Release Date: September 17, 2013
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform: 360 (reviewed), PS3
Grand Theft Auto V is probably the biggest game of the year, and certainly the most profitable, making over $1 billion in sales after only three days. It has the largest scope of any GTA game, and an even larger amount of hype. It is too big for just one person alone to review, so in addition to Amer’s written review below, five of us got together to discuss GTA V in a bonus video. If you don’t have 45 minutes to spare for a video, Amer’s review covers everything you need to know.
I expect that most of our viewers have already played it, so I’ll also spend time comparing it to past GTA and Rockstar games to see how it compares and where it takes its cues from. I’ll be starting off with everything I disliked about the game, as none of these issues really overshadow how enjoyable the game is.
The biggest issue the game has is the boring and uninspired mission design. Aside from a few notable missions, most of them are completely forgettable, consisting of same-y combat sections or rather boring minigames. I can easily name twenty unique and memorable missions from any GTA game up to and including Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, while I can barely remember any from GTA V. For example, in the starting area of Grand Theft Auto 3 you had to: rig an ice cream truck with a bomb, blow up a fish factory, kill the leaders of the triads, and blow up a cartel owned ship. Each mission had unique gameplay experiences so they were all memorable in their own way, and the missions only got crazier from there.
Meanwhile, the last mission in GTA V (assuming you went with option C) consists of getting into a few gunfights which are similar to the gunfights that you’ve been in for the entire game. The heist missions are usually the worst offenders; you expect them to be intricate and complex due to how much focus is put on heists, but they’re all really very tame. Setting up a heist is boring. You get two choices: one being the quiet but easy and boring way, and the other being the loud and somewhat fun way. Then you get to pick your crew and set up the heist, but your choices in crew selection barely have any real impact and the setup missions are usually very short and easy.
In San Andreas, you had to rob a casino, and to do so you first needed to steal a helicopter, some police bikes, the blueprints, and more. Each part of the setup was a unique mission. In GTA V, setup is usually closer to “buy a suit” or “steal this undefended car.” It’s just really boring. Most missions don’t even have any reward, cash or otherwise. San Andreas would have a few missions that didn’t pay out, but at least they’d increase your respect meter. There are also a few bugs. One mission requires you to get into a boat while your AI partner drives it. As soon as I did he drove into a rock and got permanently stuck. It was impossible to take control from him, kill myself, blow up the boat, or even leave it. I had to restart the system to fix the problem, and then it happened again to a friend of mine on his save file.
It seems that much of the content in the game is meant to pander to the fanbase. Businesses were in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, so they had to reappear here. People liked the RPG elements in San Andreas, so these stats returned. These things had a reason to exist in the original games, but they feel out of place here. Vice City was about a psychopath that wanted to take over the town after killing the kingpin; buying businesses to expand made sense. In GTA V the businesses are just there for no real reason. In San Andreas, you could go to the gym to work out, or get fat by eating too much, but in GTA V this kind of roleplaying doesn’t exist.
Money is practically useless in the game. It’s easy to buy all the guns and a huge amount of ammo for each, and still have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to spare. There’s really nothing good to spend the money on. The obvious choices are the various properties and businesses, but they’re mostly worthless. While buying a property usually provides new missions, they’re all very short, boring, and have poor rewards. Buying a property in Vice City meant a completely new mission line with unique gameplay experiences.
Buying the porn studio had you taking dirty pictures of a corrupt senator and driving off of rooftops while on a motorbike. Buying the taxi station gave you missions where you had to face off against rival taxis. In GTA V, buying the taxi station means that you get to drive a few generic NPCs around with no challenge for a few hundred dollars. The amount of time you need to spend to get your money back on the investments in GTA V is extremely large, to the point where I don’t bother buying properties anymore.
The vehicles really aren’t fun to drive. Too many of them are very similar to each other, and the new driving system makes the cars seem very “weightless”. In previous games, each car was distinct enough that you could easily tell them apart. A Stinger, a Blista Compact, and a Voodoo are all vastly different vehicles. Even in GTA 1 and GTA 2 the cars handled quite differently. A Schmidt, a Bug, and an Eddy all had different attributes, and those were in a 2D game. I honestly can’t tell the difference between most of the cars in GTA V to the point where I don’t know any of the names.
I also don’t like how easy it is to flip over an overturned car, even while you’re still in the car. Driving in this game just feels bland and like a chore, especially when escaping cops. While I do like the new cop system (cops have a field of view that you can avoid, and you can even hide in a nearby alley so long as you conceal yourself well enough), I find that it’s too easy to trigger a wanted rating and it takes too long for them to forget about you. Killing a few random strangers in the wilderness shouldn’t lead to a two star rating followed by an eight minute car chase. The game penalizes you just for trying to have a bit of fun.
