Grand Theft Auto V (Now includes PS4/Xbox One)
January 27, 2015, Author: Andy Corrigan
Few franchises can generate the incredible amount of hype that Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto amasses, but it’s easy to see why. This is a series that changed our perception of open-world games and pushed hardware as much as it did boundaries. A series that with a single online trailer can bring the internet to a crawl as it struggles under its demand.
Despite the hype, however, it also rarely fails to deliver.
It’s fair to say that the latest iteration, GTA V, has been one of the most hotly anticipated games of all time. Now that it’s out in the wild is it everything we’ve been promised?
GTA V’s plot focuses on three entirely new protagonists as they look to score a number of high-profile heists around Los Santos. Michael is a retired bank robber, living a life of luxury in the finest residential area in Los Santos, but is forced out of retirement when his temper gets him in trouble with a local mobster. Franklin is the boy that desperately wants to get out of the hood, constantly annoyed at the petty nature of the gangbangers around him. Then there’s Trevor who, frankly, is a vicious sociopath. He isn’t really in crime for the money or the reputation, but simply for the fun. He and Michael have history, though, which will come to light and affect their relationship throughout the campaign.
Out of the three, it’s Michael that acts as the primary protagonist. After all, it’s his actions and temper that act as the catalyst to all the major events, and ultimately, he’s the one that brings the trio together.
Having three protagonists all with their own issues, the story can understandably feel a little scatter-brained, especially when compared to GTA IV. Niko’s grim, gritty story of revenge feels a lot more focused in comparison, but GTA V does manage to avoid the mid-point drag of other Rockstar titles. It’s also hard to deny that the relationship between the core trio is anything other than fascinating, as their stories intersect and their friendships evolve. It goes without saying that none of these violent criminals are nice people (they’re criminals, duh), but seeing them interact is one of the strongest elements.
Each seems to represent a different aspect of the GTA franchise. Michael is the like the Mafioso crime boss; the mastermind, the mission giver. Franklin represents the ‘rags to riches’ theme so often seen throughout the series. Trevor, for all his unpredictability, to me, represents you as the player. You know all those times when you decided not to do missions and just tried to cause as much violent mayhem as you could before getting caught or killed? That’s Trevor in a nutshell.
Your boundaries of taste will be tested here and there, there’s no getting around that. In depicting the seedy underbelly of crime, for example, there’s some misogyny that some players might find a little too much to bear and that’s an entirely fair reaction; it’s a growing and fully worthwhile concern in the industry. Personally, I recognise it in GTA, but I don’t see too much of an issue with it in this particular scenario, especially when I consider that gender equality likely isn’t too high up on the list of priorities for real-life mobsters. Plus, it’s not like real-life Los Angeles is free of misogyny either; Hollywood’s output should tell you that. So although I don’t agree with it, most of its representation falls in line with either of these contexts, so it makes sense I think.
That aside, you will perform some sickening act in charge of these characters. Most of the more violent, confronting moments come via Trevor, whose personality at least adds context to those actions (they were wise not to have him as a solo protagonist, though). There are one or two ‘why would I be doing this?’ moments in regards to some of the side-missions for the other characters. Franklin in particular takes on a few tasks that left me baffled as to why he thought following through with a certain stranger’s request was a good idea; it just seemed so out of character.
It helps at least that the writing is sharp, witty and snarky for most part. There are a lot of political undertones, shots at the mainstream media, and yes, some of the humour is purely childish. Even in its most puerile moments, however, it’s leagues ahead of the ‘look, here is a fisting machine’ jokes repeated ad nausem in the Saints Row series, as an example.
Every single mechanic in GTA V is vastly improved over its predecessor. I mean, I really enjoyed GTA IV, but time definitely had to be spent getting used to sluggish controls. Although the reward was certainly there for seeing through that adjustment period, GTA V is instantly more fluid and user-friendly on every level.
