OXCGN’s Grand Theft Auto V Review
The Perfect Crime?
by Daniel Geikowski
©2013 Daniel Geikowski
I enjoy the finer things in life.
Whether it’s cruising down the open highway in a convertible, boating on a luxury yacht, shopping in high-end retail stores, golfing, or senseless murder, Grand Theft Auto V allows me to enjoy all these favoured pastimes from the comfort of my couch.
Featuring more than just stealing cars, Rockstar Games have grown and molded the Grand Theft Auto series over time, into living, breathing worlds that aren’t just a hell of a lot of fun to cause mayhem in, they also poke fun at the society we live in today using their trademark dark humour and satirical nature.
It’s no secret that every Grand Theft Auto title is one of, if not the most anticipated title in most gamers’ eyes. You only need to hear that Rockstar made $1 billion in the first three days of GTAV‘s release, to understand how popular it is. Synonymous with controversy, the media love to create news about GTA, and people who never play games know of the series.
This all creates a heap of pressure for Rockstar to step up to the plate and create a living world that not only stays true to the crime-addled past of the series. but presents it in an appropriate way to avoid unnecessary offending groups within society.
While Grand Theft Auto IV was a smash hit, many gamers didn’t enjoy it’s shift from the crazy antics of past titles toward a realistic tone that had people constantly go bowling with their annoying cousin.
Rockstar have listened. While it doesn’t allow you to fly around on jetpacks, Grand Theft Auto V is packed full of wild activities that still maintains a realistic nature.
Grand Theft Auto V sees players venturing back to the state of San Andreas, which features the city of Los Santos, surrounded by ocean, desert, and lush countryside.
Whereas GTA: San Andreas contained multiple cities separated by countryside, GTAV focuses solely on bringing to life one city in Los Santos, Rockstar’s version of Los Angeles.
In a bold move for the series, Grand Theft Auto V has three playable protagonists. What’s great about this is the fact that the three characters are so unique in terms of culture and personality, that it works to create a richer story, having three people from different backgrounds come together to present their perspective on events that unfold.
First up is Franklin, an African-American gangbanger who’s gotten tired of his low-level hustling. While his friends are satisfied with living in their neighbourhood doing what they can to make money, Franklin aspires to make serious paper through other means.
Next up is Michael, a career-criminal now in retirement, living in the high-end of Los Santos off his criminal earnings. In another first for the series, Michael is the first protagonist that has an immediate family present in the game. His life is a bit of a mixed bag; retirement isn’t all he’d hoped for, his dysfunctional family don’t want to spend any time with him, modern society has sent his life into standstill. He literally sits by the pool all day drinking himself stupid.
Finally, there’s Trevor. Basically, he’s a psychopath. Unhinged, relentless, maniacal. Trevor is the sort of guy that would help an old lady cross the street, only to curb stomp them a few seconds later. A meth dealer living out of his trailer in the rural Blaine County, Trevor seeks to expand his “business”, all while seeking the next big score.
While all the protagonists are wildly different, they all have one thing in common: money. While it can be said the main theme in GTA IV was about getting a fresh start and the ‘American Dream,’ GTAV revolves around the pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Throughout a random series of events, the three characters are brought together in order to not only complete tasks for various wealthy and nefarious people in Los Santos, but to complete a series of daring heists in search of huge scores of money to solve some problems.
It’s these heists that are the standout highlight of GTAV. When planning for the heist, the player is given an option of how they’d like to tackle it, usually resorting to either a stealthy, cautious operation, or a full-frontal all guns blazing assault. After selecting their method, players are given a set of gear they need to collect, ranging from a submersible to a truck full of knock-out gas.
Heists can’t be completed with just three guys though, so a crew has to be assembled. Crew members range in the efficiency of skills. This affects the overall cut of the job they’ll receive. A more highly-skilled driver or gunmen is desirable on a job, but will take more money than a novice.
Should you opt to use a novice, they’ll earn experience as they go along, but their cut percentage will stay the same. It comes down to whether or not the player feels it necessary to have all highly-skilled members take part in the heist.
