Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
It’s remarkably easy to attach oneself to the so-called hype train that surrounds any major franchise release. More so if it’s a title that isn’t plagued by yearly updates, short development cycles, or minor updates between releases. It’s also very easy for that hype train to derail, when all the previews, trailers, interviews and hands-on impressions build your expectations up to a nearly impossible level. I think you'll find that's not the case with Grand Theft Auto V.
It’s not an entirely perfect experience, despite being a clear improvement over Grand Theft Auto IV in a number of areas. But it’s hard to deny that overall this is an incredibly impressive game, with a San Andreas that feels remarkably similar to the PS2 GTA entry bearing that name. There are times where you’ll swear this is a direct sequel, and quite frankly it could have been subtitled as such. But this certainly doesn’t feel like some sort of spin-off or cheap upgrade, offering up a map that puts the upgraded Liberty City of GTA IV to shame, along with plenty of content to fill that map so that there’s rarely a dull moment.
But the biggest addition, impacting just about every aspect of the game, comes from the three-way split for protagonists this time around. Opting to not focus on a single character and a host of freaks and weirdos, you’ll step into the shoes of Franklin, Michael, and Trevor. Each character comes from a unique point of view and setting, and each character offers up a lot compelling reasons to stay engaged with the plot from beginning to end. This is bolstered by the fantastic voice acting on display, something that’s also shown with the rest of the cast here. Even the animation work and direction are well done, actually making you want to sit through the numerous cut-scenes and non-interactive bits of dialogue peppered throughout the lengthy drama.
The standout cast member comes from the role filled by Trevor. While we’re certainly used to a bit of moral ambiguity when it comes to lead characters in Grand Theft Auto, I can’t think of a single one that pushes the concept of morality out the window quite like Trevor Philips. Long after folks are done with GTA V, they’ll still be talking about the disgusting depravity of Mr. Philips, while at the same time lamenting the fact that they’re not sitting at home playing through new adventures starring this mess of a man. He almost feels like a character written to be the antithesis of Niko from GTA IV, a character that was constantly at odds with the violent actions he engaged in. Trevor has no qualms about murder, torture, kidnapping or any other number of heinous acts. But despite being utterly disgusting, he is by far the most entertaining character the series has ever had.
Of course, there’s a lot of your typical GTA action to enjoy too. You’ll still be jacking cars from random pedestrians, be able to engage in non-discriminate shootouts with local law enforcement, and at times be forced to shake the police as your wanted level builds to a five-star rating. There’s a whole host of vehicles to choose from, ranging from exotic sports cars all the way down to a simple golf cart. Planes make a return here, along with helicopters, boats, and other oddities. The driving feels solid from a control perspective, it took very little time to get accustomed to behind the wheel action with GTA IV, but I’ll readily admit that cars have a tendency to slide a little too easy at times.
Flight can also be a bit touchy for my tastes, but flying various planes gave me little trouble. Helicopters, on the other hand, were a nightmare for me when it came to anything mission based. One of the bigger complaints I’d level at the game is the number of missions towards the tail end of the story that force you to fly around with some level of precision in a helicopter, which was never something I could do well. I always felt like I was missing some key piece of instruction, and even now after hours and hours with the game, I struggle with helicopter controls.
On the content side of things, there’s a ton of stuff in GTA V to keep you busy, long after the credits have rolled. Every character has story specific missions to engage in, but each of the three protagonists also have unique side events and missions as well. Trevor can pick up strangers and deliver them to a cult instead of their intended destination, Franklin will get stuck towing cars for a drug-addled acquaintance, and occasionally Michael will be forced to rescue or help an unappreciative member of his family. There’s a lot more to see and do than just these things, and while most of the content is optional, I’d say the majority is worth engaging in. If nothing else it prevents you from ever feeling burnt out, even after passing 20 or so hours with the game.
And then there’s the promise of what the online portion of the game will bring, which has yet to go live. While not factoring the online side of the game into our scoring here, a lot of what Rockstar has revealed so far looks pretty exciting, showing a bit more focus on the online experience than what GTA IV had going for it. It’s something we’ll dive into in the next couple of weeks once GTA Online unlocks for GTA V owners, so be sure to check back and read our thoughts on that as well.
All in all, Grand Theft Auto V is one of those majorly hyped titles that actually delivers. It’s not without some minor flaws, as I mentioned before I think the controls for helicopter flying are not nearly as intuitive as everything else. I also think that despite having the story split into three, there’s a bit more emphasis given to Trevor and Michael in the latter half of the game, which leaves Franklin a bit by the wayside. But these annoyances are pretty minor compared to everything else GTA V does well. This is one of the most impressive open world titles you’re likely to lay hands on over the next few years, and shows that Rockstar is still the undisputed champ at creating amazing, life-like worlds filled with incredible detail and a crazy amount of fun, self-made or otherwise.