Grand Theft Auto – the granddaddy of all open-world games and the franchise that opened the door to true anti-heroes in gaming. Since its humble beginning as a simple car-boosting game on PC and the Sony PlayStation, Grand Theft Auto has evolved into one of the most popular and successful franchises in gaming, and with good reason. Grand Theft Auto mixes clever writing, fast-paced vehicular carnage and action-packed shooting in a realistically-portrayed open world.
Grand Theft Auto IV, though successful, received some criticism for its “bland” story and design choices, such as the overuse of motion blur. Many fans cited that the game was nowhere near as fun to play as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which had more RPG elements (such as character stats and better character customisation) and more arcade-style driving mechanics.
Grand Theft Auto V is finally here and Rockstar have both listened to the criticisms of fans and offered something original, which is a balancing act that few can pull off. For starters, the game returns to the most popular location in the franchise’s history, San Andreas. The driving has also been overhauled to be more accessible, which is definitely a good thing. Overall, there is a fantastic mix of familiarity and innovation, which will win over long-time fans, newcomers and even people who didn’t enjoy GTA IV (myself included).
Grand Theft Auto V opens with a prologue mission, which also serves as the game’s tutorial (introductory missions designed to introduce the player to the game’s mechanics, story and controls). In it, players assume the role of a criminal on a heist (though later, the ability to play as and switch between multiple characters is unlocked). Taking hostages, the thieves plant explosives on the doors of a bank vault, and blast their way inside. Normally I can’t stand tutorial missions, as they are normally overused in much simpler games (who doesn’t know that the right trigger shoots in every game nowadays?) however in GTAV, the mission is still highly entertaining, and the game has enough mechanics to warrant a tutorial.
Upon making their getaway, the criminals are confronted by police, who of course, open fire. I assumed that the game would play and look a lot like GTA IV, with a simple face lift. How wrong I was. During my shootout with the police, I was in awe of just how detailed the textures were, and how drastic the improvement to Grand Theft Auto’s physics and shooting mechanics were. At one point I shot and wounded a police officer, with his body visibly being pushed back from the force of the bullet. I then shot him in the knee, and he shifted his weight onto his other knee, and attempted to draw his weapon with his off-hand. When attempting to gather my thoughts for this review, I replayed the tutorial mission five times, and each time that I played it, the game’s artificial intelligence attempted different tactics to bring my criminal cohorts and I into custody.
Everything about GTA V is impressive. Every single thing! It’s as though Rockstar have taken the best parts from all their games and injected them into their best franchise. The shooting mechanics are the best I’ve played in a Grand Theft Auto game, which is largely due to the fact that they are identical to the shooting mechanics from Max Payne 3 (another Rockstar game) which was undeniably flawless (in terms of gameplay). In addition to the shooting itself being refined and almost perfect, guns themselves can now be modified and customised to suit any players preferences. There are even enormous silencers for shotguns, similar to Payday 2: The Heist.
GTA wouldn’t be GTA without some automobile-related activities though, would it? And after the somewhat clunky driving from GTA IV, players could be forgiven for assuming that the driving in GTA V would feel similarly heavy and difficult to master. Thankfully, the driving has been refined, and though some vehicles feel heavy, it’s only the ones that should feel heavy, namely vans and trucks. The cars also handle and drive differently depending on what type of car they are, unlike Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas where the majority of cars drove similarly. To put it simply, the driving in Grand Theft Auto V is a drastic improvement over Grand Theft Auto IV, but the sports cars and luxury vehicles still prove to be a challenge to master.
In addition to refined gameplay and story elements, there are now more RPG elements to GTA. In GTA V, Rockstar have brought back the stamina, strength and driving stats, and also added new stats such as lung capacity, special ability, shooting and stealth. Completing different actions and activities (such as triathlons, shooting range challenges and street races) will reward the player with a stat related to the activity being increased.
The aforementioned special ability stat increases how quickly a characters special move bar replenishes. Michael has the ability to focus his shooting (the game enters slow motion), Franklin has the ability to focus his driving skill (also a slow motion ability, but with added driving control) and Trevor has the ability to withstand extra damage and deal extra damage with his special ability (think the closing scene of Scarface, and you’d be about right). The new special abilities are a lot of fun, and can often mean the difference between surviving a difficult mission, or winning a difficult street race.
Speaking of difficult, GTA V is the first time in the series I have been genuinely challenged by the missions. Some missions, I would say, feel almost too difficult. This is due to the random and unpredictable game world Rockstar have crafted with GTA V. This is both a good and bad thing, as even when you have full health, it is possible for you to die if you are shot in the head, or set on fire.
Now, like all GTA games, there is a significant amount of adult content in GTA V. I do not endorse or condone an underage child playing GTA V. The game is rated R 18+, and with good reason. From the very start of the game, there is a fair amount of swearing, and after completing the first mission, I had access to stripclubs, and other risqué scenarios. These adult situations are uncensored, and although they could be a lot worse, they certainly aren’t suitable for minors to play or witness.
When looking at these activities from a mature and adult frame of mind, they are perfectly acceptable, given the cleverly created world of Grand Theft Auto V. Rockstar both glorify and parody Hollywood films, their past games and even real life in GTA V. In my opinion, what can seem harmless and even comedic to an adult, may not be interpreted as so by a child.
Comparisons are inevitable to other Rockstar games, but to do so in a negative way would make no sense. Rockstar are a developer and publisher that is always learning from their past games, and always finding new ways to improve. Grand Theft Auto 4 was a huge leap forward for the franchise, but a focus on a realistically-portrayed open-world meant that things such as character movement, the story and physics suffered.
With Grand Theft Auto V, all the problems from GTA 4 have been removed or rectified. There is no more overuse of motion blur, there are no more boring or bland characters (or cartoon-like stereotypes like Roman) and all that’s left is pure entertainment. It really is the best Rockstar game to date.
What about multiplayer?
At the time of writing this review, multiplayer in Grand Theft Auto V is yet to launch, making it impossible to review. From the available information and preview videos though, GTA V looks to be just as much fun online as it is in single player. Players create their own character, and are offered much more than simple games of team Deathmatch or capture the flag. Players are able to form crews (using Rockstar’s Social Club website) and engage in a variety of match types, from Team Deathmatch to more unique features such as competitive heists and bank jobs.
Footage from the multiplayer component showed the hugely-open world of GTA V functioning online with multiple players without skipping a beat, or suffering from lag or framerate issues. I was an avid fan of Max Payne 3’s multiplayer, and if it is anything to go by, Rockstar will have huge plans and loads of fun in store for online play in Grand Theft Auto V.
- Huge amount of content.
- Three likable anti-hero protagonists, instead of the usual one.
- Diverse missions and side activities make for the best GTA yet.
- Some minor texture pop-up (more present on Xbox 360)
- Some minor bugs (though they are currently being addressed)
Grand Theft Auto V returns the series to its most popular location, but with more missions, side activities and detail than ever before. The game has a ton of content (which is also well-varied), a well-written story and brilliant game mechanics making it the perfect open-world action game to ride out the rest of this console cycle. A must-have.
Score – 9.5/10