These heists are all interwoven between an engaging narrative, as is seemingly customary with many Rockstar titles. Each character is given ample time to shine, both as a part of the trio as well as individually. While players will no doubt have their favourite character, each plays an important part in presenting Los Santos as a diverse, culturally-filled world.
Rockstar need to be applauded for their adoption of a trio of playable characters. It really feels like you are playing three different stories occasionally crossing boundaries. While it’s more engaging than their previous effort, I must say it can be a bit overwhelming attempting to keep track of what’s going on in each character’s lives.
While there is logical progression in the series of events occurring throughout the game, some connections to new characters in a story sense come about in a somewhat clunky manner. This is me nit-picking though, as the story in Grand Theft Auto V is the best yet.
With the large amount of time you’ll spend with the characters, it’s great to see their personalities change throughout the story. Rockstar have done a great job of keeping players thinking about the protagonists’ motivations and thought-processes. A lot of backstory is given through in-game conversations the characters have with their contacts. As the game progresses, your opinions of Franklin, Michael and Trevor will flip, then when you think you’ve got it sorted, Rockstar go ahead and flip it all again.
The Rat Race
Once unlocked, players can switch back and forth between characters. What makes GTAV seem like a persistent world is that they protagonists will continue on with their day without the presence of the player. Switching between characters is intuitive through the use of the D-pad, and it’s hilarious to see what each character has got up to while you’ve been away.
Franklin might be out at the strip club or walking his pet Rottweiler Chop, who by the way you can train using the real-life iFruit app on your smartphone. Michael might be at home lounging by the pool, or out and about trying to get away from his family. Trevor is the wild one though. There have been times when I’ve switched to him drunk of his face in nothing but his underwear, other times in the midst of a 3-star police chase.
This freedom to switch translates into the story missions as well, which can involve either one, two or all three of the main trio.
The missions in GTAV are much more enjoyable and diverse in this iteration. For too long players have scoffed at Grand Theft Auto for having too many obligatory driving missions filling up around a few choice events. That’s far from the case this time around. Hell, the opening mission sees you robbing a bank followed by a massive shootout with the 5-0.
But the thing players have to understand is, with a name like Grand Theft Auto, of course there is going to be a lot of driving involved. The great thing is however, is although there is a lot of driving, Rockstar have crafted missions of such variety that it never felt like a chore.
The driving feels like an integral and logical part of each mission, as opposed to “drive here, shoot this guy, get this package, then drive away from the police.”
Missions range from Franklin taking a couple of gang members to a drug deal gone bad in Grove Street, Michael infiltrating the Facebook-inspired LifeInvader social media headquarters, to Trevor flying into the back of a cargo plane with a crop duster. Just when you think you’ve done something crazy, the next mission comes along and blows you away.
Regular missions have gotten just as much attention as the heists, and certainly look to create the most media controversy going forward. The mission in question has players commit acts of torture in an up-close and visceral nature. Even though I personally got through it fine, I think Rockstar stumbled a bit here, as even though they use subtle reasoning advocating the objection of torture, having to force players to go through this could be unsettling for some.
However, this is why we have adult ratings for games, and parents should be taking these on board seriously, getting the notion that ‘all games are suitable for children’ out of their minds.
Getting back on track, each character presents a unique perspective on each mission. One early mission with the three sees Trevor flying a chopper over a building, with Michael rappelling down a building while Franklin takes overwatch with a sniper rifle.
Each character has a varying level of skills, as well as a special ability. Franklin is able to slow down time while driving, in order to swerve through traffic. While he is a good driver, he’s terrible at flying, and mediocre at shooting. Michael is good at stealth and shooting, but average in driving. In a homage to Max Payne 3, Michael can slow down time in gunfights. Trevor on the other hand is a master at flying, but stealth isn’t his forte. He’s able to go into a Rampage mode, dealing more damage to gang members and average civilians alike.
RPG elements rear their head in the form of these stats. Each character is able to increase abilities by completing necessary activities. Shooting is improved by going to the range or participating in gunfights, while driving is improved by continuously driving at high speeds or successfully dodging traffic.
While this does work well to get a sense of progression in each character, I felt like they were all identical by the end anyway, and the stats weren’t that important. By keeping their stats significantly different, I feel that there would have been more incentive to utilise certain characters for certain situations. In the end they are all sufficient enough in mowing police down and running pedestrians over.
