Game Review: Grand Theft Auto V – A Mature Masterpiece
Grand Theft Auto V is an epic open world walk on the ‘criminal side’ in a way that is bigger and probably more vulgar than ever. With that said, it is the video game equivalent of a Rated R Hollywood blockbuster costing over $250 million to develop and market. Rockstar’s games are no strangers to controversy. Whether it was the ‘hot coffee’ incident within GTA: San Andreas or the full frontal male nudity in one of the GTA IV expansions, Rockstar is certainly not afraid to push the envelope for ‘Mature’ console gaming entertainment. So, what is it about the criminal element of this game that has drawn so many gamers to take the plunge?
First things first. Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most gorgeous games ever to load up on a PS3 or Xbox 360. As with most other open world Rockstar Games efforts, GTA V is a somewhat realistic open world nod to all of the games they’ve developed in the past. This includes the award winning games Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3, and of course the previous edition of GTA. GTA V manages to take all of their learnings from the other games and squeeze the best of all of them into this amazing romp through a fictional Los Angeles called Los Santos. Everything from the Griffith Observatory to the Hollywood sign (called Vinewood in the game) is digitally recreated in a massive and truly open world expanse that requires no unlocking or loading to explore. This amazing feat is a testament to the amazing passion and dedication to offering a true sense of exploration in a ‘living’ city. As you walk the streets, you hear people in the midst of conversations as well as reacting to the car that you drive or the weapon that you’re swinging around in your hand! Gang members shoot it out against each other and the police, thieves randomly rob ordinary civilians, wildlife roams the hills and mountains surrounding the city, and you are able to experience it all seamlessly! Rain or shine, sunrise to sunset, GTA V is a gorgeous snapshot of modern day LA. Whether you are surfing the net or listening to talk radio, you constantly hear and see funny revelations of what Rockstar thinks of where technology and life has taken us today. In a way, this adds to the appeal of the exploration of Los Santos. Rather than making all that you search for an in-game bonus, the addition of these ‘easter eggs’ makes roaming around the city aimlessly a joy that is rare in any video game in recent memory.
The amazing intricacies and countless ways to interact are what separates GTA V from most other games on the market. Everything from imitating the internet with sites like Life Invader (Facebook) and Bleeter (Twitter) to using iFruit phones (iPhone) are added in the game as a real life parody. Actions within some of these internet sites even affect the gameplay. If you like ‘or stalk’ certain websites, you’ll gain a discount on some or all future purchases. There is even a stock market that allows you to invest in different businesses. The value of the stock changes offline at times based upon story or gameplay progression while a different part of the stock market changes based upon what the global community does in game! If a majority of the players are destroying a particular type of car maker in their games then the stock market will reflect that in the business price. You can even expand your ambition to make money in game by purchasing different businesses and properties that will periodically provide you with another source of regular income as well as side missions to perform.
Exploration and interaction aside, though, how is the actual ‘game’ itself? Rockstar manages to take the gunplay of Max Payne 3, the locomotion of Red Dead Redemption (tapping of a button to run faster just like riding a horse in RDR), the cover system from GTA IV, and their continued use of minigames from each of their previous GTA offerings to showcase the studio’s growth and desire to deliver. While the gunplay is a bit hard to control, changing the sensitivity of the ‘aim dot’ and using the auto aim feature eases the gunplay annoyance. The stealth is an interesting feature but the personality of GTA really doesn’t suit stealth very much. Don’t expect Halo or Assassin’s Creed level takedowns here. Still, it is functional. The driving is much improved from past editions as well. Each car handles differently and that makes the police chases a blast… until they shoot out your tires of course! Lastly, are the controls for the choppers and planes. Typically, I’m an ace at flying heli’s in games like Battlefield but here in GTA V, that seems to be mute. Flying is probably the most difficult skill to master here. One moment you are flying low or banking to reach a check point and the next minute, you are quickly losing altitude and control. Wind gusts occasionally throw off your control as well and it can be frustrating at times. Practice makes perfect though. There is nothing there that is so horrific controls-wise that makes the game feel cheap or impossible.
