A new Grand Theft Auto; its release has become a massive, cultural event. Every few years Rockstar North creates a unified buzz that spreads beyond the usual gaming populace with the release of a the next instalment in this iconic franchise. It’s not just the enthusiasts or the hardcore, everybody knows when a new GTA is out. Billboards cover the skyline, trailers beam onto TVs and the news is rife with the latest controversy surrounding the game meaning that even the most uneducated non-gamer knows there’s a new GTA on shelves.
We’ve had to wait over five years for the newest main iteration of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. It’s predecessor, GTA IV, was a game that was as different as it was divisive. It broke away somewhat from the frivolous mould of the GTA III trilogy, and, while it still had its odd moments, took a more serious tone. It was loved by some, hated by others, but was still a generation defining game with its sprawling open world and well-written story.
With GTA V, Rockstar aimed to expand on that, while making a game that was a little less serious, played better and ends up taking the series to a whole new level. As someone who sunk ample hours into GTA IV, I couldn’t help but be a bit sceptical about what V would bring. I mean, how were they, yet again, going to top everything they’ve done before? With one of the most dense, action-filled open world cities ever created? How were they going to top one of the best supporting cast of characters in a game ever? These were all questions I was asking myself going into GTA V. I soon got my answer.
Grand Theft Auto V is a masterpiece. Rockstar has surpassed everything it has done before. The combination of story, characters, setting, gameplay and writing is put together so well that it has gone above and beyond any other Grand Theft Auto, and is one of the defining games of the generation. With new consoles arriving in the coming months, this generation is going out with one hell of a bang.
It begins with the game’s three characters (although the story itself doesn’t): Michael, the retired gangster living under the guise of a new name and bored of his mundane, but privileged post-crime life; Franklin, the young criminal from a disadvantaged area trying to make it big and make something of his life; and then there’s Trevor, the psychopathic meth head with abandonment issues looking for his old friend.
The star of the show is the dynamic between these characters, particularly between Michael and Trevor. Each of them have great individual stories, but it’s when they come together that you’ll be looking forward to every mission. Whether it’s the petty jabs, the jokes, or the backstory that unfolds it’s fantastically written – Michael and Trevor’s friends/rivals relationship is a certain highlight as well. For all the problems Trevor causes Michael, he still wants to make up for past mistakes. And whilst Trevor is always on Michael’s case, he still misses his old friend.
Trevor’s case is particularly interesting. For all his savagery and vulgarity, he still has a lot of depth – and believe me, he is savage. This will become immediately apparent when you first meet him and over the course of his personal story missions. Trevor’s brutality surfaces multiple times during the course of the game, some of it more gruesome than the rest. Although, while his character is more fleshed out than simply mindless-killing-machine, it often feels a bit unnecessary. One scene in particular really irked, and while I won’t spoil it for you, I’m sure you’ll recognise it immediately when you come to it. This gratuitous violence is an issue, however it wasn’t enough of an issue to ruin the experience for me.
Michael’s story missions were easily my favourite, however. They generally centre around his dysfunctional, privileged family and his boredom and disdain for the LA-esque Los Santos lifestyle. Whether it’s his 20-something-year-old asshole son who has no job and only yells profanities down the microphone as he plays videogames, or his wild, reckless daughter looking for her 15 minutes of fame, or even his wife, who’s sleeping around with every instructor under the sun, Michael’s story is consistently hilarious and fun, a collection of ridiculous stereotypes that one can’t help but laugh at.
It’s a perfect example of the incredibly smart satire in GTA V. Some characters are completely reprehensible and offensive, but the game is written so that these people are constantly ridiculed for being so, as is almost every character in the game. It’s utterly brilliant. It allows the writers to make some commentary on various racial and sexual issues, while also making a joke out of those who create those issues – then there’s those surrounding the financial crisis, paparazzi, movie stars and more.
Franklin is probably the least interesting of the trio, although it feels more like Michael and Trevor are so well done that they naturally wrestle the focus and attention towards them. Franklin’s story starts off well and his (mis)adventures with his impeccably written and surprisingly funny friend Lamar are hilarious and enjoyable. However, it does feel as though he’s not developed to the same degree as the other two main characters are once the game progress somewhat, and, ultimately, feels like more of a plot device towards the end.
Let’s not forget the game’s supporting characters, some of whom have been mentioned already. Lamar, Michael’s family, Wade, and many others that I won’t spoil for you create as many laugh-out-loud moments as the main characters. Particularly the incidental dialogue as your drive around Los Santos; there were many times that I found myself stopping short of my objective and pausing for a few seconds, just to hear the rest of the dialogue.
All of this takes place in one of the most well realised cities in an open world game. This has always been a defining feature of the GTA series since the GTA III trilogy; Vice City, Liberty City and Los Santos are all fantastic playgrounds. However it’s different in GTA V; the city feels truly alive. Whether it’s the increased variation in pedestrians or voice lines, the more clearly defined districts, or just the feeling of cruising with a convertible in the Los Santos sunset, it’s an awesome place to be.