A neat addition to the GTA series Rockstar have implemented is the ability to replay a mission upon its completion. This is a genius and much-welcomed feature, as it was never worth the trouble of starting a fresh game just to experience your favourite mission. It also allows players to experience it through another character’s perspective, preventing repeated missions from getting stale.
Missions now also have medal rankings, depending on how many objectives you complete. The good thing is players don’t know of these objectives until after the mission’s completion. This allows players to play through the first time in their own style, without being influenced by a checklist.
Dog Eat Dog
One of the greatest aspects in any Grand Theft Auto game is the cast of wild and wacky characters, and GTAV doesn’t disappoint.
By having three unique main characters, it allows for a diverse secondary cast from various classes and cultures. Most of the cast however border on the stereotypical and cliche, with your gangbangers, Mexican druglords, Asian street racers, inbred rednecks and UFO conspiracy theorists. The cast is big enough though that it doesn’t detract from the experience, and there are characters from other corners of pop culture present, like a movie producer that just wants to pump out sequel after sequel, to the shy introvert who loves dressing up as a fan of his favourite ICP-inspired band.
There’s even a few cameos from some of our old friends from GTA IV.
The key component in regards to every character you meet, and even the protagonists themselves in some respect, is that they aren’t nice people. Everyone has an ulterior motive.
Everyone is manipulative and deserves everything that is coming to them. There are no clear-cut nice people in the world. In some regards I feel this is Rockstar signifying to our society that we are predominantly out for ourselves. You selfish individuals you.
So much so that Rockstar has mirrored our society’s love of taking ‘selfies’, GTAV allows you to take your own selfies to upload to the Rockstar Social Club. While it sounds obsurd, there have been some hilarious photos people have gotten themselves into. And yes, I’ve even taken one or two myself. But I had a pile of flaming bodies in the background, so that cancels it out.
After the main story has been told, there’s still plenty to keep players going for an absurd amount of time.
Hands-down, the state of San Andreas is huge. Not only is it the biggest world Rockstar have created to date, but it’s also the most highly-detailed.
In the 40-odd hours I’ve put into the game so far, the environments have been anything but repetitive.
Previous titles in the series have tended to have the most exciting things reserved for the campaign missions, with players left searching for interesting things to do once the story is done and dusted.
In GTAV, it’s a case of dragging yourself away from exploring to concentrate on the task at hand. It doesn’t help that the whole world is open to players right from the start, whereas previous games would have sections of the world blocked off until a certain part in the story.
Countless times during my playthough, I’d set a marker for the next mission on my mini-map, only to be distracted by something on-route. This waterfall effect not only makes the world more interesting, but it makes your journey across the city feel more natural, stopping to sightsee onward to your destination.
Random Events pop up out of nowhere, with people getting mugged, to armed guards stopping while transporting large amounts of money. This gives players a choice of how to act, and isn’t punishable if the player chooses to disregard it totally.
Various hobbies and pastimes are available for players to complete at there leisure. Shopping, cycling, triathlons, golfing, tennis, races, San Anrdreas is packed full of things to do. All these feel really solid, and while not the greatest, feel a lot more than a tacked on feature.
Hanging out with contacts makes a return from GTA IV. However, Rockstar have taken onboard the sheer amount of criticism and Internet Memes created from the previous entry. No longer do contacts harass you and hate you if you decline. The player is given the choice whether to hang out with anyone, and is not penalised for opting not to.
Players can even earn money on the virtual stock market, Players’ actions within the campaign, along with players’ actions around the world, affect the stock of various companies. For example, the stock in Ammu-nation franchises will increase as more players around the world spend money on purchasing and upgrading weaponry.
Purchasing property also makes its return. Some are available for a specific character. Franklin can own the medicinal weed shop, Michael can purchase cinemas, while Trevor might own a desert airport used to run drugs.
All properties purchased randomly generate missions for players to complete in a certain time frame. A gang might come to rob you, or the store might be in need of a delivery driver for stock. Completing these missions not only helps increase the store profit, but also gives players another task once the main story missions are over.
