For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last 10-plus years, Grand Theft Auto is a pretty big deal in the videogame world. Thus, it’s really no surprise that the newest iteration, Grand Theft Auto V, grossed a billion dollars in its first three days. It is the second, and final, game in the series for this generation of consoles and marks a return to Rockstar Games’ fictionalized parody of Los Angeles and Southern California, known as San Andreas. Oddly, the multiplayer function of the game is currently not available, so this review will focus solely on the single player story mode.
Writing this review, in the week after the release of Grand Theft Auto V, means I have seen the headlines of other reviews of the game (they’re tough to miss). I doubt Rockstar minds all of the controversy. While I haven’t dug into the reviews, I know what the general consensus is and I did read one particular local review in Los Angeles’ major newspaper. I could spend this whole piece rebutting what I read, but I will settle for this paragraph. Grand Theft Auto V is the best GTA game to date, but it’s not the best game ever. At the same time, if you’re going to be offended by the subject matter in a mature rated game about being a gangster, you probably shouldn’t play it, let alone review it (the title is, for the record, kind of a parody).
I am usually pretty critical of open world games. To be fair, this includes games like the new Fallout and Elder Scrolls in addition to Grand Theft Auto. They are usually too light on narrative and quality of content to keep my interest and I am left wanting more from the experience. Grand Theft Auto V is guilty of this offense, but much less so, particularly in regards to the narrative. Grand Theft Auto V follows the lives of three main characters and manages to tell a pretty coherent story. Maybe because there is so much you can do, it brings attention to all of the stuff you can’t do.
In Grand Theft Auto V, not only can you go on killing sprees, you can do things like take flying and yoga lessons. You can affect and play the stock market, buy properties, and have side occupations. These are all major portions of the gameplay. Strangely though, you can’t talk to anyone other than those whom the mission dictates. You also can’t go into 95 percent of the locations of the game including some rooms in your own house. To be fair, you do overhear a number of conversations and there are some random encounter missions that you can complete. You can also call people or taxis with your cell phone.
The game starts off with a heist that borrows plenty from the movie Fargo and introduces two of the main characters, Michael and Trevor. Michael is classic throwback bank robber, while Trevor is an unabashed psychopath. When the prologue ends, the point of view switches to Franklin. Franklin is a young gangster, looking for a way to make real money in a world of dead end gang bangers. In a strange turn of events, Michael and Franklin meet, which allows you to switch between the two characters. It doesn’t take long before Trevor is added back into the mix and the rest of the story is mostly about the relationship between the three of them.
Again, if you’re easily offended, Grand Theft Auto V is not the game for you. There are plenty of sexual references and a strip club mini game that rivals, the God of War sex game mechanic. There are drugs and not just the reference to drugs or delivering a package of drugs-type missions, there are sequences and missions that revolve around being really high. There is of course violence too. The reintroduction of Trevor involves his curb stomping of a strung out biker whose girlfriend he was getting “acquainted” with on his trailer’s counter. There is also a pretty brutal torture scene that you’re required to perform.
The title Grand Theft Auto means there is a lot of driving involved in the game. Unfortunately, the actual driving mechanics haven’t been improved as much as the shooting. As a shooter, Grand Theft Auto V has actually reached the level of pretty good. Honestly, if it weren’t for the setting and cars, there wouldn’t be much difference between Grand Theft Auto and more standard open world RPGs like Fallout or Skyrim. Driving though is where the game can get tedious. San Andreas is pretty big place and even flying from one side of the island to the other can take a long time. Often, if I drove out to an area for something non-essential and instead of driving back, I would just switch characters a couple of times to reset their positions.
The gritty story in Grand Theft Auto V is well told, though the characters are a bit uneven. Trevor, as crazy as he is, is great, but his crew is as cartoonish as the fictional Lazlo. Michael is an appropriate and familiar character for the mob genre, but his daughter and wife in particular are fairly one dimensional. Of course, you shouldn’t expect thought provoking philosophical questions from the narrative. That is not what Grand Theft Auto is all about. This game is more Tony Montana than Michael Corleone, more A Clockwork Orange than Blade Runner. There is no lesson and no redemption in Grand Theft Auto V.
An open world game has never looked as good as Grand Theft Auto V. That doesn’t mean it’s quite on par with more linear fare and there are a few serious bugs. I had to restart my Xbox 360 a couple of times while using the camera, and a couple of less serious issues also popped up. Luckily, the auto-save, like the check-pointing, is pretty generous. If you find a mission too difficult, you can also skip it now. The game does throw a lot at you between the mechanics switching of different activities and the overloading of controls and it can be tough to remember what everything does.
You can spend an amazing amount of time with Grand Theft Auto V. Once the online component, Grand Theft Auto Online, launches, that will increase exponentially. Yet, with everything there is to do, I still can’t help wishing there was more. I wish there were more places I could go and more people with whom I could talk. While this is the best Grand Theft Auto yet, it’s not quite the evolution I was looking for in the series. I appreciate the gameplay choices throughout and the ability to pick the ending I want, I just wish everything else was as interactive and that a little more work had been done on the driving mechanics.
Grand Theft Auto V is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol. This game can also be found on: PlayStation 3.