Grand Theft Auto V review
Most blockbuster games are annual events, FIFA and Call of Duty being the big two. Grand Theft Auto can certainly match those two in terms of sales, but a new GTA is born only every handful of years, with a chasm of five years since the last iteration. That fact, and its ever-controversial content, make each new title a gaming landmark.
Quite literally Grand Theft Auto, as Trevor loads em' up
GTA is taking longer-and-longer to gestate thanks to game worlds that continue to grow in both size and detail. GTA 5 is set in the city of Los Santos and the state of San Andreas, parodies of Los Angeles and Southern California, which first featured in GTA: San Andreas.
The area is gigantic, and stuffed with detail. Just like its real world compatriot, Los Santos sprawls out for miles with a high-rise downtown and posh mansions segueing into industrial areas and low-level slums. The whole thing is shot-through with roads of every variety - from alleys to interstates - plus storm drains and even navigable canals. You still can't enter the vast majority of buildings, though, only some shops and mission-specific locations.
We haven't tired of looking out over the huge and varied cityscape
Beyond Los Santos the world expands out and out. Farmland is mixed with wilderness and cragged peaks, all of which can be explored freely. We happily spent 20mins driving up a mountain in a dune buggy to enjoy the sunset and then took a cable car back down, though base jumping is another option. Driving across the state is a pleasure in itself, even the more remote areas are full of life, wild animals to hunt and jumps across canyons feature highly.
The graphics hold up well, given the size of Rockstar's ambitions and the eight-year old hardware it's all running on. Textures can be a bit fuzzy and frame rates sometimes slip below 30fps, but there's nothing bad enough here to require you wait for PC or next-gen console versions.
The team at Rockstar has learned it mistakes, replacing the dour, single protagonist of GTA 4 with a trio of far livelier characters. Michael is a career gangster having a mid-life crisis and struggling to deal with his dysfunctional family life, he obviously takes his cues from Tony Soprano. Franklin is a street hustler and repo man who is trying to rise above his friends' idiotic gangbanging schemes. While Trevor is an aggressive sociopath, who spouts free-market, ultra-liberal opinions to justify massacring anyone who gets in his way.
Trevor pushes at boundaries of anti-hero, becoming a deliberately divisive character
By using three characters, GTA 5 pulls off a neat trick. Missions are tailored to each of the three, making them more rounded in contrast with each other, and giving the game three distinct narrative tones. For example, a Franklin mission may involve him trying to avoid a firefight, which is light years from Trevor's Tarantino-esque, self-justified bloodbaths.
The three main characters are quickly pulled together by the story. You can then switch between the three at will, with a Google Maps-style zoom to mark the transition. Upon switching, you'll find each character doing something typical of them, and often nearby one their character-specific missions, usually involving his particular band of cronies.
The core of the game is based around a series of heists, each of which can be done in a number of ways and requires you to complete preparatory missions for your chosen approach. Different characters will execute these, but the bigger missions have you switching characters in mid-mission, allowing you to cover your accomplices with a sniper rifle one second, to driving the getaway car the next. This makes the action flow constantly, with little downtime between the thrills.
The multi-mission, multi-approach heists form the backbone of the game
Beyond the main plot of heists and the huge number of optional missions, there's a lot more to get on with. There's car pimping emporiums, gun shops, clothing stores and hairdressers, all to get the right look and kit for your characters. You can buy buildings and businesses, which then unlock additional missions, letting you increase the income you get from your property. On top of all that there's races (car, quad bike, jet ski and more) to win, a respectable tennis game and a 9-hole golf course to master, scuba-diving around the coast and a comprehensive set of shooting range challenges.
Pimp your ride - obviously
SHOOTING TOO STRAIGHT
Shooting is probably still the weak point in the GTA arsenal, even though it's much improved from previous titles. The controls still feel a little wild and the guns are rather lightweight in their depiction, audio and graphical impact - though not their effectiveness. The options provide three different aiming methods, from the traditional GTA lock-on, through assisted aiming (much like any console FPS) to free aim.
Playing the game on the first, default setting, with the radar on, makes gunfights too easy in our minds. You can see where all your assailants are as red dots on the map and a couple of rounds from the assault rifle will take them down, with no real aiming required. We'd highly recommend at least switching to assisted aiming and maybe turning off the HUD too. Though it's then frustrating that the game doesn't recognise such self-imposed limitations when giving out its bronze, silver and gold awards at the end of each mission. These awards also give you a nice reason to come back and replay your favourite moments.
Escaping from the police is still a big part of the game, the cops are aggressive on the road but reluctant to chase you once off it
On the flipside, the driving feels great. We still haven't tired of roaring down huge roads, cutting between juggernauts and evading police cars; or tearing across the countryside in a dune buggy jumping off any little bump or mound we can find. The boats and planes are also brilliantly handled and this time there's enough space to make the most of even the fast jets.
The huge game area makes flying a real blast, especially when you have bombs
If you've ever played online shooters on a games console then you'll be well aware that some gamers don't exactly fit with modern ideals of political correctness - racist, sexist and homophobic insults are commonplace. It seems then that Rockstar is walking a tightrope with GTA 5. Yes, the whole game is certainly a parody of modern consumer society, with targets such as big tech companies and reality TV, but you can't help but feel that much of its core audience won't be in on the joke.
Given the triple-header setup it's disappointing there's no playable female character. There are few supporting female characters either and those who do appear are largely a thorn in your side. In short it feels that the women in the game have been given a hard time. In addition, neither of the women who dominate the promotional images appear in the game; though given their overtly sexual depiction it's not exactly to the games detriment.
On top of all this the sex and violence come thick and fast, though not hand-in-hand thankfully. One scene involving torture may upset many, despite it being an obvious attack on US-sanctioned interrogation methods, largely due to its interactive nature.
BIGGER AND BIGGER
There's some who may find Rockstar's game a little distasteful then, it's certainly not a piece of entertainment we'd recommend to feminists. That aside, there's still a stupendous amount of entertainment built into this game. Yes, it's still mainly shooting and driving combined in various permutations; but those permutations are more often than not imaginative, funny and thrilling. Plus if one scenario doesn't tickle your fancy then something else will be along in just a minute. GTA V is an epic piece of entertainment as it is. With the multiplayer component, GTA Online, launching imminently it will grow further to monstrous proportions.