Grand Theft Auto V Review
It’s tough to find a starting point to begin talking about Grand Theft Auto V. This is just such a massive, detailed game, building upon its predecessors’ achievements to create one of the most vast open-world games ever. The graphics and animations have been polished to a mirror sheen, providing a huge leap over Grand Theft Auto IV to the point that’s hard to believe that the two games are rendered on the same platform. Its world is larger than any Rockstar game before it, and possibly any other open-world game ever. The geographical scope is quite varied, ranging from mountains and rivers to lush beaches and dense, populated cities that feel far more alive than in previous outings for the franchise. A compelling new three-character mechanic allows you to switch between the new crime lords on the fly, creating a dynamic, incredibly novel approach to storytelling and gameplay. This is an ambitious title in just about every conceivable way, and the devs have managed to hit just about every goal they’ve set for themselves, truly raising the bar for sandbox games as the next generation of consoles approaches.
Grand Theft Auto V takes place in Los Santos, a glitzy, superficial, sun-soaked metropolis where yoga, lattes, social media, and reality TV reign supreme. Michael is a retired ex-con, living the high life with a big house, nice cars and a ton of money. After pulling a heist job nine years ago, he struck a deal with the FIB to enter a witness protection program, and has been off the grid ever since. He isn’t enjoying his early retirement as much as he’d hoped though; his wife is cheating on him with her tennis coach and yoga instructor, his kids despise him, and he yearns for the excitement of his bank-robbing days. Franklin is a good-hearted kid from the ghetto who is caught up with the wrong people, but dreams of the good life like Michael has. One day he has a chance meeting with Michael, who sees a bit of himself in Franklin, and opens him up to a whole new world of upper-class, high-paying criminal debauchery that’s more in line with his aspirations. Trevor is a complete psychopath who used to pull heists with Michael, and has believed him dead for all these years. After hearing about Michael and his protege making waves in Los Santos on the news, Trevor decides that he’s got to see that his old friend is still alive with his own two eyes, bringing along with him a decade’s worth of anger and resentment.
Two of the main things you’ll be doing the most in Grand Theft Auto V are driving and shooting. Thankfully, the mechanics for both of these are vastly improved over GTA IV – shooting feels tight and responsive, the cover system works much better, and there are a few auto-aim options available to suit your tastes. It’s really an improvement over GTA IV in every way – the characters are more interesting, the world is larger, more varied and engaging, the missions are more fun thanks to the multi-character dynamic, and it looks leagues better than its 2008 counterpart. Grand Theft Auto V vs. GTA IV is an interesting comparison, showing the leaps and bounds that can be made from an game created at the beginning of a console’s life cycle to a game created at its very end.
The three-character dynamic ends up being one of the best parts of GTA V, as switching between Michael, Trevor and Franklin adds variety to the game both during and in-between missions. Some missions will have a sole protagonist doing something to further the narrative, while others will feature two or three of them, allowing players to switch between them on the fly. It really helps to keep the game from getting stale, as there’s always something interesting to do and you never really have a chance to get bored or annoyed with a specific character. A few memorable missions make great use of the character-switching feature, such as one daring kidnapping in the city in broad daylight. Trevor pilots a helicopter to drop Michael off at the top of a skyscraper, who then rappels down the building before crashing through a window and taking his prisoner. When Michael gets into a firefight during all of this, Franklin covers him from an opposite building with a sniper rifle. Things like this really keep your pulse pounding and adrenaline rushing throughout a mission – which now have plenty of checkpoints, by the way.
Another interesting addition is that each character now has stats that can be increased/ leveled up throughout gameplay, such as shooting, driving, flying, stamina, etc. Trevor is an ex-military pilot, so he starts off the game with the best flying stats, but Michael and Franklin can catch up by taking flight lessons. Similarly, if you take the time to drive everywhere and avoid using cabs, the characters’ driving skills will greatly improve, which can be a huge asset in later missions. Strength can be improved by fist fighting and other activities, which will also make other tasks that require strength easier, such as tennis, golf, etc. Swim around long enough and your lung capacity will improve. Take down enemies without them spotting you and your stealth stats will increase.
Similar attention has been paid to the various methods in which you can make money in Grand Theft Auto V. Heist missions reap the biggest rewards, and you can select your crew and entry method for most of them. If you choose to go cheap on say the getaway driver or a gunman, you might save a bit of dough up-front but end up losing a fair amount in the process. Inexperienced hired guns can die or be captured, and whatever cash or valuable items they had on them will be lost. I found that always choosing the most expensive players was the best option overall. There are two stock markets that players can purchase stocks through, LCN and BAWSAQ. This is probably a good method for making cash after the credits roll, but it requires keeping your ear to the ground on what stocks are hot, and in-game events can cause them to rise or fall. Properties can also be purchased, such as taxi companies, marijuana dispensaries, movie theaters, and more. These usually come at a high cost, but can bring it a solid amount of money weekly.
Beyond the main story missions, there are plenty of things to get done in Los Santos and Blaine County. Strangers and Freaks missions have you interacting with the quirky and eccentric members of society – I spent the most time on the missions for a creepy guy who is on a quest to legalize marijuana. There are plenty of hobbies and pastimes around as well, such as parachuting, racing (including street, off-road and sea) arms trafficking, yoga, hunting, and more. Random events occur, such as thieves stealing vehicles or wallets, hitchhikers needing to be picked up, drunk people needing a ride home from the bar, ATM robberies, etc. There are even sports events like golf clubs, tennis, triathlons, and darts to kill some time. For those with a love for customization, all three main characters can be given tattoos, haircuts/ beards, and outfitted with a variety of clothing. Their vehicles can be customized with new paint jobs, wheels, spoilers, grills, window tints, performance upgrades, and more. Weapons can be fitted with silencers, extended magazines, laser sights, scopes, and custom tints.
There are a few nagging issues with the game, however. There’s still a ton of driving to be done, and while you can call a cab to skip to your destination sometimes, this is not an option during missions. When it is available, it can take a few minutes for a cab to arrive, which is realistic but frustrating. Many missions require the player to drive almost across the entire map, which can’t be skipped due to the fact that major exposition and plot points are revealed during conversations with passengers or over the phone. Also while receiving some mission objectives or important info via text feels authentic, it can cause some confusion during a chaotic police escape or gun fight.
For instance, in one mission, I was required to find a suitable getaway vehicle prior to a heist, and once I procured one I decided to bring it to one of the vehicle customization shops to better its armor, increase its horsepower, outfit it with bulletproof wheels, and about $70,000 worth of other expensive upgrades. I was quite happy with it, and proceeded to the big blue dot on the map, which I was guided to via GPS. Logically, I thought that this was where I needed to park the getaway vehicle. Unfortunately, the dot was, in actuality, leading me towards the next objective, which was to steal a giant drill as the next part of the heist setup. I tried to drive away with my new tricked-out car to put it in a garage, which caused me to fail the mission which had already began. I was forced to steal the drill, and leave the upgraded vehicle behind – which meant I had to steal another car and spend another $70,000 afterwards. In a game with this grand of a scale, though, such small oversights are forgivable, and hopefully things like this will be addressed in upcoming patches.
Grand Theft Auto V manages to improve on its predecessor in every possible fashion, but it doesn’t stop there. The game is incredibly ambitious, expertly juggling a three-protagonist narrative and game design while vastly expanding its world in size, scope, visual fidelity and the sheer volume of things to do. In short, this is one of the best video games ever made, and every player will have unique stories to tell after completing it.