Cars and vehicles are the other hallmark of any GTA title. Car handling was a big issue in GTA IV, and I’m happy to say that all vehicles control a lot better. Instead of feeling like you’re steering a brick with a dog leash, cars stick to the road nicely, and slide around corners when need be.
The huge variety of cars all handle differently. Bikes zip and dart around nicely, great for making the quick getaway. Muscle cars on the otherhand feel solid and powerful, with their backend sliding out constantly due to the increased horsepower.
Car customisation is back, and more in-depth than GTA IV, allowing players to put their own style on any favourite ride they may liberate from their previous owner.
A wide variety of aircraft is available to traverse San Andreas. They can be quite a challenge to control if you don’t have the necessary skill, helicopters especially. Turbulence has helicopters swaying to and fro under high speeds, which actually seems more realistic to handle, as I imagine helicopters aren’t easy to fly IRL.
Shooting has also received a bit of an overhaul. Controls feel a lot tighter, with popping in and out of cover is seamless. Weapon selection has taken a page out of Max Payne 3‘s book, with players able to quickly select a weapon from the same selection wheel.
That said, what would GTA be without weapons? There is a huge choice to select from. Weapons can be upgraded with silencers, flashlights, etc. Sticky Bombs and other explosives such as RPGs are available to cause wanton destruction with.
All weapons feel and sound really solid, with a number of choices in each weapon category allowing players to select any firearm to suit their mood.
Who can go past riding along on a motorbike while brandishing a sawn-off shotgun?
All About The Looks
As previously stated, the world is gorgeous. While general NPCs are nothing to write home about, the main characters look fantastic, spitting images of their mo-cap actors.
Voice acting is superb, from all cast members. Of course, the three main characters are the standout, each bringing various emotions to the table. Trevor comes across as calm an calculating, before flying off in a fit of rage. Michael is especially impressive as a man whose life is steadily descending into freefall.
Cars are highly detailed, even though they have different model names, you’ll be able to identify which real life cars they were modelled from. They all sound fantastic, with my personal favourite being the grunt and gargling of the engine of the many muscle cars.
Water physics are fantastic and deserve special mention. While they aren’t the best out there, for a game world of this scope, they look and feel great. The constant waves rising up and crashing as your boat chops through them feels realistic.
The world doubles in size once you realise how much detail there is to explore under the ocean’s surface, with plenty of hidden secrets and treasures to uncover at your leisure.
The most impressive thing I discovered however, was how well GTAV runs on the aging Xbox 360.
The 8gb install on the works wonders, with no load times whatsoever apart from the initial load-up when players boot the game. For a game of this size, and having no issues apart from a couple of glitchy textures render in late, is testament to the power Rockstar extracted out of this generation of consoles.
Los Santos generally sounds alive, much like Liberty City in GTA IV. Just wandering down the sidewalk will allow you to hear all the weird and wacky things the people of San Andreas get up to, usually involving getting wasted and posting regrettable things on their Facebook-inspired LifeInvader profiles.
Music is a massive part of GTAV, due to the amount of time spend in vehicles. The game features an original 20 hour score present throughout the main story missions and cutscenes that really works to set the tone of the overall experience. Apart from that, the game also feature 15 different radio stations that include over 200 licensed songs.
No matter what your taste in music is, you’ll find something to get you jiving in no time. However, I will say that if you’re one of those people who only listen to one or two stations, you might find the songs getting a bit repetitive come the end of the game.
All For The Money
All in all, Grand Theft Auto V is a fantastic game.
It’s more than a game, it’s an experience. Rockstar have once again created something that is not only entertaining, but also serves as a reflection to modern day culture. If you look below the surface, there’s a hidden message about consumer and voyeur culture, with our unhealthy fixation on fame, good looks, and material products.
It’s no wonder why it was the biggest video game release of all time. Rockstar have built up wild expectations for the series, and have delivered. There’s something for everyone.
The story is mature and engaging, representing the shift the series made with GTA IV, but the sheer amount of wild activities harks back to the roots that made the series so popular.
There’s so much more I could of said, but this is only a snippet of my experience. It’s something that needs to be seen firsthand.
If you are one of the six people who don’t own a copy of Grand Theft Auto V, what are you waiting for?
©2013 Daniel Geikowski
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