October 13, 2013 by Paul Curtin
If there’s one thing Rockstar knows, it’s how to make stunning open world games. Rockstar revolutionized the industry twelve years ago with Grand Theft Auto III, and since then, the developers have managed to take the series even further beyond what anyone ever imagined was possible and have even been able to create a couple other fantastic new open world IPs along the way. But with the last GTA being a bit too serious, and other open world games stepping their game up, Rockstar needed to create their best open world game yet to keep fans and critics happy… and they have.
With the more serious tone of GTAIV, its far more limiting Liberty City, and way too many annoying phone calls from contacts wanting you to join them on dull missions involving bowling and darts, it was easy for other developers to swoop in with games like Saints Row and Sleeping Dogs to out-GTA Grand Theft Auto. And with Rockstar’s last open world title, L.A. Noire, also falling victim to this more serious style of gameplay, Rockstar has thankfully re-evaluated what made their biggest franchise so successful and taken GTA back to its roots where it belongs, once again making it exciting to play.
Unlike previous games in the series, in GTAV players can assume the role of three different lead protagonists and switch between each one of the three at almost any time in the game. It’s one of the biggest new ideas from Rockstar, and it’s a gamble that has paid off by allowing there to never be a dull moment. The character swapping gives players the freedom to switch in the middle of chaotic firefights or at any time when out of missions while the main characters are going about their normal daily routines. Everyone will have their own favorite to play as with each character having his own set of unique skills, aspirations, brand of mobile phone, and of course, his own problems.
The story starts with Franklin, a former gangster from the street turned repo man for a shady luxury car dealership. With his background in stealing cars, Franklin’s unique skill allows him to slow down time while driving, making precise maneuvers far easier to perform and leaving behind a trail of majestic neon taillights as he weaves in and out of traffic. Out of the three, he probably has the least problems and the most sanity, due in part to the fact that he’s been in the crime business the shortest amount of time. But Franklin aspires to be more than just a petty thug, and during a routine repo job, he crosses paths with Michael.
A retired bank robber who now resides in Vinewood (Los Santos’ Beverly Hills) under witness protection, Michael seems like the star in the game and sums up the current state of the American dream. His wife spends all his money and cheats on him with the personal trainers he pays for. His daughter is willing to do whatever it takes to become famous by appearing on a reality TV show similar to “American Idol” called “Fame or Shame.” And his son spends the majority of his time getting high in his room while playing video games and trash talking other players in a parody of games like “Call of Duty” called “Righteous Slaughter” where players are rewarded by unlocking a killstreak with a “Shit Stick 3000” to ultimately humiliate their enemies. Everyone in Michael’s life hates him, and he’s the perfect example of why money doesn’t buy happiness.
Then there’s Trevor, Rockstar’s wild card who can best be described as a mash-up of Johnny Knoxville and Jack Nicholson at his craziest. A true psychopath who used to be partners with Michael, you never know what you’re going to get when switching to Trevor – sometimes he’ll be passed out in his underwear surrounded by bodies, and other times he’ll be in the middle of a high speed chase with the police. Trevor doesn’t play by the rules… By doing what he wants, when he wants, he’s the perfect crazy character to have fun with in the GTA universe. He instantly switches back and forth between cold blooded killer and crying mess with serious mommy and daddy issues.
Yet, even with how despicable each of the three killers can be, you still feel an emotional connection between all of them and will find yourself rooting for them the entire time. This can be accredited to Rockstar’s solid writing, all three characters’ flawless voice acting, and improvements made to character animations since the previous installment of the series. Two of the multiple endings feel a bit out of place and you might not remember GTAV’s story years from now, but you’ll certainly remember the characters.
Unfortunately, while GTAV is technically better in every single way than GTAIV, certain aspects of the game still feel dated, and Rockstar hasn’t brought over everything they’ve done in previous games as many had hoped. The controls have been drastically improved, especially when driving, but the realistic facial animations from L.A. Noire aren’t present, and the fluid gunplay and shooting animations from Max Payne were also far more impressive than what has been done in GTAV. Obviously, with a game so massive, certain sacrifices had to be made, but it’s a letdown that these are things Rockstar couldn’t incorporate better.
As always, Rockstar’s open world is the true star, and it’s bigger and better than anything they’ve ever done before. Los Santos isn’t an exact replica of Los Angeles, so L.A. locals might be a little upset to find how different it is than the real thing, but the compressed version that’s full of local landmarks is enough to make anyone who has ever visited the City of Angels appreciate the fine level of detail that’s been put into every single square inch. Aside from the occasional texture pop-ins, Los Santos is simply stunning.
