The Grandest Grand Game
GTA V Simply Makes Almost Everything Else Look Lame
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The question as to whether Grand Theft Auto V is the best game ever made is open to discussion, though at the very least it ranks well into the top ten. That said, it's likely the best open-world title ever made, and I'm lumping that in there against Skyrim.
There is so much to talk about in any review of GTA V, that it's almost difficult to know where to begin. I suppose the open world nature of the title is the best place to start. GTA V takes place in Los Santos, which is modeled after modern day Los Angeles. It also includes Blaine County, which is a bunch of little towns north of the city. Those of you who have played GTA San Andreas will probably recognize landmarks and places from that title. And although GTA V just takes place in and around Los Santos, without San Fierro (based on San Francisco), and Las Venturas (based on Las Vegas) it's still a much bigger world. San Andreas also had a lot of empty space in it, while most of GTA V is filled with stuff, even in the areas well outside the city.
GTA V is the first game in the series that truly goes into three dimensions too. There are a variety of aircraft to get you above the world, and they are easier to control and use than in GTA IV. Also, for the first time you can go under the waves, and explore the vast oceans from either the surface or by diving deep underwater. Like the hinterlands, there is a surprising amount to see and find beneath the waves.
And because you are not pushed forward by the story, you can even put your phone in private mode to keep story-based mission people from calling you, the entire world is yours to explore at your own pace. In the first few hours of playing, I mostly ignored the story missions and did everything I could around town. That included playing tennis, participating in a triathlon, golfing, taking my dog to the beach to fetch tennis balls, seeing two movies (actual ten minute features within the game), riding on a TMZ-like tour around Los Santos looking at famous people's houses, visiting a strip club, stealing every type of automobile I could find, robbing liquor stores, getting a haircut, surfing the in-game Internet, picking up a girl and taking her on a date, smoking medical marijuana, drinking beer and upgrading my wardrobe with cool threads. You can even invest in the stock market or purchase properties, both of which can generate income over time for your character. And many of your favorite TV shows from GTA IV have returned with new episodes, and some new ones are also available including a hilarious take on American Idol, hosted by Lazlow, and featuring a spoof of judge Simon Cowell.
There are three playable characters this time out, and each one has their own individual missions they perform. Plus once they get together, they can perform heist missions where they work together to take down particularly impressive scores. Once you've met all the characters, looking at the map will show a variety of color-coded mission letters. The colors tell you what character can perform that mission. And each character brings a vastly different experience, and personal missions, to the game.
You start the game, after a tutorial-like prologue, with Franklin. He's a normal young guy, poor, living in the city in a small house with his aunt. He's associated with The Families Gang, which was called the Grove Street Families in San Andreas, (they probably changed their name because a rival gang now controls Grove Street) but it does not run his life. In fact, he and his friend Lamar are trying to run their own low-level, low success rate operations at the beginning of the game, and their gang that has nothing to do with that. Franklin is actually the most innocent character at the beginning of the game. He gets used by his childhood friends who know that he will help them out of tough spots, even if there is nothing in it for him personally. He's a good guy who is frustrated by the bad economy and his inability to get ahead no matter how much work he puts into trying. I think most players will really like him.
The second character is Michael. He was a famous bank robber and is seen in the prologue. Now he's rich and living in witness protection. Everyone thinks he died during his final heist ten years ago. Although he should be happy, he's not. His personal missions normally involve his cheating wife who no longer loves him, or his two children. His daughter is running down a dangerous path that will turn her into a porn star, or a prostitute, or worse. And his son is a stay-at-home loser who can't find a job because he's not really trying. Neither kid likes Michael very much, at least not at first. He's kind of a Tony Soprano character in a way. He even sees a psychiatrist.
Michael has a chance meeting with Franklin, and sees the chance to help the kid out, by tutoring him to be a better criminal of course. Franklin in turn gives Michael some needed energy, makes him feel alive again and not so depressed.
The final character is Trevor. He's the most extreme of the three. He's best described as a psychopath, friendly and calm one minute and committing mass murder the next. He was in Michael's old gang from the prologue and makes his money today by cooking meth. You help him to get a monopoly on the drug trade in his first couple personal missions. When he learns that Michael is alive and doing scores again, he makes it his mission to track him down. He's angry. But mostly he just wants back in on the million-dollar heists.
Once you get the characters together, heist missions open up. These are complex schemes that require a lot of sub-missions to be completed before the actual robbery. Most heists have multiple ways of getting the job done too, so you can plan the perfect robbery to match your skills and interests from loud and bloody to silent and stealthy. Then you need to hire more people to round out the crew. You can go cheap and work with newbies, but they might screw up the mission. Or you can hire pros, but they take a much bigger percentage of your profits. I found that it's actually good to bring along newer crew members early on if you can, because every heist boosts their skill level, though their cut always remains the same. Of course they have to survive for that to happen.
