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Talkingship – Video Games, Movies, Music & Laughs | July 23, 2019

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REVIEW: Grand Theft Auto V

REVIEW: Grand Theft Auto V

For a few years now, the hype machine for GTA V has been steaming along, with every little piece of new info causing the mouths of eager gamers to salivate. Well, now the video game behemoth is back, and it’s every bit as good as the hype suggested. Rockstar have effortlessly introduced some groundbreaking tweaks to the formula whilst providing that instantly recognisable GTA experience.

The first tweak? Well, it turns out three isn’t a crowd after all. Rather than your standard single protagonist, GTA V puts you in the shoes of three morally ambiguous citizens. Michael is the man that’s been there and done that. A former bank robber under witness protection, he seemingly has it all, but the superficial Los Santos life has him bored with his big house and nice cars and instead, in the seat of a therapist. Franklin is your typical GTA protagonist. Raised in the hood, he has higher ambitions than his gang-banging friends and wants to make a life for himself…through criminal means, of course. Finally there’s Trevor. Ah, Trevor. He personifies the mayhem that every GTA player likes to cause. Michael’s former bank robbing partner, Trevor’s life took a different turn, and now he lives out of a beat-up trailer in the desert, running a meth business and spending his free time either killing or copulating with things. Yeah, I said “things” for a reason…

MICHAEL, TREVOR AND FRANKLIN: IT TURNS OUT THREE ISN’T A CROWD AFTER ALL

You can switch between the trio whenever you like with a simple wheel (except for when this is occasionally disabled for story reasons). One of the complaints with previous GTA games is that you don’t feel like you’re always in the heat of the action. Having multiple controllable characters aims to nip this in the bud and it works like a charm. The three, when on missions together, will have different roles to play. Trevor might be flying a helicopter while Franklin offers sniper support. Depending on how you like to play, you can choose who you want to be. I’m a vehicle guy, so I enjoyed escaping whilst flying the helicopter, however when I was under serious heat it was great to quickly switch to Franklin and snipe my problems away.

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Having three characters at your disposal adds a more episodic feel to the game as well, especially in free-roam. As well as missions, each character has their own side missions and activities unique to them (Trevor can go hunting, for example), and that’s not to mention the wealth of general activities such as tennis, golf, movies to watch and darts to play. You’ll find yourself spending an hour or so with a character, acting as they would act, then switching and helping another one of the guys spend their day. As Trevor I felt no problem getting into fights or causing general chaos, whereas as Michael I found myself trying to be much more civilised, with more of a focus on the goal. Rockstar have also outdone themselves by giving the characters lives and personalities, and so they will always be doing something when you switch to them. Switch to Trevor for example, and the map zooms out to show you all of Los Santos, then zooms in on wherever Trevor is at the moment. I’ve found him passed out on a beach in his underwear, surrounded my dead people, to driving his truck down a motorway pursued by cops who I then had to lose. These little scenes that transition you into the controlling of a said character add so much life into a Los Santos that’s already brimming with the stuff.

ROCKSTAR HAVE QUITE LITERALLY BREATHED LIFE INTO THE CITIZENS OF LOS SANTOS…THEY FEEL LIKE ACTUAL PEOPLE

The citizens of Los Santos feel less like the bunch of coded polygons they are, and more like actual people: Rockstar have quite literally breathed life into them.  They have conversations with each other, they take pictures of nice cars and street performers, they go shopping, they hail cabs. The city of Los Santos and the deserts of Blaine County feel so authentic, it’s hard to believe you’re playing a video game sometimes, and its all yours to play with. Rockstar have spliced the customisation options of San Andreas with the limited, story driven style of GTA IV. You’re welcome to get any of the characters inked, buy them new threads or tune up their rides, but don’t expect the customisation of Saints Row. First and foremost, Rockstar has a story to tell, and it keeps you tied within the realms of realism. Although Trevor can still wear a dress because…Trevor.

It’s a shame then that the story is the weakest element of the game. That’s not to say it’s in anyway bad: being the weakest part of GTA V is akin to being the shortest aryan in Nazi Germany. You could be better, but you still tick all the boxes. It’s a fun romp that serves as a reason for several of the game’s tentpole heist missions (more on them later) and has all of the satire and wit that you’d expect from a GTA script, but it’s lacking the pizazz of former GTA‘s. The jokes, drama and satire are all there, they’re just not as well done as previous instalments. The story also suffers from a bit of overcrowding. Whilst you meet many wonderfully weird folk on your adventures, the game lacks a clear antagonist, and the “final boss” (if you can use that phrase in a GTA game) is a little underwhelming because of this. I didn’t feel the same lust for revenge as I did when Niko was tracking down Dimitri, or when CJ was on his way to end Big Smoke. That said, having three characters allows GTA V to move away from the familiar rags to riches trope which produces some interesting new ground story-wise, it just doesn’t feel totally capitalised upon, but with a world so rich and fruitful, you’ll be too busy making your own stories to mind too much.

