Grand Theft Auto V
Let’s face it… this title needs no review. The GTA series has always sold itself on the merits of previous offerings, and has always managed to up the ante as to what players should expect from their open world titles. GTA5 has generated over $1 billion in sales in its first three days of launch, required a staff of over one thousand people to create and endeavored to be the pinnacle of not only interactive entertainment, but of all entertainment products currently available. To say that they succeeded is putting it mildly. Rockstar has created its own version of Southern California, complete with all of its endemic “good vibrations” and lurid tales that would make a demon blush. This is gaming at its finest. This is the stuff that defines a console generation. This, my dear friends, requires no review.
GTA5’s enormous, open-ended world will draw you in from the moment you press start. The storyline focuses on three playable antiheroes (each accessible with the flick of a stick), and how their stories unfold (and their worlds collide) is told in a perfectly paced, dramatic fashion not unlike some of television’s best dramas. The gameplay is still the typical GTA “go here to start mission, complete mission, knock about town for a while and then go to next mission” variety the series is known for, but it all feels totally right. Rockstar has finally recaptured the satirical, narcissistic zeitgeist of their GTA worlds (made famous first in GTAIII, and mysteriously absent in the last title), lampooning everything that is wrong with western civilization every chance they get. It’s brilliant, hysterical and really submerges the player into the world… you will want to stay for a long time just to absorb the culture.
Each of the three characters seems to pay some type of homage to earlier titles in the series. Franklin seems to possess many of the same attitudes and aspirations that drove Carl “CJ” Johnson (and even lives in a nearby neighborhood), Michael De Santa seems to allude back to Tommy Vercetti and Trevor Philips’ angular countenance and psychopathic mood swings are very reminiscent of the silent-but-deadly “Fido” character of GTAIII. Take a close look… each one even looks a bit like their predecessors. The game is loaded with subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to previous games and western culture tent-poles. (One of Michael’s early key missions contains a segment that is a blatant reference to a sequence out of Lethal Weapon 2.) Fans of the series with a keen ear may pick up on a few self-referential remarks in the game’s dialogue, such as the reference to “an Eastern European in Liberty City that was making some moves, but has gone silent.” Whether this “silence” was intended to reference the end of Niko Bellic’s story or the feud Rockstar had with the voice actor who played Bellic only the developer knows… *grin*.
Just about every aspect of the game has been improved to some degree. The handling of each of the vehicles just feels right, even if they can be difficult to control at times. Just about anything with wheels, wings or sails can be jacked and “appropriated” as you see fit. The gunplay still manages to show a few cracks in its execution, much the same way as all of the other titles have, but has also been tightened up to some degree. The stealth aspects (such as hiding behind walls or objects during a firefight) are much easier than they ever were. The best news players may like to hear is that the dreaded “foot in the water” deaths known to plague Rockstar titles is long gone, replaced with the ability to swim, dive and explore the depths of any body of water in the game. Yes, it’s as if the developers added a whole new world underneath the waves.
The entire scope of San Andreas soon feels like home. After about 3 hours of gameplay, one starts to know where things are instinctually and this feeling only grows over time. Downloading the “iFruit” app to your mobile device will also add a whole new layer of interactivity to the game, as you can customize the license plates of cars you own, train your dog or take part in the online community known as LifeInvader. The satire even carries over into your real life, it seems.
Graphically, this is a brilliant as the current gen systems can get. GTA5 pushes the pixel limits of both consoles and turns out a gorgeous looking environment of forty-nine square miles. Considering the scope and depth of a game map like this, saying that a player can “get lost” in this world is an understatement. Despite all of its evil, consumerism, crime and depravity, San Andreas is one hell of a breathtaking vista.
As of this writing, the multiplayer aspect of GTA5 is off to a rocky start. Whereas the game launched with the entire single-player story mode intact (the part this review has been covering), the multiplayer portion didn’t launch until October 1st, 2013. The launch has met with a few serious bumps, and as of October 7th, 2013, many players are dealing with a complete deletion of their online characters. Rockstar is hard at work coming up with a solution to the problems. Since the online portion of the title is constantly evolving and only just over a week old, reviewing it at this time would be premature.
GTA5’s main single player story mode delivers the best Grand Theft Auto experience to date. The usual ending to a review like this normally reserves space for recommending a purchase or not, but who are we kidding? You already have this game and you’re already awestruck by the endless possibilities San Andreas has to offer. Plunder on, my friends.
Reviewed By: Russell Garbutt
Publisher: Rockstar Games
This review is based on a retail copy of Grand Theft Auto V for the Xbox 360 provided by Rockstar Games.