Heist missions are amazing, some of the best moments in gaming, and brings all the characters together. Each character has access to a special skill too, driving for Franklin, shooting for Michael, and giving and taking damage for Trevor. Personal skills improve with use, so dangerous driving for Franklin works, as does visiting the range for Michael. Trevor simply needs to get into a lot of fights, which is quite easy for him.
When not on a heist mission, or undergoing a personal mission for one of the characters, you can freely switch between all three. When you do, a satellite-like map pops up and you rise up into the clouds before going back down to the new character, often catching them doing something fun or funny. Each character has their own concerns and will even buy different things in the same store. For example, Michael won't hardly buy anything in the discount stores, and puts on a sour face if you try to get something, while Trevor will eat all that stuff up. Franklin seems to have the most diverse wardrobe choices and enjoys most everything you put him in.
Graphically, the game is absolutely outstanding. You won't believe that this is a current generation game. It looks like it should be running on a PS4 or Xbox One. On the PS3, where I tested out the game, the views from different parts of the city (or a blimp high above everything) looked amazing. And the underwater world was breathtaking too. This was all rendered with no slowdown that I ever noticed. There is also a really robust physics engine running under the surface to make everything look real. People fall, cars crash and burn and bullets stream past, poking realistic holes in vehicles and walls alike (and players if you are not careful). Yet, everything is smooth, even in the heat of some really big battles. Cars too use realistic physics now and perform vastly different depending on things like engine type and tires, so you won't slide all over the place unless a car in real life would too. Overall, everything looks great and plays well.
The interface has also been improved. There is a radial wheel to choose different weapons. And it's implemented really well. Shooting, taking cover or switching weapons will quickly become second nature. Most people didn't have too much of a problem with the GTA controls anyway, but they are better now and very responsive.
Also, the police action has been made more realistic, and everyone will eventually have a wanted level. You can still go to the Pay and Spray, but hiding out may be a better and easier bet. You can now see active cops on your radar and which way their cars are facing. If you can avoid line of sight, they will eventually stop chasing you. It's often best to break line of sight, abandon your car and hide somewhere. Then again, I've gotten good at keeping cars hidden too. It's just that if you get to warrant level three or higher, then you need to stay hidden from air support. That means getting under cover. Parking garages work great because they hide you from both the air and cop cars, but so does maneuvering to stay one step ahead of the police using back alleys and side streets. It's much more realistic now. And, crimes won't always get reported in the first place. Someone actually has to get on their cell phone and report seeing a crime. Even if they do, if you can get out of the area fast you will probably get away clean. This is a nice change of pace from the omnipotent cops of GTA IV, though they are still rightfully hard to shake if you rile them up too much.
In terms of sound, of course there is a huge soundtrack. Though I think it's a little heavy on the rap tracks, there is literally something for everyone on the radio somewhere. And famous people from Kenny Loggins to British actress Cara Delevingne, to Lazlow Jones and comedian JB Smoove host various radio shows or act as DJs. All told there are over 240 licensed songs in the game. I really had to laugh when C. W. McCall's song Convoy showed up on Rebel Radio, as I used to love singing to that one when I was little.
There are also lots of customization options to keep GTA players busy. Besides wardrobe changes, which are extremely extensive, there area also tattoos, tricking out your guns and building the perfect ride complete with armor if you want it. The ability to play however you want at whatever pace you want can't be overstated. It's not really re-playability, though you could go back and plan the major heists in a different way. It's more like playability. You can literally have fun doing side missions and just getting into trouble around the world for days and not move the story forward an inch. So in terms of value, it's off the charts. And that is just with the single player game. Once the online component opens up on October 1st, it's going to be crazy.
So, GTA V earns a perfect 5 GiN Gems from me. It's everything I could hope for in a game and more. I did take just a half gem off in the gameplay area (this did not affect the final perfect score) because I recognize that there are people who will be greatly offended by many things in this game. It's pretty over the top in terms of morals. As an example, the prostitutes talk about how great your pre-ejaculate tastes (they call it something else) while giving blow jobs. Certain characters, especially Trevor, also have the ability to be pretty cruel, picking up hitchhikers and taking them to a cult that wants to torture and eat them. Players can of course avoid these situations, but you will run into some elements of it at different points nonetheless. Personally, I'm really happy that we can also indulge full-on in those activities if we want. It makes for a more realistic game world that I have been begging developers to make for a long time. But the game isn't for everyone, and it would be disingenuous not to recognize this fact. I'm not really sure what it takes to get an AO rating, but wherever that line is, it just got pushed way further back than it was before. Some stuff in this game now makes "hot coffee" look pretty tame.
Grand Theft Auto V may be the greatest game ever made, and it a way, that says something about our society. But as a game, its pretty darn perfect, offing an intense story, great gameplay, amazing graphics and limitless (almost anyway) playability for hours on end. Once multiplayer starts, it can only get better. It will be a very long time before anything gets made that can even come close to GTA V. This is likely a better game than anything coming out at launch for either next generation console. Buy it. Play it. Love it. And once multiplayer begins, I'll see you in Los Santos.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : email@example.com.