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Onto the elephant in the room. GTA has always been a series that has set the bar when it comes to building believable worlds, but actual gameplay has always been a sore point. Many people feel GTA has been given a free pass for too long, with previous instalments offering frustrating gunplay and driving, half-broken cover systems and a shambolic lack of checkpoints. Well, the great news is Rockstar have improved the gameplay in every way. It’s weird that something as trivial as checkpoints can be such a big deal, but die in any other GTA, and not only are you starting that mission again, son, you’re making your way to the mission marker as well! This was always completely unnecessary and incredibly frustrating and praise Cthulhu it’s gone! Someone finally told Rockstar about mid-mission checkpoints and now we can all sleep soundly in our beds knowing that there won’t be hours of replaying the same thing, again and again.

As for the rest of the gameplay: it’s great. Shooting, cover, driving. Everything has been massively improved since GTA IV, as you’d expect. It feels obvious to say that, but these are problems that have been holding the series back from truly flying, and now that they’re fixed it really does fly. It’s packing the best set of missions yet, and the diamonds in the crown are the excellent heist missions, as mentioned earlier. Inspired by the popularity of the bank robbing mission in GTA IV, heist missions have you committing huge robberies, starting with a jewellery store and…if I told you any more it would be spoiling it. These missions offer a choice of approach and require preparation. The choices are fairly limited, usually a case of going in loud or sneaky, and allowing you to pick your crew (better crew members require bigger pay cuts). Regardless, it’s nice to have the choice and it does make the whole thing feel like your own operation as you prepare for heists by gathering equipment or scouting out escape routes. These really are excellent fun and are incredibly satisfying to pull off. It’s a shame there aren’t more of them, but Rockstar are perhaps following the mantra, “always leave them wanting more”. I’d be very surprised if the upcoming story DLC didn’t in some way revolve around heists.

THE HEISTS ARE EXCELLENT FUN AND INCREDIBLY SATISFYING: THEY FEEL LIKE YOUR OWN OPERATION, INVOLVING PREPARATION AND PLANNING

Whilst you’re carrying out all these heists, you’ll be basking in the glory of the game’s visuals. You only need to glance at a screenshot to know that Los Santos is absolutely stunning. Considering how vast it is, it’s a remarkable achievement. From the sun-drenched deserts to the city skylines to the (fully explorable) underwater reefs, it’s a damn good looking game and for the first time it’s punctuated by a brilliant original soundtrack that kicks in to really add layers of drama to the experience. Of course, there’s also a ton of licensed music spread across an excellent selection of in-game radio stations. All this really pushes the ageing consoles to their absolute limit: sometimes a little too far, unfortunately. Pop-up is occasional, and whilst in no way a deal-breaker, it can pull you out of a world that otherwise does everything  it can to absorb you. I had a couple of 3 or 4 second long freezes as well, only when the action was at its highest and after I’d been playing for a while. Whilst thankfully it corrected itself, it was very annoying. One staff member experienced a few crashes in one mission, requiring a console reboot, so it’s worth lowering your technical expectations a bit.

 

CONCLUSION

Other than a few minor technical hiccups, GTA V is an absolutely excellent game, and the best title Rockstar has ever produced. Learning and borrowing from all of their recent successes, they’ve created a funny, action packed experience that demands your appreciation. With so much content to find and such a huge world to explore, you’ll be frequenting Los Santos long after you’re finished with the 30 hour story. An excellent swan-song for the current gen, marred only by a few minor moans. Buy this. It’s video game history.

THE GOOD

  • The looks, the gameplay, the characters, the gameplay…the list goes on.

THE BAD

  • A weaker story than previous titles
  • Occassional performance and technical issues

THE UGLY

  • Trevor. Actually I take it back: he looks great in a dress.

SCORE

9.5

ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC

Read more about what our scores mean here.

INFORMATION

Grand Theft Auto V is available now on Xbox 360 and PS3 (reviewed). GTA Online, the multiplayer component of the game, will be reviewed separately.

Many thanks to Rockstar for kindly providing a review copy.