Grand Theft Auto V (GTA5) comes five years later after the release of GTA4, the one title in the series that seemed to become more serious in its plot, the world the game takes place in, and the inclusion of the realistic physics via the Euphoria engine. While the subsequent releases of the episodic packs The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony did see the return of some of madcap action and humor that the series is known for, GTA5 truly brings players back to the familiar ground of the mayhem and fun from previous GTA games like San Andreas and Vice City.
With that brief introduction out of the way, let’s get into the new dog at the show.
GTA5 takes place in San Andreas in present time, so you’ll see current technology (with different names) like touch-screen phones and tablets, wide use of the internet and social media, and amalgamations of vehicles. The world is vast, with a living, breathing city of Los Santos, a breathtaking countryside, towering mountainous regions, and dry unforgiving desert. The sheer scope of San Andreas and the land that can be explored is enough to wonder where Rockstar is finding the extra power out of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Playing in third-person, it allows the player to easily see how the characters interact with the scenery and the world.
New to GTA5 is the ability to control three different protagonists, each with their own very unique characterization and temperament, as well as special abilities. There’s Franklin, a wet-behind-the-ears gang member that is looking to break away from gang life to make more money; Michael, a career criminal that went into witness protection that eventually sees him return to crime again; and then there’s Trevor, the embodiment of all things crazy and psycho who has serious abandonment issues. These are your three main characters, and allow for a very fun way to experience GTA5’s plot. During missions you can control any of the three, unless it is mission-specific as to who gets controlled. There are also points during the mission that you can switch between the three, either for a better view to help out your comrades or for a new experience. During the free-roam aspect, you can switch to any of the three (although there are points in the game where certain characters are “laying low” and cannot be selected) to do their side missions, character-specific missions, or whatever you please. You’ll generally find each character either waking up, in the middle of an activity, or sitting around. The characters you don’t control go on with their lives.
The overreaching plot of GTA5 in in its simplest form is that the trio of characters is out to perform a variety of heists in order to settle debts, live comfortably, and most importantly, stay alive. This is a new gameplay aspect to GTA5 in that you can plan the heists in small ways, via picking the crew, the method of how the heist is conducted, and how it is carried out in its final form. There are tons of individual missions in between the heists to motor the plot along, such as killing rival gang members, stealing actors from a competing movie studio, and so on. The missions are well-varied and to add in added randomness and extra gameplay, there are additional side missions that introduce other wacky characters or game mechanics, like parachuting, racing, even exploring underwater to search for discarded nuclear waste. Going at a moderate pace, expect to be able to put in 40+ hours, not to mention generally driving about causing mischief and exploring. The only downside I’ve experienced is that the amount of heists and planning thereof is criminally low. While you can replay heists (and missions) over for different experiences, the variety of planning in the heists aren’t more varied than “loud” and “quiet” or who to bring along on the crew. However if there is one thing to expect from Rockstar with their releases is that there will most likely be episodic releases to expand on the GTA experience.
Online has seen a huge boost, namely since going live two weeks after initial release. While there were the expected hiccups and issues with the online service, GTA Online is as fun as it is expected. You can create your own character from the imaginative yet clunky and unnecessarily complicated character creation screen – which uses selected stats, and selecting what your parents and their parents looked like to create what your online avatar will look like. A system such as Skyrim’s character creation would be welcome here, but the character creation aspect is relatively minor when compared what can be done online. There are a host of new missions to take on with friends and others you find online in the game world, which acts as one giant lobby. In this “lobby”, players can drive around, attack each other, start missions, get new clothes, weapons, cars, and more. When the system works and the stars align, conducting assassinations with friends or blowing up a car dealership with a group of others can bring a smile to one’s face. At this time of the writing (October 7, 2013) there are still some issues with connection, namely being booted while waiting for a mission to start. It’s to be expected, since GTA5 sold $1 billion worth of copies within 3 days, trying to fit that gamer community onto the servers must have created some troubles for Rockstar’s servers.
So how does GTA5 look? Utterly fantastic. It feels as if GTA5 is the proper send off for this last generation of consoles before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One make their appearance. To see the incredible amount of detail of Los Santos at night to the amazing fluidity of water and its underwater portion goes to show that these consoles still have some tricks up their sleeve, if the developer is willing to put in the work. There are some graphical slowdowns in high-traffic areas or when there’s a lot of on-screen action going on, but that is to be expected. It’s a price to pay to be able to walk and drive and fly around in a game world that seems to be alive when you’re not around (it sort of is).
As with all GTA games, the sound track in GTA5 sees songs from Britney Spears, Waylon Jennings, the Pet Shop Boys, Phil Collins, Snoop Dogg, and more from the present to 30-40 years ago. You’ll find yourself either searching for the songs you hear to download for your iPod or eventually singing along. The voice acting is top-notch in delivery, and you’ll notice that there aren’t any real big names attached to them. The language is colorful and in the same moment eloquent to that of a blockbuster movie release. Some characters will grow on you, some you’ll love to hate, and some you’ll just hate with a dying passion. That’s the power of their voice acting.
The sound quality is well-done, with tiny details that you’ll pick up if you stop and pay attention. You’ll never find issue with the sound quality being either not needed or missing – I find it to be one of Rockstar’s best skills.
Controls in GTA5 are reminiscent of its predecessor – the Euphoria physics engine allows for each person to have weight and balance that gives the representation of realism. It takes some getting used to if you’ve just now started coming from GTA games like Vice City or San Andreas, but after an hour or so, you’ll settle in. The problem however is that the physics are almost too good. Rough tumbles and falls can cause your character to get hurt, and combined with the unfortunate over-fragility of characters against hurtful objects like other cars, bullets, even garage doors – you can easily be killed or die (or ‘WASTED’ as the game puts it). There are some frustrating moments where you can be doing extremely well while driving and a head-on collision will eject you out of the car and into certain death, or you hit a rock with your bicycle and all you can do is helplessly watch as your health is battered away as you roll down the hill. Frustrating as that all is, it does look extremely good in the presentation of physics, but still, frustrating.
Wrapping this up, the elephant in the room is that GTA5 isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The game is violent, it’s rude, and it’s vulgar. Do not have young ones playing this, let alone have them in the same room. On top of that, this isn’t a game for everyone. While it’s an open-world adventure game at its core, it is still a Grand Theft Auto game. If you’re a fan of Rockstar’s work or you’re looking for something that’s a bit over-the-top in presentation and content, as well as knowing full well you’re getting into a rather violent game, then GTA5 is worth picking up. Patient adventure gamers might want to steer clear, as well as those that aren’t really into this area of the genre. GTA5 is a fast-paced, frenzied roller coaster of a game will usually have you saying, “What was I just doing? What time is it?” when you shut off your system.