Grand Theft Auto V (PC)
The Good: Crazy expansive, detailed open world. Solid single player storyline.
The Bad: Uneven multiplayer. Game is a little glitchy.
The Ugly: Made me nauseous, though I didn’t factor that in the rating.
Grand Theft Auto V is like some kind of alchemy. The driving portion of the game is not as sharp or nuanced as the latest Need for Speed from Criterion. The gunfighting isn’t as crisp or thrilling as nearly any FPS you’d care to mention. There are games that are better at recreating the mechanics of pulling off heists. Yet somehow Rockstar has taken all of these ingots of lead and spun them into gaming gold. GTA V is the most expansive, intricate, detailed, absorbing, open-world sandbox I’ve ever experienced. That it made me nauseous (a distinction held by only two games in my nearly thirty years of gaming, the other being Spearhead) and yet I kept coming back to it again and again bespeaks of its addictiveness.
The single player campaign tells the interwoven story of three characters living in and around Los Santos, California. Franklin lives in the poor part of town with his imbecilic, violent gangsta friends and dreams of making it big. Michael is a successful career criminal who has retired from the life and lives in a mansion with his bitchy wife, lazy moronic son, and slutty ungrateful daughter. Trevor is an almost cartoonishly violent Vietnam veteran who resides in a trailer park in the desert patiently growing his drug and gun running business ventures. By patiently I of course mean shooting and blowing up his competition with a childlike exuberance while spouting action-hero movie taglines. That these three disparate storylines will converge at some point comes as no surprise to the player, but the story is nicely put together nonetheless.
The three characters play largely the same – driving, running around, shooting – though some are better shots and others are better drivers, that kind of thing. Each character also has missions that are individual to them. Trevor can chase bail jumpers on the side while Franklin helps a local crack whore with her boyfriend’s towing business. The plotline forces you to play as one character or another much of the time, but you can sometimes also pick to play one of the characters and do some of these side missions at your discretion amassing money, building street cred.
Beyond the campaign and the side missions, you can purchase different businesses around town (which sometimes create missions of their own), buy and customize cars and houses. You can take part in street races and triathlons. You can go down to the wharf and ride a freaking rollercoaster, see movies in the theater, or go hang out in a strip club. GTA V is in some sense a game that dares you to try and break it. You can play the stock market and build up a ludicrous fortune, buying everything in sight. You can ride anywhere, interact with almost anything. You can go diving and ride dirt bikes, fly a plane or go parachuting. Sometimes it’s fun to just ride around listening to the radio and taking in the sights – the city looks so damned terrific – reading billboards, riding cable cars, taking in the views.
The online component in comparison is very uneven. Online you can participate in races in and around Los Santos, though as online car racing goes I’d much rather do it in Criterion’s world. Heists are the other big component of the online world. Initially you’re limited to robbing convenience stores and the like. I think the theory is that through these petty crimes you’ll build up a crew with mad skills. In reality it played out like this: I ended up online with three or four other random people. We held a race – I came in third. I got a phone call that we should rob a nearby store. Though we didn’t talk about it or anything, we got into one of the cars and the guy who won the race got in front and drove, which seemed like a good idea. Hey, we’ve got a wheelman (who in this case looks like a fat woman and drives a hot pink Prius-looking thing). We christened ourselves the Half-Assed Gang, or at least in my heart I did. We stopped and bought clothes on the way to the robbery – I have no idea why. Then we drove to the store, and we all got out of the car and ran into the store and stuck our guns in the face of the guy behind the counter. We were practically shoving each other out of the way to get our gun closest to his nose. The alarm went off and the guy behind the counter started stuffing money in a bag. It’s then that I realized that ALL of us were in the store, our wheelman included. So I ran outside and got behind the wheel – someone should be ready to go, right? But then for some reason I realize everyone has run outside with me. I got out of the car and ran back inside – cue the Benny Hill music – and everyone came with me and the guy behind the counter, who apparently forgot he was being robbed, remembers to begin stuffing money in the bag again. The cops arrived and our wheelman ran back outside, got in the car, and took off without us. We ran out and stole a car and, the cops in Los Santos apparently being bottom of the barrel, got away, the remaining three of us, with no loot. I think the driver got away too, but I never saw them again and they soon logged out so I’m not sure. Given our success thus far, the Half-Assed Gang called it a career and we went our separate ways. I robbed the next two stores on my own. The crimes went well, and I didn’t have to split the proceeds with anyone.
At level 12 more elaborate heists become available, and some of them are beautifully scripted doozies, but others strongly depend on a crew that knows what it is doing. They also split the crews up in odd ways to accomplish different goals simultaneously, and in one mission I ended up doing no more than sitting in a car while someone else drove. Some missions require a good pilot, which seems to be a skill almost no one has. I’ve ridden several planes into the ground, however. The heists are some of the best pieces of the single player campaign, but in multiplayer they’re more hit and miss. Deathmatch and team deathmatch games are also available online, but they kind of pale in comparison to those offered in more typical FPS games. I did find the online content to be stable and it all ran just perfectly.
Glitches, well, there are some of those. The game froze up forcing me to kill it from the task manager a couple of times and restart. At certain times of day, particularly near sunset, the shadows tear all to hell. The missions sometimes go awry. Maybe I missed a cue or did some steps out of order, but the result would be a mission that couldn’t be completed and wouldn’t end, the solution being to quit out and load up an earlier save. Finally, thought it’s not a glitch, I mentioned my nausea earlier and I should write more about it here. GTA V is, in the almost thirty years I’ve been playing video games, only the second game ever to make me consistently nauseous (the other was Spearhead). I don’t know if it is the perspective of the camera or the blur that you get when driving at high speed, but something was getting to me, and two hours of play seems to be about my limit before I need a break. All I can say that if it happens to you too, try using the widest FOV available. It helped some.
I think 97% is the highest score I’ve ever given to a game, and GTA V earns it handily. The artwork, the voicework, the radio stations – it’s all amazing. I’m frankly only holding that last 3% in abeyance for some distant future in which a better game comes out, but I’m not holding my breath. And despite the nausea, I think you’ll see a lot of me online. I play under Latency_Kills; look me up sometime.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Rockstar Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Grand Theft Auto V for the PC provided by Rockstar Games.