Once again Rockstar Games dips into its sturdy franchise Grand Theft Auto. As of now Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) has broken all sorts of sales records for video games and the entertainment industry in general, but is it worth all the hype? It's car stealing time.
In an unusual move, GTA V's story follows three separate people. There’s Franklin, a young man from the projects who is disillusioned with gang life, but yet not above committing crimes to get paid. Michael, a family man and former high-end criminal who is in witness protection and mostly retired, not only has anger issues, but possibly the most dysfunctional family ever. And finally Trevor, a loose-cannon who has built a trailer park criminal empire based on meth and gun-running. Each comes together as a group to make scores around the fictional city of Los Santos. They each have their own story. Franklin wants out of the hood and sees Michael as his way to big ticket crimes. Michael wants the perfect family life, but a far from perfect family and his own anger issues necessitate his coming out of retirement, while Trevor, who had been a partner of Michael's in the old days, is along for the money and the chaos.
What starts as a score to pay for damages Michael did to a crime boss' home spins in pulling jobs for the feds, and eventually the big dream job that will let them walk away from it all. Along the way, Franklin will manipulate the stock market. Michael will try counseling for his entire family. And Trevor... well Trevor will attempt to eliminate an entire motorcycle gang single-handedly, among other things.
The story balances good crime drama with a generous helping of comedy to smooth it all out.
The GTA V Online portion of the game also gets a storyline, at least initially. Set as a prequel to the single-player story, the player’s character has made friends with Franklin’s best friend, Lamar. Lamar has invited the player to come to Los Santos to live. After welcoming him at the airport, Lamar takes the player on his first few missions in Los Santos; stealing a car, racing, and then introducing him to other non-player characters to receive more missions.
Controls and Gameplay
GTA V is a third person, open-world, action sandbox game. You can go anywhere and do anything. Rockstar effectively takes this one step further by letting you choose who to do it with. With the exception of specific points you can switch between the three main characters at will. Most missions are set for specific characters but all of the activities (golf, tennis, skydiving, etc.) can be done with any of the characters.
Each character also has stats you can build up as the game goes along. Want to build up your stamina? Run a lot. Want to build up your weapons skill? Go to the firing range. Lastly, each character has a special ability that you can activate. For Franklin it's precision driving, when activated time slows down and lets him maneuver through tight traffic. Michael's ability is precision shooting and, similar to Franklin, time slows down when activated to let Michael fire more accurate shots. Trevor's ability is a berserker mode. When activated, he deals out double damage and takes half damage.
Your online character also has stats that they can build up over time, but no special abilities.
Graphics and Sound
The realistic graphics for GTA V are smooth and clean. I'm more impressed by how smooth the animation transitions are. For example, ladders. In most games when you walk up to a ladder one of three things happen; nothing, you push a button to activate your character to climb it, or you maneuver around it until after a slight delay, your character finally climbs it. In GTA V it's a more life-like transition, you just walk up to a ladder and the character will start to climb it. Similarly, when you come to an edge of a roof or drop off, your character will kneel down and scootch off the edge, and if it's a long enough fall, they will tumble when they hit the ground. They are simple little effects, but they help make the game more realistic.
The sound for GTA V is excellent as it should be for an AAA title. The voice actors are top notch and what little soundtrack music there is conveys the mood. The radio stations playing while the characters are driving are always well stocked with music. A bit of a stand out to me is the Spanish station. In previous GTA games, this usually had classical mariachi bands and country-esque songs. For GTA V Rockstar has finally realized that Mexico has more than just two kinds of music. They’ve added punk and rock to the Spanish station playlists.
Dropping back into Rockstars’ sandbox world of crime is like coming home to an old friend. You know what you are going to get will be fun. For the most part, Grand Theft Auto V is no different than its predecessors with its over the top action and satirical look at our society. The new innovations here are multiple protagonists and the ability to switch between them, effectively giving you three stories to follow.
While the story is great, it did have one scene that was emotionally hard for me to play through. In it you have to torture a man for information. What’s worse is that it soon becomes obvious he does not have the information you want and that he is saying whatever sounds right to end the torture. This becomes clearer in a news report on the radio that talks about the event’s results. I understand story narratives sometimes can be uncomfortable and I’m not saying Rockstar should not have included it, but I really did not want to do that. I’ve done it in other games with no problem, but in those cases, it was quick and the person being tortured was evil, vile, and deserved it. This man was an innocent taxi driver who might have picked up a killer at some point during his shift. In the end you set him free, but he cannot return to his family.
Story telling aside, GTA V is a great game, but it is far from perfect. It has quite a few technical glitches. Most of these stem from the online component. When it launched, there were problems with the in-game ability to take pictures that resulted in sometimes freezing the game. I’ve had points where the ability to switch between characters would not work until I shutdown the game completely. And at one point my character, Trevor, completely disappeared while I was playing. Online has been very glitchy. For me the intro mission started and I was well into the race when suddenly I was drawn back to the beginning to join other players just starting. I’ve walked through walls and have fallen through the ground into a void. At least my character still has his arms, unlike the folks over at Kotaku. Rockstar is aware of these problems and are working hard to fix them.
I love the story, the multiple protagonists keep it fun and interesting, but technical bugs do take away from the satisfaction of playing. Still, it is a GTA game in the classical sense. I give Grand Theft Auto V a 4.5 out of 5.
Grand Theft Auto V is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
For more information see the official Grand Theft Auto V website.