Rockstar Games’ tentpole franchise ‘Grand Theft Auto’ is back in its fifth major installment to the series. Like games from other leading publishers this year, you can expect to find pop-culture parodies, ultra-violence and a few controversial issues being tackled, all within the gigantic world of San Andreas.
Rockstar North took the helm to create GTA V, expected to be one of the last, or the last, Major GTA title on our current generation of consoles. Like other games in the series, the game treads the line between realistic grandeur and over-the-top dramatization of United States’ culture. Almost every topic that you could find news-pundits arguing about made its way into GTA V, from online privacy and drug-use, to terrorism.
One of the most iconic formulas for the GTA V storyline is its superficial, yet sometimes interesting, characters and plot-lines. I say sometimes interesting because you meet so many characters in GTA games, that some of them fall by the wayside all too quickly. Like an action movie, much of the storyline takes place in high-octane sequences that will have players speeding across town to either confront, or escape, local law-enforcement or rival thugs. It is because of this formula that you don’t really have too much time to get know your minor characters, this causes them to be so over-the-top that they could only be believable in a GTA game. Strippers are absolute whores most of the time, drug users are the tweaked-out junkies that filled 90’s movies, and thugs are the most street-bound mercs that gangs have to offer. Everything is set on level 11, and it has worked well for Rockstar in the past and continues to do so.
This time around Grand Theft Auto 5 allows players to live out the story with multiple playable protagonists, the fact that a woman was left out once again I think was a huge mistake for the company, but maybe they are saving that big change for the first next-generation model. Your three choices this time around are Michael, the most normal of the trio who left his life of crime in the past (or so he thought). Trevor, the absolute tweaked out, borderline psychopath of the group (the Murdock if you will) and Franklin your general street hustler. These characters aren’t exactly meant to be “liked” and often times I found myself wishing the game would narrow-down my choices from 3 to 1 with a few failed missions. That isn’t a game flaw, they are not very nice people by design.
You learn each of the characters backstories mostly by interacting with the other people that share their lives. Michael has a terrible family-life, filled with annoying kids, a cheating wife and a life that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Trevor is looking for answers to his past, I simply can not go into his storyline without ruining it for you, so I’ll leave it at that. Finally it’s Franklin that is really the core GTA character, someone who starts at the bottom and has dreams and ideals that he hopes to one day realize.
Leading up to the game Rockstar put an emphasis on just how large this world really is, and it’s easy to see why. The game is huge, not just sandbox huge, I mean small MMO huge, with a seemingly endless supply of hidden nooks and actual buildings that one can enter and interact with. Whether you are located in Los Santos or Blaine County, San Andreas is a living and working city, none of the map is filler or routine and the details that went into making the cityscape is the best work that Rockstar has created to date.
Switching through characters isn’t just for fun, it’s part of many of the storyline missions, and it will be required throughout the game. This was probably the best decision that Rockstar implemented, it really broke up the story and kept things interesting. There is still the duopoly of gameplay routines, story missions and questing, or simply causing extreme chaos wherever you go, and fans that enjoyed these scenarios in the past should enjoy the new title as well. You will still have your police chases, your helicopter downings, those moments when a cop car gets barely sideswiped, then you hit a cop escaping them, and suddenly a trip to a girl’s house just made you the most wanted man in America.
Heists are a new twist in the game, and one of the side-missions that I enjoyed the most. This is one of the best ways to earn money in the game. They are mini-stories as well, each with their own goal and you plan and carry out the mission as you choose to do so. The game gives you the way that it “should” be done, this will make everything easier on you, but if you choose to go in guns blazing then you can do that as well. Expect the wrath of all San Andreas if you choose option number two. The side-missions that are offered don’t stop there, you can also pick-up the traditional petty-crimes and cab-missions that are typical of sandbox games. Also a major part of the game is how you are overburdened by missions, quests, collectables and story-line quests. This is instantly apparent in the game. It doesn’t take long before these side-game journeys start to make sense, and the objectives start becoming smaller, easier controlled chunks of the gameplay. It’s hard to make that a negative, as it only shows how much work went into the game to keep things interesting for the player. You no longer have to keep your friends happy as well, in the sense that you no longer have to go shooting darts with your cousin. That part of the game was left out after the pushback from fans who were forced to go on a million dates with everyone they ever met in GTA IV.
I have always felt the best moments in GTA are the moments you create yourself. When given a task to steal a car or take out a rival gang, you have your object and your initial idea of how it should be completed. Then it doesn’t work, you may die and die, and then eventually you come up with the nuclear option. In a blind fury I’ll go to such extremes that everyone involved in this simple car-heist mission will feel my wrath. I’ll go out of my way to steal to a motorcycle to ramp into an army base, to steal a helicopter, and park it on this poor man’s face who killed me 15 times as I was trying to escape with a junk car that someone wanted for a $100. Then with my helicopter holding him down so he is pinned, I lay waste to his entire town, all the while saying, “WOULDN’T GIVE ME THE CADILLAC WOULD YOU!!” Your results may vary, but you get the idea.
One time a man hit me as I was trying to cross the street, then hit me again as I was getting up, you could take him home in a sponge now. It’s not all ultra-violence though, these are single instances that are made to distract you when you need a break in the story, and although they sound terrible, fans know it’s all in fun.
Just like in most GTA games, internal conflict amongst your peers eventually comes to climax. I won’t ruin it for you, but the only real problem with GTA V is that when it tries to make you focus on the story, the less fun the game becomes. Doing whatever you want, however you want, is the ultimate freedom in the game and that is when the game is perfect. The downside is that eventually the game will want you to learn the story, and it clamps down a little on what you can do at those times.
In the beginning of the review I mentioned that characters are often-times over dramatized because you don’t really have time to get to know them. In the past the main protagonist was not affected by this flaw because you were the focal point to all stories. With three protagonists though, the same problem comes back. It seems that Rockstar didn’t have the room to fit three perfectly crafted characters, complete with touching backstories and wonderful story-archs when the protagonist is split into three. You gain the benefit of having a more interesting time playing through the story, but a lot the personal moments, cutscenes and personal connections that it took to make Niko Bellic so interesting in GTA IV, isn’t available in GTA V for our trio. It’s a give and take situation.
Outside of the weaker trio of main protagonists (weaker but still stand alone efforts that shouldn’t be overlooked) the game is the best in the franchise by a long shot. The game offers new content, not reskinned maps and characters but actual new gameplay moments and a dizzying amount of land to cover. Rockstar was the one of the pioneers of the open-world and to this day they continue to improve the gameplay experience for players, offering more than anyone else can once again.