What is there that can be said about GTA V that has not already been said? In the time since its launch, the online community of nearly the entire Internet has been inundated with GTA related media of all kind, of videos exposing secrets, of screenshots of funny events, of stories and anecdotes of all kinds. Much like Skyrim two years ago, GTA sits in that wonderful sweet-spot that most developers can only dream of, where their game is bought and beloved by both hardcore gamers as well as the many players who have little to no interest in gaming as a full time hobby, and mostly own a console for sports titles with friends. And yet, that second group all went out and bought GTA on launch day. At just one store in one mall in South Africa alone, the midnight launch, yes, a midnight launch; had over 150 people waiting for its release. It took over a billion dollars in just three days. So, I’m sure that it cannot be argued that when GTA hits, it hits pretty damn hard. But is there a game behind it as amazing as all this hype would seem to indicate?
GTA V is the successor to 2008’s GTA IV, which might seem obvious. But it highlights the point that main title games in this series are few and far between, with many years of work going into creating the next title. While GTA IV was applauded for its technical beauty in being the first GTA release in this generation of consoles, it left players somewhat bewildered with its styling. GTA games had always had their fair share of moments that left you feeling astounded at the acts of criminality you pulled off, but there was also always a feeling of satire and humor pervading the world, the atmosphere was comical but not silly. GTA IV suffered from trying to make its plot too dark and morose to go along with its updated graphics; but when it comes to GTA V, the series has returned to its roots, and we are left with a deeply biting, satirical world, with hundreds of laugh out loud moments, combined with humorous little secrets aplenty, and yet, a crime caper plot as deep as many movies is there as well, so aside from this tone, the player also has plenty of moments to feel completely badass with what they’re doing.
For the first time, GTA has three protagonists, Michael, Trevor, and Franklin, who are introduced to the plot one by one and eventually link up together. Michael is the bank robber who got out while he could; and now suffers from the same middle-life crisis and loss of purpose facing many men of his age. Franklin is the up and comer, the typical GTA hero on the rise. Trevor represents the chaotic element of GTA, the person who would ignore everything to just roam around causing mayhem in previous titles. During free roam gameplay, characters can be switched on the fly, and you as a player cut into the life of the character you are assuming control of rather humorously. Michael might be sitting watching TV with his family; Trevor might be involved in a police chase, and so on and so forth. During missions, this switching control is more limited, but it means that missions can be executed with all three characters parts controllable, with the player switching vantage points between his characters for perfect control of a situation. These characters in game have wonderful dialogue between each other, and interact in incredibly varied ways depending on the story situation in game. You might even come across them while roaming around the free world randomly.
GTA V loves showing you its world right from the outset; the first few missions all seems like excuses to show off some of the incredibly beautiful city that has been created for the player to experience. The main set piece is the city of Los Santos, a parody in full of Los Angeles, containing its own beach front, South Central, and Hollywood areas. Outside of the city, there is a vast wilderness, peppered with small settlements and towns, including a desert area and a forested mountain area. As well as these, the underwater world of the coast is detailed and filled with collectables of many types. One point that cannot be denied is how beautiful the world of GTA V is, and how full of detail it is, from the movement of wind and sun on water, to the array of wildlife and random civilians in the open world. When not actively engaged in criminal behavior, there are many sports that can be enjoyed to relax, with everything from golf, triathlons and darts to races, skydiving and yoga, which allow you to take the world easier and slower.
The meat of gameplay however is driving and combat. Travel is either by car, boat, helicopter or plane, with all handling fairly well considering a blend of realistic and gameplay-friendly was intended. Combat has been overhauled very favorably in my opinion, with weapons being placed into a scrollable wheel after obtaining, and with these weapons being upgradable and not lose-able every death like before. A cover system is expanded upon here, and firefights feel very quick and believable and tense and exciting, which is the combination that would be enjoyed. Several aspects of the game including combat are aided by character stats, which are increased in various areas as they are used more and more. Within the story missions, a new feature is present in the form of heists, which are missions where you can choose additional team members to come with you, and you choose your approach for the plan. This leads to a greater sense of involvement for big missions, with the only problem being that there are just far too few of these missions throughout the game to really get sunk into. Outside of main story missions, each character has encounters with what are dubbed “Strangers and Freaks” who sometimes involve one mission, or sometimes a whole storyline revolves around them as the game goes on. Even outside of these, there are many additional unmarked events around the map, like the player might come across a gang fight in its last stages, and be able to pick off the survivors and claim the loot; or they might find a pedestrian needing a lift with a story that is more than what it seems. These random little events add a lot to make the world feel very alive.
Along with the setting, GTA V goes very far to create a wonderfully critical world of American celebrity life and American life in general today in 2013. From billboards to radio ads, everything has had a lot of effort put into it to make it seem like a reflection of our own society. One of the best ways in which this is seen is with the in-game Internet, which hosts a staggering amount of fictional websites. Each character, not only main ones, has a “LifeInvader” page, a form of Facebook, as well as “Bleeter” a version of Twitter; and events on all of them are updated as the game goes on, with interactions between characters based on your actions. It also hosts a fully functional stock market, which can be invested in and predicted or manipulated to gain more wealth, with a staggering array of options and detail put into it. As for entertainment while on the move, GTA V has its usual selection of radio stations of different genres, with options carefully chosen, and there are even full fictional TV shows and movies that the player can watch in game.
GTA is ultimately a game with too many features to report on them all, and it is up to you to go out and enjoy what you can find as you explore, whether it’s the WOW moment of flying over the city at night for the first time, or your very first police chase. It’s a game with massive longevity, and the upcoming GTA Online released for free will even expand on that lifespan. I say upcoming, because as of time of writing, the servers are too full for me to log in, which is somewhat annoying, but hopefully I will be able to do a full follow-up review of that in time. Is GTA a perfect game? I personally don’t think a perfect game exists or will ever exist. But in terms of what it set out to do, and for what it gives to the player, it is as perfect as anyone wanting a game like this could hope for. It is a labor of love, with details put into a million things a person would never see, with action and fun available in hundreds of different ways. I’m almost sorry I can’t shout at it more to make myself a bit different to the other reviews out there, but sadly, yes, GTA V is probably as good as the hype makes it out to be, which is a pretty good achievement in my books. It will take some doing to beat it for Game of the Year.