Developer: Rockstar North / Publisher: Rockstar North / Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 / Release Date: September 17, 2013 / ESRB: Rating Pending
It’s easy to quickly lay out the bullet points establishing why Grand Theft Auto V might reaffirm—if it was even forgotten—its status as the defining, pre-eminent videogame franchise in the world. Even amid once-every-ten-year console releases this five-year-in-the-making game release will assuredly draw as much coverage across the globe as those sexy new platforms. I can say that because I’ve seen it in action, and it took just 25 minutes of gameplay and a handful of questions—plus having reviewed this franchise since GTA 2—to realize that while the surface details might sound familiar, the GTA V game world is so full of opportunity for adventure there’s a good chance you may never leave.
But those bullet points to set the stage:
- Three main characters to play, not one
- 3.5 times the size of Red Dead Redemption’s land mass, and five times the size if you include the underwater areas.
- Over ten different environment types.
- More vehicles than ever before.
- More radio stations than ever before.
- “The ultimate open world game,” according to spokesman, Simon Ramsey.
Starting with the three characters Michael, Trevor, and Franklin, each has their own significant backstory, along with skill specialties. Michael and Trevor have what’s described as a “long history” between them by the time the game opens. A chance encounter introduces Franklin to Michael. Individually, in pairs, or all together these guys will perform big-time heists throughout the course of the game that form the backbone of the narrative, rather than a single character just building up to a monster conclusion.
Each character brings, along with a unique personality, a special skill:
- Michael is the retired professional bank robber with his Vinewood mansion, watching his classic movies, bored out of his freakin’ mind. He’s the brains, planning the operations in a broad sense, but letting you, as the player, often decide exactly how that plays out—like what car do you steal and hide as the getaway, and where. Due to his skill with weapons, he can activate an edge in combat by slowing-down time during shootouts.
- Trevor, who we were introduced to in our demo lying on a beach wearing his tighty-whitey’s and socks, surrounded by dead bodies, is your dangerous whack-job. As a pilot, he has access to flying vehicles earlier in the game than the other characters. And as a clear crazy, he can fly into a rage in melee where he dishes more damage, and takes less damage himself from attacks. There is no question it’s going to be a riot—literally—to get in the mind of this guy, as clearly evidenced in some of his sparkling dialogue.
- Franklin is an adrenaline junkie who we met as our demo opened hanging from a helicopter, surveying the city of Los Santos and its surrounding Blaine County. Then he leaped out, pulling the chord to reveal a rainbow parachute (a hint, perhaps?), and proceeded to gently float down, taking in the views of wildlife on the mountains, jets departing the airport in the distance, before landing on a path alongside a fat guy and his buddy casually fishing in a smooth-running stream. He’s also the wheelman of the group, with the ability to slow-down time during chases to dodge nimbly through traffic.
The city of Los Santos, obviously, is Rockstar’s pointed satire of modern Los Angeles. Michael cruised Hollywood, snapped pictures on his smartphone of characters hustling outside GTA’s version of Grauman’s Chinese Theater (which he could then upload instantly to the Rockstar Social Club). He heard the laments of the locals—“people in this town are fucking lame,” wailed one woman—before hearing the appeals for help from a young celebrity, Lacey Jones, who was being hounded by the paparazzi. Aiding a young damsel in distress, he jumps in a car and speeds through the streets, avoiding the aggressive paps and getting her to the safety of her Hollywood Hills home. That clearly won’t be the last we see of that character.
But maybe Michael was more interested in jumping on a tour bus that would traipse past the homes of stars, where he could hear sleazy celebrity stories and catch up on the pop culture of the TV shows dominating the airwaves. Or he could have chatted with the washed-up actress that could have led to an opportunity to add excitement to his humdrum life of wealth and boredom.
As GTA games have proven in the past, the opportunities are out there, you just have to go looking. After Trevor awoke on the beach, he jumped in a boat and sped past jet-skiers, finally stopping to jump in for a swim (some boats are equipped with scuba gear) and some exploration of a massive underwater area. There, he swam through wrecks, encountered other passive scuba divers, and then some sharks, which prompted a quick ascent to the surface. With a land-mass 3.5 times the size of Red Dead Redemption’s, and an underwater element raising that to about five times the size, this is clearly a massive world to explore. And, of course, you can do it how you want, since all the world is open at the start of the game. You can explore the gangland of south Los Santos, visit the crazies living way off in the desert, hang with the cool kids on the beaches, whatever you want, and you can do it with any character. You can jump between the three at any time you’re not on a mission; jump from a yoga class to the middle of an arms deal to the garage to custom fit many different pieces of your vehicle of choice.
But with the mission structure, we’re told that you’re never far from planning one of the major heist moments. Each of the three stars are apparently looking to succeed, and whether that means alleviating boredom or earning cash, they can work collectively. In the mission we saw [from Michael trailer, garbage truck ramming security van] the planning elements involved stealing a garbage truck and stashing it, stealing a getaway car and stashing it, then executing the hit, and taking out a whole army of cops who turned up. That’s when it turned into GTA action, but with the twist of switching between the guys, one armed with access to a sniper rifle, one with the machine gun, one with the RPG to take out the helicopter. It was loud, it was violent, and it looked fun as hell.
And it’s all in pursuit of the ultimate motivator: money. We were told that money plays a more significant role in GTA V than in the past, where if you want a chopper you’ll need to buy a helipad for your digs. You can buy businesses like cab companies that provide free rides around the city, and provide a little supplemental income. Then there are the customizations to vehicles and weapons—described as the biggest collection in any GTA game—all of which can be tweaked.
Naturally, there were some questions unanswered: we saw the game played on the PS3—and, frankly, looking beautiful—and it’s confirmed for Xbox 360, but no discussion of next-gen, and no PC. As for multiplayer, we’re told it will be a “new approach” but we’ll have to wait for more details.
In the meantime, slicing and dicing the trailers released so far indicate a few core elements: first, this is still a Grand Theft Auto game, one of exploration, finding cool, fun stuff to do, chuckling at the barbs pointed at modern social media, changing radio channels for your favorite tunes, and racing through the streets, fighting anyone who crosses your path, and aiming for glory. It also does look visually amazing, from the facial animations to the textures on buildings and everything in between. And with the sheer scale of the world to be explored it’s clear that between the three characters there are myriad experience to glean since Michael’s reactions or opportunities in a situation will likely vary from Franklin’s and Trevor’s, meaning multiple reasons to visit familiar places.
Yep, I’ve been covering Grand Theft Auto for a lot of years, and there is little doubt that this one is bigger, badder, more explosive than ever before. But you figured that already, right?