Grand Theft Auto V (GTA 5) Review
There's a lot that I could tell you about the latest Grand Theft Auto game. I could tell you about when I chased a stolen yacht down a crowded Los Santos freeway, or the time I had to plan a bank heist and it all went horribly wrong. I could tell you about the 100's of exotic cars you can peruse or the many side jobs, but we'll get to all that; first, I want to tell you about the time that absolutely nothing happened. I was playing as Michael, one of the game's three main characters and I had just finished a mission, so I drove my slightly dented up sports car up towards the Vinewood Hills and parked at a cliff overlooking the city; I lit a cigarette, put the top down and to watched the sunrise over the city to the tune of Bob Seger's "Hollywood Nights." That's when it hit me -- GTA V is something truly extraordinary.
Not that that should be all that surprising, the hype surrounding Rockstar's latest made it one of this biggest games of this generation but it's all deserved. You may think you've played the GTA series, but this is nothing like anything that came before it. This is a benchmark for adventure games and interactive entertainment in general. Unquestionably pushing the current hardware to it's limits, GTA V may not be the last game we'll see before the next-gen, but it's the swan song it deserves.
"...play as one of three very different main characters at any time."
At its core, GTA V retains much of the gameplay from its predecessors; run around a giant map, steal a car, get into gang shootouts and do tasky jobs for contacts you have throughout the city, but that's where the similarities end. GTA V's biggest departure from those that came before it is the ability to play as one of three very different main characters at any time. There's Michael, the loaded ex-con now living a cushy life in witness protection in Los Santos, his bat-shit crazy friend and former partner Trevor and Franklin, the young gun looking to get out of one of the city's tough neighborhoods. Each character comes with their own storyline and set of issues throughout Los Santos, and it changes the way you'll play Grand Theft Auto.
By holding the down button on the d-pad, you're able to switch between the three characters at mostly anytime you'd like (certain missions require certain characters). The genius of the character switching mechanic is that it makes the city seem even more alive than it already is. When you switch, these characters aren't in the last place you left them just waiting for you to come back; they're out there living and enjoying the city in their own special ways. Trevor could be training his new dog or trying to hustle a new score or Michael could be watching TV in his mansion or out cruising the city. Trevor is unquestionably the most entertaining as you never know what you'll find him doing, like waking up drunk in a graveyard, in a dumpster in a dress or tossing rival bikers off of an overpass.
The result of this new mechanic is some of the most dynamic characters the GTA series has ever seen. Similar to 2004's GTA: San Andreas, you can level up a character's skills in a slew of different areas and though it's not necessary, you're going to want to since you'll actually find yourself caring about these characters and their ambitions. You can make money, a lot of money in GTA V and you'll find yourself spending it on what your characters would want because they seem that real. For instance, when I started making money, I had Franklin buy a new car because it just felt right.
"There's an absurd amount of detail here..."
One of the biggest allures of the Grand Theft Auto series has always been the illusion that this city is a fully operational and working city that doesn't just go away when you turn the console off and GTA V is the perfection of that idea. Trevor, Michael and Franklin may be on the cover of the game, but the true star is the city of Los Santos itself. There's an absurd amount of detail here, from the way the NPC characters walk around the cities and the way the neighborhoods change as you drive through. The map is gigantic and you can spend hours just driving around finding new stuff to check out and explore. It's a lot more fun if you've been to the LA area in real life as the developers modeled several sections after actual landmarks but the map is impressive none-the-less. Oh and by the way, there's also extremely large water sections you can explore both above and under and you can take a plane and take to the skies anytime you want.
The biggest change to the traditional GTA format is the addition of heists and robberies. As you progress through the game you'll have the chance to take part in a series of heists that take up a significant amount of planning but the payoff is more than worth it. It's really a clever mechanic, you choose how you want to go about your plan; be it loud and guns blazing or quiet and smart and then hire your crew. If your successful you can hire that same crew for your next mission, and their skills will get better each time. Eventually you'll be able to plan your own heists and rob stores for quick scores.
It's almost absurd just how much there is to do in Grand Theft Auto V's San Andreas. You can play golf or tennis and these aren't small mini games - these are whole games that rival Tiger Woods and Top Spin packed inside at no additional costs. There are triathlon events you can join or you can become a real estate mogul and buy and sell properties. You can go hunting in the Blaine County, the game's rural area. Hell, there's even a stock market that you can invest in, which is also propelled by actual in game events. Say you're knocking over a jewelry store; it may be a smart idea to start buying stock in their rival. If a type of car is being used more often throughout the game (and not just in your game, but everyone's) and getting crashed, the stock of the company that makes that car will plummet. How crazy is that?
"The driving feels extremely tight..."
Of course, GTA IV also had a lot of things for you to do, but they merely seemed to get in the way (No Roman, we don't want to go bowling with you). Rockstar seems to have learned from their mistakes and these new activities never get in your way and they're just suggested to you very naturally. In fact, the whole game seems to be made up lessons Rockstar has learned from it's previous games. The driving feels extremely tight (my biggest worry coming from GTA IV) like Midnight Club, the facial animations are taken from L.A. Noire's tech and the gun play is straight out of Max Payne 3.
I didn't want to give Grand Theft Auto V a perfect score, but I had to. It's mesmerizing in size and filled with things to do, both illegal and not. It's filled with new mechanics that not only propel the series forward but pay clever tribute to its past as well. Grand Theft Auto V is a truly superb experience and testament to what talented game developers can do if they're not focused on delivering a new installment every year. Go play it, now.
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