was hyped to be and more.
The use of three lead characters gives Rockstar the freedom to bring back some of the activities missing from GTA 4. Trevor’s sporadic and psychopathic nature makes him a viable option to go on a blood soaked rampage mission. Franklin’s gang buddies get him into the street-racing scene. It wouldn’t have been game breaking to have Michael or Trevor hop into a car for the Vin Diesel inspired races but it does make a little more sense in the game universe. Likewise, Michael, our reformed career criminal in mid-life crisis character, can take in a round of golf, game of tennis or session of yoga that Trevor and Franklin wouldn’t go anywhere near. It can however, be annoying to travel across the huge map to be told you are playing as the wrong character for an activity… But you soon get used to the colour-coded mission start check points.
Trevor is the wild card, the loose cannon of the trio. Never far from chaos and carnage, T’s unpredictability and loyalty to Michael create an interesting, compelling if ultimately unlikable character. Trevor’s adventures out in Blaine County are some of the most fun and varied. Gun running, with biplanes and dune buggies, involves bombing runs and cross-country cat and mouse chases, while the bail bonds missions have you travelling the land in search of wanted men. These missions play out much like the bounty missions in Red Dead Redemption. Hunting is another Trevor specific pastime. Using a mixture of stealth, wind position and a scoped rifle, players can earn a little extra income.
Family man Michael and his brood are where Rockstar showed some of the best writing I’ve seen in a video game. Michael’s interactions with his family reveal an extra layer to the story, again much like John Marston’s family in Red Dead Redemption, the addition of responsibility for others grounds the story in a much more believable world.
Franklin is the one character without a particularly shady past. He’s no angel, but is definitely small time hood rather than career criminal. He is the Padawan to Michael’s Jedi master. Taken under his wing after a chance (and comically over the top) meeting. Franklin has his own, small-time schemes and worries, but after meeting Michael (and subsequently Trevor) the size and scope of his criminal activity increases dramatically. The dialogue between the three is often hilarious, brutal and touching.
The Houser brother’s love of crime thrillers comes across in the epic heists that play a major part in the main story and in the just launched GTA Online. Director Michael Mann is a big influence, even pulling a robbery straight from his ice-cool heist movie HEAT. These heists, which the players must set up themselves, are a highlight as there’s always two different ways to approach each of the heist missions. Obvious (i.e. LOUD) or subtle, each option requires several smaller set-up missions to be done before the main job. Acquiring getaway vehicles, masks, costumes and weapons might be all that’s needed. Other jobs will task you with stealing military grade equipment. Going with the more stealthy approach, like I did, you may miss out on some of the more epic police shoot outs. That’s not to say the subtle route is boring, a silent and (mostly) bloodless heist is just as much fun.
The ability to switch between the three characters during these missions keeps the pace going regardless of which approach you take. Providing over watch with an RPG as Trevor, then jumping to Michael and his sniper rifle to take out long-range targets, followed by hopping to Franklin to take out the stragglers. The trio really feels like a team within these encounters.
Outside of missions, the characters have such strong personalities that you find yourself playing in the role even when the game gives you the freedom to do as you please. Killing a random pedestrian for their money – or just for the hell of it – is not something you feel comfortable doing as Michael or Franklin; jump to Trevor and you suddenly feel that a sudden burst of unprovoked rage is a perfectly acceptable way to behave.
Side missions are a key factor in open world titles and GTA V has some of the best. Take the parachuting missions; these are dotted around the map, mainly on the highest of mountain peaks or atop skyscrapers. Now other open world games have done parachuting, but never has it felt as solid or precise. Almost all side missions and activities have seen the same level of polish; golf is a full game within itself, tennis plays better than most standalone titles. It’s an incredible achievement. The attention to detail through every facet of the game is utterly unparalleled. Be it helicopters, planes and even electricity cables swaying gently in the wind or the way other cars flash their lights at you if you drive with your headlamps off after dark – nothing seems to have been overlooked.
Driving physics have been overhauled, moving to a more arcade feel than the previous GTA titles. The cars now are much easier to handle at speeds and in the corners (especially if using Franklin). Police chases no longer involve numerous spinouts and tank slappers. Muscle cars still slide all over the road at high speed but now you have much more control. The change to a more arcade style physics means cutting through traffic in the city or drifting down mountain roads feels much more like an actual standalone racing game.
Speaking of police chases, getting rid of your wanted level has become a much more tactical and difficult activity. In GTA 4, the cops would get on your tail and you could essentially just out run them. Not so in GTA 5, with police cars coming at you from all angles – and supported by police helicopters all to quickly – you have to get off main roads, find dark alleys, hide behind buildings and (in the case of air support having been called in) under bridges to evade the boys in blue.
This level of refinement has found its way into every tiny aspect of the game. Everything looks and feels better than before. The superb script is matched by the consistently spot on voice acting from every character – not just the unholy trinity of Trevor, Michael and Franklin. It never breaks down or misses a step. Whatever your characters are doing, it always feels like the right moment for it to happen (the fact that the two characters you are NOT playing as at any given moment carry on living their lives helps support this feel immeasurably).
With everything from hunting, heists and assassinations to triathlons, tennis and street racing – you’ll never be short of things to do in Los Santos and Blaine County! But just in case, Rockstar have thrown twice as much again into this world! You can make millions trading stocks and shares, buy your characters a full wardrobe of clothes, collect and modify cars, collect parts of alien spacecrafts and scour the ocean floor for hidden gems via the scuba gear OR a submarine!
There is literally too much to try and cover in a single review – and that’s before we even consider the online element!
For a game to offer such an enormous and richly varied game world is an awesome achievement, but when you match this with the attention to minute detail that Rockstar has taken – Grand Theft Auto V is propelled beyond being a merely genre defining moment in gaming. It is a generation defining moment in video gaming. It will not be beaten by another game of this generation and even the next generation of games consoles has got a long way to go before it can hope to match, let alone surpass Grand Theft Auto V.