Review: Grand Theft Auto V

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*Note- this is a review of the single-player story only.*

As I made my way down the road, heading back from one of the bars I owned after a shootout with some unruly customers, I felt the urge to go play some tennis. After twenty minutes of me showing off my old school Top Spin skills, I decided to head to the airport and see if there were any jumbo jets about to leave the runway. Luckily, there was one and I hijacked it and took a short trip around the city before jumping out and parachuting to safety as the plane was left to…well you know.

This is only a small percentage of what is available to do in Grand Theft Auto V. Rockstar has spent the last five years creating the most living open-world game ever. Almost a decade into this console cycle, it is amazing how much they have been able to fit into this one title. The state of San Andreas is sprawling with not just the city of Los Santos, which is a world unto itself with so many different areas of urban life it is mind boggling to think of the development that went into it, but also the surrounding areas that hold a military installation, rural towns where city life is nothing but a story and wide open spaces with forests, beaches, rivers and deserts that each hold their own secrets.

Let’s start off by saying that I did not like GTA IV. At all. I tried multiple times to play it but always found it tedious, repetitive and could never care enough about main character Niko Bellic to try and finish the story. With GTA V, it is like Rockstar heard nearly every complaint I had about IV and addressed it. But we will get to that later.

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The biggest departure for the GTA series to date, Grand Theft Auto V ditches the single protagonist for three separate characters and I can easily say that I do not believe I could ever go back to a single character GTA story again. When the game opens up you are in the middle of a bank heist almost a decade in the past that quickly goes bad which serves as the setup for the main story.

In present day, you begin to play as Franklin, an ex-gangbanger that is looking to make more of his life besides doing petty drug deals and boosting cars. He wants the big score and to spend his time with a more “reputable” brand of criminal. He gets plenty of grief from his friends in the hood about trying to forget where he came from. You will spend the first hour or two as Franklin as a reintroduction of sorts to the GTA universe. Taking on simple repo missions which get you back into the swing of things.

Soon though you cross paths with the games second character, Michael, who is an ex- bank robber that is living the high life in an upscale house and by high life I mean he has plenty of money, a wife that is sleeping around, two kids that absolutely hate him and is completely miserable while he drinks his days away. He is the dichotomy to Franklin, telling him that the life Franklin desires doesn’t always lead to good things. He nevertheless takes Franklin under his wing to try and impart his unique knowledge.

The third part of this trinity of recklessness is Trevor. Michael’s “best friend” who thought he died in the bank heist years ago and discovers he is alive and well in Los Santos. The best way to describe Trevor is to imagine everything horrible you have ever wanted to say to someone, all the vile, disgusting things life would not let anyone get away with and Trevor is all of that wrap in a meth covered bow. He is one of the most intriguing and unflinching characters in video game history. His early missions involve taking on a biker gang, Chinese drug lords and the sort while trying to get his meth business into the big time. There are a few nods to Breaking Bad along the way as you are left wondering who was the basis for this madness.

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The sheer amount of things to do in Grand Theft Auto V will easily ensure you will lose at least 50 hours but the main part of the story revolves around pulling heists. You will case the location, decide which crew you want to bring along, decide your plan of attack and hopefully make off like bandits with a ton of cash. Some jobs are not all for your benefit. You will have to pull off death-defying kidnapping missions for the FIB (the game’s FBI) and infiltrating facilities in the name of “patriotism”. When things get hot and heavy you can quick swap between characters as needed. Believe me, you will need it. You can possibly get through the waves of cops using one character but the real fun and strategy comes in swapping on the fly. In one mission you will be Franklin holding down the cops with fire then you swap to Michael who has to find a new position and take on the cops that are flanking your rear. Swap to Trevor, who is waiting on a rooftop with a sniper rifle to bring down anyone that slips past Franklin or Michael and take on the incoming police helicopter. It is complete insanity in the best possible way.

Between missions you can swap to any of the characters on the fly. This leads to a lot of great random scenes which shows you that while you may be playing as Trevor; Michael and Franklin are off doing their own thing. Swapping to Franklin may find him leaving a strip club, Michael could be waking up from nightmares and Trevor…well let’s just say that swapping to Trevor is an experience. I would switch to Trevor just for the hell of it and I was never disappointed. Once, he was throwing a random person off of a bridge for some reason. Why? Hell if I know. That is between Trevor and the guy that is a stain on the pavement below.

