Grand Theft Auto V: A Review
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't carelessly driving on pavements and evading the police, Roberts likes little more than playing Righteous Slaughter 7 whilst raging at the television screen.
The last time Roberts robbed a bank it was three days after the Viet'Nam conflict, where he was accused of a crime he didn't commit. He promptly escaped to the Los Angeles underground and works as a soldier of fortune.
Everyone has their Vices
Grand Theft Auto is one of those Marmite series: you love it or you hate it, and millions of fans across the globe can't all be wrong. Despite being seen as little more than a rampage simulator in a sandbox where there are no rules, there is so much more to Rockstar North and Take-Two's lovechild. However no GTA game has been expanded upon nor seen as much care and attention to detail as the latest (and greatest) in the entire series, because this truly ups the quality. Gone are the predictable chases when you're sent to assassinate someone for the fourteen-billionth time, and gone are the stories which seemed to drag on with very few memorable highlights within. If I may say so, GTA 5 may be the finest game of this generation.
Grand Theft Auto Five has certainly lived up to the hype, and despite there being little advertising in the UK save for a few trailers and two special editions, this game made $800 million in the opening night. Three days later Rockstar had made $1 billion dollars, and it took 12 days less than Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 to beat such a record. Those who have bought stocks from Rockstar North and Take Two are probably very, very rich on payday. The sales shouldn't tell you that this game is for everyone, especially when the gaming community is becoming all the more narrow minded and sighted: open world and shooter games are the most popular genres, so you have to understand why this is so popular - it's because there's hardly anything else to be playing. This game isn't perfect, and throughout my review I'll be giving you the facts and the opinions that matter, and there are many things I can point out that are blatantly wrong or are misspoken in other critics' reviews.
"Much like a bacon sandwich, it's over way too fast and it's time to go to work."
Compared to other GTA games, I find this combines the best of each world - the great setting of Vice City, the quest to get through everyday life of San Andreas and the openness of GTA 4. Most of the games follow a different take on the American dream, as though each of the games' cities are based on an alternate-reality America. In GTA 4 as an example, the story was about a man returning from a war to America hoping to find his fortune. He doesn't want to get back into crime, but it appears he has no choice. While GTA4 shows the dream as just that, the latest entry to the series shows that it is in fact a lie, and people are coming to accept it and therefore not bother with anything. "Why aim for the dream if nobody else is? Why obey the law when no-one else is?" is the mindset of every living soul in the marvellous city of Los Santos, and boy is it awesome.
You won't find a single decent person in Los Santos and even the police force prefer to shoot first and ask questions later. You're not in a world where you're trying to be different, but try to be the best at what everyone else is doing. Much like in the Goodfellas you'll play as three "wise guys", who lie, cheat and kill to get what they want. It's typical GTA that you play the scum of the Earth in a world where goodness is non-existant. Los Santos herself is a beauty though, and reviewers weren't wrong when they said it's the most detailed open world they've ever been in. Although you might disagree in terms of size, sheer enormity isn't everything. Take MMOs for example, which more often than not have very large zones but little to look at. Only recently have developers Blizzard Entertainment found that size doesn't count, unless you fill it in. Their recent expansion for their MMORPG World of Warcraft has proven that an open world is very much like a blank canvas - you need to paint it to make it more interesting. Rockstar have always made large worlds but they've never captured what it means to live rather than exist in them. Countless times have I sighed at the sight of skyscrapers, trees, rocks and highways, and this game is no different. Where it does succeed though is how real everything looks, and I'm not talking about high definition. You don't see the same "Beer shop" and "Greengrocer" every block of the way as you're gunning for someone in a Jeep, and you'll see literally hundreds of different character models with loads of dialogue. Just walking down a street I heard different conversations, saw different people and occasionally helped them out (dynamic world events are small, but a nice change of pace). Other reviewers have stalked people in the game, and found them doing a routine or doing just more than going down the street, turning around and repeating that. I've done this and followed a couple have a leisurely walk in the mountains, sit at a café before executing them at the top of a hill with a silenced pistol. And it's no exaggeration to say that your own player characters do their own thing too when left to their own devices. Using the character-change-o-wheel, you can go from Michael after taking a Sunday drive around Blaine County to Trevor taking a dump behind a truck, or Franklin talking on the phone. You have no idea where they'll be next, and it may seem trivial, but it's not been done before and there's no reason not to have it.
