With social networking the lines between ‘anticipation’ and ‘hype’ are often blurred into a giant ball of disappointment. Excitement can be purchased wholesale, even for wildly anticipated blockbusters, though the payola will only get you so far. Rockstar Games’ is in an enviable position, with each of their releases eclipsing the last, mixing solid, proven gameplay with a vast open-world that sharply quips on modern first-world culture. It’s a formula that’s only possible with a massive sense of scale, and few, if any other games will ever be in the same league of Grand Theft Auto V.
For those who may have been disappointed with GTA4’s scaled-back sense of security, fear not; Rockstar’s latest entry not only returns the franchise to its former insanity but crafts an interactive world that’s almost alive with activity yet devoid of the trappings of normalcy and routine (and consequence).
Heroes are nonexistent in the fictional state of San Andreas and even less so in the city of Los Santos; here you’ll find characters whose problems range from mid-life crisis, borderline psychosis, and jaded aspirations. Among them include Michael De Santa, a career criminal unsatisfied in his luxurious estate, reminiscing about his glory days with a glass of scotch in hand while the relationship with his seriously dysfunctional family deteriorates. There’s Franklin Clinton, a young but intelligent street hustler just scraping by with his job repossessing overpriced cars in the vain hopes of trying to escape an unfulfilling ghetto lifestyle. The third and most dynamic of the trio is Trevor Phillips, a true psychopath whose resume includes weapons smuggling, drug use, and general lawlessness; he knows what he is and does whatever he wants, even if teddy bears are included.
It starts out complicated and only mounts up from there as far corrupt officials and criminal warlords are concerned.When the trio isn’t at odds with outside influences, they’re plotting major heists culminating up to the legendary Big Score. These three desperate and unapologetic personalities clash and gradually intertwine, forming a unique partnership that’s about to set the dirty streets of Los Santos on fire. As an interactive commentary nothing is off the table here: a false sense financial security in a post-recession crisis America mesh with self-entitled attitudes of the Millennial generation. That it takes place within a caricatured version of Southern California makes for perfect social cannon fodder.
Compared to the exploits of GTA4’s Niko Bellic, whose story felt serious and somewhat tragic, GTA V moves the sandbox genre in a different direction by allowing players to jump between the three playable characters at nearly any time. Realistically, an active structure with three protagonists that doesn’t halt the flow shouldn’t work, but the approach is remarkably seamless as you experience their separate lives. Because of this change the core campaign and gameplay is dramatically expanded unlike any GTA before it, alternating at a moment’s notice and providing a much needed break in monotony and a bigger incentive to explore everything that the vicinity of Los Santo has to offer – triathlons, shooting ranges, skydiving, and armored truck robberies to name but a few of the attractions.
It’s always interesting to get a brief glimpse of Michael contemplating life while looking over the ocean pier, or finding Trevor awakening from a hangover with bodies of dispatched mercenaries littered across a slum alley, but the improved carryover mechanics are just as important. Apparently Rockstar was listening to the various complaints people had with IV and went to work. Vehicles (paramount to the entire game) no longer feel like a damned chore to handle, with drastically improved driving physics that feel real but still exaggerated just enough for some daredevil antics. Working your way through shootouts is complimented with an improved cover and auto-aiming system that’s more intuitive and less of a middling afterthought.
And we’re finally blessed with a forgiving and intelligent checkpoint system, which heavily reduces the annoying and tedious task of restarting missions from scratch; a godsend that I and many other gamers have prayed for all these years.
All of these fundamentals culminate during the heist missions where transitioning between Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, engaging in the inevitable gunfights, and making your getaway in cars or aircraft feels natural all the way to the big payoffs – whether your cleaning out a jewelry boutique, plotting assassinations, or sneaking into a government test lab.
Los Santos is brimming with life that can only be described as reactionary. No matter where you are or what you do, something is bound to happen with comedic and biting satire. Honestly, many of the quips do hit close to home as vanity, hypocrisy, and desire of excess are as hilarious as they are genuine, right down to the absurdity of excoriating rival smartphone makers and their zealots. Rockstar has typically handled contemporary mockery well and GTA V is perhaps their best take on western culture yet.
Speaking of smartphones, a noteworthy addition is the downloadable iFruit app for Android and iOS devices, a supplemental yet useful toy that integrates well into the virtual chaos. Here you can upgrade and trick out your owned vehicles, look at Lifeinvader updates, go over your gaming stats via the Rockstar Social Club, or train your Rottweiler Chop to be a more obedient companion. To be honest, the iFruit app is more of an afterthought that only the more dedicated gamers will find useful if they’re looking to truly squeeze every last drop this game has to offer.
It’s worth noting that our extended review was done with the PlayStation 3 version of the GTA V and comes a mandatory installation of cache data for faster and seamless in-game loading between events. A similar experience is required for the Xbox 360 version as well that includes an install disc and the actual game disc itself. Aside from the option of choosing an HDD or external USB drive, there have been some controversial performance issues exclusive to the 360 version, including in-game slowdown, missing graphics, and occasional freezing have been reported. Worst of all most legacy models (notably pre-Jasper motherboard consoles) may crash or not be able to boot at all. Your result may vary depending how you choose to install the game, but if you’re able opt for the PlayStation 3 version.
Grand Theft Auto V knows exactly what it wants to be and makes no apologies about it. Neraly every issue fans had with GTA4 have been rectified here, the result being a return-to-form and a huge evolution of the sandbox genre itself. With three interlocking narratives spanning one of the largest open-world environments ever you’ll spend plenty of time living the life in Los Santos, and that’s just playing through the massive campaign. Outstanding visuals, a killer soundtrack, and tons of activities make this the most complete GTA yet. There’s a fortune to make or break in San Andreas – how you’ll get there is up to you.