Grand Theft Auto V

GTA Becomes Fully Realized Here

overall score 95 / BUY IT
Aug 19, 16  | reviewed by Joel Castro (1242)

The Best GTA Game So Far

gameplay 97 / story 90 / graphics 90 / sound 99

I’m not a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, I’ll admit. I always found it too focused on expanding the open sandbox elements when clearly they’re trying to create memorable stories. While none of the games are necessarily bad, they suffer greatly with both the lack of true narrative focus and a dissonance between redemptive characters and the player’s lust for destruction. Well, leave it to the fifth main entry to finally bring a balance. Grand Theft Auto V is everything great about the series packed into one game: a fantastic narrative with memorable characters, a vast open world with a slew of fun activities, tight and responsive gameplay, and amazing visuals. And as a plus, we have the great satire and parody the series is famous for, which is more biting and hilarious this time around.
The story follows not just one, but three main characters in a bold move on the developer’s part. The first is Michael De Santa, a highly skilled former bank robber now trying to retire from his life of high crime with his dysfunctional family of a lazy gamer, a slutty daughter, and a cheating wife. He has trouble coming to terms with his new life, and circumstances force him to once again enter into robbing.
Next is Franklin Clinton, a gangster from the hood who wants to move up from petty crimes to amore lucrative criminal lifestyle. He lives with his aunt in a run-down house, does jobs with his funny, but dumb friend Lamar, and starts off by doing repossession jobs for a middle-eastern car dealer. He gets thrust into Michael’s shenanigans early on, and soon realizes that the life of high-class crime is much more brutal than he thinks.
The final one is Trevor Phillips, who’s perhaps the best character in this game. He’s a psychopathic, emotionally unstable meth-head who’d just as likely kill you as try to become your friend. His violent tendencies, along with his surprisingly sharp observations of the degrading culture of Los Santos, make him the best realization of a Grand Theft Auto character yet. He might not be relatable in any sense, but he’ll entertain you right up to the end credits.
The presentation, as expected from Rockstar, is nothing short of breathtaking. The scenery in Los Santos is shown off in exquisite detail. From the mountain range to the city to even the desert regions, every location is richly detailed and vibrant. With the gigantic map that Rockstar has built here, each of these places are meant to be explored and seen, with terrific views anywhere you look. Though the graphics are showing their age, being nothing special in terms of up-close detail, everything remains solid and beautiful no matter what distance you look at it from, if a little murky at times. And all without lag, little texture pop-in, or a single loading screen, so you remain fully immersed in the experience.
The animation quality is also top-notch. Every person in Los Santos acts like a real person in the way they hold natural conversations, walk places, and interact with others. It feels more realistic compared to previous entries in the series considering how smooth everything looks. Not to mention the more dynamic lighting and weather effects. The game is meant to look beautiful, and Rockstar has pulled all the stops to make sure it does.
What really sets this entry from previous ones is its much sharper and wittier writing. As a hyper parody of our real world, Grant Theft Auto V leaves nothing sacred in its wake. It criticizes everything from politics, U.S. government tactics against terrorists, corruption of law enforcement, celebrity immunity, and corporate greed. All of these things come alongside the reckless robbery, driving, murdering, and general mayhem the series has become infamous for. It brings about a humor to it that can be viciously funny at times. It also includes moments that make you realize how real these situations are. I felt uncomfortable during one scene, which I won’t spoil, because it shows off something that I know is happening now within our own country. Some will criticize the writing for not taking a side on certain issues, thus rendering it as not actually being classified as satire. But I argue that satire need not take a side in order to be effective. It just shows the situation in an overblown fashion, causing people to make up their own mind, and that’s the true genius of this game.
Of course, the narrative is there as well, and it’s a damn fine crime drama that deserves to be in league with the likes of Ocean’s Eleven and Heat. The dramatic moments are tense, the dialogue is intelligent, and the characters all have a chemistry that cannot be imitated anywhere else, even with the amazing side characters. There are even a lot of emotional moments, though not to the heights seen in Red Dead Redemption or L.A. Noire, two of Rockstar’s finest narrative tales. Everything moves along at a perfect pace, right down to a meaningful choice at the end.
But where is the gameplay in all of this? Because that’s what’s most important in any game, right? Well thankfully, the same gameplay from previous games still exists, but with many tweaks to ensure that this is the smoothest gameplay you’ll ever experience with their games. The movement controls have always been simple. You tilt the analog stick to walk, hold a button to run, simple as that. Nothing too complicated there. You can use guns here, and it basically has the same system as Red Dead Redemption, where you choose weapons from a wheel and take cover behind objects. The cover is sticky here, and doesn’t get in your way whenever you want to move from cover to cover. There’s the same auto-aim feature here that gets a lot of flak for making fights too easy, but this can easily be changed in the settings to a free-aim for an additional challenge.
There are many different types of missions, each having unique objectives and goals despite an initially similar premise for some of them. There will be shootouts, races, and assassination missions to undertake, as usual. But the newest addition is the heist mission, which are by far the grandest and most entertaining parts of the game. You start off with scoping out the place of interest to pinpoint weaknesses in security. Once that’s taken care of, you go to a safe house where the plan gets written out. You have the choice of going in loud and dumb, or finding more clever routes without attracting as much heat. Each choice has several setup missions to go on before the main event, as well as picking a crew member with varying stats. Picking someone with low stats will have a lower pay grade, but could cost you a lot of money. On the flip side,
