Review: Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto has been a pioneer in the industry, not only from a technological standpoint, but in a social context as well, exploring controversial subject matter and themes untouched by most games. In Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar continues to push the boundaries even further.
Grand Theft Auto V wastes no time putting you smack dab in the middle of the action right from the start. Your first mission is pulling off a bank heist. Meanwhile, the game gets you quickly up to speed on all you need to know. However, the real journey begins a decade later in the city of Los Santos.
You won’t be going it alone though, because Grand Theft Auto V isn’t just one story, but three. At any given time, you have the choice to control one of three different characters as you navigate their personal lives and find out how each one fits in the world around them. Controlling three very distinct characters all in real time gives the gameplay an episodic feeling, reminiscent of the film Pulp Fiction, where the inclusion of multiple perspectives allowed you to watch the overall story unfold from different points of view.
As you play one of the main protagonists, the other two don’t sit idly by and wait for you to pick them up again. Instead, they continue on with their lives in the city, visit with family and friends, and even take part in whatever recreational activities they can find. You may swap characters only to find out that you are now sitting in traffic or watching TV. This small mechanic makes an already living world feel even more alive.
The characters all have their own distinct playing styles and personalities. Veterans of the franchise will find they are already familiar with such archetypes, but should be pleasantly surprised with the diversity and depth of characterization this time around.
- Michael: The one with the most to lose. He’s the Niko this time around.
- Franklin: The character that is trying to prove himself. Reminds me of the silent protagonist from Grand Theft Auto III
- Trevor: The character that doesn’t care. He’s the embodiment of every single GTA player that’s ever gone around and caused destruction and mayhem to see how many wanted stars they can rack up.
Having three characters does not mean their stuck sharing the same plot. On the contrary, each character has his own story to tell and makes his own journey there. Along with standard missions there are specific character missions that are color coded (Michael’s are blue, Franklin’s are green, and Trevor’s are orange) on the map, so it’s easy to see what character you need for what mission.
Swapping characters is a snap, and can be performed by pressing on the D pad and using the right thumbstick to choose your character. This triggers the camera, which zooms out overhead until it’s over the entire city, before it quickly zooms down to your next character, where ever he may be. This is a smooth transition, and rather cool to look at.
The personal stats of the main characters are increased by practicing certain traits. For instance, if you want to be a better shot go to the firing range, if you want to be a better pilot take some flying lessons, etc… Each character can also activate a special skill that will ultimately turn the tide in their favor. Assigning and leveling up specific traits is important, because depending on the mission, you may want to take along a character whose higher stats will get the job done more efficiently.
Knowing how to choose the right characters becomes crucial, because soon you will be pulling heists that will require additional NPC participants. For example, you may need a wheel man in order to make a quick getaway. The game will give you several different candidates for the job. You can pick someone who will take a smaller cut, but has an overall lower level of proficiency, which may mean they will not be able perform well. Or, you may hire a professional with a higher skill set that will guarantee a greater level of success, but will demand a larger cut of the prize.
If you are one to take chances, however, there is a benefit to giving rookies a chance. Like the main protagonists, NPCs can and will increase their own stats. That means if you decide on that low skilled wheel man and he manages to get the job done he will gain status points that make him more reliable for future missions.
Everywhere you look you will see that stats play a major part of Grand Theft Auto V, even for vehicles.
Like in every single Grand Theft Auto game before it, there are dozens of vehicles to choose from. As any veteran knows, there are the cars we love and the cars we need. The difference is that we may love a car, but it is too slow or handles poorly, so we can never use it for the missions we want. Fortunately, that has changed in Grand Theft Auto V.
There are the cars we love and the cars we need.
Let’s say you have a car you love, but it’s not fast enough. Just pop over to the local Los Santos Customs and not only get yourself a new coat of paint but also grab some upgrades to the engine, suspension, or body while you are at it. Thanks to Los Santos Customs, players can customize the cars they love so they are able to be used for all their missions. This is a great addition to the game, because it allows players more freedom. Grand Theft Auto has always been about letting the player pick their own course of action in an open world. No matter how small it may seem, vehicle upgrades are just one more decision that players have control over.
The world map is enormous and filled with every possible activity you can think of. This is not only showcased in the diversity of the story missions, but demonstrated in free play missions too. Grand Theft Auto IV kept the missions from being too ridiculous and I think Grand Theft Auto V does a good job of this as well. Occasionally, the story missions can be absurd and silly, but they are enjoyable and never make the game feel cartoonish.
The writing sets the tone for the whole game. From the main protagonists to the random NPCs, each person has a very distinct voice that when added to a city of thousands makes for an enjoyable world that feels diverse and alive. The character development of Trevor alone creates an individual so repulsive, so abhorrent, that he is the least likable “protagonist” I have ever come across in a game. And yet, it’s those brief glimpses of decency that make him feel real, and for that reason alone I love him.
The controls in the game feel right. On foot the characters move and react like you would expect them to. It is effortless to run behind a building, climb over a fence, and then scale a fire escape to the roof. When it comes to combat you have three choices:
- Tradional GTA: Lock on to the nearest threat
- Assisted Aiming: Sets you off in the direction of the nearest threat
- Free Aiming: Everything is up to you
There’s a control setting for every skill type.
The detail in the world is unprecedented. Everything works as you would expect it to work. Here is a prime example. I hijacked a truck towing a boat and the police spotted me. Unable to lose them quickly, I drove the truck and trailer into the ocean. As the truck sank into the water, the boat stayed on the surface. Immediately, I swam to the boat, started it up, and sped away leaving a lot of angry policemen on the shore. That was just one of many “This is brilliant!” moments.
That was just one of many “This is brilliant” moments.
Speaking of police, they are no pushovers. The police force in Los Santos is without question the most tenacious police force in the Grand Theft Auto universe. Police will aggressively ram you off the road and block you much more often than in previous installments. You will also have to deal with police helicopters at earlier “wanted” levels. This puts a greater emphasis on obeying the law since running over that gaggle of pedestrians could tie you up with the boys in blue for some time.
It is not all about being a malcontent this time around though. You are able to play the hero at various points in the game. As you travel around Los Santos random events will pop up and if you are feeling particularly heroic that day, you may help out a person in need. It is a nice twist that is implemented well.
With Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar has created a game that gives players the best of both worlds. Being able to free roam in an environment that is exaustingly realistic, but still fanciful enough to include some zany plot points and amazing feats that give players an incredible experience. Rockstar’s ability to simulate a living, breathing microcosm for millions to immerse themselves in is an impressive feat and not to be missed.
Why it may be helpful for people with anxiety
- Extremely easy to pick up and play
- World is alive and full of things to do
- Colorful characters keep the story lively
Why it may be unhelpful for people with anxiety
- Some missions are disturbing
- Trevor’s special ability makes the game take on a warped flickering appearance, like a grainy grind house film that some may find disorienting
Why you should be playing this
Grand Theft Auto is the cream of the crop when it comes to open world games and Grand Theft Auto V builds on an already impressive resume. The three characters move the game at a very quick pace with no lulls in the action. That’s not to say it has a short campaign. On the contrary, there is so much to do in this installment that you will still have plenty to keep you busy when GTA Online launches in October.
If you’re a fan of Grand Theft Auto or open world games you deserve to play Grand Theft Auto V. With its refinement of franchise staples and implantation of new gameplay modes this is a must have title for everyone.
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version that was provided by the publisher.
September 17th, 2013
Xbox 360, PS3
Memorable characters, wealth of different things to do, story that is offbeat but never feels cartoony
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