Grand Theft Auto V is an open-world action game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Rockstar North (with many of the various additional Rockstar studios) developed the game. Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive handled publishing and distributing of the game. GTA 5 has been in development since the previous Grand Theft Auto entry, Grand Theft Auto IV shipped back in 2008. It has been a long gestation period for the title with gamers hotly anticipating the game since its announcement. GTA 5 was originally supposed to ship back in May, but waspushed back several months to give the team more time to refine the game. Has the additional time pushed this game from simply great to magnificent? Was the long wait for the next entry in the GTA series worth it or has the wait allowed fans to amp up their expectations too much? In a series known to capture the attention of the culture at large, can Rockstar do anything new to push the boundaries of what people expect from the series?
Sometimes the job goes wrong. The key is to adjust and find a way out. For Michael and Trevor, it was the North Yankton job that went horribly awry. That North Yankton job casts a huge shadow over the story in Grand Theft Auto 5, with the fallout from the job residing uncomfortably under the story’s skin waiting to burst out. That job was nine years ago though, gone are the snowy banks of the mid-west replaced by the sandy beaches and sunny streets of Los Santos. GTA 5 follows three main characters: Franklin Clinton, Michael De Santa and Trevor Phillips. Franklin is an industrious young man trapped by circumstance and geography into a life of gang banging and small come-ups. Yet he dreams of leaving the pettiness of gang life behind him and start making some real money doing bigger jobs. Getting by in life running insurance fraud and repossessions for a smarmy car dealer is getting old. So is his loose canon homie, Lamar Davis, who cannot see a life past Chamberlain Hills.
Michael De Santa is a retired heist artist living in the affluent Rockford Hills of Los Santos with his children, who hate him, and his wife, who resents him. He is miserable, bored and depressed seeking fulfillment in drinking by the pool and escaping reality with old movies. The one thing that made him feel alive, pulling off heists, is no longer an option until the day he meets Franklin Clinton trying to repossess his son’s car. This relationship brings Michael back to his old self present and exploding in rage. As a result, Michael overreacts and pisses off the wrong person requiring him and Franklin to pull off a new heist. Even when you’re out, you always get pulled back into the life.
Then there is Trevor Phillips… A force of rage, violence and irrationality. Living out in the wastes of the Sandy Shores far outside of the metropolitan area of Los Santos, Trevor and his cohorts Ron and Wade attempt to make an empire among the dregs overlooking the Alamo Sea. Trevor leaves a trail of bodies in his wake as he takes out any and all competition. His world is comprised of cooking meth, running guns and taking what belongs to others that he feels should belong to him. It has been years since he and Michael have seen each other, but that changes quickly.
These three characters’ stories intersect organically and in interesting ways allowing Rockstar to build a much larger story. Alone these characters’ stories likely would not have been nearly as captivating, but bringing them together makes for a wildly compelling crime story full of complexity and shining character moments. The story contains Rockstar North’s natural aptitude for witty and funny dialogue that does an amazing job at characterization. Rockstar once again shows off its ability to satirize and create deep commentary on popular culture with the writing in GTA 5. The game’s story is an achievement.
It is hard to tell anyone that the gameplay is not simply just more GTA; it is more GTA. Grand Theft Auto 5 is that formula refined and while not perfected, it’s pretty damn close. Rockstar has taken bits and pieces from their more recent efforts following GTA 4 (Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3) to help give GTA 5 a combat system that works well. No longer are there the harrowing pitfalls of the poor cover system or wonky aim. The shooting and cover systems in GTA 5 are intuitive and responsive. What became a boon to the gunplay in the game was the addition of the specials for the three protagonists. The specials made both Trevor and Michael ideal for combat, but allowing players to experience different takes on exacting intense violence on enemies. The driving has been improved slightly, but still it is an open-world game and driving is always going to be somewhat chunky. Again, Franklin’s special makes driving a much smoother experience.
The most revolutionary aspect of the game is the ability to switch freely (for the most part) between the three main protagonists: Franklin, Michael and Trevor both during missions and outside of them. This changes the way players can approach situations in the game’s large amount of story missions featuring all three characters. It allows players to decide what is the best approach for a job whether it is brute force, finesse or stealth; each character has their own strengths that makes them good for various actions. While each character also has weaknesses, these can be improved throughout the game by performing specific actions that will raise their skill level. This allows players to help make Franklin a better shot, give Michael more stamina or allow Trevor to sneak like he was in a cardboard box.
The missions are tremendously fun in the game with plenty of side stuff to do with the Strangers and Freaks (various ancillary characters populating Los Santos that want something from Michael, Franklin or Trevor). Where the missions and gameplay shines is in the number of heists in the game. The plans for the heist are all up to the player. In each heist, the player can choose one of two options that require its own unique set up and carry its own particular risks of failure or success. From there, the player picks the crew, which involves considering the route they picked, the crew member’s skill level, their cut and future scores. Sometimes the best crew member is not the right choice because their cut is too high and choosing weaker members with lower cuts is the smarter route long term because crew members level up after each score while their cut remains the same. There is a small amount of strategy involved in the choices for heists. It makes for a fun and dynamic experience when pulling these larger jobs.
It is startling to think of how long this console generation has been around. More than that, it’s startling to realize how using the same tech, games from the beginning of the cycle look dramatically different from games coming out at the end of it. That is a long way to say that Grand Theft Auto V looks a million times better than Grand Theft Auto IV. The difference is night and day. In GTA 5 the character modeling and face modeling are more realistic. The environments are more impressive and Los Santos seems much more alive than Liberty City did. The size and scope of Los Santos makes the graphics stand out as hugely impressive because of how much is going on at any given time in the world. Los Santos is extremely pretty, and GTA 5 looks magnificent.
Once again, Grand Theft Auto features an extensively and impressive soundtrack. Both in its radio stations featuring various types of music and DJs to the original compositions from Oh No & The Alchemist, Tangerine Dream and Woody Jackson in the game’s score. The radio stations features some amazing tunes from a wide range of genres. Any soundtrack that has stations with Suicidal Tendencies, the Circle Jerks and N.W.A. and DJ Quik is damn fine. The voice acting is exceptional with all three protagonists and the various additional characters being portrayed well. Steven Ogg as Trevor Phillips puts in a phenomenal performance lending pathos, charm and depth to a character who is a murderous sociopath.
Grand Theft Auto V is a marvelous achievement in creating an open-world action game full of depth and complexity. As we draw closer to the end of both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, game developers have delivered benchmarks in video games this year. GTA 5 certainly is among those benchmarks reaching some incredible heights. The main issue with the game is that nothing is quite surprising about it. Of course it is exceptional, Rockstar North has consistently delivered exceptional experiences; that has not changed here. Rockstar North took the weaknesses of the last GTA and improved upon them tremendously to make a remarkable, memorable, and potentially generational defining game.