For starters, driving is a resounding cut above the previous efforts, with realistic weighting and steering meaning that cornering feels as good as some racers out there. General character movement retains a fair weighting, but moving the characters around this world finally feels natural and responsive. Climbing, jumping, running; it all happens perfectly without you needing to fight against Rockstar’s physics.
While a game like this is never going to see combat as sharp as a dedicated third-person shooter in the Gears mould, the combat here finally feels at least somewhat comparable to a third-person cover shooter. You’re able to dart around the impromptu battlegrounds, snapping to cover and popping heads fairly effortlessly.
Of course, with the release of the Xbox One and PS4 versions, not to mention the upcoming PC release, you can now play GTA entirely from a first-person perspective, and the shift isn’t nearly as jarring as I thought it would be. In fact, it’s pretty damn fluid, especially on the PS4 where the change can be made at any time in gameplay by pressing down the touchpad. Here, anything you can do in third-person can be done in first, including snapping to cover, which is surprisingly robust. Despite having played countless FPS games in my years, it’s oddly refreshing to engage in GTA’s intense firefights from this more involved angle, looking directly down the scope or barrel. I had worried about how lesser-used actions – such as melee attacks – might fare in transition, but they work well and it adds an impressive sense of momentum.
Peripheral elements to combat have seen an overhaul from GTA IV. The gun-wheel, for example, makes weapons switching easier than ever before, even if you have multiple types of the same gun. As usual in GTA, time doesn’t stop when you’re selecting a new weapon, but rather it slows time down, meaning that you’re never completely safe in the midst of combat and there’s still an element of tactical foresight required in regards to timing.
The real unique selling, however, is the ability to switch between protagonists during missions that feature two or of three of them. In some of these missions you’re free to do this whenever you like as situations call for it, and in others your playable character is either dictated to you beyond your control, or you’re at least encouraged to switch at certain points. Regardless of a mission’s approach, this system adds a real tactical flavour. In a high pressure shootout in the middle of a heist and find yourself being flanked? Well you can switch to better-placed character and handle the situation as you see fit. A helicopter about to come and fuck everything up? Switch to your rooftop sniper and shoot out the pilot.
When you’re not actively in control of someone, the A.I. is pretty effective at holding its own, and when they’re in trouble you’ll have visual and audible indicators to suggest that it’s a good time to switch and help them out. It’s a surprisingly fun system that’s a lot of fun to play around with. To this end, each character also has a special ability that can help you get out of a jam. Franklin, the best driver of the three, can slow down time while in a car, making it possible to make the narrowest gaps with ease. Michael, the master thief, can activate a bullet time that represents his focus in combat. True to form, Trevor can enter a psychotic rampage mode in which he’ll take no damage from enemies.
Outside of missions, switching between the trifecta allows you to tackle jobs in the order you want, and in rare cases, with whom you want. In doing so you usually find them going about their business; sat at home with the kids, walking out of a ‘specialist’ café, or in Trevor’s case, anything is possible. A few times I found him in his underpants surrounded by dead guys in the middle of nowhere, or being chased by the cops screaming that ‘it was a misunderstanding’, situations both humorous and fitting of this character.
While playing and tackling the characters’ personal missions, you’re always building towards these brilliantly thought-out heists, which are undoubtedly the showpiece moments in the game. Prior to their execution, you’ll be doing jobs to prepare: scoping out your targets and choosing your approach (usually between loud or smart), before stealing the necessary vehicles and obtaining suitable wear and equipment. No matter which approach you select, you’re in for a real treat as you perform these multi-stage jobs to the letter, leaving you feeling like De Niro at his most badass in the movie Heat.
With a lot of the missions feeling larger than in previous titles, it’s only right that GTA V should incorporate a friendlier and regular checkpoint system mid-mission, and Rockstar have implemented just that. You’ll rarely die and find yourself frustrated at a loss of progress (within reason), and it helps keep the already excellent pacing.
