Where do you begin when it comes to a series like Grand Theft Auto? The brilliant character development and structure? The world you’re given to play around in and cause wanton mayhem? The gripping story you live vicariously through the eyes of the protagonist and the colorful vibrant characters you encounter? The incomprehensibly staggering number of things you’re able to do? This has held true with past games in the franchise dating back to Grand Theft Auto 3 and Grand Theft Auto V delivers on ALL fronts and it does not disappoint. It’s the game every other game wants to be. I remember back when Assassin’s Creed was announced and Ubisoft stressed that “whatever you can see in the distance when Altair is high atop a structure, you can access.” It is almost overwhelming when you access the chopper for the first time flying above the Senora Freeway and you’re looking towards the mountain range facing just North of the East Los Santos district and you realize, “Those mountains aren’t backdrop. Not a skybox. Not a cheap texture. I can GO there. I can BE there.” Los Santos is a massive, sprawling, living world and Rockstar North has done a fantastic job bringing Los Santos to life in ways they never have before.
Grand Theft Auto V is set in the city of Los Santos in the state of San Andreas, Rockstar’s genius and raucously comic vision of California. Every anachronism you see in modern-day Los Angeles is here. The gang violence in South Los Santos inspired by real-life Compton. The vapid narcissistic sense of self running rampant through Vinewood Hills, Vespucci Beach and the Downtown area inspired by Beverly Hills, Venice Beach and Downtown LA respectively. The glitz and glamour of the Vinewood district inspired by Hollywood. Even the deserts of Sandy Shores and the mountain ranges of Blaine County get a beautiful treatment. Where Grand Theft Auto IV takes stabs at the so-called “American dream”, Grand Theft Auto V takes stabs into American modern-day living. GTA V rips and tears and shreds into the Millennial generation, the far left, the far right, the media, the feminists, the middle class, the high and mighty and more, with little disregard for who it offends and does it masterfully. Nothing is safe and no one is spared. The radio stations do a fantastic job of making you feel part of the world you live in. Weazel News, the Rockstar recreation of the real life Fox News Network reports on recent happenings…caused by you. Voice talents lend their voices for talk radio stations and hilarious commercials that feel so real, it’s scary. Tyler the Creator, for example, makes an appearance on a radio station announcing his collaboration with Flying Lotus who DJs FlyLo Radio, one of the 15 radio stations spanning about 10 or so genres with a full soundtrack of about 200+ strong. You can play the stock market, own property, get tattoos, or a haircut, or visit the local Suburban apparel store. With beaches, mountains, multiple airports, airstrips, late night car races, air races, sea races, a desert, wildlife hunting, scuba diving, a metro bus and rail car system and more, Los Santos has become one of the biggest maps in Grand Theft Auto history. All this and I haven’t even scraped the surface of the different things you’re able to do and see in Los Santos.
For the first time in the series history, the story is told through 3 main protagonists. Michael De Santa, a retired criminal living in a mansion in Rockford Hills with his lazy, under achieving Millennial son who does nothing but play video games and smoke pot. His daughter Tracey who longs to live the life of a movie star and will do anything to get to that point, even if it means filming a pornographic film on a yacht, and his adulterous wife Amanda who constantly flirts with her Tennis and Yoga instructors…in front of him. The second of the three is Franklin Clinton. A gang member living the hard streets of South Los Santos with his fitness obsessed aunt. He works for a crooked car dealership repossessing cars. He is constantly pestered by his friend Lamar to run high risk jobs involving cash, drugs and guns. Franklin, like most gangsters in the fictional genre long to do bigger and better things but are often stuck and brought back into the life of small time crime. Finally there’s Trevor Philips. A psychotic sociopath living in the deserts of Blaine County with his best friend Ron and a former partner of Michael. He runs a crystal meth ring in the hopes of going international with the help of the Chinese. His opening scenes and tussle with The Lost Motorcycle Club make for one of the more paramount moments in the game. He has little disregard for his safety and safety of others. He doesn’t care for his own cleanliness or well being. His own sense of self only fueled by a mixture of methamphetamines and a seriously messed up childhood. Trevor is certainly one of the shining stars of the show. Each character has is own special ability giving each character unique qualities. Franklin is the best driver of the three and can slow down time while driving, making police chases a breeze. Michael can shoot exceptionally well and can slow down time while shooting a la Max Payne. Trevor is the best flyer of the group and with the aid of his unrequited anger for all things living, his special ability increases his damage output and decreases his damage input, making him a deadly killing machine.
A transition system is used in the game giving the player ability to switch between characters at any point in time between missions and during missions making for great pacing in story and character development. The transitions are done in a very stylish manner zooming out of the city into the sky, and shifting to where the chosen character is, and zooming back in giving you a view of what the character is doing at the time, in real time. You might shift to Michael and he’ll be having night horrors alone in bed with his gun in hand, or arguing with his wife in the middle of a yoga session. You might shift to Trevor and he’ll be hung over in a dumpster after an alcoholic bender or fornicating with a crack addled prostitute. You might shift to Franklin and he’ll be eating a bag of chips at home or getting chased by the police. These events after the character shift give the player a further sense that the world is alive and living even when you’re not playing your other characters. The interplay between characters is expertly done and their banter make for some of the more affecting and hilarious moments in the game. Neither character upstages the other.