Even GTA’s storytelling seems to have improved when compared to GTA IV. The depressed and slow moving main storyline in GTA IV failed to grip or interest me leaving little incentive to grind through the countless dates, odd driving missions, and the rest of the droll. GTA V takes a more inventive approach by tying the action in the game to 3 new characters named Franklin, Michael, and Trevor. Each at different stages of their life and with completely different personalities, you find yourself switching, whenever you desire, between the three to see what each one of them is doing and how their life changes as you advance the main story. While each of them are different, each of them are criminals and the reasons for what drives them to continue their life of crime spirals deeper and deeper as the action progresses. You’ll even be asked to switch in between characters while in the midst of missions. Whether your GTA style favors the gang banger Franklin, the depressed out of criminal retirement family man Michael, or the completely insane and wild Trevor, you can zip back and forth between them to keep the experience fresh.
Along with adding these three men as a means of shaking things up, an RPG element is cleverly tied to them as well. Where the minigames (like dating and some of the other hang out minigames) seemed like a pointless distraction from the main story, GTA V takes things a step further by using upgradable skills add purpose to almost EVERYTHING done in game.
Various actions and minigames within the game raise each of these skills which affect how well each character performs the associated actions within the game. Each character also has a Special ability that when activated performs a kind of ‘bullet-time’ sequence allowing the character to show off their expertise. Michael goes into a Max Payne shooting mode that allows him to make more accurate shots. Trevor goes into a berzerker rage that allows him to do more and take more damage. Franklin’s ability makes him into an expert driver by putting him into a slow motion bullet time allowing him to make insane turns and avoid traffic. Just as with the skills, certain actions within the game allow you to increase the time each of these characters can use their ability.
Then you have the vehicles. Just as in other GTA games, you have so many different ways to explore and tear up the town. In GTA V you can sky dive, explore on or in the sea, fly choppers and jets, blast away with tanks, jump off road hills with motorcycles and ATVs, and even trick out and customize stolen cars tuner style in a way that affects the car’s performance. Each of the vehicles handle differently and experience visual damage as well as performing differently as the damage mounts.
Probably the biggest addition and draw that is new to the series is the addition of the heists. Here, your characters plan out intricate big dollar heists that require the hiring of additional criminals to execute. You’ll plan the method (guns blazing or stealthy), choose transportation, gun, and technology experts of varying skill levels, and then perform preparation missions in order to acquire what is needed to pull the job off. Then, once you launch into the heist, you pull everything off, including escaping the cops, in grand Vinewood (or Hollywood) style action that is always an adrenaline rush!
Rockstar even plans on adding this ‘job’ or activity to their co-op focuses GTA Online multiplayer mode. Ambitious and a testament to their learnings with RDR and Max Payne 3, GTA Online features the same size playscape and throws in the unpredictability of other gamers up to a max of 16. Your customizable and upgradable character will utilize the skills utilized in the singleplayer mode to perform races and other ‘jobs’ the Rockstar promises to add and tweak with additional free and paid content. There amazing Social Club is sure to add various challenges and events as time goes on just as was done with their recent games in order to keep the multiplayer experience fresh and enjoyable.
With all of that said, one cannot ignore the extremely mature content. The strip club nudity, the graphic sexual content, and the vulgar language truly sets this game apart from other mature games on the market. While what is seen and done in this game isn’t much different from most rated R hood or criminal life Hollywood movies, it should definitely be noted that the frequency of the language and graphic content can be much more frequent and vulgar than most M rated video games.
So, after setting a multitude of Guinness world records including fastest entertainment property to ever net $1 billion, Rockstar is still dedicated to making GTA V one of the greatest games ever made. Their impressive open world of Los Santos is a hyper realistic violent romp that is an amazing video game to experience.