"It goes to show that Rockstar want to make Los Santos a living breathing world, rather than just an overly large sandbox with nothing to do."
The three protagonists are different to each other in personality and skills, but come together in a very convincing and carefully told way. Michael de Santa is seen as the "main-main" character, as he's the first and possibly the most important of them all. After living a life of crime doing huge robbery jobs, he retires after faking his death and is provided with a villa by the witness protection programme. Living with his serially-unfaithful wife, his bratty teenage daughter and whiny teenage son (who is the perfect video gamer stereotype - even Rockstar take the piss out of video games, the clichés and the excessive violence within), Michael tends to kick back and relax by the pool wasting days of his life thinking it has to be better than his past life. Franklin is a repo man and excels in the driving skill, making him a perfect getaway driver in the trio's later capers. He's also torn between 'honest' work by doing small time crime and getting involved in gang warfare and kidnapping. He's always willing to risk his hide for a friend though, and is the kind of person you'd trust to keep a secret. Trevor Philips is a 'rural American' as he likes to call them, who lives in the deserts of Los Santos. When he hears about an old comrade returning from the dead, he goes on the hunt to find him and catch up. He's also a loon, often out of his trousers and underwear as well as his mind. Critics often say he's a psychopath and the maddest man you'd ever hope to see, but he really isn't. In fact, he's less than howling mad than Murdoch of the A-Team. That's not to say that he doesn't have lapses like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, but he's borderline Lynch from Kane and Lynch.
It takes a while before these characters meet up, and even if you're just following the story you can expect to play for approximately 4-6 hours before you even get to see Trevor. Thankfully changing between Franklin and Michael is unlocked not long after doing some of the former's missions.
Each character has different stats which can be increased. The main ones are firearms, stamina, driving and flight, but there are more which can be increased. These were introduced in San Andreas and received mixed reception because of how they changed gameplay quite a bit, and prevented you from doing certain things such as unlocking weapons and cars. However in this game they don't change gameplay radically, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't aim to work toward them as they will be of use, particularly Stamina. Even though each character starts out with more in one stat than another (for example, Trevor starts with more flight skill; Michael more shooting; Franklin more driving), they can be increased at the same rate and it requires no effort on your part at all - in fact, you'll hardly notice skilling up as you do the activities related to skills.
Adding further reason to choose the right character for the job, each has their own special ability. Michael can slow time down while in combat; Franklin can slow time down in driving and Trevor gives you some red grainy screen. I think it kills enemies in one shot, but I'm not certain. These abilities do come into play regularly so be sure to use them appropriately and watch out for the golden bar - if that runs out, your life line may too.
I think the best thing about having three different characters to play as is that you don't have to choose one, go back to the main menu and choose another to play as. As all three are in the same timeline and isle, it'd be pointless to do so. Rockstar, if I may say so, have revolutionised this at long last allowing you to swap character at (almost) any time you want. Having one character do all the jobs in the game meant that if you didn't do one mission, you couldn't progress and if you were easily stuck on GTA games before it'd be a problem. Now each character has plenty of missions, and in the event you get stuck, there's other characters to be playing as and little preventing you from progressing.
Grand Theft Auto 5 's heists are universally agreed upon to be the best feature about this game. If ever you played Kane and Lynch you'll likely remember the single bank job (which became a huge thing in the sequel's multiplayer) which was the only thing I liked about that game. While it was well orchestrated, you didn't see the depth of it such as finding a suitable getaway driver, obtaining the gas, the vehicles, the weapons and the explosives to crack the safe. This is fully elaborated in GTA 5 and the preparation for the heist is far more exciting and than the job itself. Players get to choose the suitable gunners, drivers, hackers and even the path you want to take - minimal attention or all guns blazing. The better the team, the higher the cut so you have to be careful about who you hire and what their role is in the robbery. Much like a bacon sandwich, it's over way too fast and it's time to go to work.
