Grand Theft Auto V Review
The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series gave birth to the open-world game, and although we've seen plenty of open-world games since, each new release in the series continues to raise the bar for the genre to a whole new level. GTA V is no exception. The game is huge - in terms of world size, gameplay, and inevitable impact on games to come - and all gamers owe it to themselves to experience it all.
GTA V brings the action out West for the second time in the series (the first being Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), setting itself in a fictionalized Los Angeles named Los Santos. While the sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles has naturally been condensed to fit onto a game console, anyone familiar with the city will be able to find their way around Los Santos without too much difficulty and will appreciate the way the game subtlety and sometimes not so much so renames all of the familiar streets and landmarks of the city. You get a lot more than just Los Angeles, um, Los Santos, in the game, though. You can explore the surrounding mountains, head out to the desert, drive up the coast to a resort town, and more. This is by far the most expansive Grand Theft Auto game to date. As always, this is a "living, breathing" world, but in GTA V the world is more living than ever. There's more than a small set of pedestrians replicated over and over throughout the city - you'll see different people depending on where you are in the city, and even encounter hikers in the mountains or construction workers extending subway tunnels beneath the streets. It goes a long way towards giving each neighborhood in the city its own distinctive feel and character.
But there's more to this world than just people and cars. It's truly amazing how much gameplay is packed into Los Santos. Random encounters on the streets can lead to side missions both short and long, you can spend time making it rain at a strip club, or ride the rollercoaster on the pier. There are plenty of athletic pursuits as well, from tennis to triathlons. Not that GTA V is recommendable on the strength of its tennis game alone or anything like that, but all of these extras work together to build a deeply immersive world and to provide you with countless hours of additional gameplay for your money.
Of course there's a story set in this fictional micro-universe, but in an unusual departure for the GTA series (and action games in general) there are three protagonists who you'll be playing as this time around. Franklin is a repo man who dabbles in gangbanger crime on the side, but who is far smarter than the people he has been associating with. Michael is a retired bank robber whose dysfunctional family life is enough to motivate him to leave his cushy lifestyle and get back into the game. Lastly, Trevor is a borderline psychotic trailer trash meth dealer.
The storylines of all three of these diverse criminals become completely intertwined as the game progresses and you'll see things from all of their perspectives. In addition to their unique personas, each has a unique skill as well. Franklin can slow time while driving to deftly maneuver through traffic or negotiate difficult turns in the road. Michael can similarly slow time, but his skill comes into play during gun battles. And then there's Trevor, who can get angry enough to go into a rage mode which boosts his abilities to take and deal damage.
When you're not on a mission you can freely jump between these characters. It's always interesting to see what each character is up to when you jump in and take control, for example Michael may be in the middle of arguing with his wife or Trevor might be trying to get in touch with his feminine side. It's as if these characters are living inside your Xbox 360 and you're a ghost who takes possession of them from time to time. With each of the characters you can look for random side missions, interact with some of the non-player personalities (the "freaks and strangers") in the game, or just explore Los Santos and its environs. Go for a jog and improve your stamina, steal a car and level up your driving skills, play with your stock or real estate portfolio, or kill time watching TV or checking in on your online social networks. It's truly amazing how much is packed into this self-contained world.
Some of your activities are certain to draw the attention of local law enforcement and the series' signature "wanted level" police response is here in GTA V in full force. GTA V makes it a bit easier to see what it will take to shake the cops and reduce your wanted level by adding vision cones to the police officers and police vehicles appearing on your radar. Keep out of sight long enough and you'll be able to walk the streets again without risking arrest or death. I think that this radar aid makes things a little too easy for you, but you can always choose not to look at it while trying to make your getaway I suppose.
While you can have plenty of fun outside of the game missions, I don't want to give the impression that they are secondary to the fun in the game. The missions are exciting, challenging, and lengthy, and the heist missions take all of that up another notch with their branching outcomes based on how you tackle them early on. The writing is some of the sharpest, wittiest, and clever you'll find in any game and outclasses that you'll find in the majority of action movies as well.
Completed missions are available for replay if you want to improve your score or just relive the excitement again. On the other side of the coin, if a mission gives you too much trouble after a few tries the game will give you the option to skip it and let you move on with the storyline.
I've reviewed many a GTA game, and two things have consistently made my list of complaints - the car handling and the shooting mechanics. For a game series with "Auto" in its name, the cars in the game have always felt too "floaty", like they were made of plastic and driving on marshmallow tires or something. In GTA V the car handling has been noticeably tightened up. You won't feel like you're playing a Forza Motorsport game or anything like that, but the cars are a lot more fun to drive this time out. The shooter mechanics aren't quite there yet, but they're improved as well. Aiming no longer feels clunky and the auto-targeting hides some of the remaining twitchiness.
GTA V continues the game series' tradition of raising the bar for open world action games. Los Santos feels like the most living and breathing living and breathing game world to date. The number of hours of enjoyment it will provide you with for months to come also make it one of the best entertainment bargains out there. The game is a remarkable achievement, and one that every gamer should experience.
Final Rating: 96%. Grand in every sense of the word.