You’d have to be living off the grid to not have heard about the latest instalment in the Grand Theft Auto series. The budget alone made waves when it was announced rocketing it to the number one spot for most expensive video game ever developed. Of course this has since translated into it being one of the biggest selling games of all time selling well over $1 billion worth of copies in its first day and looks like it will be well on its way to being the highest grossing entertainment product of all time. Even though my history with the series isn’t the greatest (Vice City was probably the only one I actually enjoyed) there was no question that I had to play GTA V and stick with it long enough to do it justice.
GTA V, unlike its predecessors, shares its main story between 3 different career criminals. The first you’re introduced to is Michael, a once great mastermind of planning and execution he has now entered retirement. The circumstances surrounding how he got to this point is something of a mystery but its obvious that his retirement isn’t sitting well with him. Franklin, a former gang banger who’s trying to go legit, runs across Michael’s path when he’s tries to repossess a car that belongs to Michael’s son. Seeing his potential Michael takes him under his wing, bringing him along for the first real heist he has done in a decade. This has the unfortunate consequence of alerting one of Michael’s former running mates, Trevor, to the fact that he’s still alive, something which doesn’t sit particularly well with him.
This is likely to be the last big hurrah for the current console generation and true to form the graphics for this title are pretty astounding. Sure I’ve seen a lot better on the PC, indeed there are few things that can hold a candle to Crysis 3 these days, but for a console architecture that’s pushing 8 years old the level of fidelity is very impressive. What really sets GTA V apart from other open world style games is the incredible amount of detail in the world, something which becomes readily apparent when you’re flying over it in your aircraft of choice. This does come at a cost some times as even my less than 1 year old Xbox struggled to keep up at some points but I’ll gladly wear the occasional frame dip if it meant graphics of this calibre everywhere.
That breadth extends into the game world itself as there’s innumerable things for you to do in this world. I personally stuck to the storyline missions as they’re the things that interested me most but, should that not exactly tickle your fancy, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to do. Indeed you might not even need to go looking for it as there are randomly generated events that can happen anywhere so its quite likely that even just mindless driving won’t be as uneventful as it sounds. This is then complimented by how alive the GTA V world feels with it teaming with NPCs that aren’t just mindless zombies, they’re active parts of the environment. From what I can remember from GTA IV this is quite a stark contrast as by comparison it felt a lot more…sterile.
From the get go its obvious that Rockstar put a lot of time into getting the driving mechanics of GTA V just right. This doesn’t mean realism, as much of the driving physics are certainly not based in reality, more in the context of the game the driving experience and how it interacts with the larger game feels very solid. Should they have foregone this for some reason I’d probably have a much dimmer view of the game overall as you’ll be spending a great deal of your time driving through Los Santos’ roads. I will admit that towards the end I started taking taxis everywhere as I was getting a little tired of having to drive all the way across the map all the time but at least the developers had the foresight to include such a mechanic, alleviating a lot of potential frustration.
Combat is done through a traditional 3rd person cover based system which thankfully avoids the usual pitfall of only allowing you to have 2 weapons at a time. Instead your entire arsenal is always at your disposal, from night sticks and pistols all the way up to miniguns and rocket launchers, all available through a weapon selection wheel. Whilst some would argue that this could trivialize some of the encounters (and it does, to an extent) I think going for the 2 weapon norm would have taken out much of the fun that comes with the GTA brand. The flip side of this is that, when combined with the aim assist that’s built into the game (which, I admit, I did not turn off) most of the encounters aren’t exactly difficult and are more about positioning and use of cover than they are about weapon choice.
Despite that GTA V does a good job of creating tension during combat by using your ability to switch between characters. You’ll usually start off using one of them and then you’ll need to switch to another in order to keep on progressing forward. Sometimes this will be because they have some kind of tactical advantage, like being on the roof and able to take out snipers, other times it will be so that you can get them out of a jam. To be honest I was sceptical that this would add anything to the game play but the execution of the idea is done well enough that it alleviates much of the repetition. This could also be due to my storyline-first play style which saw me go through many varied environments but even the small fire fights I got into outside of them felt quite varied.
Whilst there’s not explicit levelling or progress counter in GTA V there are aspects of the game that are gradually unlocked or made accessible to you as you progress through the game. As far as I could tell newer weapons were made available to you after a certain set of storyline missions were completed as it wasn’t until late in the game that I was able to get the Advanced Rifle. To be fair though you really only need a shotgun and an assault rifle to get you through pretty much everything and when a mission requires you to have a special kind of firearm its given to you free of charge. Car upgrades also seem to be somewhat moot as whilst I could save the car in my garage I couldn’t seem to figure out how to make it my default car so after one mission it, inexplicably, disappeared along with the $100K I had dumped into it. I’m willing to admit ignorance on that one, however.
For a game of this size GTA V manages to get out of it relatively bug free, especially if you don’t go out of your way to find them. I ran into a few random occurrences however the most notable of which was reloading a quicksave that put a lightpost through the middle of my car. Driving forward then threw it up into the air and, had it been on the other side, would have likely resulted in my character’s death. There were also some rather unusual physics that occurred when driving around, usually when at moderate speeds and I’d clip something that I couldn’t see and then proceed to be sent skywards. None of these detracted from the overall game however and considering just how much content there is within GTA V I’m quite surprised that there are so few; a testament to how much polish Rockstar has put on this title.
Out of everything in GTA V I’d have to say my favourite part would have to be the heists, especially the first one at the jewlery store. Now I’m not sure if this was a failing on my part or not but there seemed to be a indication that more heists would be made available later on but, as far as I could tell, they weren’t. So whilst it was all well and good to say that crew’s skills would get better with repeated heists I never felt like I had the opportunity to take the risk on the cheaper ones in order to skill them up. Indeed it seemed whenever I did take one of the cheap ones they always ended up dead so I really had no choice in the matter. I’ve since read that heists will be a co-operative encounter in the GTA Online experience but since it was only released recently (and has been struggling with the load) I haven’t had a chance to play it.
The story of GTA V is pretty engaging and is probably the only reason why I stuck through it for as long as I did. Whilst I avoided many of the side missions, mostly because the few I did play were total crap (i.e. tow truck with Franklin) they did seem to be a good way to flesh out the 3 main character’s backgrounds, if you were interested in knowing more. The one thing that I will take issue with, and again this might be due to my storyline first play style, is that many of the issues that the characters have (both with each other and the various other NPCs in the world) seem to wrap up rather quickly during the last couple missions, seemingly out of no where. This does make for a rather satisfying ending (I chose the death wish option, if you’re wondering) it did feel a little hacked together.
GTA V is one of those rare examples where a big budget, long development cycle and never ending hype has actually culminated in a game that lives up to all the expectations lumped on it. The world is large and varied, peppered with numerous different things for you to do and distractions to give you a break in-between missions. Nearly every aspect of the game has received the level of polish we’ve come to expect from Rockstar games with many of them exceeding my expectations. It’s not a fault free experience, as much as some fans would like to say otherwise, but it is an incredibly solid game, one that sets the standard for all others in its genre to be compared against. Whilst my typical aversion to open world games means that I probably won’t be racking up many hours on it for years to come it still stands on its own as a solid single player game experience, one that’s definitely worth your time to play.
Grand Theft Auto V is available on PlayStation3 and Xbox360 right now for $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the Xbox360 with a total of 24 hours played with approximately 60% completion.