The Grand Theft Auto series has never had much of an issue getting its players immersed in its world. In general, Rockstar Games has grown significantly, from the 3D realization of Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto III to the beautiful landscapes of Red Dead Redemption. In Grand Theft Auto V, we see their biggest world with the series’ return to San Andreas. With its litany of enhancements, solid writing, and hours upon hours of gameplay, could we be looking at the best installment of Grand Theft Auto?
What Is It?
Grand Theft Auto V focuses on Los Santos and Blaine Counties, the pseudo-Los Angeles and surrounding Southern California areas. It’s hard to really explain the specifics about Five’s plot without getting into clear spoiler territory, so I’ll keep it basic: your group of experienced criminals targets a series of escalating heists, from boosting cars to knocking off banks. You’ll control three characters: Michael, Franklin and Trevor.
Michael and Trevor are old friends who escaped from a botched heist in dramatically different and separate fashions, though both ended up relocating to San Andreas. Michael’s criminal activity sits relatively dormant until media coverage and a heist to which he couldn’t say no tips Trevor off to his whereabouts.
Franklin is a product of Los Santos’ ghetto, but is looking for higher ways out. He gets mixed up with Michael early on after a failed job. After earning Michael’s trust, he becomes a key part of the criminal trio in the role of some type of golden child/high-level apprentice.
The story occasionally goes over the top, but the mix of realism and insanity is a great blend that mixes perfectly into the GTA world. I’d argue that Five returns to the series’ ridiculous roots, where Grand Theft Auto IV seemed to branch off almost too much into a realistic, drab setting. That’s not to say that the story is perfect. Early on, it’s a bit muddled and the point is neither clear or complex, though it does keep interest. Franklin’s inclusion, while fitting, comes off as a bit of a stretch since it happens a little too easily. Overall, though, it’s an enjoyable setting.
Why Should I Care?
Back in 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV was a solid effort and I personally enjoyed playing through it. However, as touched upon, it took a very serious turn and created a decidedly grey atmosphere. Granted, it was still a GTA game and had its silly moments and Rockstar humor, but it seemed more business-oriented. What GTA V does is find that perfect balance of real and bizarre. There were plenty of times throughout the game that elicited a giddy reaction from the ensuing mayhem. Some moments and requirements were a bit droll and felt like busy work, but the results and the meat of the heists usually provided eye popping “wow” moments via eccentric violence and grandiose actions. It was just incredibly fun to play through.
Using three protagonists is a great move and is executed well. Character development could have suffered, but instead we end up with solid characters who have interesting backgrounds. Their relationships really highlight what makes them who they are. Michael’s outbursts and alcoholism are the result of a dysfunctional family and a useless psychiatrist. Franklin is stuck in the odd position of being “pulled up to the big leagues” of crime but still needing to stay true to his roots, and Trevor is just horribly psychotic and runs with a crew of rednecks. He is also easily the most fun character of the bunch.
There are a lot of welcome enhancements to game features as well. Your phone plays a bigger role in getting you in-touch with others via email and text, but my favorite feature was the quick save. It’s a much better experience than having to be in a safe house to save. The upgrade system reminded me of the one in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, except much more manageable. Each character has their own respective skill levels that will gradually upgrade the cleaner you play the game. Even if you don’t, it won’t stop you from completing any missions or put you at a major disadvantage — it finds a nice middle ground. Driving is noticeably better than before and so is flying, to an extent. Landing in general is still horrible, and most helicopters are impossible to control. The drag-down with cars is that they continue to feel like magnets at the most inopportune times.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
For starters, the game is huge. From a physical standpoint, it’s the biggest Grand Theft Auto (and Rockstar) map ever made and a beautiful recreation of Los Angeles and the rural parts of Southern California. In such an expansive playground, there are certainly a lot of activities to complete. The main story alone will have you completing 69 missions. Then you’ll dive deeper into Strangers and Freaks missions, which range from one-time activities to multi-part stories. Random Events and other collectible-based activities get you further involved. My playthrough completed the story and 77% of the overall game, translating to roughly 44 hours of game play. So from a money/hours of game play ratio, the game is clearly worth it.
On the whole, Grand Theft Auto V is well-written and provides an insane amount of fun. It’s able to suck you in by offering a lot of control and letting you make more choices than previously seen. For example, there’s a few ways you can choose to go about committing a heist — subtle and quiet, or obvious or loud. You choose a method and complete set up missions to gather your necessities. Side quests and activities can be skipped, but offer benefits from skill and financial standpoints.
Some strangers you help out could come back around and be used for your heist crews. Playing tennis or golf helps boost your strength skill and making investments in the dynamic stock market could pay off huge (if you’re smart). The stock market is particularly interesting, as there are two versions: one based on in-game activity, such as your missions; and the other based on generally online-tracked trends. Say a particular type of car is constantly thrashed; that company’s stock will start to plummet.
I can’t not mention the soundtrack, an always integral part of any Grand Theft Auto game. The sounds of Los Santos and Blaine County are fantastic and easily compete with Vice City and San Andreas. Areas of particular greatness are the talk radio shows (I highly recommend BCR Community Hour on Blaine County Radio) and the Weazel News updates that tie in directly with your activity. The addition of a dynamic original score also adds a nice touch, but sometimes it was just funnier to listen to some Bootsy Collins while creating mayhem.
What Grand Theft Auto V ends up being is one of the best installments in the series; arguably the best. It returns to its wacky roots with over-the-top action and smart writing, but also takes the necessary steps forward when it needs to. There’s not much more you can ask from a game that gives you a good 40 hours worth of incredible fun.