So this is it. The big one. “THE BIG ONE!” (People who’ve completed it will get that)- the biggest game of the year, the latest in one of if not the biggest video game series on the planet, and to many; the console generation-defining masterpiece that “The Last of Us” was supposed to be. (Not everyone would include that bit about TLOU but the other bit stands). It’s GTA V, people. Need I say more? No? Right, on with the review.
Firstly, one thing to mention is the controversy over the game’s torture mission, in which one of the three protagonists tortures someone for information apparently pertaining to national security (it’s been set up by a complete dickhead of a corrupt FBI Agent though, so it’s sketchy at best). The torture is handled with four surprisingly interactive mini-games, and the whole thing is pretty full-on. One problem some people have raised is that you can’t skip or avoid this section- it’s a main mission and you have to do it to progress. Others have criticised the content itself for obvious reasons. Now, they’re not wrong there, but I do feel that seeing as this is Rockstar, it’s there for a reason and not just for the sake of it. Personally I had no problem with the section, but if that sort of thing is too much for you, bear that in mind if you haven’t bought the game yet. All five of you.
In a departure from previous games in the series, GTA V has three playable protagonists that you can switch to at will for the most part, and uses this as a key device for telling the plot. They are Michael, a bank robber who has retired after a job gone wrong and now spends his days in the game’s equivalent of Beverly Hills drinking Whiskey, watching films and hating his life, Franklin, a car repo man who wants to move up in the world and make something of himself but is held back by his gangsta roots, and Trevor. Trevor is a lot of things, one of which is the best new character I’ve seen in a game in years- up there with the likes of Elizabeth, Booker Dewitt and Lee Everett. He’s introduced after Michael and Franklin have met, joined forces and robbed a jewelers together, and he’s worth the wait. After the job that made Michael retire he’s taken to living in a trailer part out in the desert where he sells Crystal Meth and guns and is waging a war with The Lost MC- the biker gang from GTA IV’s first DLC pack. Upon realising Michael is alive he sets off to track him down, but not before wiping out the vast majority of The Lost (most of them being killed in his very first mission) and a rival meth cooking family because a distributor chose them over him. On the face of it he’s “The Crazy One”- something Rockstar included to placate those who thought GTA IV was too serious. On closer inspection however, he’s easily the most interesting part of the game to the point where he puts everyone else in the shade. He’s a towering inferno of parental neglect, abandonment issues, despair over betrayal and grief all wrapped up with meth addiction, psychosis, heavy drinking and a massive violent streak. The story is for the most part solid, but the three different perspectives can sometimes make the game feel muddled and unfocused. It’s basically split up into a few missions each for the three characters, then a big story mission that involves all three, or a heist (these are one of the game’s staple elements; more on those later). It’s not always that way though, and as I said for the most part it’s fine. Of the three endings available the “good” ending doesn’t offer much in the way of closure, but it’s everything that leads up to it that’s important. The whole story feels quite dark and depressing at times, particularly the other two endings. I myself like a good, dark story so this works for me. There are fewer side characters and mission-givers this time, and the ones that are here aren’t very memorable. One thing to note is that whereas previous games in the series had an open world with missions that were built around areas in the world, this one feels more like a story-focused game that is also open world. Somewhat like “L.A Noire”, but much less oppressive (There’s a lot more to do).
Two of the most important new additions are the character switching system and the heists. The switching handles just as well as I’d hoped, besides a few small issues. Apart from a couple of times in the story where certain characters are lying low or otherwise unavailable, you can switch between the three at will when outside of missions. Let enough time pass and the characters will be engaging in their own personal activities when you get to them. Michael might be watching TV, stuck in traffic or lounging around on the boardwalk. Franklin might be leaving a cannabis shop, working out or finishing up with a basketball game. Trevor, well Trevor might wake up drunk in his underpants next to several dead bodies, he might have tied someone up under the boardwalk for being rude to him or indeed he may be escaping from the police. These are the small problems- it only happened a couple of times to me, but if you switch to Trevor while he’s being chased by the police you cannot switch back until you’ve lost them (1. The police are a lot tougher now, more on that in a minute and 2. No one can switch if they have a wanted level). It’s not a big problem but it’s a nuisance when it happens. The Heists pepper the story and are a stand-out. After deciding the method of the heist (usually a choice between stealthy and loud) and picking your crew (the better they are the more money they get) you then have to go and procure (steal) all/most of the necessary equipment yourself and then execute the job. They’re varied and interesting, and they can and do go wrong if you pick the wrong people.
Gameplay wise it’s good. Combat has been improved and feels quite like “Max Payne 3” without the Bullet Time (well for the most part anyway. You can’t dive, at least) – the cover system is good, shooting is tight and responsive the level design is usually intuitive enough to allow smooth movement in gun fights. Not always though- sometimes the “Red Dead Redemption” movement and physics make your character smash into a door frame while trying to go through it. Each character has a special move (Michael can slow down time while shooting, Franklin can slow down time while driving and Trevor can deal out more damage while being able to take more himself) and each one has a series of skills from swimming and shooting to strength and flying that can be improved, “San Andreas” style, although it’s not as deep as it was there. Driving is largely good, with decent handling and durable cars, and checkpoints have been improved- they are very forgiving now, which is good because the health meter has decreased since GTA IV. The one thing that has been drastically changed since the last game is the police A.I, and generally how they react to crimes. Attack someone in the street or steal a car and it’s very likely someone is going to call the police. They react quickly to a wanted level, are far more aggressive when driving and will pursue you relentlessly on foot. They have smart, dynamic search patterns when you’re out of sight, and if you’re in their sight and continue to run away, that’ll be counted as resisting arrest and will get you a two star wanted level (it only goes up to five stars this time). Oh, and they LOVE to shoot you for the slightest thing. It definitely presents more of a challenge, but it gets annoying when you’re on a mission and you do something small and end up with police officers trying to gun you down. It also means any attempts you make at the random destruction and slaughter of previous games will be met with severe consequences. Want to go on a rampage? Well it’s a lot harder now. The game looks terrific with great character models, scenery and animations, and the map (which is apparently larger than “Red Dead Redemption”, “GTA IV” and “GTA: San Andreas” combined) is a recreation of modern California- specifically Los Angeles. It has an expansive desert, woodlands and a boardwalk with carnival. It’s great, but it would have been nice to see a return to “Las Venturas”- GTA: SA’s version of Las Vegas. It’s not essential, but it would have been nice is all.
Overall, GTA V is a good game. Gameplay is tight whether on foot or in a car, missions are varied and interesting and Trevor is a great character. The story is largely decent but can feel unfocused at times due to the three interwoven stories and the characters that aren’t Trevor aren’t particularly interesting when compared to those in previous games. The world is expansive and well designed- it’s a great example of a well-designed sandbox. Is it some Earth-shattering, generation-defining masterpiece? No, it isn’t. Much like “The Last of Us” it’s a good game in it’s own right though, and well worth a look. Oh, and it has Trevor in it. He’s worth the price of admission alone.
“It sounds like someone strangling a clarinet player…
…and I speak from experience.”
By James Lambert