However the story missions and favours you do for people around the world are still good, and contain a lot of the traditional GTA juice. There are several assassination missions (frustrating but good once you know what to do) and you will have to take on endless numbers of Ballas and the like, but there is always something to spice the game up. The first mission you do with Michael and Franklin, as you tear a house down with a pickup truck (Lethal Weapon 2....) goes to show the wildness Rockstar want to throw in our faces. There's also a lot of joy to be had from meeting Strangers and Freaks, who are random people who give you tasks to do as you're travelling around Los Santos. One of my least favourites is Barry, the protester who wants to legalise weed. If he's not asking you to collect stashes in the most mundane ways possible, you have to fight off aliens and clowns with shotguns while high (delving into Saints Row territory). Dynamic world events are a great addition though, where you can dynamite trucks loaded with cash, retrieve someone's bike (doing so got me a million dollar reward a few days later, because the guy who owned the bike was in the stock market and doing extremely well) or simply retrieve someone's purse. These were seen occasionally in The Godfather video game but nowhere near as refined as GTA5's world events. It goes to show that Rockstar want to make Los Santos a living breathing world, rather than just an overly large sandbox with nothing to do.
There isn't much else I can say without spoiling the experience for you. Before I move onto the technical aspect of the game though allow me to say this: don't just play this game for the missions. Play it and get involved in everything - tennis, yoga (I hated that), races, cache pickups, flight schools, shooting ranges, mountain biking and buying property for profit and storage. Don't let GTA4 cement your opinion about the series, because there may have been a lot to do there but very little incentive to do it. Here there is reason - stats and a whole load of fun. If you can't appreciate the time and gruelling work that has gone into designing Los Santos and the surrounding areas, open world gaming isn't for you. If you're still unsure and want to quit this review now, leave knowing this: give it a rental. It's £6 for 5 days at Blockbusters and that's a good deal if I ever saw one (most rentals now are £4-5 for two nights), because you can probably complete this game in five-seven days. But if you're certain you're an open world gamer, grab this for £40 - few games are being sold for that price nowadays on this generation of consoles, and I'm sure they'll cost more than 60 as years go by.
Grand Theft Auto 5 is a very nice game to look at - while animations are still a bit samey in comparison to the previous two games on the consoles, the world has obviously improved. So much care and attention has been made to Los Santos rather than its people, and perhaps that's for the best. If you prefer graphics over gameplay, get this game for free on Google images and just drool at the sight of everything this isle has to offer. Even the user interface gets credit - it's minimalistic, easy to see, but the menus are very unclear and text is far too small to read. The subtitle size is fine for me though, but I need to ask why there isn't options to increase the size (and perhaps change the font)? We're in 2013: fix this. Finally I must address the issue of texture pop-in. This isn't common enough for you to notice, and when it is, you'll only have textures loading for about six seconds if you're travelling at high speeds and you won't even care. I wouldn't be talking about this if other reviewers didn't bang on about it, but sadly they do.... a lot. And as IGN said, for a world as expansive and gasp-worthy as this, it's a small price and it's worth paying.
The game's soundtrack however is my pet peeve. There's a lot of radio stations but not enough variety - there's one for rock, one for country/western about about 9 for hip-hop, rap and pop music. The single talk show is also very repetitive which is shoddy in comparison to GTA4 and back's, and if you don't like the game's music, you'll be listening to the Fernando Show constantly or nothing at all. Woohoo. Thank goodness Vice City was based in '86 - I'll buy the soundtrack CD and play that on my Xbox's media player, thanks.
Only one technical downside which will apply to very few users: Xbox 360 players will require 8 gigabytes to download and play the game. If you're living in the past with a 20g HDD like me, then you'll have problems. Most people won't even care about this though as they'll have 40-gig+ hard drives, and yes, the download is compulsory if you want online play too. As I've not been online (nor do I particularly care for 16 people who I can't stand ganking my crew before running off laughing), I can't comment on it.
To conclude, Grand Theft Auto V goes back to its roots with its roleplaying game elements, activities outside of missions, controlling multiple gangsters and ascending in power as well as adding new things. Adding isn't even the word - bursting at the seams, is more like it. There is so much to this revamped Los Santos, bringing more cynicism to the franchise than ever before and hundreds of sarcastic pop culture references.
I'm afraid I can't score this game because it doesn't deserve a 9 out of 9, yet it has the qualities of at least a six or seven. I will however give it the "More Bang for your Buck" accolade, for its extensive gameplay and tonnes of replay value. If you have any questions please ask me in the comments below, and tell me your thoughts on the latest addition to the GTA franchise! Until the next time, thank you for reading, and have a pleasant day.