Platforms: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.
Developer: Rockstar North. Publisher: Rockstar Games.
Genre: Open-World. Platform Played: PlayStation 3.
Bullets are flying absolutely everywhere. Protagonists Michael, Trevor, an accomplice are all covered head-to-toe in bomb disposal equipment and are armed to teeth with Franklin trailing behind with little protection apart from his three teammates. Playing as Michael wielding an assault rifle, I take point making short work of the soldiers before me. There’s no way I’m letting them stop my team after we just robbed a bank ten minutes ago. As my weapon dries up I go to reload but not before a grenade lands right in front of me. Before I have a chance to react, I’m blown off my feet and into the wall behind me, alive but incapacitated for the moment. Before all is lost, I switch to Trevor and take out the owner of the grenade thus saving Michael with no effort at all. It’s unscripted moments like this that make this game stand out as something special.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Grand Theft Auto V.
With the debut trailer for this game being released on November 2nd 2011, it was an almost agonising year and ten months. Looking at the game’s staggering sales alone shows this was arguably the most anticipated game of this generation. A direct successor to Grand Theft Auto IV, GTAV soars into the sky, past the clouds into space and onwards when talking about improvements. In almost every way Grand Theft Auto V builds and improves upon what we saw in IV, which is nothing short of a great game itself. The improvements to this series come almost in every form here.
First and foremost is how the story is told. Traditionally players have played as one singular character following a linear story and really only seeing one side of the city in which the game it’s based. In Grand Theft Auto San Andreas for example, playing as Carl Johnson focused on the South Central Los Angeles gang culture environment whereas Grand Theft Auto IV showed us the criminal underworld of a big, Eastern American city ala Liberty City (or New York) as Niko Bellic. Grand Theft Auto V tells the story in a very different and unique way. You play as three protagonists from three very different walks of life albeit criminal lives. The idea was first explored in Grand Theft Auto IV where Rockstar introduced us to Johnny Klebitz and Luis Lopez in the two expansions for the game, The Lost and The Damned and The Ballard of Gay Tony. Including GTAIV, all three characters were from different backgrounds, organised crime enforcer (Niko), outlaw biker (Johnny) and nightclub “entrepreneur” (Luis). All three stories intertwined somewhat but it set the foundations for Grand Theft Auto V.
This game sees you play as Michael, a retired bank robber. Franklin, a street hustler looking to climb the criminal ladder and finally Trevor, an old friend of Michael’s turned gun runner and drug dealer. This is where GTAV builds upon what GTAIV begun. Each of these characters directly interact with each other and at some point or another finds themselves in the world of the other two. Each character’s story will intertwine with the other’s also. For example, at some point you’ll be playing as Trevor taking care of “Trevor Philips Industries” and the next all three will be robbing a bank together. The relationships between the characters is great here with all the voice actors having spent three years acting as their characters in motion capture suits. You can feel the chemistry between the characters and though all three are dangerous criminals (especially Trevor), you’ll grow to love all three.
One thing you’ll notice from having three characters now is that GTAV is for the most part, free from some thematic contradictions. Michael is a family man albeit a bad one. As a former bank robber he’s violent but not as violent as past GTA characters because all of that senseless violence rests with Trevor who lacks the so-called “human side” which Rockstar intended. Having Trevor allows for Rockstar to give him some of the most outlandish missions and some of the most violent outbursts. What this prevents is the Jekyll/Hyde syndrome we see with characters like Luis Lopez who try to live normal lives one second and then massacre dozens of gunmen the next.
Michael’s missions mainly centre around his retired life and his family. Franklin’s are more motor based such as stealing cars whereas Trevor is the one with the missions where you’re tasked to kill a bunch of people.
Whilst you will kill a lot of people as Michael and Franklin, they don’t kill nearly as many as Trevor who can often be seen threatening someone with a gun or worse when you switch to him. Trevor is almost the embodiment of the series’ crazy reputation. Drugs, guns, sex, murder. It’s all business as usual for Trevor.
However, the inclusion of three characters does not only merely serve the narrative. Having three characters is a core part of the game’s mechanic of swapping characters at will. Hitting a button the D-pad will take away control of a particular character and place you in the shoes of another. However, they won’t just be standing there when you swap. For example, I played as Michael flying a plane and performed a quick switch to Trevor to do some of his missions. After zooming in on him from the sky, the camera quickly showed me where Trevor was. He was passed out drunk on the top of a mountain in a dress. Seriously.
There constraints on swapping characters however. You can’t do it when you have a wanted level and you can’t do it in some missions or when the story is restricting it.
The ability to swap characters at will works incredibly well in Grand Theft Auto V in every purpose it serves. It perhaps works best when playing a mission involving all three characters as it can allow you to essentially switch positions in a firefight for example. In freeroam it works best when you want to get to the other side of the map if you just want to explore.
The deviation from the series’ traditional method of story telling has changed with its NPCs as well as playable characters. Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t feature one single antagonist your character works towards. Instead, with the three different characters from different lives and backgrounds they have their own enemies to deal with as well as enemies of the trio. It may seem a bit loose compared to GTAIV’s strong tale of revenge but it ties up nicely towards the end.
