Developer: Rockstar North | Publisher: Rockstar | Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 | Played On: Xbox 360 | Price: $59.99 | ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol]
I drove past the building, getting my bearings. There it was; good, I was in the right location. I park and enter quietly through the front lobby. I follow the signs, past some people pointing the way and enter a conference room, and there, sat at the conference table was Hideo Kojima. I kid you not. Not a look-alike, it was him. There was idle chit-chat, sake-drinking from wooden cups, and reminiscing.
Later, I grabbed a cab and headed up the coast to a nearby hotel. I found the bar and took a seat, waiting for my contact to arrive. Shifty characters dotted this swanky lobby hangout. Eventually, my contacts approach. I look up in acknowledgment. We greet, and, slowly, they pull from their jacket…my review copy of Grand Theft Auto V.
That was quite a day. And now the journey begins in earnest.
As of right now I’ve been playing GTA V for a week, and I don’t want to stop. I’ve played a lot of games this year and this is the one that I don’t want to end.
I’m heading into the final mission, and I’m perplexed, full of mixed emotions. I mean, the end itself—I didn’t want to risk spoiling it—could be a Mass Effect 3-like disappointment, but frankly it wouldn’t matter; it wouldn’t change my feelings on all I’ve seen and done.
I mean, the game is BIG in a lot of ways, starting with the 7.5GB install disc. The world is as huge as you’ve seen in the trailers and screenshots but it also just feels dense. So much to see and do, and virtually all of it is not only fun, but it’s memorable, especially when you to meet the three playable characters in the game.
Despite the potential for the three characters to follow familiar stereotypes—a gangsta, a high-class criminal, a total fucking psycho—each one evolves into something quite different from what I expected as their stories unfold. It goes beyond their individual special abilities, which really add a ton of variety to their usefulness in various missions and heists, and which I became increasingly reliant upon as the chases turned more intense and the firefights more deadly.
You can switch between characters at any time when you’re not on a mission, and though the load times can be inconsistent and sometimes feel long, it’s always nice to find a random moment like Trevor waking up drunkenly on a beach in his underwear among a small group of dead bodies. The in-mission switching is much faster and works really well plus it adds a bit of strategy during certain scenarios. I actually forgot I could switch at times, and thinking back a different character could have given me a better rating. For me, that’s kind of important—and adds a new layer of replayability—since you earn a bronze, silver, or gold rating for your performance. For completionists that just makes for a lot more to do and redo in different ways until you get all those shiny gold medals.
What helps make exploring so continually interesting aside from the mountains to climb, lakes to dive, wilderness to wander through, is how GTA V knows it’s a GTA game, dotted with references fans of the series will recognize like mentions and appearances from past characters. This for me was some of the best written and spoken dialogue of any GTA game before, and more than one time I found myself laughing out loud at what was happening on screen.
Aside from the main heists that form the backbone of the storyline, and like Red Dead Redemption, random missions can interrupt what you’re doing, but invariably lead to another memorable moment. Like the time as Michael I argued with his wife. I’d left him with some stubble, so decided “screw her, I’m going to clean myself up, get a new suit, and show her that I’m still man enough to pick up a hooker or two.” So suddenly the hairdressers are assaulted by armed robbers. I’m on my knees as they rob the place. What to do? I decide to chase them outside, mow them down in the street, and take the money. I return it to the friendly hairdresser who’s so thankful I now have a 20% discount there every time I go back.
It’s great that the world is open from the start, since you’ll be piloting planes, riding jet skis, and stealing cars virtually from the get go. If you do want to take a break, there’s the golf course and tennis courts, but to be honest I was so focused on finishing the missions I didn’t stop to smell those roses for too long. But of course that’s still waiting for me when I’m all done there.
I found that performing heists was the main source of my income, and I didn’t need to speculate on the stock market or do too many optional assassination or armored car robberies to have enough cash to buy all the weapons, ammo, armor, and upgrades that I needed to finish the main campaign. How much money you get on a job can depend on the quality of crew you hire. If you want to get an expert shooter, he will definitely demand a bigger cut of the take. It will help you succeed, but also maybe mean you can’t get that gold reward for taking a harder route. That said, each of the three character’s stats do increase over the game depending how much you use them, though to be honest it was tough to tell exactly how much better I got at shooting after taking Michael to the gun range for some practice, for example.
Like the game’s logo suggests, money does play a big role in the game if you want to get the coolest of the toys or properties. One property for example is listed at $150 million and by the end, my richest character had amassed barely a portion of that. Of course, speculating on the BAWSAQ could be a way to get me there, but that, like several other Rockstar Social Club integrations weren’t available before launch.
But let’s talk more about the world of GTA V. It just feels so vast and often beautiful. Driving towards the sunset over what would be Venice Beach is simply relaxing. The draw distance in the world is amazing given it’s running on seven-year old hardware. A few texture pop-ins certainly didn’t detract from the unique look of the characters and their animations.
It’s really difficult to focus the review because there is so much to talk about, and it’s all stuff that really should be experienced first-hand, though it’s fair to say some of the surprises are definitely…surprising. There might be a few moments where you really stop to question what the hell am I doing? That thought usually fades when you remember: this is GTA and this is what Rockstar does best.
And the game is just filled with memorable moments throughout the 30 or so hours it took me to complete the main story. Things like going in on heist with a juggernaut suit because based on your previous scouting, you knew the cops would be coming hard and fast…and then waddling outside to meet them armed with chain guns to unleash hell. Or tipping the stripper to get her attention. Or jumping in the water to just to see what’s there. Or browsing the websites on your smartphone—an iFruit or Drone—that keeps texts and messages about your missions but also lets you check on your stocks or take selfies. Or…as you can see, the list goes on.
But even now, after actually finishing the final mission in the middle of this review, I can’t wait to go back and explore the world, spend more time with the characters I may have ignored in the first playthrough and try to get more out of their story. I’ve got some planes to buy, I may hit a few balls at the golf club, and then a perhaps knock over a few more armored trucks.
If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. It was hard to imagine that a Grand Theft Auto world could be any more alive and enticing, but this one is, the good, the bad, and the downright insane. Getting through the main story in a timely manner was a challenge in itself, but in that time I found that GTA V was possibly the most well-paced open world game I have ever played. I never felt like I didn’t have something to do and as of right now, I’m going right back in to do it all over again. I’ve been with GTA since the beginning way back in ‘97, and it feels like GTA V is the culmination of everything we love about the series: It’s big, it’s pretty, and most importantly it’s just nonstop fun.
+ Always something to do
+ Large, open, and detailed
+ Simpy put: It’s a lot of fun
10 / 10