It really helps that the game is visually stunning too. It’s bright and colourful, and easily one of the best looking games on current generation consoles. The cars, characters and style are all highlights, even the aforementioned sunsets… breathtaking. The way the city illuminates at night, the effects both fog and rain have, and the terrific physics engine are just some of the example within this wonderfully stylised and technically remarkable game. It is exactly what I want from a representation of a California city, plus you venture out to the hills beyond the city providing unmatched diversity in locale for the series. There are occasional framerate issues in areas with high traffic, and some of the load times are a bit hard to take, but it really doesn’t detract from how great it looks and runs the vast majority of the time.
Another area of excellence is the game’s voice acting, with the three main characters all being extremely well voiced. The actors are incredibly believable, emotive and funny, which when coupled with the writing, makes the dialogue some of the best in any game this generation. Unfortunately though, the music is an aspect I was slightly disappointed with. The radio stations are an aspect of Grand Theft Auto games that have always been highly regarded and really help reinforce the world, but I felt the music choice to be lacking this time around. It’s more modern, to go with the modern setting, but there are some big genres absent (dubstep) and some poorly represented (rock/metal). If you love pop, you’re in luck though.
None of this would really matter though if the gameplay wasn’t good. If there was one problem I had with GTA IV, it was playing it at times. The shooting didn’t feel great, the driving took a hell of a lot of getting used to and it just didn’t play as well as it should have. This changes all of that. Shooting is far more responsive, and the feedback is immensely satisfying. It’s generally easier to kill people, although the game makes up for that by making you more fragile in turn. Driving is also vastly improved. Cars are far more reactive, in particular the much faster cars, while some of the slower, heavier vehicles are more difficult to drive, but are never frustrating to control.
This is all helped by each character’s special ability. Michael’s special ability slows down time Max Payne style to allow you to perform more accurate shots; Trevor’s makes him more durable and also makes him do more damage; whilst Franklin’s is probably the most useful of the lot as it slows down time as you’re driving so you can take turns easier or avoid huge crashes.
There are few games in recent times I’ve enjoyed more than Grand Theft Auto V. Everything about is excellent. The story, the gameplay, the dialogue and almost everything I can think of. It fits together in a way that few games do. Often there are a number of very interesting and unique ideas in games, but the puzzle doesn’t quite fit the way developers want it to. It’s certainly a valid complaint to level against GTA IV. So while it may not be a perfect game, GTA V’s numerous highs more than cancel out its scarce lows. It truly is an excellent game, the best GTA game ever made, and one of the best this generation.
Grand Theft Auto Online
Written by Editor-in-Chief David Howard and contributor Liam Bull.
Billed as a separate product in the form of GTA Online, the multiplayer portion of Grand Theft Auto V launched two weeks after the single player aspect but manages to hit as many high notes as it.
Whether it’s engaging in wars with random players as you each try to cap the other first, bringing a pistol to a jet fight, driving off of Mount Chiliad in a hijacked police car, racing through the quarry on dirt bikes, taking pictures of friends needlessly bailing out of cars midway through a stunt jump, embarking on 20-minute police chases, or being screwed over by a friend mid-robbery are just some of the never-forget moments that GTA Online produces.
It’s a sandbox for you and your friends to cause havoc, help others, complete missions and have an absolute blast. The entirety of Los Santos is open for business, and although it’s not quite a ‘full of life’ as the single player experience is (the airports are far quieter for example) the addition of sixteen human players creates a new dynamic entirely.
Will other players try to kill you or will they help you, will you take the risk and let them approach or, as I do, eliminate them just in case. There is an immense amount of freedom available as you progress through the ranks, earning new equipment, unlocking new missions and purchasing weapons, cars and properties with your hard-earned cash.
There’s all of the sports from the offline campaign here – darts, golf, cycling, and more – if you want to compete against others. Perhaps holding up a store and fleeing the police is more your cup of tea. If not, then how about deathmatch, races, last man standing, capture the flag weed, or a variety of other mission types. The variety of possibilities and options are staggering and this is without having even hit the heists that unlock far down the line. Supporting characters from the single player make appearances which ties it all together nicely as well.
Character creation is as interesting as it is disappointing, requiring you to select your relatives which in turn determines how you look. There’s not a huge amount of control over this which makes the majority of players look rather similar and, especially early on, like they’ve jumped out of The Sims rather than being future criminals. So far they’ve all got a case of the Freeman’s as they haven’t ushered a single word.
The shooting mechanics have had the auto aim turned down but it’s still strong enough to sort of unbalance the gunplay. Granted everyone has the same benefits but it results in who sees who first rather than being particularly accurate.
Unfortunately though there have been massive connection issues since launch. Problems connecting to the servers have frustrated many but thankfully, since a few days after release, these have been almost non-existent for us. The same cannot be said for the loss of characters though. Having lost several characters – including one at level 20 – is an unacceptable issue and one that has plagued the launch of GTA Online. Hopefully these issues are resolved quickly as once you’re connected games are brilliant smooth and lag free.
Although the launch of GTA Online has been hit with rampant connectivity and character issues the actual gameplay is unmatched. Whether you’re looking to mess about in Los Santos with friends, earn lots of cash and complete missions, or engage in firefights with others there’s something for everyone. It’s amazing that there’s not just a wealth of quantity but it’s also matched by quality and that really is something quite rare. The next-generation of consoles is on the horizon but GTA Online looks set to prolong the current one for a long, long time.