Unlike the more confined Liberty City in the last GTA, which was inspired by New York, Los Santos is exactly what you would want in an open world game with a fully alive city surrounded by a desert countryside, massive mountains, beaches and oceans– all of which are available to players to be explored right from the start of the game. Almost no area of the game is off limits, and nothing looks the same — this makes exploring the open world even more tempting – especially with all the hidden secrets that Rockstar has planted in the game like aliens, Bigfoot, murder mysteries, and more…
Who knows what else is out there… but players will likely find it in the coming months after further investigating the world. And it’s when exploring the city and not taking part in missions that players can truly experience all that Los Santos has to offer and witness how alive and realistic everything feels. GTAV is at its best when the player introduces a bit of chaos, stands back, and watches how the world reacts. Even after beating the game, I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of all the possible activities out there, such as racing on land and on sea, tennis, golfing, hiking, cycling, deep sea diving, skydiving, shooting ranges, playing the stock market, hunting, and more. There’s always something to be done and Rockstar has really thought of everything — you can even take selfies of yourself to share your best moments with friends and the rest of the GTA community.
Like the open world environment — no person, product, or ideology is off limits as Rockstar ingeniously mocks modern America. The GTA franchise may be about sex, drugs, and violence on the surface, but Rockstar’s sharp satirical commentary pokes fun at America’s love for all three. Los Santos is a city filled with morally ambiguous sociopaths out for their own personal gain no matter what the cost. By watching television, listening to the radio, going on the Internet, or just talking to people on the street, everything and everyone feel connected in some way, and that makes Los Santos feel just as alive as the real Los Angeles.
With such a massive world and so much going on, Rockstar has been able to do what few other open world games have ever been able to successfully accomplish by almost seamlessly merging open world gameplay with linear missions. This is where the game is at its best and worst. Almost every mission is unique in its own way, and you never know what to expect next. The newly introduced Heist missions take ordinary missions to the next level by allowing players to plan out more complex scores and choose between two different ways to take on a Heist as well as picking which crew members they want to bring along – each of whom has an effect on how successful the mission will be and how much money can be stolen.
Heists sound amazing, and they are; however, the game could have used a few more, and all of the missions can be criticized for how linear they are. While you get to pick which way you want to take on a Heist from two differing options, going off the specified path during any mission is an automatic fail and restart of the mission’s last checkpoint. Thankfully, Rockstar has fixed their dreaded checkpoint system from previous games, but it’s still a bit disappointing that a game with so much freedom takes almost all of it away when telling the narrative portion.
Once getting through the massive 50+ hour campaign, Grand Theft Auto Online allows players to complete even more missions with up to 16 players all in Los Santos at once. Again, this is where the game is at its best and worst. GTA Online is a brilliant concept that when working as intended and playing with friends will create moments of hilarity that easily rival the singleplayer campaign. However, without friends, getting even a couple players in a 16 player world to work together is a challenge in itself, and most of the time devolves into everyone just trying to kill one another – which is still a whole hell of a lot of fun, but after a while can get frustrating.
GTA Online is Rockstar’s most ambitious idea to date and might have needed some more time in development before being released to the public because in its current state it still feels like the end of a beta test. The character creator has some interesting ideas like picking previous lead characters from Rockstar franchises as parents, such as John Marston or Niko Bellic, but it doesn’t really add much besides making character customization even more limiting. Plus, it doesn’t help that a lot of the text can be hard to read when playing on larger screens that are farther away. What’s worse are the amount of bugs and issues that are plaguing the online experience. Even after a two-week delay, the launch of GTAO has been very rocky with people complaining about their characters and money being deleted, or even worse, just not being able to play at all.
Despite all of its minor problems in both single and multiplayer, Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most impressive games of all time. In a game so grand, it’s easy to nitpick every little thing, but it’s unfair when you take a minute to think about the fact that Rockstar has created a fully living and breathing ecosystem for gamers to jump in and enjoy. Grand Theft Auto Online is likely to be fixed for the most part soon, and with Rockstar already announcing that Heists will soon be available for players to take part in along with player created content, the game is only going to get better.
Hopefully a PC version will also be released so that the game can surpass its current console limitations or we’ll at least see GTAO wind up on PS4 and Xbox One. Rockstar has managed to push the current-gen to its limitations, and it doesn’t seem possible for open world games to get much better than this without more powerful hardware. Grand Theft Auto V has successfully revitalized the open world genre it created and is the most impressive game yet from Rockstar. Grand Theft Auto V gets 5 out of 5 stars (Masterpiece).
- The most impressive open world game to date
- Almost everything is an improvement over GTAIV
- Three diverse lead protagonists add a new dynamic to the storytelling
- Voice acting of all characters is near-flawless
- Heists and missions are each unique and never repetitive
- An insane level of detail with a massive world begging to be explored
- GTA Online is GTA with 16 other players
- Certain areas of the game can look a bit rough and texture pop-ins are frequent
- Some innovations made in other Rockstar games haven’t been brought over
- Tons of minor glitches that hurt the immersion
- Missions are very controlling and there aren’t enough Heists
- Grand Theft Auto Online’s very rocky launch — even after a two-week delay