Platform: XBOX360, PS3 (Reviewed)
WARNING: If you’re a parent reading this review, thinking GTA5 would be a perfect gift for your child it’s not. There’s gratuitous levels of violence, sexual depravity, drug use, with language so blue and scenes of such an adult nature that it deserves the 18 rating it was given.
In a real change of form from any previous Grand Theft Auto games the story isn’t just a singular character but a trio of very different perspectives. The game starts you in the midst of a bank job that goes all to hell, this prologue serves to introduce Michael and Trevor and the new ability to hot swap between protagonists mid game. This new mechanic is a really superb addition that is used to great effect later in the game. After the ambiguous conclusion of the prologue, the third and final player is introduced as Franklin, a two bit plastic gangsta, working as a repo-man for a dodgy car sales man.
I won’t spoil any of the story but the way Michael is reintroduced as a retired heistman, living in the burbs with his dysfunctional family, is a masterstroke of storytelling. After a couple of missions you can swap between these two very different personalities, working together on main story missions or doing your own thing. Unlike previous GTA game’s the whole map is open from the beginning, allowing an unprecedented and daunting level of freedom to explore. I can’t tell you how big this game is and how much starts to open up especially when the Crack cooking psychopath Trevor is added to the mix in a deliberately provocatively violent introduction. Trevor is possibly the star of this incredibly explorative drama, partly down to his juxtaposition against Franklin and Michael. I didn’t necessarily have an emotional connection to any of the character’s or really feel any empathy for the games leads, that didn’t actually put me off. As it allows a great voyeuristic experience, to unfold and you start to be intrigued by the peoples motivations and relationships.
The level of writing in the game is a match to major TV show box-sets for number of hours of content, especially when you consider that each story section has multiple dialogue sequences. It’s a clever touch that I’m not sure I’ve seen done before. It’s brilliant when you consider how frustrating it can be if you keep mucking up and having to replay a sequence. This point ties superbly in to the checkpoint system which is really well balanced and failure is never deeply frustrating but only once you get adjusted to the controls. I say this because I did get really done in by Trevor’s first proper mission, as I hadn’t adjusted to the shooting mechanics and the cover system. Leading to numerous restarts until I finally clicked, and started using one of the other new features. Each of the three leads have a special ability that is triggered by clicking both sticks to start a bullet time ability for a limited period, which is different to each protagonist.
The controls are really functional and I did have some minor issues with the positioning of the camera, as I would whilst driving regularly use the right stick to adjust my view slightly to be able to view the road ahead. I also found the planes and helicopters a pain to control but that’s always been the case for me and GTA games. Thankfully the requirement to eat fast food and do physical activities to increase or maintain your abilities have been dropped since GTA: San Andreas. You can improve your skills but most are naturally gained through progression. Optionally you can go off and do numerous additional events that are a game in themselves. Triathlons, races, flight school, tennis, golf, sky diving, shooting ranges, drugs running, taxi mission to name just a few, all add to the amount of hours you can spent in the weird and wonderful world of Los Santos. There are some really silly and immensely fun Strangers and Freaks side missions, that reinject the comedy that feel was sadly lacking in GTA4 but what for me made the Grand Theft Auto experience enjoyable.
I can’t review this game without giving a massive mention to how incredible (as always) the radio stations are, the variety of tracks in truly outstanding. My highlights are Soulwax and Talk Radio, but also add to this the news reports that enhance the realism of Los Santos. They regularly give not only a satirical viewpoint of the after effects of the missions you’ve just completed, but some of the other stories and adverts are so on the money. The audio in general for this game is first rate, from the engine effects, the ambient noises, crash sound effects, gun shots, explosions, conversations going on around the main characters. The voice acting is some of the greatest ever in a video game, from not only the leads but every single one of the supporting and ancillary characters. The sheer amount of it is mind blowing from a cast of over 300 people.
I will give a criticism and that is the game didn’t hook me in as quickly as I would have liked, as I mentioned in one of our podcasts. It wasn’t until I had freedom to choose who to play as. and after I sunk many hours into the story and side missions that it clicked. There are a couple of incredibly well though out missions, the first heist being only one of them. Visually the game gives a sensational illusion of a real living world, with traffic flows, stupid pedestrians, fake fast food joints, advertising hordings, accurate vehicle damage. The level of detail is outstanding, there’s some pop up and redraw but nothing as bad as you would expect, especially if you compare it to something like AC4. It is really easy to forget that GTA5 is actually running of what is now last generation hardware, without any slow down or major visual bugs. When this is given the inevitable PC release, then the XB1 and PS4 versions won’t be far behind. I really have trouble imaging how glorious this game will look in 1080p running at 60fps, as it’s already so damn pretty. Featuring set pieces that wouldn’t be out of place in a major blockbuster movie.
After playing GTA5 through the main story, I certainly stand by my statement in our Ready, Set…Delayed JAMcast. I really do feel the level of detail and variety within GTA5’s world is the main reason Ubisoft postponed the release of Watch_Dogs. I’m a big fan of story heavy sandbox games as you may know from my reviews of Farcry 3 and Assassin’s Creed IV, this game has way more depth and replay value you than either of those splendid games.
Game purchased by reviewer at own expense. Images taken from Rockstar’s Website.
I only wish I could score GTA5 higher than our maximum score and I’ve not even touched the Online Multiplayer component yet. Grand Theft Auto 5 really is an unequalled experience and deserved to be played by everyone old enough to buy it for themselves.