It’s been over 5 years since the last entry in the main Grand Theft Auto series. In that time we’ve had Skyrim, 3 entries in Saints Row, multiple entries for Dead Island, Fallout, Prototype, and a slew of various other titles that looked to cement itself as the standard for open world gaming. However, Rockstar’s latest release may be what gaming collectively holds the genre to for a very, very long time.
Before we get into what I liked about the latest entry in the series, I felt it was reasonable to list out all the issues that came to mind. As it turns out, the list is considerably shorter. While it is something that could be addressed in future updates – there are were two instances where I had to intentionally fail the mission so I could reload and proceed. One of the bugs that spawned several vehicles halfway into the road and another where the next event didn’t properly fire no matter what I did. Not to say open world games don’t commonly see a myriad of bugs but the overall experience with GTA V was relatively smooth. Such that, when this came about, it was really quite jarring.
The iFruit tablet/smartphone companion app is an interesting idea that allows you to do additional activities outside of the game but seems so mediocre respective of the core experience. One of the things you can do in the app is to train Chop the dog. It feels a bit short sighted that training can’t be done in-game and requires a poorly implemented pet training game. Finally, the game is absolutely taxing the Xbox 360 and PS3 where a both the disc and hard drive both have to stream data to keep up with the demands of the game engine. This results in the PSN version seeing texture loading issues and pop-ins (similarly to the 360 if you installing the play disc) while they charge the same as the physical copy.
With that out of the way, let’s start talking what makes the game tick.
One of the first things you’ll immediately notice is how absolutely gorgeous the game looks and sounds. The game looks fantastic and belies the fact that you’re playing on hardware that is nearly 8 years old. The draw distance, the texture, the movement of the pedestrians and cars is incredible and gives you a strong sense of a living world that you are actively involved in. Any type of jiggle or cloth physics isn’t really apparent on the character models which make certain animations seem unnaturally static but quickly forgiven on how well the facial animations are. Coupled with the great voice over work, guns and explosions that sound meaty, and the 240 licensed songs available in the game – it would be difficult for your senses to be left wanting.
Fidelity does have a limit however. The story and characterization in Grand Theft Auto IV was very somber. Even those who enjoyed the game, they don’t seem to remember it as fondly as San Andreas or Vice City. In GTA V, they introduce the ability to change between 3 characters as the game progresses (though there are periods that the option is disabled due to the story or if you have a wanted level outside of a mission). This allows the characters to have more varied personalities. Franklin is the game’s straight man. A thug from the hood who tries to elevate his social standing but seems to always end up with the short end of the stick. While not nearly as flawed as his fellow characters, Franklin’s straightlaced persona is a needed foil to the antics that surround him. Michael is a formerly retired head of various heists that is in the middle of a massive midlife crisis. His marriage is in a near loveless state, his two kids that loathe his presence, and suffers a restlessness where he is in life. Michael brings an interesting look at one trying to balance suburbanite cliches and ruthless criminal activities. Finally, Trevor is an old running buddy of Michael that time has left worse for wear both physically and mentally. Trevor has taken up in various enterprises and seems to make constant questionable decisions. For the first hour playing Trevor I thought he would be written as this constant raging sociopath where all the characterizations would be done by his actions. Later on though, through the dialog and moments of empathy, Trevor ends up being a really interesting (though completely deranged) character that resulted in moments where I couldn’t stop laughing. If any of the three were the sole character of the game, their personalities and reactions would likely not be everyone’s cup of tea. However the engagements and rotation between the characters, long and short, breath new life to the formula and give the story and auxiliary characters a little more meat than what has been flat stereotypes.
The past history of the characters allows the game to provide a variety of missions and locations in Los Santos. Missions can take place on a ghetto street corner to a heavily fortified military base. In the ocean to high in the skies. The playful writing allows it ground the game seem completely reasonable even though the scope has clearly reached the realm of being ludicrous. In addition of having multiple main playable characters, GTA V introduces choices in specific heist missions. The player is given one of two options on how they would like to tackle a particular mission. This spawns different submissions for tools that are used for the heist. The choice is binary but the small change of tackling the mission in your preferred manner feels liberating.
As the online component is not yet available at this time of writing I would like to also touch upon the game’s ending as the game is entirely a single player experience at the moment. With large profile games it’s interesting to see how they choose to wrap up their character arcs. I felt that Mass Effect 3 and Last of Us were good games in spite of their endings, not because of it. In the case of Grand Theft Auto 5, the ending winds down the the climax in an expected but welcomed manner that wraps up a lot of the nagging points.
Grand Theft Auto 5 isn’t one of the best games I’ve played in the last few years but one of the best games I’ve ever played. Period. It brings additions while continuing to iterate on its predecessors to as close as to perfection on what I would want out of a Grand Theft Auto game. Resulting in this generation’s swan song and something that I have no hesitation to recommend (age appropriate of course) and if nothing else, I would like to also mention that Eddie Murphy’s 1985 single “Party All the Time” is available in the game’s radio which immediately categorizes it heads above the rest. [9.5]
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Take Two Interactive
Developer: Rockstar Games
Classification: R18 - Contains Violence and Offensive Language