The driving in the game is very well done. Every car is different and feels different. Super cars feel super charged and handle beautifully through traffic. Sedans, SUVs and vans handle the way they’re supposed to. The handling in each car feels almost arcadey and is very akin to games like Midnight Club, also by Rockstar, as opposed to the butter-wheel “too real” car physics of Grand Theft Auto IV. Car chases and police pursuits feel very real. At one star, cops search and find you based on your offense and have a very Metal Gear Solid-like way of searching. You can see on the mini-map that each police unit has a field of vision and it is up to you to avoid that line of sight. At two stars police units multiply in number and get very aggressive. At three stars helicopters and heavy duty units start to appear and cops will do everything possible to turn you in, and even kill you, and so on and so on. It’s a hell of a time.
The story centers around the three men banding together through a series of events and revolves around 6 major heists, which are multi tiered, massive scaled events. They serve as the story’s climactic peaks. Long gone are the days of:
- Go to guy
- Talk to guy
- He sends you to other guy
- You kill that guy
- Come back and collect your reward
Heists require a staggering amount of preparation and decision making to execute the perfect heist. You collect information, build your team and make the polarizing decision of going in loud and stupid, or silent and smart. You recruit members to aid you in your heist and the better they are at what they do, the bigger their cut. Before one of the bigger heists, Trevor will call Franklin and tell him that he needs to improve his shooting and to go to a shooting range to do that. He’ll call Michael and tell him that he needs to take flying lessons to prepare for the heist. All of these things are imperative to the execution of each heist and improves the attributes of each character. You retrieve things like getaway vans gas containers and submarines for further preparation. When all preparations are complete, you execute the heist. One very interesting about the heists is that when the heist is near completion, each member is carrying a set amount of money. If for whatever reason they die during the getaway, the money goes with them, lowering your cash amount. Sometimes you get shot in the back and the money will fly out and your cash amount will steadily decrease. Wild driving will also run you the risk of losing money. All of this helps increase the intensity of these high risk situations.
There isn’t much that hasn’t been improved from GTA IV. The phones receive a massive overhaul in usefulness and are now able to access the internet and send and receive emails. They also get a touch of personality for each character. Michael being the wealthier of the bunch has an iFruit phone, the GTA version of the iPhone. Trevor carries a phone with a very Windows Mobile OS touch to it, and Franklin carries a Samsung Galaxy like phone with a Blackberry OS feel. Shooting and cover also receive a very nice overhaul. Guns feel as if they carry actual weight to them and the weapon wheel from Red Dead Redemption comes back making gun selection a breeze compared to the cycling system seen in previous games. Aiming is less spotty and the reticle snaps on to enemies, but you are able to to switch to advanced aiming at any point in the game. The cover system is vastly improved and feels much more natural. Blind fire and all. The writing is as sharp tongued and raunchy as ever and Rockstar North retains it’s illustrious pedigree of fantastic voice actors and writers who deliver unto us a world that is as much a character as our three protagonists. For further immersion into the game, Rockstar has even release an iFruit app for iOS. You can train your in-game dog Chop, buy parts for your vehicles and customize them as well, change your license place and keep up with your friends while they play, like how many times your rival has gotten wasted or busted so far.
Rockstar is no stranger to controversy and GTA V pulls absolutely no punches. There is a specific scene with Trevor when he comes to Los Santos to one of his henchmen’s cousins condo, who’s name is Floyd. Floyd laments about his decreasing libido and Trevor pulls his pants down to show Floyd that his member isn’t much of a treasure, but gets the job done anyway. His member can be seen hanging down as he pulls his pants back up. A scene I’m sure rivals the full frontal scene in GTA: The Lost and Damned. Prostitutes still run rampant in the streets of Los Santos and if you wish, you can fornicate with them and kill them right after. Strip clubs offer dancers with full on nudity, and the mini-games feel like they’re there because they can be there rather than them offering a statement, and I have absolutely no problems with that. There is a chilling moment involving Trevor, a pair of electrical charge clamps, a wrench and a shot of adrenaline that puts Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s “No Russian” moment to shame. You are thrust into the scene and have no choice but to participate. During this scene, I was appalled, shocked, disgusted, horrified, disturbed, almost outraged and outright nauseated, and I loved every second of it.
The frame rate tends to dip here and there after extended periods of play and the game WILL push your console to its limits, but with a pay off that keeps us glued to our controllers and not wanting to put it down. The dating mechanic seen in GTA IV is gone, but the game still feels fully fleshed out. Much like the heists you’re assigned to pull off with the trio, the game still feels planned and complete. You also get a bit of texture pop in at times, but thats perfectly excusable in a map bigger than the worlds of Red Dead Redemption, GTA: San Andreas and GTA IV combined. It’s hard to find faults in such a massive game that has so much to offer. San Andreas is a world created for us to live in for 40+ hours and we at RTV thank the good people at Rockstar North for creating this world for us. Grand Theft Auto V is Rockstar’s swan song to gamers and fans of the series and its last hurrah to the current generation. It’s a loving amalgamation of everything we love about Rockstar games like Grand Theft Auto III and IV, Midnight Club, Max Payne, Red Dead Redemption and LA Noire and gaming in general. No other game comes even close to the sheer size, scope and depth of Grand Theft Auto V’s massive sprawling world. It’s “Grand” in every possible sense of the word.
Grand Theft Auto V is a groundbreaking, near perfect experience and one of the best games I’ve ever played.