The state of San Andreas is huge in GTAV. Made up of the city of Los Santos, the desert wasteland of Blaine County and the mountainous reaches of Mount Chiliad, this game is impressive on a scale never reached before in this franchise. Whilst it may not be as big as something like Just Cause 2, it’s more the density than the size that matters here. Every nook and cranny in this world feels real and alive. Homeless folk dwell under the darkest underpasses in Los Santos and Mountain Lions stalk the hills of Vinewood and Mount Chiliad. The amount of detail Rockstar has put into this game is breathtaking itself as there is never an unused piece of space in this game. There are no empty areas in Grand Theft Auto V, it almost feels as if this could be the real world. A big reason for this is that there is so much to do from shooting at a gun range to playing tennis to mountain biking. There’s never nothing to do.
There’s also a series of things happening in the world that don’t involve you that make it feel like a living place. There are police chases which you can witness, muggings you can prevent and so on. In one instance I happened upon a number of men and their vehicles in the desert who were all apart from three, dead after what looked like a deadly gun battle. The aftermath of this chaos saw me playing as Franklin wander in and take the suitcase of money lying amongst it all. Aside from being an obvious reference to No Country for Old Men, it showed me that I am not the centre of this world and things happen when I’m not around.
Something new to the world of Grand Theft Auto V is underwater exploration. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas saw CJ have the ability to swim underwater but this game gives you the chance to really explore it. I must have spent hours diving down to shipwrecks in my time with the game. What’s really special is that no area underwater feels the same. Rockstar has made a world underwater just as they have above it and equally the same feeling of real life exists here as well. You’ll find fish in the deepest trenches and Sharks lurking near the shallowest beaches. It all serves a purpose of making this game’s location feel real and it’s worked.
As I said before, Grand Theft Auto V features many improvements over its predecessor and one of the more notable of these is the combat from gunplay to fisticuffs. Fist to fist combat in Grand Theft Auto IV was always tricky as it featured a very unreliable dodge button which more often than not, didn’t work. In GTAV, you’ll feel like a fighting pro with very little effort. All three characters are able to dodge and fight efficiently using both their fists and a small array of melee weapons such as knives, crowbars and nightsicks.
Naturally, Grand Theft Auto V comes with an arsenal of projectile weaponry and this might be the meatiest selection yet. Like past games, there are classes of weapons you can get such as SMG’s, Assault Rifles and heavy weaponry with two weapons per class. This time there are three weapons per class and every weapon is customisable. Adding silencers, flashlights, grips and colours to your guns adds a whole new depth to the series in this department. Signing up the Rockstar Social Club can also unlock a few new weapons as well. Gunplay in this game is very much the same to 2012’s Max Payne 3, tight and precise. The hit-counter on enemies in this game has also been greatly improved. Too many times did I see a character in Grand Theft Auto IV that I’d just shot get up and stagger away as if they’d just woken up after a hard night of drinking instead of having ten bullets fired into them.
In addition with overhauled combat, GTAIV’s driving mechanics have been completely thrown out of the window and instead have been replaced by a system that’s far more easier to control. Yet this mechanic is designed so that vehicles aren’t fixed to the ground like in Saints Row. Cars in GTAV no longer feel like they’re driving on ice so players will be able to speed around with ease but at the same time you can still cause some nasty collisions if you screw it up. When you crash it feels like it’s your fault as opposed to the physics engine.
Grand Theft Auto V now features an intrinsic level of customisation to your characters and to vehicles in the came. The franchises use of Pay N’ Spray has now been replaced by Los Santos Customs which can not only respray your car to hide you from the police, it can also allow you to change almost everything about your car from cosmetic changes to changes in performance such as bulletproof tires to last longer in a car chase should an enemy be firing at your wheels. When it comes to your characters there are numerous stores you can use to buy new clothes, change your hairstyle and facial hair. You can even get tattoos in Grand Theft Auto V. Like with unlockable weapons, new haircuts and beards can be accessed from the Rockstar Social Club.
The soundtrack for Grand Theft Auto V really stands out for me this time. Whilst GTAIV had some memorable songs, this particular soundtrack is full of memorable tunes that fit the mood so perfectly it’s almost as if Rockstar somehow know how to match a song to what you are doing. Driving a car down an open road with CW. Mcall’s “Convoy” never felt so good.
With all of this going on in the game, it’s a wonder how Rockstar has managed to get it running at all let alone on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Throughout my playthrough of about 42 hours, I encountered only one or two framerate drops with no bugs. Even after 12 hours of the game being played I encountered no framerate issues as they’re so few and far between. It’s even more impressive given how good the game looks and just how deep the details run.
Grand Theft Auto V is one of two very good ways to end this generation, the other being Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. GTAV succeeds in just about everything it sets out to do ranging from its satirical outlook on modern American life to making sure the gameplay is so finely tuned to deliver the fun and memorable experience we have here.
There is just so much good to say about Grand Theft Auto V that can’t be covered in a review. Many games every year come with hype but so few make an impact like this. There’s a magic to Grand Theft Auto V and everyone owes it to themselves to own this game before we make the jump to the next-generation consoles.
+ Three strong, likeable characters.
+ A hugely dense open world with the scale to back it up.
+ Overhauled shooting and driving mechanics.
+ Almost flawless performance.
– A few framerate issues here and there.
The Score: 10.
George Sinclair is the Chief News Editor for Analog Addiction, the home of the latest news, reviews and previews. You can find George on Twitter but you should be sure to follow the OFFICIAL Analog Addiction Twitter as well!