Is GTA V just petty theft, or a Grand Heist?

Grand Theft Auto is one of a handful of franchises that has significantly shaped the way games are made and played, all while still retaining its own unique qualities

Grand Theft Auto is one of a handful of franchises that has significantly shaped the way games are made and played, all while still retaining its own unique qualities and evolving alongside current and popular trends. I’ve played them right from the beginning, and can safely say that there is no greater game out there for wanting to live the luxurious life of a criminal. GTA V is no exception, and could have very well shaped the foundations of gaming once more. It’s a mash up of every instalment before it, and yet it still feels new and fresh to play, even after just under a month since its launch on the shop shelves. I knew that I had to pick it up as soon as I could.

After waiting over two hours at a midnight launch for the game, I can say without a doubt that every penny spent on this title was totally worth it. GTA V could indeed be the greatest game of this generation, heck it could be the best game that has ever been made. As soon as I installed the game and started the prologue, I was instantly blown away. Everything looked so different, yet so frighteningly similar. With a budget of over 250 million dollars, which roughly equates to 170 million pounds, it was clear from when this game was announced that fans of the franchise were in for a massive treat. In its first day it made over 800 million dollars. After just three days the sales figure stood at over 1 billion dollars. As of the 7th October 2013, the game has outsold GTA IV, the most recent instalment.

Announced on the 25th October 2011, GTA V is set in the fictional American county of San Andreas and Los Santos (Los Angeles), and takes place in 2013, around five years after the events of GTA IV. It tells the intricate, tightly woven stories of three individual lead characters; Michael, Franklin and Trevor. RockStar Games have always stood out in my mind as being a powerhouse of storytelling in gaming, and that opinion doesn’t change here. The entire story is packed full of emotion, anger, sarcasm and of course, the classic GTA humour.  It revolves around the fascination of the American dollar, as well as moving on from past mistakes in life and looking to the future.  At the risk of spoiling anything, I won’t go into details about any specific part; I will just say that you need to experience an adventure like this with your own eyes, not on a YouTube video.

The world is perfectly built for chaos and drama

The game map is absolutely huge. I’ve been playing it non-stop for over three weeks now, and while some might say that’s unhealthy, it has allowed me to fully appreciate the work and effort that has gone into creating this masterpiece. I’ve only just now finished the main storyline, but there are still people to meet, cars to customise, collectables to find and places to parachute from, amongst everything else. It’ll take an average player in a normal car about 10-20 minutes to get from one side of the map to the other, and in planes it’s obviously quicker, and a lot more fun. With three possible protagonists to play as, there’s almost a limitless amount of ways to have fun and cause destruction in GTA V. You can rob convenience stores, compete in triathlons, drive jets and tanks and even compete in fully functioning mini games such as tennis, golf and yoga. There are tons of things to see, do and interact with, so much so that you’ll rarely want to put the controller down, in an effort to discover something new and exciting. I could list everything here, but it would go on and on, and I think we can all agree it’s better to let the player find everything out in their own time.

This isn’t a game. It’s an animated cinematic movie

When you set the controller down to watch a cut scene in GTA V, sometimes it takes a while to realise that you’re looking at a game and not a blockbuster movie. The graphics are detailed and beautiful, from the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, to the winding mountain ranges and gorgeous sunsets on Vespucci Beach (a fictional take on Los Angeles’ Venice beach); the environments on show are always breath-taking.  A number of my friends have looked at the game first hand and said ‘Is this a film?’ Quotes like this prove that RockStar Games have crafted something that is truly wonderful, awe inspiring and scarily realistic. Apart from the visuals, RockStar Games have also included a number of products in the game, as they have in the past, that are parodies of real life products, such as Life Invader (Face Book) and the I Fruit phone (The iPhone). In the game, the products are heavily scrutinised and exaggerated, preying on the failings that they experience in the real world. It all helps to add realism, and is something special indeed.

The music is upbeat, dramatic and appropriate

The soundtrack is perhaps one of the most important elements in a GTA game, and I’m glad to report that it is top notch here. Apart from the usual expertly created mix of rock, pop, hip hop and country music on the game’s numerous radio stations, the creators also chose to include a totally original soundtrack that plays during missions or police chases if the radio is off. These scores serve to immerse you in the game environment, which they execute perfectly. Running across a rooftop to escape a police helicopter has never sounded better. The voice acting is world class, and finely synced with the character models so that everything looks and sounds genuine. Even though I haven’t heard of most of the voice actors, they did a fine job to ensure that each protagonist sounds entirely different. Trevor is clearly insane, and his voice conveys this. Michael is immensely stressed and tired most of the time and you can feel this with every sentence he utters. Finally, Franklin is the young gangster with street smarts who is trying to make his way in life, and you can picture this through his dialogue.

Freedom to act as you please

What makes GTA V special is its approach to non-linear gaming. The entire map is open from the beginning. Apart from a few segments; people can tackle the game however they wish. They can choose to play by the rules and obey the law, or completely defy it. They can interact with the copious amounts of strangers in the world to complete side quests and missions, or they can ignore the story completely and wreak utter annihilation on the island of San Andreas. The great thing is, you won’t be penalised by the inner workings of the game whatsoever if you choose not to progress in the conventional way, you can even halt the story by effectively turning off phone calls, which act to advance the plot. This is a great move on the part of the creators, as it gives players free reign over how they experience the content.

The excitement continues, even after the end credits roll

One of the selling points of Grand Theft Auto has always been the amount of absurd collectibles to procure throughout. GTA San Andreas had hidden packages, and GTA IV had flying rats (pigeons) that you had to shoot. GTA V has letters, vehicle parts and mysterious objects to collect, as well as stunt jumps and the need to fly under bridges to complete a goal. All of these challenges will still need to be completed after the story ends, and you can of course continue to do as you please in the world as well. In this sense, GTA V seems to never end, well, at least until you reach 100% completion. Even then, I’ve read that more missions are unlocked, but these won’t be spoiled here.

Time to grab the cash, and make the getaway

In conclusion, what else can you possibly say about GTA V? The amount of videos that were created on YouTube as a result of the trailers was a testament to how popular the game was before it even launched. The game has already gained seven Guinness World Records, including ‘best-selling action adventure’ and ‘fastest entertainment property to reach 1 billion.’ This is after three weeks, so who knows what awards it could gain within a year or so. The next generation of consoles may be on the horizon, but as long as I have this in my collection, I think I can wait. The game feels next gen, so I can’t see the benefit in purchasing a new console just yet. Even when I do attain 100% completion, I’ll be raring to play it all once again. For this reason, amongst others, GTA V is more than a grand heist; it’s one of the grandest robberies in history.

The Verdict

The not so great-

1) Wanted level can sometimes be tedious to get rid of. 2) Game can lag when diving in the ocean or switching characters. 3) Occasionally has a problem with loading buildings and textures

The really great-

1) Smooth, responsive and thoroughly exciting gameplay. 2) Fast and fluid action, amazing story. 3) Graphics are spectacular, with incredible voice work.

Highly recommended if you own a PS3 or Xbox 360, even if you rarely play games.