Grand Theft Auto V is a giant sandbox full of fun toys to play with, but it doesn’t give you all of them right away. Over the course of the story, GTA V gradually introduces players to all the nooks and crannies. It has a lengthy single player story that is surprisingly good considering past outings in the GTA universe. Also, its controls are much tighter than previous iterations. The graphics aren’t fantastic, but when a developer crams as much world and gameplay as possible into one game, the graphics are bound to suffer a little. The most important thing to note is that I can’t stop playing it.
Why is GTA V so compelling? I’ve sunk 28 hours into the game and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. There is just so much content, so many things to do. Rockstar has done an excellent job at making the game feel like a living world and it pays off. The more realistic a world is, the more players will want to live in that world. The city of Los Santos and the surrounding areas are littered with interesting landmarks. Players could waste hours just sightseeing. There are faithful recreations of many Los Angeles landmarks. The Getty museum sits up on a hill, the Griffith Park Observatory overlooks the city, and the Hollywood sign is proudly displayed. Of course these have all been altered to fictional versions but nonetheless, Los Angeles locals will enjoy the familiarity. There’s more to do while exploring the city than just oohing and ahhing. There are numerous collectibles to find such as pages piecing together the story of a conviction. Finding these pages is very rewarding as they are hidden in hard to find locales. There are 50 different ramps to jump off of with a vehicle, 50 bridges to pass under while flying a plane or helicopter, and pieces of an alien spaceship to find. All these collectibles and completion goals are nice to have in the background but they are by no means the main goal of the game.
There are other fun things to do in Los Santos that help keep the pace of the game varied and exciting. In between story missions there are side missions called Strangers and Freaks. These all offer a satirical look into the lives of some of Los Santos’s stranger citizens. At one point I was helping an eccentric old couple steal celebrity knickknacks escalating to a point to kidnapping a celebrity – and the next I was skydiving with an adrenaline junkie I rescued from a tree. These missions are often strange and more often than not, end poorly for all those involved. It simultaneously pokes fun at various Californian and American flaws while also providing an enjoyable outlet for gamers in between story missions. In addition to the Strangers and Freaks missions, there are also random quests that pop up such as helping recover a stolen wallet or driving a drunk person home. Players are often given a choice in these scenarios – do they keep the found money or return it to its owner. There is an immediate reward for keeping the loot, but if you do the right thing, you may be rewarded later. I received an email in-game from someone I had helped much earlier thanking me by giving me stock options in her company.
Then there’s the customization. Tattoo parlors, clothing shops, and hair salons let players express their inner creativity and portray Franklin, Michael, or Trevor as they see fit. Speaking of protagonists – being able to switch between three different characters, each with their own lives, is incredibly compelling. When a player switches to a new character, that person is always in the middle of something. Franklin steps out of a strip club, Michael finishes a phone call, and Trevor – well – he wakes up drunk in an alley. These little touches go a long way toward making the game world feel alive and in motion. If all this wasn’t enough, there’s still the main storyline to play through.
The story does a good job of weaving together the lives of three very different people. Early on, Michael takes Franklin under his wing and eventually they are begrudgingly joined by Trevor. One of the most fun parts of the story is setting up for and pulling off heists. There is a lot of prep work that goes into each heist and the player is given the choice of how best to proceed. Different crew members can be used, some of whom are better suited to the task at hand but will in turn take a larger cut of the profits. This choice is tense because it can lead to some serious fumbles during the heist. Players gain new crew members over the course of the game – I rescued an injured woman on the side of the highway who happened to be good in a pinch.
The massive world full of activities and story has completely captured my attention and the attention of thousands of players across the world. There is so much to do in a world that feels alive. And if players eventually do reach 100% completion, there’s always GTA Online (if you can get online).