those who ask for more money will generally be more skilled and could make the heist go much smoother. It gives you reasonable choices to go with, and seeing the plan go off is nothing short of exciting, especially with Grand Theft Auto’s special brand of over-the-top scenarios to keep things both fun and challenging, especially when the heat starts swarming in.
The Wanted system is back as well, with cops being just as hyper-aggressive as in previous games. Their goal is to stop your anarchic rampages at all costs, and will shoot you down on sight no matter what. As things escalate, helicopters, SUVs, and military personnel will join the fray, making escape less of an option. Cops are still fun to mess around with, even if they waste you and send you to the hospital.
However, you should not underestimate the regular enemies here either. A lot of them are equally relentless. They will shoot you on sight, and are always aiming to kill from a variety of positions. Most of them can easily be brought down with several bullets to the body or a well-placed headshot, but don’t ever think they can’t bring you down. You will die if you’re not careful. This is where checkpoints come in. In previous Grand Theft Auto entries, if you died or failed a mission objective, you restarted the entire mission as the penalty, resulting in frustration. This doesn’t happen here. If you make it through one mission objective, but find yourself struggling with the next, you’ll restart at the point where the current objective began, easing the frustration and allowing you to focus on that one objective rather than having to remember the first few minutes of a long mission, which there are many of here.
Switching between three characters also provides some tactical advantages in the more brutal firefights. Instead of picking a spot and then moving when things get a little heated, you can instantly switch to a different character, where their vantage point can help the rest of your characters escape or fight back with some good kills. Switching happens even outside of missions. You can switch between Michael, Franklin, and Trevor easily. You get an aerial look of the city as it rushes to the character you picked. They can even be right across the map and you’ll be able to control them within seconds. You even get a small scene here and there giving a glimpse of what a character has been up to while they were under AI control. This is a true technical marvel, and doesn’t feel at all cumbersome.
What Grand Theft Auto game is complete without driving, however? Unlike the previous game, where cars were difficult to turn and had poor acceleration, the cars here have had a tune-up and have much tighter handling. Going down the winding, complicated roads of Los Santos is smooth, with no unnecessary turns taken or needing to push hard on the analog sticks to make it take a sharp turn. Each vehicle has its own stats, much like in a racing game, and you can customize them with parts at auto shops to improve their performance. You can even shoot weapons from a car, though the aiming system clashes often with the need to focus on the road, resulting in many unwanted accidents. You can even pilot aircraft such as airplanes and helicopters, though the controls for these veer on the awkward side. Planes feel loose and turning is dependent on more than one button, resulting in some early crashes. Helicopters bob and weave out of your control, no matter how high your flight skill is, and landing requires lots of playing around with the ascend/descend buttons.
Speaking of flight skill, you can increase the stats of your characters, sort of like a mini-RPG. Doing side activities like golf, mountain biking, tennis, and even yoga can increase skills like stamina and strength. Doing regular things like driving and flying also increase your skills, though I didn’t really notice any truly significant chance between levels, so this feels kind of like a wasted opportunity. Another staple of the series is the ability to customize your character through clothing and hairstyles, and there are still plenty to choose from for all three main characters. Same goes for purchasing land to make money, though too often they’re much more expensive than the amount of money you’ll make throughout the game, and their profit gains don’t really amount to much overall.
Several things in Grand Theft Auto V miss the mark, however, such as the underwater segments. Piloting a submarine to view the downright gorgeous ocean depths is fun on its own, but I would’ve like to see some sort of treasure hunting or salvage side missions take place in these areas, as exploration gets boring after a while. Also, there are a few glitches here and there that come with the open-world game territory. Some are funny like driving invisible cars, and some can be frustrating like the disappearing safe house cars, where a tricked out car can suddenly vanish if you put it into a safe house garage (Note: this was eventually patched out). Also, there are fewer buildings that you can go into this time around apart from the main and side missions, and there are no restaurants to eat at as shops and vending machines take their place. Also, the radio kind of sucks this time around. Everything goes on a loop, with the occasional news story changing depending on your actions in the game. The choice in music is also a letdown, as there are very few recognizable songs. Which is sad, considering the actual score for the game is outstanding in its orchestration.
These issues aside, nothing really takes away from the strengths of this game. The vast and lively open-world, tight gameplay, memorable characters, attention to detail, and stunning visuals all point to one thing: this is a fantastic game to try at least once. It’s a different, but familiar Grand Theft Auto experience, and has probably the strongest story in the series. Even if you’re skeptical of the game, I urge you to put aside your prejudice against the game and give it a shot. I guarantee you it’ll feel much different and more satisfying.

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Action, Third Person Shooter



release date

September 13, 2013