Away from the core story and side-missions, there’s so much to busy yourself with. You can hang out or go drinking with friends (it’s not pushed in your face as much as GTA IV; in fact it’s not even advertised or initiated by other characters), do extreme sports, races, or play tennis, darts and golf. The tennis and golf games in particular are surprisingly well-realised and a lot of fun to play, and while yes, they’re not going to beat a dedicated sports game like Top Spin or Tiger Woods, much like everything else in GTA V, it’s very easy to lose hours in them.
Regardless of whether you’re playing on last-gen/new gen, GTA V isn’t just a gorgeous-looking game for its size and scope, but it’s easily one of the most richly detailed games I’ve ever played. The city of Los Santos is a large, vibrant and bustling metropolis with virtual lives going about their days and, from the richest areas to the poorest, it feels like a real, organic, functioning city. Let’s not forget about Blaine County, though, whose desert and mountainous terrain looks positively real and is equally as stunning as Los Santos in entirely its own way. Driving down dusty highways with the crisp, blue, cloudless sky meeting the yellow sand and dirt in the horizon is an unforgettably striking image.
The Xbox One and PS4 versions, however, take the visual fidelity up quite a notch, to the point where it feels that Grand Theft Auto V it was developed exclusively for the new consoles, putting the drab likes of Watch_Dogs to shame – as well as a number of natively developed games too. Don’t get me wrong, this was undoubtedly a beautiful game on PS3 and Xbox 360, but with new textures and gloss applied to every inch of Lost Santos, the step-up is quite noticeable.
Even just exploring in first-person casts Rockstar’s attention to detail in a new light, especially in terms of interiors, which are the biggest evidence of Rockstar’s meticulous design philosophy. Every house feels believably designed and lived in, even down to the types of homely clutter you’ll have laying around your own living spaces as we speak, and the shift to first-person really hammers home the scale of the work put in.
When we generally talk about detail in video-games, it’s usually only ever in relation to graphics, but in GTA V’s case even something as simple as walking down the street, or standing and listening to what’s going on around you reveals an amazing attention to audible detail. Not only do Los Santos and Blaine County look utterly believable, but they sound it too . Car engines rev and purr, other drivers’ music blares mutedly through closed windows, civilians converse and bicker. There’s whole a lot going on at any one time, and with pitch-perfect mixing and incredible acoustics throughout, it’s a believable world to breathe in.
The soundtrack is a cleverly selected, but a more subtle arrangement in comparison to its last-gen forebears. Some might prefer every song to be a banger, but there’s also an argument that the radio stations feel a bit more believable this way. There are some great tracks too, with Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better with You”, All Saints’ “Pure Shores” and Dre & Snoop’s “The Next Episode” among many of my own personal highlights. There are some nice little design touches here too, such as Trevor overriding my station of choice to angry punk in the middle of a car chase.
The voice-acting is also solid on the whole, with very few characters sounding miscast. The core trio in particular are pretty much flawless in their delivery, nailing their parts perfectly in spite of some shonky dialogue here and there. Some of the strangers and freaks you meet are also excellently represented; my favourites being the elderly couple stalking celebrities at their homes…
There’s so much to talk about with GTA V that I could easily have gone on for another 2000 words and still wouldn’t have been able to talk about everything I wanted to. Alas, I needed to keep the review to a reasonable length and there’s a lot to be said for discovering this all for yourself. The fact I couldn’t talk about everything here is a testament to the sheer amount of things to see and do in this game.
Despite one or two issues I had surrounding some of the more questionable choices in content, it’s hard to deny that Grand Theft Auto V is anything but one of the last generation’s best and a great start to the new generation. Mechanically, visually, and audibly, this iteration improves on everything the series has done previously and positively excels at everything new too. The action is big and loud, the story is rarely tedious, and even in its most controversial or polarising moments, it at least tries to have something to say.
The PS4 and Xbox One versions, with their visual enhancements and new first-person mode, mean that regardless of whether you’re coming into GTA V for the first time or coming back for a second playthrough, you’re sure to find something new thats worth exploring.