*Authors Note* Grand Theft Auto V is available for PS3 and Xbox 360, with the PS3 version being played for the purpose of this review. Very mild spoilers are contained within the review.
The Grand Theft Auto franchise is renowned as one of the most controversial and culture defining series in modern day entertainment, now, with the release of Grand Theft Auto V expect more obscenities, more cultural references, more drugs, alcohol, violence against prostitutes and copious amounts of inappropriate language – but, much to disgruntled anti-video game parties displeasure, none of it is without context.
In Grand Theft Auto V you are thrown into one of the largest worlds ever seen in video games where you will be experiencing the narrative from three different perspectives: Michael a former criminal, experienced in bank robberies, who has now retired living the unsatisfied life with a cheating wife and children with none-to-bright futures, Franklin, a repo man for an unscrupulous Armenian Car Dealership and Trevor, a former ally of Michael who is more than a little drug addicted, fuelling his psychopathic and irrational behaviours. Their three worlds are drawn together in pursuit of the almighty American dollar and then the real shenanigans begin setting up a hilarious adventure that will keep you riveted for in excess of 30-40hours, stretching for approximately 70 missions. It is Trevor who really makes the narrative as engaging and humouring at it is, from his tripped out antics, distrust of the government and surprisingly extensive knowledge of popular culture keeping you hooked over the entire duration. Despite clearly embracing humour, many important themes are also touched upon from commercialism to materialism, celebrity obsession, electronic surveillance, torture and even the American Tea Party – no punches are pulled, while it takes no prisoners with its satirical humour, it’s quite an experience that may go over the heads of the younger audience.
Serious concerns surrounding previous games related to the control of vehicles and the handling of guns in past entries and I can confidently say that all players will be impressed by the improvements to each of these systems – the driving is far tighter and easier controlled while the gunplay far stickier and clearer making accurate shooting far more achievable. The highlights of the game surrounds the story-based heists, which will require serious planning for because until the mission is complete is it possible lose most of, if not all of the plundered loot, so simple planning such as leaving yourself a getaway car nearby and finding ways to sneak in unnoticed make the rewards so -much sweeter when or if success is achieved. A money counter is displayed in the bottom right corner of your screen which depletes as you escape and as you lose team members so this furthers the need for solid strategic planning if you really wish to maximise your results. A downer surrounding these heists is that it is clear that whilst you need to plan them, there is a certain path you are being guided down by the developers meaning that you are not actually experiencing full freedom simply because you are being guided towards a certain narrative direction. Put simply, it would have been nice to engage in more heists that were not significant to the plot direction and just for the fun/strategy element of the gameplay.
What makes each story mission so interesting is the ability to change between each controllable character on the fly, so one moment you may be using Franklin to pin down a few guys in an alley with steady gunfire, then you change control to Michael who sneaks in and finishes the job. Each of the characters has their own unique skill that the others cannot perform as well such as Franklins ability to slow time while driving adding an extra touch to the way certain events transpire.
While the typical fare of looting, shooting and rooting is here it is all the games expansive world that really takes centre stage – from riding bikes down mountainsides, tennis, golf, skydiving, as well as street, water and off-road racing each of which have been refined and polished so well that they could serve as their own standalone game. There are also two separate stock markets within the game that regularly change based on different events, one by in game actions and narrative direction, while the other is influenced by Rockstar’s Social Club. All these minor elements are what elevates the game above the levels of so many other open world titles and breathes further life into an already excellent experience.
GTA is without a doubt the most stunning open-world game ever made. It does not possess the finer details found in more linear experiences such as The Last of Us or Bioshock Infinite but considering the scope of world you’re engaging with, the visual bounty you’re treated to is incredible. The game features a bright colourful world packed with life and each region from the cities to the ocean and open environments looks absolutely stunning, it is only a shame that since the cityscapes are so tangled you will spend more time staring at your mini-map than the world around you – we recommend going for a drive every now and then without direction just so you can check out the vibrant style of Los Santos. Typically the audio work is sensational, from the voice-acting to the score, and even the radio stations as you drive around with dozens of original tunes to listen to no matter what your preferred genre is. Obviously, as with any open world game, some visual bugs and a few quirks are tucked within the game but these can be easily overlooked because of the treat that you’re in for with the overall experience.
For those looking for extra depth and more to do, beginning October 1st the Grand Theft Auto Online experience begins and whilst we cannot yet speak for the experience, rest assured that with the pedigree of Rockstar working on the add-on prepare yourself for yet another completely immersive experience.
GTA V is crass, crude and wildly inappropriate, and whilst this will offend many (to an extent, myself included), if you can look past this element then you are in for one of the more spectacular experiences you are likely to play. The game is grand in every sense but none more so than its enormous scale where even now, as I write this review I find more and more things to see and do. This is sandbox gaming at this generation’s peak and whilst the story does not quite escalate to the heights of Rockstar’s previous game Red Dead Redemption, GTA V no doubt stands high as a beacon for what the open-world genre can achieve. Kids will appreciate the looting, shooting and shenanigans while the adults can enjoy this whilst also appreciate the incredible nuance, depth and pop culture reference that only the Grand Theft Auto series can deliver so well. The game is by no means perfect, with a few little issues hampering the experience, but GTA V is a must have game and if you haven’t yet picked it up then you’re missing one of the truly great games of this generation.