The long wait is finally over, after 5 years in development the latest installment of the Grand Theft Auto series will finally hit both retail and digital stores on September 17. Developed by Rockstar North, Grand Theft Auto V has been in the public spotlight for months, many wondering if it could meet fans’ expectations in an industry where open-world titles, violence and crude humor are becoming normal – well, I am here to tell you it not only meets every expectation, but sets a bar that even the next generation of games will have trouble matching.
To no one’s surprise, GTA V is a big game. It even needs 8,486 MB of HDD space to install. This means that trying to do the Grand Theft Auto V review, while covering every been of content available, is both unrealistic and almost impossible. Therefore, this review will cover my experience playing the single player portion of the game for almost 30 hours, which means that my review might not be indicative of your experience and will also not include GTA Online – which will be reviewed separately when it releases on October 1st.
Within the first few hours of the game, something becomes apparent – Rockstar North has given the series a major overhaul on just about every level. Besides just building upon things we had seen in previous GTA titles, the character models, animations and the world itself have been dynamically integrated to create a much deeper experience.
This means that, not only are you able to take cover on almost any object, within reason, but your character almost always properly interacts with the world around with him, never giving you the sensation of floating that has bothered some in the past. Grand Theft Auto V uses an advanced rag-doll styled mechanic that gives bodies a more realistic interaction with the world when shot or hit, but sadly, this also leads to one of the only real minor annoyances with the game. In most open-world games there is always the chance that you might miss a jump or two, meaning you leapt early or clipped a wall, which would normally lead to nothing happening. But, in GTAV, your character will rag-doll the instant he jumps into an object incorrectly – leading to some annoying and funny moments.
Visually, the game looks phenomenal, especially if you take into account the scale of the world and the attention to detail that populates each nook and cranny. Depending on what part of the game you are traveling through, whether it is a beautifully lit living city, an unforgiving mountainous region, a desert, the bottom of the sea or one of the other many areas, you will never find an area that feels empty or desolate.
As many people already know, GTAV gives the player the ability to control 3 different protagonists who work as bank robbers. Each job or mission is usually designed around the fact that you can swap control between them on the fly, which is something that thankfully helped the standard follow, chase or find mission design from feeling too repetitive. But, the main reason why repetition wasn’t an issue was that GTAV does a wonderful job of mixing up the tasks between characters and regions so that it always feels fresh, with a dune buggy race across a mountain trail feeling nothing like a motorcycle race bobbing through traffic.
The types of missions that are available vary, and a great deal were fun, but the ones that stood out were clearly the robbery ones. Not to go into too much detail, as these do vary from job to job, but they usually all start out with some form of casing the target and then picking a plan and crew. This breaks down into one of two types of scenarios, one usually being a less head on but requiring more preparation and something less tactful. The chance of success can be determined by the ability of the person you choose, but the more capable they are, the bigger their cut. Luckily, if you do keep using the same auxiliary staff, their skills go up, but their cut stays the same. Performing most jobs don’t feel as dynamic as you would hope, but they are very memorable and still great fun to play through.
One of the most surprising things about GTAV is that even though so much detail has been placed on the world and your ability to interact with it, it is able to still give each of the 3 main characters a relatively deep and amazingly well written story. Michael, Trevor and Franklin each have histories that are unique to them, but those also work as a driving point to push the characters together in a very natural and engaging way. The story unfolds by using the standard mission marker on the map, but only a specific character can pick up their story arc. This does lead into another minor point, the loading time between character swaps outside of a mission can be a bit much if you use it too often, but it only amounts to a drop in the bucket with the needed time investment to get through the story.
Fans of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will be glad to know that the ability to build up skills in the game is back, but thankfully these won’t hurt the experience if you don’t invest the time focusing on them. The reason for this is that everything progresses naturally across skills, meaning if you get into fights fairly often, not only will your damages with punches improve, but your tennis serve and golf swing will also improve. One other feature is that each character has a unique ability that only they can perform, Michael can slow down time in gun fights, Franklin can do it while driving and Trevor can get a damage boost, while reducing damage taken. These abilities did feel a bit off for a GTA game, but they were never crucial to finishing a mission, so they are totally optional.
One of the other greatest improvements in the game has to have been the shooting mechanic, which now allows for free-aim and lock-on targeting. Shooting felt very smooth and natural, but didn’t feel like a shooter, which helped it retain a great deal of its own identity. The hand-to-hand portions of GTAV still felt quite clunky and forced, as it just turned into little more than 1-on-1 punch, dodge and counter, which looked dated in a generation full of interactive worlds where you can fight multiple foes or slam someone’s head into an object.
It wouldn’t be GTA if there weren’t vehicles to hijack and drive, ride or fly around in, and GTAV doesn’t disappoint. Even during my last play session, I was greeted with a host of new cars that I not only had never seen, but were so cool that I had to stop mid-mission just to go joy ridding. But, one of the coolest things in the game has to be the damage models for the cars, as they have detailed axle, tire and body damage – the condition of your car and where you take damage will have a direct impact on your ability to drive. Putting this level of detail in a world already filled with endless amounts of detail and then mixing it with countless types of transportation and terrains, makes GTAV a masterpiece of design.
Another thing that should be mentioned is that controlling an aircraft in GTAV requires a bit of skill and practice, as nothing felt right at first – but eventually it all came together as I practiced and leveled up my skill.
One of the things that had been both hit and miss for me was the music on the radio station, which is more of a personal thing than a real negative or positive. Depending on your taste in music, the radio stations available will play everything from classic songs to Rihanna, but doesn’t allow for custom playlists from your XMB. The sound in general is superb, but the voice acting and dialog between characters has to be one of my favorite things about this game. Each character is incredibly well developed and executed, except for a few smaller characters that were annoying and had randomly called my cell phone. Thankfully, they never matched the same fervor of one lonely cousin from the previous GTA.
Overall, Grand Theft Auto V is a must have for anyone who likes open-world games, great characterization, or bank robberies. If anyone is still wondering if GTA has lost its ability to take on the politically correct about ‘appropriate’ content, do not fear, as it is full of violence, social commentary and explicit nature that is sure to aggravate someone with too much time on their hands.