+ satirical story
+ so.much.to.do (in a good way)
+ quality cut scenes
+ love to hate characters
+ driving is a blast
+ radio stations are hilarious
+ fun missions
+ beautiful scenery
+ first person mode is fun
- helicopter controls
I am reviewing this game as the game itself. I didn’t play a lot of GTA 5 on PS3/Xbox 360, so I picked it up for Xbox One. I won’t be talking about the differences between the two versions due to my lack of knowledge on the original games.
Let’s get to it!
Grand Theft Auto 5’s story is one that talks a lot, but in the same breath, says a lot. Games, same as people, have a hard time straddling the line between these two ideas. GTA5 is for all intents and purposes, a satirical look at modern day America. Yes, it’s an exaggeration down to literally everyone having a dark side to the blatantly obvious parody radio commercials. During the course of the 50+ hour story, you work with movie producers, actors, radio personalities, social media gurus a la Mark Zuckerburg, the FBI, billionaires, gang bangers, loan sharks and even whipped boyfriends. There is such a vast cast of characters that it could fill ten seasons of a tv show. What’s so awesome about that though is every single one of these characters are realized, deep and honestly interesting. I haven’t seen a game treat so many characters so well.
Big and long stories are Rockstar’s M.O but they haven’t stuck as much as GTA5. One reason for this is the story model that it follows. It’s non-linear and follows not one character, but three. Just when you get used to the high life that Michael Da Santa lives, you’re thrown into the ghetto with Franklin, and then tossed into the boonies with the strange life that Trevor captains. Eventually, all three characters meet up, and without spoilers, the reasons for three different people working together makes total sense, and I bought into it instantly.
The completely bare bones story of GTA5 follows these three characters as they take on different heists around the city, each getting bigger and more extreme than the last. I’ll talk more about these heists later, but as a story element, these heists offer major milestones in the story that are exciting to start, play and complete. It isn’t that the crew is hitting different banks for cash, there are real reasons for doing each one, and they all transcend monetary purposes…. though hitting a big score is always part of the reasons.
My favorite moments in the entire game were the cut scenes between the characters. Each of the scenes were directed in a way where it felt like a super long crime movie with big name actors. The little moments of heart that each of the character’s show are endearing, the over the top moments explode off the screen like a summer blockbuster, and line after line after line of hilarious dialogue play out like the darkest comedy out there.
The game ends in a way where I was satisfied and happy. It made me a little sad to see the credits roll, but with a game like GTA5, the main story is one piece of fabric in a massive quilt and there are many other little stories I can find myself mixed up in in Los Santos.
Gameplay elements were always hit and miss with me in previous titles in the Grand Theft Auto mythos. Parts I loved, and parts that made me want to pull my hair out. A lot of time spent in any Grand Theft Auto game is driving and in the past, it drove me crazy. In GTA5, the driving is on point. It doesn’t feel like you’re driving on ice, and you can actually make some precision moves in a car that makes you feel all Paul Walker-esque, may he rest in piece.
You’ll drive your fair share of nice sports cars; but you’ll find yourself behind the wheel of all sorts of different types of vehicles such as submarines, planes, ATVs and even a tow-truck. They all feel like their real life counterparts and offer their own strengths and weaknesses. While a large eighteen wheeler is super slow, it’s also acts like a wrecking ball and crushes anything in it’s path. Everything is fun in their own way.
The only problem I had in this department were the controls of the helicopter. I tried and tried to get better at them, but I couldn’t. During my playthrough, working a chopper was hard and honestly made me a little sick. I’ve flown many-an-aircraft in video games; but none acted like this. A small but noticeable problem.
The shooting in GTA5 is smooth and fun. I have a personal love with auto-aiming in games, so I kept it on and the game still gave me a little bit of a challenge. The amount of weapons in the game are perfect in my eyes. There are a lot of options but not too much where I’m overwhelmed. When you get into a large fire fight, the cover system is crucial to survival and your crew can take about as much bullets are you can in real life. Maybe three. Depending on where you take a slug. It’s easy to pop in and out of cover to pick off people one by one and thinning a huge force against you. It feels like an action movie– which is awesome.
Heists are undoubtedly the biggest and best part of GTA5. Robbing some place with a crew of people was something I didn’t know I wanted to do. Each heist in the game is different from the previous one, and I never feel like I’m retreading old ground. You start each heist out by picking a path to take and the crew you want. After that you have to wait a little while the supplies are found and then you have to go get them. Rockstar could have taken the easy path and just given you the truck you need, the masks to wear or the weapons needed; but they let the player decide on all that. It never felt tedious either. I enjoyed setting up my heist and picking the weapons, cars and masks I wanted to use before we hit the score.
The are a slew of mini games to take part in such as tennis, yoga, car racing, etc. and each one of them works like their own game. It’s easy to say that GTA5 is every single genre put into one box, and done extremely well. When you’re doing the racing, you might as well be playing Need for Speed, if you’re playing tennis you might think it’s an EA game. Those comparisons may be a bit of stretch by I say it as an acknowledgment to the fine tuning that went into this game. Nothing feels shoehorned in. Everything looks and feels like it has it’s place; and it’s there to enjoy if you want.
Since I played the game on Xbox One, there was the added first person mode that was a lot of fun to play around with. The port of this mode is so well done you could play the entire game in it, and you would think that the game was designed to be in first person mode. Though driving is harder in first person mode– it’s also a lot more real. There is a small note I want to make about this mode. When you’re just killing time and going around on a killing spree like most players are apt to do inside a GTA game– first person mode makes it a little too real. At least for me. While I’ve been known to walk around hitting people with baseball bats in past GTA games; doing it in first person mode was a little graphic for me, and made me think differently about it. It’s trending some thin ice here on terms of morality. Then again, it is a GTA game; obscene violence is expected if not required.
GTA5 looks every bit as good as you want it to. Obviously there are graphical updates from the original game, which was already super pretty, but I think the game stands out in the character animations department. Yes. The vistas, city lights, cars, and explosions look awesome; but the game excels during cut scenes. These people look real when they speak. Even when yelling, which is something that’s hard it seems, they look great. The time that went into the characters facial animations during these scenes must have been so long but the work shows. I took special notice to the eyes that actual replicate real people and not soulless pixels.
I liked the difference in design with all the different parts of the city and county. Each neighborhood had a personality, look and feel. That’s how real cities are, and I bought into that. The map is also just as big as it is beautiful. I’ve barely explored the woods and dessert as I’m sure there are great things to see and do out there.
The game sounds great plain and simple. I’ve already said how Rockstar didn’t shoehorn anything into this game, and the sound design is right up with that statement. The voice acting is top notch and the performances are movie quality. The sound effects are on point as the guns sound powerful, cars roar (or groan when you beat your car up a lot), and airplanes fly by with deafening sound. It’s all good.
The music in the game is great as Rockstar samples a little bit of everything and puts it into a great catalog of radio stations to choose from when driving around. I personally loved the talk shows in the game, and was tempted to just park my car and listen to the hilarious dialogue that takes place. One cool element that I’ve seen in games a couple of times is the news reacting to what happens in the story. Been done before, but it’s still cool. Music during the missions is great. Nothing too special there, another than more Rockstar genius.
Honestly, I’ve never been much of a GTA fan. This game, however, has made me a fan. I don’t know how to top it at this point with an inevitable Grand Theft Auto 6; but I have faith that Rockstar is going to once again hit it out of the park. They know their audience, they know gamers, they know how to make games, they know that time coupled with hard work makes great games and they know that gamers everywhere trust them with their brilliance. This one bearded gamer is now a fan, and yes, a believer too.