In gaming today, we really only have a few moments we can all rally around and enjoy. The launch of new consoles like the Xbox One and PS4 are really all we have left, due to the annualization of many of gaming’s biggest franchises. Thankfully, we still have Rockstar’s juggernaut, Grand Theft Auto. It has been over five years since Rockstar North put out a full game, and it seems like each time they do, they pull out all the stops and amaze gamers worldwide. I’m happy to say, this is indeed the case with Grand Theft Auto V, and Rockstar North creates a new benchmark for gaming.
Grand Theft Auto V tells the tale of not one, but three characters: Michael, Franklin and Trevor. Michael is a long time criminal, who retires and settles down with his wife and two kids in the bustling city of Los Santos. Retired for nearly 10 years, he was drawn back into the life through the early course the game thanks to another character, Franklin.
Franklin is a street-level gangbanger, just trying to make it by in the world. He feels trapped in his life in the hood, and is willing to do next to anything to get out of it. He and Michael meet in what I consider to be one of the best moments of the game, leading to a long and fruitful partnership. I was able to best identify with Franklin amongst each of three, as he seemed like the one that may do the wrong things, but he does them for the right reasons. Franklin is the complete opposite of our final playable character, Trevor.
Trevor is one of the most off the wall characters in GTA history. He is a drug dealing sociopath, whose mood could change at almost any moment. Revealing Trevor’s history would be a spoiler, so I’ll just say you begin playing as Trevor starting in a situation only Grand Theft Auto could get away with. I can already see that Trevor is a favorite amongst gamers, as he is everything players want at the heart of a GTA game. Trevor’s normal actions are similar to what many people do in a normal GTA session; murder people callously, stealing vehicles, and running from the law. This is in no way a bad thing, mind you, as Trevor has some of the best moments in the game.
Each of these characters bring completely different dynamics to every moment of the game. Franklin, Michael and Trevor are brought to life by their amazing voice actors Shawn Foteno, Ned Luke, and Steven Ogg. Each line is expertly delivered, showcasing an extreme range by each actor. These three are backed by an incredibly diverse and equally well done voice acting team for the NPCs of the game. The colorful and well written NPCs flesh out the amazing world of GTA V, and each NPC brings something new to the table. My personal favorites were Lamar, Franklin’s friend, and Michael’s son Jimmy aka Jizzle, a parody of the foul mouthed online gamer of today.
Grand Theft Auto V sees the return of Los Santos and the state of San Andreas previously seen in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Not only did they bring Los Santos back in HD, but they expanded upon it atleast four-fold. The map is just plain massive, likely bigger than any other in a video game with the exception of Planetside 2. GTA is also not just big for the sake of being big, but also packs nearly every inch of the world with amazing content. The city of Los Santos is expertly detailed and feels like a near exact recreation of different portions of Los Angeles. Long time GTA players will also see callbacks to previous entries into the series with locations and characters from prior games returning. Often times flipping the script on whom we saw as good or bad from past games.
You can really do anything you want in GTA V. Do you want to go steal a cop car and get a five star wanted level? Do it. Want to participate in a triathlon? You can. Want to just sit on your sofa and watch tv? Lounge away. Fly a helicopter up above the tallest skyscraper and parachute onto it? You’re darn tooting you can do it. Although next to none of this is new to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Rockstar North has packed so much content into the singleplayer alone, that you could easily play for hours on end and never work on missions. Once you start the main story missions though, you will be hooked.
The missions of Grand Theft Auto V are extraordinarily diverse, all starting with the adrenaline pumping first moments of the game. I won’t spoil anything, but those who did not enjoy GTA IV’s slower, more methodical opening, will be relived at how quickly GTA V ups the ante. While the game does generally follow the go-to-a-place-to-drive-somewhere-else mechanic that has become a Rockstar staple, it’s rarely noticeable. Rockstar North found a way for every mission to feel impactful in one way or another; even seemingly simple tasks always feel important to the character’s development. The sheer variety of what you do is astounding. At one moment, you may be feuding in a drug war, the next you will be casing a store for a heist.
As the story progresses, Michael, Trevor and Franklin frequently find themselves in need of large amounts of cash, very quickly. Logically, they turn to heists. Heists become a focus of the game and often serve as conclusions for each act of the story. From stealing military hardware to robbing banks, each heist feels unique and offers two separate ways of tackling the job, giving the players a reason to replay the game and see what they may have missed.
You also decide what member of your crew you want to bring along to each heist. Each crew member falls into one of three categories: hacker, driver or gunman. There are many different possible crew members, and each one will take a different cut of the overall take depending on their skill. This leaves you with the choice between making more money, but dealing with possibly inept crewmen, or having things go off without a hitch but take home less money.
