The Grand Theft Auto series has been one of the most profitable and consistently highest rated game franchises in the history of console gaming. San Andreas was the highest grossing game on the PS2, and folks on my friends list were still playing GTA IV up until the moment when they left the house to stand in line at midnight to get the new game. GTA V is already considered a blockbuster, selling 15 million units and sporting a metacritic score of 97-98, but does the game match the hype once it’s spinning in the disc tray?
The game centers around an unlikely trio of friends with only one common factor: their individual proclivity for criminality. The backbone of the single player experience are the heists that the player gets to plan and then perform. Some of the preparatory set up missions proved to be as fun as the heist itself. When players are not preparing for a heist or progressing the story, they can involve themselves in several leisure activities, like watching a movie, running a triathlon, street or off-road racing, dabbling in real estate or the stock market, yoga, golf, or tennis. The map fills up with activity icons very quickly and there is always something for the three amigos to do in Los Santos.
Michael De Santa, formerly Michael Townley, is an aging thief currently living the posh life in an unofficial witness protection program. Michael cut a deal with an FIB agent on his last robbery in North Yankton. He sold out his accomplices, Trevor Philips among them, and used the take to live out a life of comfort with his family in Los Santos, located in the sunny state of San Andreas. Michael is a bit soggy in the middle, his wife and kids despise him, and he currently sees a psychiatrist to help him deal with the ghosts of his past.
Michael is the unofficial ringleader of the group. When Michael is not robbing banks or ripping off jewelry stores he enjoys playing tennis, dabbling on the stock market, golfing, and yoga. He is also an old movie buff and aspires to become a movie producer.
Franklin Clinton meets Michael during the “repossession” of his son’s SUV, and it doesn’t take Franklin long to realize that life could be a lot more profitable under Michael’s tutelage than slinging dime bags and boosting cars. Franklin possesses remarkable driving skills and is usually the designated getaway driver. He is quite ambitious and eager to lose his gangbanger reputation in favor of something more professionally criminal.
When not shaking cops off his tail after a heist, Franklin enjoys participating in illegal street races, driving a tow truck to cover for his crackhead cousin, playing fetch with Chop, and making a little money on the side by reducing the city’s population one person at a time.
If there has ever has ever been a single character solely responsible for a game receiving the “M” rating, that character is Trevor Philips. During the first two hours I played as Trevor he sodomized a biker’s girlfriend while watching the local news and then curb-stomped the biker to death. He pushed an arms dealer’s trailer into a river, defended his meth lab from an armed attack, destroyed a competitor’s lab, farm, and family, and sticky-bombed an entire trailer park. Trevor is clearly psychotic, extremely violent, and delusionally ambitious. Trevor’s specialty is aviation, so he will be your man in the sky for missions that require a birds-eye view.
When he’s not airlifting valuable and ill-gotten loot from their rightful owners, Trevor enjoys cooking meth, mass murder rampages, running weapons, and kidnapping.
Improving on a Successful Formula
Rockstar did an admirable of improving almost every aspect of what makes the Grand Theft Auto series solid fun. The most notable improvements are the vehicles in GTA V: they’re actually fun to drive, as well as customizable. Vehicles feature drastically improved physics and individuality. Rockstar definitely brought a Midnight Club feel to the game’s driving segments and traveling all the way across the map is still time consuming, but no longer tedious. The map is huge with lots of places to go, tons of properties to own and manage, and chock full of side activities which are often character specific.
The group dynamic is an interesting addition to the series. Previously the character ran around, like Niko or Tommy Vercetti, while interacting with outside people. In GTA V, the main characters are constantly interacting and conflicting with each other: they don’t always have the same goal in mind. I found myself playing differently with each character: I kept it clean and classy while playing with Michael, unnecessarily violent and over the top as Trevor, and Franklin was a mix of the two. The story is fairly solid, for a videogame, with multiple branching plot lines and talented voice acting. The length of the SP campaign is satisfyingly lengthy, with over 100 hours of stuff to do. The addition of GTA Online will only improve the longevity of this title...if Rockstar ever manages to get the fucking thing to work.
The centerpieces of GTA V are the heist missions, which are fun as shit to prepare for and pull off. Players are involved in nearly every aspect of each job: surveillance, recon, procurement of the necessary vehicles and equipment, personnel choices, and execution of the score. The jobs range from jewelry store rip-offs, the theft of military hardware, and rural bank robberies-all culminating up to the “big one.” Smaller jobs include paparazzi missions, boosting cars, assassinations, and expanding the Trevor Philips International business. The FIB also “recruits” the trio to pull some dirty jobs for Uncle Sam as well.
GTA V is also the best looking game in the series. Rockstar obviously applied some of their LA Noire techniques to the facial expressions in this game. The water looks great, especially oceanic undulations while racing boats or jet skis. However, hair, especially long hair, still looks like shit and at one point Michael pours himself a whisky made entirely of molten plastic...I literally laughed out loud when I saw it.
The Most Overrated Series of All Time
While GTA V is a great game, it does suffer from some of the same problems faced by its predecessors. First and foremost, some of the time-killing side stuff is just plain boring. Playing tennis, running a triathlon, or driving a tow truck just isn’t that much fun. Character development is a bit on the shallow side, and most of the NPCs, as well as our three protagonists, are simply not likeable or relatable. The map is large, but filled with false storefronts that cannot be explored, similar to the movie sets that Michael is so fond of.
I have a few more gripes with the game: the online portion of the game was not available at launch, the weapons are basically the same as they have been since GTA 3, and the mission difficulties are often uneven in their execution. Oh, and all of the aircraft drive like shit.
Rockstar is working on a glitch where cars and upgrades are disappearing from players garages, so don’t upgrade your stored rides, or disable the autosave, until the patch hits.
Despite its flaws, GTA V
is the best in the series, and the most fun I had with a GTA
game since Vice City
. The inclusion of Trevor to the roster allows players to explore a darker side of gaming not generally provided, and certainly not rewarded, to players who don’t necessarily wear a white hat when they game. I never thought I would say this about a GTA
game, but I am sincerely looking forward to playing online. Grand Theft Auto V
gets a perfect score and a GOTY nomination.