After an hour of installation, a frantic disk change, and then a few long minutes of loading, Grand Theft Auto V booted itself up and threw me into a world I wasn’t entirely ready for. From the sheer scale of the map, missions, side missions, random events, and things to do, I was immediately overwhelmed. I remember thinking to myself “Shit, where do I start?” and luckily, RockStar knows just how to get you going on their adventure.
The game follows the story of three characters: Franklin Clinton, a small-time repo man, Michael Townley, a retired and presumed dead criminal, and Trevor Phillips, a hilarious psychopath. Although each character has their own branch of side missions, storylines, and character events, the narrative of GTA V really barrels down on the complex and often fragile relationships between the three main protagonists. Each person is unique and conflicting, which creates an awesome imbalance among them as the plots thicken and unfold.
Story aside, you’ll immediately notice a significant difference between GTA V and GTA IV simply by looking around. The dark gloom of Liberty City in GTA IV has been replaced with a bright and vibrant look in GTA V. Not only is the overall feel different but also the player isn’t stuck in a city. I didn’t realize the true scale and beauty of the map until I switched to Trevor and found myself in a desert/wilderness amidst the mountains and then literally explored the ocean floor all around the map. It’s moments like those that really bring awe to the game.
Speaking of switching, a large mechanic of the game focuses on the ability to switch between characters at, almost, anytime. I’ll admit I was hesitant when Rockstar introduced the concept but seeing it interplay in missions and general free-roam really makes the entire experience more fulfilling. During missions, it really creates that feeling of cooperative gameplay even though it’s still a singleplayer experience. It’s also simply interesting to switch to Michael and find him arguing with his wife and then switching to Trevor as he’s throwing a man off a bridge or waking up in a dress on a mountaintop.
- Shooting has been drastically improved since GTA IV. It matches the style and feel of Max Payne 3 and really makes combat more fluid and comfortable. They even added a very generous aim assist feature that allows players whose shooting skills haven’t been honed just yet a fighting chance.
- Character abilities are a relatively new feature to the series. Franklin has a special ability where his driving ability is excelled to perfection and time slows to his advantage. Michael has the ‘Max Payne ability’ of slowing down time in a firefight, while Trevor has the unsurprising ability to engulf himself in a bloodlust and adding some extra damage to his weaponry.
- Skills are not a new feature but they are an excellent addition. Each character has strengths and weakness in their skills. Michael is good a stealth, Franklin is good a driving, and Trevor is good at shooting. Each skill can be enhanced with consistent use, such as, getting in fights to increase strength, running a lot/having sex to increase stamina, shooting things for more precise shooting, driving for better driving, etc. They are a good addition and really help in creating a sense of accomplishment when you’ve built up a character to their maximum potential.
- Driving has been greatly improved since GTA IV as well. It will take a few minutes to get used but the whole dynamic of driving has been greatly tuned to fix player complaints from GTA IV. Vehicles are loose and a bit floaty but with a little practice, they can make the tightest of turns and can be handled with almost perfect precision.
- Flying is a bit iffy. Planes can be considered challenging but they are, more or less, a fun challenge to fly. They’re not too difficult but they can be disorienting at times. As for helicopters, they can be a bit of bitch to fly. Even after 40+ hours of game time on my end, I still have yet to handle the helicopter well. It’s a shame too since the helicopters were one of the best attributes in GTA IV.
One of the most notable attributes of the story and the game mechanics are the in-game heists. Despite them being relatively linear, they offer a lot of variation and choice into how each heist will go down. From building a crew, setting up a getaway vehicle, acquiring uniforms or equipment and then finally releasing the built up tension on the heist itself is just mind blowing-ly rewarding. The game may have done well even without them but to be fair, they are and were the most notable moments in the game.
Rockstar really went all out on adding things that weren’t necessarily needed but were welcomed anyway. The inclusion of Strangers and Freaks missions, the fact that I could ride a roller coaster, watch a movie, golf, hunt, or street race were really awesome touches. They really helped widen the replay-ability of the game and made it so that there is always something, somewhere to do.
One of my most favorite needless additions to the game was the in-depth Internet on the phones of each character. The fact that the world reacted to in-game actions took me back a bit when I first noticed it. Celebrities I interacted with would post on the GTA version of twitter about. The news would cover jobs, heists, and missions where havoc was caused. Best of all, the stock markets changed solely from a players interaction in the game itself. If the player were to blow up a lot of cars and injure many people, insurance agency stock would go up. It’s the simple little things like the stocks that really bring out the true color of this game.
My only complaints about the game were within the narrative itself. There were two instances where I was taken back by how unnecessary and strange the event felt in the stream of plot points. One of these events was the controversial torture scene. To be honest, it felt out of place and bit unnecessary. It didn’t bring anything to light for any character and it really didn’t push the plot forward too much. It was simply there.
My other narrative grief was with the ending. Franklin is faced with a conundrum of working against either Michael or Trevor. He is given the options of killing either one or ignoring the requests and dawn a death wish for all three of them. The choice here is probably an obvious one though. After countless hours of seeing these characters grow together (even in spite of their potential insanity or morality), a loyalty and emotional attachment are built to them. It just seemed strange that Franklin would betray either one of them after all they’ve been through. I suppose if someone really didn’t like one of the characters they could take him out but it seems unlikely in the general scheme of the plot.
Grand Theft Auto V has received critical praise all across the board. It’s rare to find someone who wasn’t happy with the product handed to them. In all honesty, the game I received was probably worth more than $60. The amount of interactivity, replay-ability, and gameplay that GTA V has is unfathomable and the best part is, we’ve barely even scratched the surface of it.
Grand Theft Auto V had some of the best gameplay, mechanics, and narratives I’ve seen in a game to date. It revolutionized the franchise and stands as the poster child of how open world games should be done.