As I mentioned before, Rockstar has fixed many issues that I have had with GTA games for a while. First off, the driving has been changed and feels much more natural. There is no random fishtailing unless you absolutely can not help it. Cars feel like they have weight to them and driving at fast speeds no longer feels like you are one wrong move away from utter destruction. It still can not match up with Sleeping Dogs in terms of almost flawless open-world car driving but it is leaps and bounds better than any other game in the series. Any car you own, buy or steal, can, of course, be upgraded at Los Santos Customs. Want a chrome paint job? Easy. New off-road tires or a Dukes of Hazzard horn? You got it. When you have the money, it is an easy way to waste time.

The cover system feels better also. You will still go to the wrong side of objects sometimes but not too much. Weapons are accessed through a weapon wheel instead of the archaic d-pad swapping. If you use the auto-aim feature it works very well though you may want to turn on the free-aim just to give you a challenge. Every weapon is fully upgradable and customizable including silencers, flashlights and different paint options. Body armor is also available at your local Ammu-Nation along with your complete lineup of weapons that range from rocket launchers to grenades and eve a parachute. You will use the parachute. If you are like me, you will use the parachute in many odd ways and the only explanation you need is that it is GTA.

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How many times playing any GTA game have you died while almost completing a mission and been taken back to the very beginning, having to go back and watch the cutscene and do the entire…mission…over as your rage builds and you almost become as violent as the character you are playing? Enter mission checkpoints! It only took a decade but now you will not have to quell the monster within whenever you screw up. Hearty handshakes all around for progress!

Your cell phone will be your main hub for everything you need from your contacts you meet throughout the game to using the internet. Do not skip past searching on the internet. There are some side missions that are unlocked by searching certain words. Also, the game has a fully involved stock market which, if used smartly, can easily make you a billionaire so you can buy any of the property that your heart desires. Have an affinity for the cinema? Buy a movie theater as I did and enjoy free flicks. Every property will come with weekly income that is deposited into your bank account.

Rockstar has kept up with the times with their satirical humor also. They have always taken pop culture to task in every GTA game and this time is no different. You will see people whoring themselves out to get on the popular reality show Fame or Shame, a radio advertisement making fun of Fifty Shades of Grey (“I’ve always wanted a billionaire to piss on me.”) and, as usual, all of the sardonic radio DJ’s. There are 240 songs over 15 radio stations. That in itself is crazy. I can not tell you how many times I have had memorable moments while listening to Eddie Murphy’s Party All the Time or Don Johnson’s Heartbeat. Rock jumping while listening to Willie Nelson’s Whiskey River will never get old.

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The story is fun most of the time with Trevor, Michael and Franklin each having their own set of problems that intersect. Sometimes it can get a bit eye rolling when you try to look for logic in some of the story elements but it kind of like watching wrestling; if you are looking for logic, you won’t enjoy it.

Grand Theft Auto V was, reportedly, the most expensive game ever made. It shows with the intricate detail given to every aspect of this game. When you drive through the city of Los Santos, you will notice how not just homes but cars and people change when you head to different neighborhoods with distinct class differences. My girlfriend, who grew up in Las Vegas and California, kept commenting on how realistic the roads were set up. It truly is a living, breathing embodiment of west coast living.

I could continue to type about how many random things can be done in Grand Theft Auto V. If you have read this far then I applaud you for not just scrolling to the score. With the next generation kicking into full swing this winter, GTA V has given notice that there is still plenty of life left in your aging Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. With Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us and now GTA V, we as gamers are in a renaissance of video gaming. While GTA V’s story is not on the same level as Infinite or TLOU, the sheer technical achievement that Rockstar has accomplished here can not be overlooked.

When we are desensitized to big games due to annual releases like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and the like, it makes GTA V all that much better. I am sure Rockstar could give us a watered down GTA every two years and rake in the money by the truckloads but that would cheapen the experience, both for us and them. GTA should be an experience. While I felt Rockstar tripped up a bit in IV, they have taken five years to craft and correct and the hours of your life you will lose to the game will be reward enough.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go and try to fist fight a mountain lion.

It didn’t work.










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