When it comes to big events in the world of gaming there’s nothing near as significant as the release of an entry into Rockstar’s globally admired Grand Theft Auto franchise, arguably one of the most successful, influential and recognisable names of all time. Grand Theft Auto V is no exception to the rule dwarfing the sales power of popular annual franchises like Assassins Creed and Call of Duty as the first entry into the numbered series in five years it generated a staggering one billion dollars in three days – faster than either of the aforementioned big hitters have ever managed. The series success rests on its hallmarks of excellence: quality gameplay combined with some of the best sandbox worlds ever devised. If you haven’t figured it out yet Grand Theft Auto: V is a game you should already own.
Chances are your one of the millions that have already gone out and bought the game probably just here to read some opinions. If your not then I implore you to continue but know Grand Theft Auto: V is spectacular; at forty hours in I’ll say right now it’s absolutely worth your time and hard earned dough. After a whole generation that has strived to build awesome sandboxes it seems fitting that it come to a close with one of the best ever made, perhaps the most fun, deep, mesmerising and genuinely alive world depicted in video games. Just flying over the city of Los Santos at night watching car lights drive around the streets realising you could land anywhere to see what you’ve been looking at from the sky is just mind blowing.
This isn’t Los Santos’s first go as a playable location in the series either, though the new HD era version shares some basic similarities with it’s last generation counterpart from San Andreas the majority is largely very distinctive. Like GTA IV’s Liberty City Los Santos feels alive, commuters go about their daily business, pedestrians chat on their phones and if you cause havoc they can even use their cells to call the police – so watch out for witness! Whilst the city itself is gargantuan around three quarter of the total map is covered by the returning countryside and desert, complete with mountains including the indomitable Mt Chilliad. That’s not including the added ability travel underwater areas via submarine. From the skies to the depths of ocean there’s plenty of playground populated with scores of activity.
Players will be experiencing these delights for the first time in series history as not just one awful yet lovable roguish anti-hero but three each with their own unique personalities, skills and separate narratives that are masterfully weaved into one cohesive storyline. The trio is headed up by ex-conman and master thief Michael, now retired in his forties he spends his days drinking, watching old movies and lying by his pool. Michaels life revolves around his entitled family none of whom of which have any respect for him, imagine if Tommy Verceti settled down. His life of lounging takes a turn quickly as naturally things don’t remain peaceful for long when events are set in motion that trigger Michael to meet Franklin.
Franklin’s from the hood, reminiscent of previous series protagonist CJ, Franklin despises his current gang banger life style pulling off small time jobs working for those with money for next to nothing – he desperately wants to make something of himself. When events are set in motion Michael and Franklin find themselves in a situation whereby Michael must go back to his old heisting ways whilst Franklin is keen to learn skills that could win him big. Franklin and Michael are by no means good people but, when compared to the third member of the group Trevor, they look positively normal. Michael knows Trevor from his younger days a madman, psychopath and generally despicable human being with a unusually softer side – especially when standing up for women.
All three of the characters are superbly written and the banter between the group is entertainingly convincing – Michael and Trevor in particular have some wonderful interplay. Franklin stands out as the most normal of the group as simply the most straight shooting hard worker. Michael’s glorious interaction with his family is genuinely hilarious especially when peppered with his incredible short temper that regularly leads to destruction, beatings and even murders – his cynical sarcastic view is non stop smile inducing. Trevor, he is the stand out member of the group a truly madman whom everyone should despise cannibal, murderer, life ruiner and generally awful person, easily one of the most intriguing character in recent years he’s bizarrely empathetic in his moments of misery, he’s unstable but has an implied rough past that remarkably makes you pity him.
Of course the gang aren’t the only despicable people in this world it’d be fair to say that there isn’t one positive role model living in the entire city. Los Santos is a caricature of modern day American society, Rockstar cleverly and occasionally uncomfortably inflates the ugly parts of western culture to grotesque proportions. Teenage girls are portrayed as entitled brats who see entering reality shows with promiscuous acts as an appropriate life goal or hackers who target evil corrupt corporation bosses under the guise of justice really are just manipulating the stock market for their own personal greed. No one is safe from Rockstar’s ridicule and though some may find it’s humour offensive it’s important remember these are not real peoples view but rather satire that reflects societies issues.
The most surprising thing about Grand Theft Auto V’s presentational value is the graphical quality. Lighting effects are simply phenomenal the world shimmers with beauty as light sublimely bounces of every reflective surface; water glimmers with effortless elegance. Animations again are very good going above and beyond the standard that it’s predecessor set some five years ago. Character models, vehicles and textures however remain fairly average they’re certainly pretty and the lighting in particular helps create the illusion of perfection however, look a little deeper and you’ll notice they’re actually quite disappointing – still considering this is current gen hardware what they’ve juiced is nothing short of witchcraft.
Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t let up after it presentational brilliance either, it’s superbly fun to play. The bulk of the experience focuses on the ever present staple of missions. Unlike previous entries it seems this time they finally got missions right, they’re very few “drive here shoot them” tasks this time around, instead opting for more exciting tasks like chasing falling planes, driving motorcycles on top of moving trains and driving a smaller plane into the back of a already flying cargo plane before murdering everyone on board. It’s a sort of marvellous mix between Saints Row insanity and Grand Theft Auto’s more grounded pseudo reality that has miraculously spiced up missions to no end, even if there is a long drive missions are sufficiently check pointed that you don’t need to repeat it all.
This new madcap explosive approach to missions is best displayed when the dream team must come together to pull off the most covenanted touted feature – heists. Heists unlike traditional GTA requires preparation before they’re undertaken furthermore players even have a choice of how they wish to approach an objective. For example in a earlier heist players are told to break into a jewellery store, after casing the joint players are presented with the option to drop sleeping gas through the ventilation system or maybe just break in through the front door. You’ll even have to assemble a crew to aid you, different crew members demand different percentage of the take depending on their skills, so choose wisely – after all a poor driver may totally cock up your escape effecting your total success.
Playing through these missions feels more responsive than ever before thanks to much improved driving and shooting mechanics. This time GTA has chosen to use a fierce lock on system for shooting that turns the player character into an unreal killing machine, the ability makes it possible for proficient players to absolutely tear through crowds like nothing – especially combined with the new tight cover mechanics. Michael and Trevor have an easier time thanks to their special skills Michaels Max Payne like bullet time and Trevor’s rampage which makes him deal more damage whilst taking less. Lock on mechanics can be turned off for those who find the system makes it way to easy.
Driving similarly is smoother than ever and way more responsive than Grand Theft Auto IV which felt like you were sliding around a city whose roads were sculpted entirely out of ice. Flight controls have been affected as well which makes acrobatic manoeuvres easier than they’ve ever been, except in helicopters which I feel are an absolute scourge to manoeuvr as they wobble aimlessly from side to side. Those who have found driving difficult in the past will come to appreciate Franklin’s special ability which allows player to bullet time drive making it possible to weave between cars in a way that would be simply impossible without it.
Beyond the typical mission they’re a simply implausible number of optional side missions. Strangers and freaks akin to Red Dead Redemption litter city as they randomly ask for your help with mad tasks like photographing celebrity, stealing celebrity memorabilia or competing against the worlds most insane compulsive exerciser. On top of that they’re random events like van’s to rob; people to save from burning wreckages – you can even become the re-mugger taking down muggers to steal their loot. That’s not counting the array of hobbies on offer go do yoga, play golf, go to the shooting range, learn to fly, play tennis, try sky diving, run a triathlon, street race; the list just goes on and on it’s simply mind blowing. What’s more perplexing their isn’t a boring event amongst all of them, the sheer volume content on offer is amazing.
Scattered throughout the city they’re scores of property for the group to buy ranging from taxi services, hangers at the airport, bars and even movie theatres. Some provide extra jobs some just allow you somewhere to permanently store those planes you’ve stolen – or even bought legally of the in game internet stores, where they’re cars, planes bike and ex-military hardware up for grabs – aw yeah. If you need more money you can play in the in game stock markets, one of which is affected by online players actions, it’s truly amazing. This is of course on top of all the wacky self made goals GTA encourages, fly a jumbo jet onto a mountain, pedal across the state or go looking for the mysterious packages hidden around the city.
All the action is accompanied by the stead fast Grand Theft Auto tradition of radio, they’re plenty of stations to choose from with their own genres; unique hosts all suitably broken up by an assortment of madcap advertisements. They’re also a few talk show stations to chuckle along to as guests and hosts ramble on about nonsense, even Lazlow returns, unfortunately these sections feels shorter than ever before. Although we all have that memory of GTA when the perfect song flicked onto the radio at the perfect time aligning itself with the action. Rockstar has updated to a more sure fire way of building emotion by including a whole original score that players at set times in missions. Some will miss the random feel but the new system certainly adds a layer of tenseness to proceedings.
Really that sums up what Grand Theft Auto V is. It’s added lots to the traditional formula whilst not being afraid to ditch what no longer works – they’re no phone calls from cousins here. They’ve listened to all the feedback from IV and implemented fixes alongside the simply phenomenal content offering this is a game that could keep players coming back for more forever. Forty hours in and all I want to do is play more – that’s amazing. With it’s great story, superb characters, tight gameplay, exhaustive array of activities, hilarious satire and thoroughly enjoyable insane missions Grand Theft Auto V successfully fixes every problem with the previous titles. It’s a true testament to what one of the finest teams in the world can do given five years to do it. Absolutely do not miss this game.