Fast Cars. Dirty Money

By the time you’re reading this review, you already know that GTA V is a thing. It’s quickly blown up to the level of hype and public attention that very few gaming franchises can reach. Someone on your social network is talking about it, and at least one of your friends on Xbox Live or PSN is playing it right now. I’ve already clocked 60 hours into the title, and I’ve seen at least one of my friends playing at all times. There’s no question about the popularity, but how does it stack up against its predecessors, and some more recent competition?

It’s been 5 years since the last major Grand Theft Auto release (Grand Theft Auto IV) and nearly a decade since our introduction to sunny San Andreas, the setting for GTA V. While this has meant leaps and bounds in terms of graphics and the way gamers play, Rockstar have somehow managed to cement a style of gameplay that never really feels dated with the Grand Theft Auto series. While the game’s introduction is a little more action-oriented, you KNOW you’re playing a Grand Theft Auto game from the moment you arrive in Los Santos.

That’s also something I feel the need to critique a little though. Despite the hype for multiple characters, the ability to plan and operate heists and numerous other features, Grand Theft Auto V isn’t that different from it’s predecessors. Any improvement Grand Theft Auto V has, doesn’t come from the actual missions and story progression. You’ll be following a fairly straight-forward line of missions to progress the main story, and while there is a little bit of variation available in terms of which of 2-3 missions you do first at any given time, it’s still the same kind of progression that those familiar with the franchise have played before.

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Grand Theft Auto V’s protagonists come in three flavours to keep everyone happy. Michael is the career criminal turned family man, who struggles to align the actions of the past with his therapist’s interpretation of what a “good” person is. It’s hilarious to see how he struggles to find sensible resolutions to the insane problems he has, only to end up punching someone in the face. Franklin is the gangbanger who just wants to make enough money to get out of the dangerous life he’s in. He has some of the best interactions, and eventually becomes the heart of the three playable characters, despite the fact he’s dangerously close to being a racial stereotype at the best of times. Trevor rounds out the crew and can’t really be explained beyond being the insane one.

Outside of the actual story progression though, Grand Theft Auto V feels like a remarkable improvement. Starting with the gunplay and weapon management. Depending on your play-style, you might not shoot many people, but it’s impossible to spend much time in Los Santos without shooting at least one person, and when that happens, you’ll be glad for the upgrade. Gunfights now feel more fluid, as you can quickly and easily switch targets and there is still a considerable amount of freedom when aiming. The new cover system is also implemented well, with almost any solid object, including parked cars, operating as cover, and the character rarely has any issues getting into or out of cover.

it’s impossible to spend much time in Los Santos without shooting at least one person

One of the first things I did when I started free-roaming Los Santos was found a fast car and started driving as fast as I could in one direction. In Grand Theft Auto IV, this was a sure-fire way to find the graphical limitations of the title, as before long you would start to see the game struggling to load in textures and objects as you approached them. Not so in GTA V. While it’s not entirely rare to see a road sign or destructible element load in a little late, the only real texture loading I’ve seen has been after coming out of cutscenes, or similar situations. Grand Theft Auto V has very few graphical issues, which is surprising considering not just how great the game looks, but the size of the world.

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GTA V is possibly the best title in the franchise so far. It’s not flawless, but the majority of the problems I can find are going to be down to player preference. Personally, I don’t like the way the police respond. They’re far too quick to anger, and are pretty much psychic when it comes to finding you after you break their line of sight. That’s just me though. I feel like a lot of the side-quests and “hobbies” are fairly thin (Yoga is something you probably won’t ever do again after you’re forced to complete it during a mission) and while I love the dialogue between characters, I think the soundtrack feels fairly stale and eventually just turned the radio off entirely.

Grand Theft Auto is one of the best games I’ve played. Rockstar have managed to implement bits and pieces of their other franchises into the GTA core to make the most technical and deep instalment of the franchise. While there may be other alternatives out there, Grand Theft Auto V isn’t just a game that lets you shoot people and blow stuff up. There’s a lot of thought put into not just the story but the world around it. It’s truly a parody of real life, and despite the crazy highlights you might hear, it never truly crosses the line into ‘wacky’. There’s a certain quality that makes it remarkably unique, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is.

Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3