Grand Theft Auto is a game that hardly requires a review. Similar to Call of Duty, FIFA or Assassin’s Creed games, fans of the series most likely will not read a review before running out to buy it. Perhaps running back to a review afterward to confirm their positive opinions of the game. Conversely, many who despise these popular game series’s will rush to read negative reviews in order to confirm their prejudices. Therefore this review will chiefly focus on improvements in the re-release and discuss why I believe Grand Theft Auto is such a popular franchise even after nearly 14 years of 3D releases.
Grand Theft Auto V is all that GTA, Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire have proven Rockstar is capable of producing. An impressive game world that craves attention and exploration, filled to the brim with activities and side quests. Whilst playing Red Dead Redemption I role-played a John Marston that needed to win his family back in a tournament of high-stakes poker with a bit of horse-shoes on the side, this grabbed my attention long before I returned to Fort Mercer. My random escapade within Red Dead’s game world I feel encapsulates the reason why Rockstar Games are as popular as they are; They are sandbox games with plenty of variety and detail to be had, while also holding the game together with a narrative worth experiencing and characters worth inhabiting.
GTA V is the first in the series that allows the player to control multiple characters within the same story. Each character has their own story arcs and missions to complete, though sometimes coming together for larger missions. The characters you play as are Michael: A retired career criminal who struggles with a selfish, narcissistic family and an early mid-life crisis. Franklin: A would be hustler looking to make it in the big time whilst keeping his sanity, and Trevor, who can be only aptly described in the words of Michael as simply: “hell on earth.”
I personally love the mechanic of controlling three characters that you can switch from at any time. Characters do not stick together in the open world and therefore switching between the characters will send you flying across the map to that characters location, which could be anywhere from their safehouse, a strip club, or simply passed out in a ditch in a pink dress. I especially applaud the move to include a character like Trevor, who makes the occasional violent bloodbath that inevitably will occur in the game’s proceedings make sense with the characters motivation. Trevor is simply the screaming sadistic psychopath that many in the right-wing media believe the end product of playing a game such as GTA V is. Ultimately I think Trevor’s inclusion in the game not only gives the player a character to rampage with, but also in a clever move, shows the sheer insanity of some of the worst anti-violence in game advocate’s arguments in “human” form.
The greatest character however, in a recurring theme in Rockstar produced games, is simply the game world itself. Most of the time I spent in the game I simply drove around and absorbed the surrounding environment, played tennis, perhaps did a little yoga and ran into some strangers with some pretty strange problems. The game’s progression is similar to others in the series as you make more money and acquire bigger houses for yourself as well as purchasing properties and businesses to add to your empire in San Andreas. The simple fact that the world feels like a living, breathing world filled with activities and the like brings more to the table in terms of the games longevity simply because becoming ruler of the city by owning all of the properties you can actually feels like it matters rather than simply busy work. Throw into the mix more of the radio stations that have always been a staple of the series, as well as t.v. shows and movies to watch in-game and you have yourself a thoroughly well polished, content rich game-play experience.
The re-release includes a first person mode which offers a fresh experience of the game. Driving around with the semi-realistic driving controls and the previously mentioned expansive game world is a blast to cruise through. Flying planes and helicopters also feels improved from previous games, with added weather effects and wind resistance taking its toll as well. The gun-play in first-person is nothing special in itself, but is smooth and enjoyable enough to hold its own against the more popular shooters. The variety of weapons is vast as is the variety of options to customise the weapons as well as the characters wielding them, each character having specific clothes to buy that only they can.
The most talked about and often most enjoyed feature of GTA V’s single-player experience is the heist missions. Heist missions being where the characters will plan a big score to rob a bank, steal jewels and otherwise obtain as much money as possible at the public/private sectors expense. Players are given the freedom to plan the heist to the degree of deciding how to go about pulling off the crime as well as deciding who to hire on to make it happen. I enjoyed the heists, often being the best missions to complete in the game, the developers polish showing in each segment making the levels fun to master.
The game itself has flaws however and I will list them here. Lip syncing is a big issue with NPCs outside of cut-scenes, and this is only exacerbated by the inclusion of a first-person mode. I would often look over at the character riding shotgun discussing the upcoming mission to be horrified by puppet-like fish blubbing over-laid with talk of getting paid and making the deal. Whilst playing the game it was hard to miss the graphical inconsistency, generally characters and vehicles look well designed and simply look great, the same cannot be said for buildings, car interiors, foliage and similar environmental assets, and understandable, but saddening omission. Finally I could wade into the controversy surrounding the return of prostitutes and strippers in GTA that has sparked back-lash from certain groups. Personally I feel a little uncomfortable with their inclusion in the game, but do not believe they are in the game for anything more than pure titillation or to maintain GTA’s image as “that game” people need to get, I won’t discuss it further than that, well at least in this context.
I did not experience the online game mode, and so will not discuss it further than simply suggesting that the core experience, experienced with multiple player characters sounds like a great laugh, and more power to those gamer’s doing just that. If that of course is what the online experience is indeed like.
Overall, I will end by saying that GTA V is a game that does nothing exceptionally well, but each of its component parts being well polished and solid. It’s crowning achievement is simply bringing it’s multitude of features together and making them matter. It accomplishes this by placing these missions and side-stories in a living, breathing world that you actually desire to dominate and conquer, to rampage through and destroy, or even just to spend some time exploring around.