Each heist has great moments, but I really wish there were more of them to do. All in all, you complete right about five of them throughout the course of the game, but with the ability to progress different crew members with each heist, I wanted to do more. I wanted to be able to take up small time jobs in order to better hone my team’s skills. To the credit of the games current heists, they added an extreme amount of content to the game and all were well paced.
As you may guess, heists give you quite a bit of money, and you can’t just buy ammo or go to the strip club all the time. To help with all this extra cash flow, Rockstar has introduced the ability to purchase property and trade stock. You can purchase numerous businesses all around Los Santos, and those businesses will then give you a weekly cash inflow. The businesses also have missions that are only able to be completed once you own them. They can be things like stopping a robber or a shoot out in front of your bar.
The in-game stock trading is a fully functional simulation of the stock market with a Rockstar twist. The market will react to your actions in the game, and any companies effected. For example, if you assassinate the CEO of one company, their stock price will tank, while their competitor’s will rise exponentially. I didn’t delve too deep into it, but it can be used to make large sums of money, if you play your cards right.
Combat in Grand Theft Auto V seems to pull something from nearly every Rockstar game that has come before it. Gone are the days of cycling through weapons for the right one, instead they implemented the weapon wheel from Red Dead. This simple addition alleviates much of the frustration I would have in combat during GTA IV, when I would cycle one past my rocket launcher and end up unarmed. GTA V also sees the return of the cover based combat from GTA IV, but is refined to a level where you actually want to use it.
Aiming is now expertly done with a slight auto aim mechanic, which allows players to flick the right stick to quickly target your next opponent. Each character also has a special ability that helps them in either combat or driving. Michael has a bullet-time ability similar to Max Payne. Franklin has a driving-time ability, where he can slow time down while driving to make more precise turns. Trevor’s ability is basically a berserker mode, which allows him to absorb more damage and put out over 4x the damage. Overall, combat works exceptionally, and never feels unfairly stacked against the player (unless you’re at a five star wanted level, in which case it’s justified).
Players can now customize nearly every weapon with upgrades like a different scope, silencer, grip and paint color. While most of these upgrades are rather trivial, it’s a fun little way to spend your hard earned dollars. Players can also upgrade their cars with new paint jobs, hoods, and engine parts. This portion seems like it was pulled directly from Midnight Club, and adds an extra layer to the way you get around in Grand Theft Auto, and can aid you on heists. Controls on vehicles are another stand out, with higher end cars feeling distinctly different from your standard sedan. Piloting helicopters, planes, and submersibles also work quite well, but they take quite a bit of getting use to (source: I crash quite few planes).
One feature that GTA is most famous for is its amazing soundtracks. GTA V showcases 17 radio stations, featuring any different kind of music you want. There are stations for modern hip hop, country, pop, talk radio, 1960s soul, early 90s gangster rap, and nearly any other type of music you could want. Featuring artists like Tyler the Creator, Queen, CW Mccall, N.W.A., Elton John, and The Chain Gang of 1974, GTA V delivers the finest soundtrack of licensed music since Rock Band. The game even features Eddie Murphy’s 1985 masterpiece, Party all the time, so that makes it the best soundtrack ever. The station’s DJs and on-air personalities are no slouches either, featuring celebrities like Kenny Loggins and Danny McBride delivering hilarious performances.
Grand theft Auto V also features a full score, which will play when players have no other music playing. It works well enough, though I never had any tunes that felt like I would want to ever listen to them outside the game world. I really do appreciate Rockstar adding the score though, as it added to the tension and adrenaline at many great moments throughout the game. The sound effects for each weapon are all well recorded and unique, as are the sounds for vehicles. It’s the little things like each car sounding unique that set apart the sound design as well.
The graphics for GTA V are quite impressive. I am honestly amazed that Rockstar was able to get this game to run as well as it does on the 2005 technology that is the Xbox 360. Using Rockstar’s in-house RAGE engine, the team brings out some of the most life-like characters in gaming today. The lighting and shadow effects are also quite well done, especially in the underwater sections of the game. This is not to say it doesn’t suffer some flaws; I noticed quite a few texture pop-ins when driving quickly through the game world, but I’m willing to forgive that because it’s running on such old hardware
Rockstar North has knocked another one out the park. Every part of GTA V came together beautifully to create one of the most fun experiences I have ever had while playing a game. Every aspect of the title is a labor of love, and the care that the team took shows through in every aspect. The story from Dan Houser and Rupert Humphries is one of the most satisfying tales in gaming today. No other game has achieved the size and detail of the San Andreas, and it is an amazing step forward for the gaming genre. I would expect nothing less from this amazing team. Well done Rockstar. If you need me, I’ll be in Los Santos.
Final Score: 5 out of 5
Editor’s Choice award winner.
By, Bobby Marquardt
Full disclosure: I played the game over the course of four days, and it took about 35-40 hours to complete my playthrough. I completed numerous side missions and all campaign missions. This review was completed using an Xbox 360 copy purchased at Gamestop.