Grand Theft Auto V continues improvement in open world environments where crime is king and characters expand with a three main character scenario that allows character to switch among them. Rockstar Games expands existing gameplay into show-stopping events with more role-playing opportunities as main and supporting characters cross paths while players can take main routes or choose tangents any time.
Los Santos: a sprawling sun-soaked metropolis full of self-help gurus, starlets and fading celebrities, once the envy of the Western world, now struggling to stay afloat in an era of economic uncertainty and cheap reality TV. Amidst the turmoil, three very different criminals plot their own chances of survival and success: Franklin, a former street gangster, now looking for real opportunities and serious money; Michael, a professional ex-con whose retirement is a lot less rosy than he hoped it would be; and Trevor, a violent maniac driven by the chance of a cheap high and the next big score. Running out of options, the crew risks everything in a series of daring and dangerous heists that could set them up for life.
Forgot the record sales. Forget the controversial crime elements. Forget the open world opportunities. This game works. Grand Theft Auto V advances successful elements while adding several new elements.
In Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V), criminal activity is basically the only way to succeed in this game as players work their way up the crime ladder amid high amounts of realistic violence with harmful and often gory results. Players must often use realistic violence if they want to avoid capture by law enforcement, which is visually represents by a star rating in the upper right corner display. Emotions of anxiety, exhilaration, and fear can be high at times, especially when being pursued by law enforcement or characters trying to harm the current character. The constant profanity from surrounding characters full of disrespect, ethnic stereotypes, profanity, innuendo, sexual advances, threats, and references to alcoholism have become increasingly numbing elements for me in this game series, but the discovery, exhilaration, and amazing gameplay easily overshadow them.
Players have a lot of freedom during the missions and can easily alter their goals with or without completing the missions. I don’t usually mention other game series in my review, but GTA V successfully adds many life simulation elements, which reminds me of another of my favorite game series, The Sims. Strong story elements, transitions and plot points permeate the huge environments. Players have so much to do, so the replay value is never low…or even average compared to any other game.
The overall economic uncertainty theme sets up a “desperate times, desperate measures”-type scenarios of completing heists to set up the main characters for life. These situations progress as players pick heist crews, make strategy, scout locations, gather gear, and finally execute the multi-layered crime. The possibility of terrible consequences make for the ultimate escape.
Actions are easy and information is there for the taking. Maps, smart phone (up button), radio station choices (when in vehicles) and camera views blend well with weapons changes, auto target locks and special ability activations (L3 + R3; each of the three main character have their own special ability). Standards like drive-bys and air vehicles are improved and expanded.
The control scheme must include taps and holds for certain button actions since there are so many. Naturally, the learning curve mainly involves mastering the controls and Los Santos map (printed version included). Vehicles are easily accessible by land, sea, or air, but a recent car access glitch (not fixed at post time) makes cars and car upgrades disappear when placing them in garages (save points). Using the Rockstar Social Club solves this issue.
The main character trio cross paths and slowly reveal character background. The interactions are realistic and the high quality voice over work really grounds the interactions. Michael De Santa, voiced by Ned Luke, is an experienced criminal with a family and special ability (enacted with R3 + L3 buttons) for precise slow motion actions. Franklin, voiced by Shawn ‘Solo’ Fonteno, is a young hustler with special driving skills. Trevor, voiced by Steven Ogg, is a psychopath who can dish out vicious attacks while boosting his own defenses for his special ability. Players can easily switch among characters (once unlocked early in the main story) any time using the character wheel.
The initial gameplay, which also serves as a natural tutorial, starts a bit awkwardly in a heist set in wintertime, which reveals familiar faux pas. Some clipping still exists (e.g. move by the doors and your gun moves through the wall) and the white aiming dot gets lost in the snow. Players can use the R1 button to crouch, which, when using the helpful map points, should have got me through the beginning stage quicker, but I looked for something above on the ceiling and climbed the boxes instead of finding cover as the text prompt instructed.
The targeting options (free-aim, classic, or assisted aim (most recommended) help target enemies quickly, but the improved melee actions elevate the fisticuffs to a level close to the recent Batman Arkham game series. The cops track players much better, so do not expect an easy escape (e.g. an escape to the sea was possible after evading land based crimes – just don’t commit any crimes on the beach to reactivate the wanted level).
Grand Theft Auto Online (releasing in early October…look for my separate review) will feature 2 to 16 players in co-operative and competitive play plus friend invite in options, voice chat, leaderboards and the standard lobbies/matching features. For now, this one player saga has plenty of gameplay to keep players busy plus a free, included download code for an “atomic blimp (just fly or parachute to top of blimp to get access to cockpit).
The side missions and other surprises make great additions. Tennis, golf, scuba, shooting, yoga, triathlons, jet skiing, and base jumping are great recreation activities that also develop character skills. Cheat codes also add that extra layer of entertainment throughout the gameplay (e.g. the “skyfall” cheat echoes a repeated guilty pleasure reminiscent of the Flatout racing game series…just keep your pitch horizontal if you want to live).
The music soundtrack is huge and the sound effects include a game show-like “doink” sound when you are “wasted” (die). Players can diversify their gameplay a bit by watching TV as a character or try their luck at the stock exchange. The improved character renderings and actions matched the high detailed environments well in gameplay situations at the numerous cut scene sequences. The cut scenes provide great story support and character development without slowing down the pace or involvement.
Developed by Rockstar Games and published by Take Two, Grand Theft Auto V makes no apologies for what it is and represents. The political and social themes amid a bad economy provide some substance, but players will always appreciate the escapism. A highly recommended game that has grown leaps and bounds since the groundbreaking Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. Also available in Xbox 360 with special editions and bundles for both consoles.
Grand Theft Auto V
MSRP: $59.99 (Amazon and other stores)
What I Like: incredibly high replay value, three-character story structure, deeper missions/scenarios, unpredictability, vehicle handling, open world environments, add-on content, realistic interactions, surprising discoveries, heist process, music soundtrack, improved melee fighting actions, upcoming online gameplay
What Needs Improvement: tired misogynistic elements, occasionally confusing character action, noticeable car saving glitch
Source: Reviewer copy provided by publisher