The story has some real pacing issues. Plot threads such as the Ballas trying to set up Franklin and the Chinese drug dealers betraying Trevor are all introduced and then practically ignored until the very end of the game. Most of the game is about working for the FIB for no pay, working for Devon Weston for no pay, and doing some of the boring heists so you can finally get paid (aside from one or two circumstances where you don’t actually get paid). As for the characters, many are one-dimensional, annoying or just boring. The only character I really liked and had any depth to him was Trevor. Michael and Franklin are fairly boring, and Franklin feels out of place considering that he doesn’t have any history with the other two characters while Trevor and Michael have a huge history with each other.
With all the bad out of the way, I’d like to focus on the good. Combat is extremely fun and a massive improvement over the combat in Grand Theft Auto IV. Shooting someone in GTA IV felt as effective as throwing rocks at them, while in GTA V the combat is much more visceral. A single shot can kill you or an enemy, so battles are much more intense. While the game is missing some of the crazier weapons like a flamethrower, it more than makes up for it with the sheer level of customization.
The random encounters from Red Dead Redemption return, and they’re actually integrated quite well. A few of them are good for a bit of cash, such as robbing a security van or stopping a mugger, but the best ones are the unique encounters that end with you getting a new contact. Trevor specifically gets to pick up hitchhikers and decide whether or not to sell them to the Altruist cult. After doing this enough times, [editor's note: minor spoiler] Trevor is kidnapped by the cult and has to wipe them out. The game excels in having a specific piece of content for just about any possible scenario.
You can do just about anything in GTA V. You can golf, hike, watch a movie, join a cult, go parachuting, find collectibles, buy stocks, go on a rampage, go to a strip club, etc., and the game will usually have a specific activity or structured event for it. While I didn’t like most of the main missions, I felt like all this side stuff was generally well done. I especially liked how collectibles were handled in this game. Instead of just killing pigeons or diving underwater to find pearls because you feel like it, you’ll be given the task of finding certain collectibles by an NPC. This helps make the game feel a little more structured, while also adding for some hilarious scenes. Every rampage intro with Trevor was just amazing.
The dialogue is well written. I said earlier that many characters are usually one-dimensional, and that is true, but they do have distinct personalities. Ron and Wade are completely useless, and completely loyal to Trevor, Lamar is a hood rat, Jimmy is an annoying brat, etc. The cast of characters is very colorful. They don’t develop personality wise, but there are so many of them and each character appears for a comparatively small amount of time so it really isn’t an issue. GTA V is a scathing attack on just about everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal, a conservative, an Apple fan, a hipster, a redneck, or whatever your sexual orientation or ethnicity is, the game somehow finds a way to make fun of you. It parodies every facet of American life while also providing a deeper look into it.
The main three characters are closely linked to past GTA characters. Michael is the guy that “won” a GTA game. He’s had the crazy life, somehow survived and now is enjoying his money. He’s closest in style to Tommy Vercetti, both in terms of his love of the 80′s and luxury houses, and also in his unique brand of aggression. Franklin is closest to Carl Johnson, a black man from the hood doing whatever he needs to get out. Trevor is Claude Speed from GTA 3 but with more of a personality, as he switches allegiances when it’s profitable and is perfectly happy with using violence as an answer to any issue.
However, he isn’t random as he has his own twisted sense of logic and morality. He seems to actually deeply care about his friends and employees, with his violence and insanity only coming out when he’s really bored or when he needs to use it to strike fear in someone and expand his business. His interactions with Patricia and his mother show his vulnerable side. Trevor is acting out because he just wants to be loved. Or perhaps the insanity is a cover and he’s actually completely sane.
There are so many different ways to analyze his personality; he’s the Joker of the group and is easily the most interesting character. Michael and Trevor’s storied past is very interesting, and gets more interesting as the game progresses and the truth of the botched bank job comes to light. One mission that covers this allows you to play as either Trevor or Michael, and both have a great monologue and period of self-reflection. Sadly, Franklin doesn’t really have any interesting interactions with either character as he’s the newcomer to the group.
GTA V is a mixed bag. It gets a few major things right (such as the combat and the side content, both in terms of quality and sheer size), but it also gets a few major things wrong (such as the uninspired missions and the bland driving). In the end I generally enjoyed the game, but at the same time I have no plans to replay it. I’ve replayed all the previous GTA games, usually multiple times, but I don’t feel like I’m going to do that with GTA V. It was fun once, but I really don’t want to go back to it. At least until it’s time to review the online portion (which will happen soon, after we’ve let them sort out some of the bugs present at the launch.)