GTAV: The Bigger, the Better. Played on Xbox 360 for review.
If I had to narrow down one thing that Rockstar does incredibly well as a game developer (even though there are plenty), it would have to be the fact that they do not rush things. In an industry that seems to try and pump out as many successors to a franchise as possible, they take their time, even waiting to the bitter end of a console generation to release their prized work…And it shows.
It has been five years since the heavily mixed reviewed Grand Theft Auto IV came out, and three and some since Red Dead Redemption blew most of us away. Even though GTAV still has that unmistakable Rockstar feel to it, whatever they were doing during those years could not make it feel more of a significant leap forward than it is. The sheer vision of this tittle is huge, and it makes me wonder what other ideas, if any, they had to leave out (and save for their next instalment). The scope is gigantic and the size of the world is massive. There are so many things for you to tackle that simply listing them would be an article on its own. It is simply one of, if not the greatest achievements we have seen this current console generation.
The game starts off nine years in the past during a heist, that inevitably goes wrong, and gives you a little background on two of the games three playable characters. It’s here where you get a feel for the gunplay. It isn’t anything that has been changed to a jaw-dropping degree, but it feels a lot tighter and responsive, and a little closer to Read Dead’s than to GTAIV’s. This gives you a better feel for the weapons, and a much bigger, satisfying feeling, when pulling off that head shot you desired.
This opening also allows you to play around with the biggest change Rockstar has made to their game series yet: multiple protagonists. This time around you will be experiencing GTA from three different, main characters that you can switch to on the fly at most points during the game. This was the “big news” that kept coming out about GTAV, and that no one would shut up about. Now that I have had my hands on it for a week, I can see why. Not only does it make the narrative fresh and fascinating, as you get to see how each character feels about the other while on their own, but it also has a remarkable effect on the gameplay. You can play out several missions by switching between the characters often, and helping them on their individual tasks, or staying with one and focusing on him, if you feel that’s more important. It is always something I was very excited to mess around with once starting a big new heist mission, and is something I still enjoy when not on missions, and simply just wandering around the streets of Los Santos.
Each character brings a unique personality and feel to the game. Michael is your retired bank robber, who is suffering through a mid-life crisis. He is rich, has a wife and two kids that hate him, and is seems to be dying to get pulled back into his old ways. Franklin is the youngest, and is trying to move up and out of the cliche “gang banger” life that all of the people around him seem to fall into. Trevor is your excuse to play GTAV like a maniac who goes on random killing sprees because, well, he is one. He lives outside of the city, in red-neck and biker land, and has a knack for all things violent and psychotic. He is a little over the top at times, but it ends up being a brilliant move by Rockstar and gives you even more of an excuse, if you needed one, to just “blow some shit up”. This worked for me perfectly, as I tend to get invested in characters, and if there is something I can’t imagine a certain character doing, I usually won’t. Now, anytime I find myself wanting to steal car, beat someone up, and gun down the police for doing their job, I switch to good ol’ Trevor, and feel right at home (not that these are recurring feelings that I need to talk about).
The city of Los Santos could not feel better. Every street feels different and the graphics at work here are simply beautiful. This game is a technical monster; from draw distance, to size of the map, to hardly a hiccup when everything is happening on your screen at once. I had to keep looking down at my console and remind myself that I am playing on a current gen machine, still. The game also has hardly any bugs at all, and I experienced no more than a few frame rate drops and one moment of clipping during my time with it. My tallest of top-hats go off to the Rockstar team for making a game that simply has so much power to it, and is as advanced as this.
With this beast, they also seemed to sacrifice nothing. I can’t think of one thing from previous GTA’s that do ANYTHING better than what is represented in GTAV. The driving feels better and not as floaty, moments feel bigger, story is the best it has been yet, and it all looks so good. You can spend hours on various things to do in the game. Get your characters new outfits and haircuts after a big score, go to the movies, play some tennis, compete in a triathlon or simply get drunk. Play a round of golf, in what was probably the greatest time I have ever had playing golf in a video game before, and no, I’m not forgetting about Mario Golf. I can’t explain how satisfying it is when you hit a bad shot, and your character yells out all of the profanities you were muttering aloud. Also, I hooked a drive into the rough, was pissed, so I drove my golf cart too fast and tipped it over a sand bunker, stood up, and carried on to hit my approach in the hole for an eagle. Once the next Tiger Woods game allows me to drive a golf cart, we will start talking. The sandbox that has always been GTA has never felt more fun, nor has all of the individual gameplay mechanics fit together to bring you such a good mage to feel and play. There is simply so much to do that even if GTA has never really been your style, you will most likely find something to enjoy here. Everything feels bigger, and actually translates to better this time around. I haven’t seen an improvement over every quality of a game since Assassin Creeds 2, and this seems ten fold to that.
Even the classic GTA “morals in question” are back and seem to be pushing it further than it ever has before (maybe GTA: San Adreas’ Hot Coffee Mod not withstanding). The violence is at an all time high, and the sexual content is in your face, figuratively, I think. There were even moments where the experienced GTA player that I am, felt a little unease. The one in particular is a torture scene that you have no choice but to participate in, and had me cringing throughout. With all of that said, none of it really feels out of place, or pointless, and is used mostly as satirical commentary on the America that is so idolized.
The game also holds, what I think to be, the best GTA story so far. The voice acting is fantastic, and the scripting feels incredibly natural. The missions always ended with me wanting to quickly find out what the next step was for my characters journeys. It moves along at a great pace, and I never felt like it was focussing too much on one thing before it would drastically change things up on me. There were several moments where I laughed out loud, had moments of suspense, and got nervous and excited to run a heist job.
Whatever your views might be on GTA as a series, you would be doing yourself an injustice as a video gamer by not picking this up and giving it a whirl. This tittle has surpassed GTA: San Andreas as my favourite GTA game of all time, and will be remembered as one of my favourite games of this generation. With the countless things to already do in the single player game, GTA Online is just around the corner, and I am getting goosebumps about the aspect of creating a crew, and running the online streets of Los Santos with them. Whether you have a PS3 or a 360, please do it this one last favour, and bestow this glorious gift upon them before they inevitably become dust collectors and we reminisce over hot chocolate, laughing about red rings, and crappy online stores.
Where do you sit on the GTA series? Are you currently playing this game or on the fence to buy or rent it?