For every success that Rockstar achieves with Grand Theft Auto, the next title must feel like a hard act to follow; critical acclaim, while surely welcome, is a heavy burden to bear. GTA V builds upon the strengths of the previous titles, and while the leap in fidelity from GTA IV may not be so dramatic, the game is no less ambitious for it. The scope of the game’s world is bigger, more colourful and more detailed. Mechanics and controls are tight and refined, with plenty of inspiration taken from Rockstar’s other titles, all backed up with seamless presentation. And, as always, the tongue in cheek humour and insight into modern-day America is there, told from three different perspectives. Grand Theft Auto as as series is an exercise in evolution and progression, and the latest title is a solid step forward.
GTA V tells its story from multiple perspectives, using three characters instead of one. Michael is a retired bank heist artist, but the money and wealth he has accumulated over the years has failed to increase his happiness: his family abhors him, he is mired in therapy sessions, and he can’t help but think of the exciting past life he once led. Franklin, on the other hand, is a young hoodlum from the other side of the tracks who dreams of a better life away from two-bit schemes and short-sighted gang bangers. Trevor, the wildcard, is a mentally unstable recluse who once worked heists with Michael, and when he moves from a redneck county to the city of Los Santos, his return into Michael’s life comes with its fair share of problems.
Michael, Trevor and Franklin busy themselves with what they know best: running heists and bagging scores. Each job is bigger and more ambitious than the last, and during the planning stages you will be required to select a favoured approach and different crew members to help you carry out the job. The three characters, however, are armed with unique traits to ensure their success: Michael’s finely honed reflexes, Trevor’s insatiable bloodlust and Franklin’s driving acumen act as special abilities, which can be triggered as long as there’s meter available.
The situations are, as always, larger than life, and the trio find themselves entangled with everyone from the Chinese triads to a private military corporation. GTA V still encourages us to suspend disbelief, and even the NPCs in the game are aghast at our actions: Michael’s family, for example, despairs at his seeming lack of remorse as he casually runs down people on push bikes.
When you’re not busy taking out jewellery stores, the city is supported by a wide range of activities. Depending on the character your select, you can partake in several different kinds of races, engage in sports, or feed your murderous killing streak. Performing activities and actions improves your characters stats, which in turn makes them a better driver, shooter or runner.
Controls are more fluid and responsive, and it’s a welcome change. The shooting feels like it has been adapted from Max Payne 3, while the driving feels less like trying to drive a boat on land (perhaps with some subtle cues from Midnight Club 2). Police are armed with cones of vision as they close in on your position, resulting in fewer prolonged outrun scenarios and more cat-and-mouse.
Los Santos looks gorgeous. The last few titles for the 7th generation have really tested the limits of what the hardware is capable of, and GTA V is a great example. Gone are the murky, washed-out tones of GTA IV‘s Liberty City. The game world is bright and vibrant, and visibly changes as you move from the boardwalk to downtown, or from the mountains and coastline to the deserts and forests. Everywhere you go, you’ll see a cruel reflection of our own society: I laughed at the Call of Duty-like video game that Michael’s son played, and I cried at the funky “Lifeinvader” offices, filled with young professionals spewing terms like “Web 2.0” and “user experience” as they scrawled on walls. Even the humble mobile phone has evolved into a smartphone, complete with the ability to take selfies.
New things aside, the usual hallmarks of the series are still here. Races. Radio stations. Gruppe Sechs. Laslow. Burger Shot. Pay N Spray. Wanted stars. Taxi rides. Car jacking. Drive bys. Ammunation. Bizarre NPCs. It’s all familiar, and yet it’s new enough to hold my attention.
GTA V is fun and polished to a high sheen, and its ambition inches forward just that little bit further. Who knows what we’ll experience tomorrow?
Reviewed for PS3.