To call Rockstar Games the kings of the open world is a massive understatement. Originating in 2001’s groundbreaking Grand Theft Auto III, the series introduced a generation of gamers to the joys...
Expansive world, great characters, tight controls, one of the best looking games on the PS3
The occasional game breaking bug, minor texture popping, questionable close quarter combat / control
To call Rockstar Games the kings of the open world is a massive understatement. Originating in 2001’s groundbreaking Grand Theft Auto III, the series introduced a generation of gamers to the joys of running around a virtual city sandbox, firing rocket launchers, eluding police copters and causing uninhibited mayhem. Thanks to sensationalist media coverage, most forget there are actual stories interwoven into the chaos. Every iteration of the Grand Theft Auto series improves upon the other and the latest effort continues to set the bar impossibly high. Combining the excellent storytelling of IV, the expansive open world of San Andreas and the tightest play mechanics to date, Grand Theft Auto V is the new benchmark for an entire genre.
The story revolves around three characters: Michael, a retired bank robber with a family who hates him, a vehicle boosting Los Santos thug by name of Franklin and Trevor, former partner of Michael’s and resident sociopath. The three are an unlikely team of criminals and constantly bicker and generate tension. While each character has their quirks and color, you’ll want to spend the majority of the game with Trevor. Constantly drunk and completely unhinged yet surprisingly eloquent and intelligent, it’s a blast to spend time rampaging around the map with this maniac.
Michael practices his rendition of the scuba scene from The Graduate (image: the game's internal camera phone)
And what a map it is. The world of GTA V is the largest and most varied since San Andreas, with plenty of side quests to conquer and activities to do. If you found the world of GTA IV a step back from the jetpacks and parachutes of San Andreas, GTA V brings it back with friends. Whether it’s traditional activities like racing and purchasing property or new innovations like hunting for nuclear waste in a submarine, deer hunting or performing action movie stunts, you can, and will, spend hours cruising the landscape looking for fun stuff to do.
When you’re not screaming around town in your customized car, there’s an interesting core story to take part in. The series has often been criticized for “errand boy” main missions, but GTA V avoids that stigma with meaningful tasks that either serve the story or develop the character. The missions are also extremely varied: one minute, you’ll be sneaking aboard a container ship guarded by a private army, the next you’ll be assassinating diplomats from the roof of a parking deck. Every task has something interesting or different woven into it, a welcome reprieve from the, “drive here, shoot that” nature of previous games. Jarring plot jumps, a few annoying side characters and a lackluster conclusion mar the story, but it’s still more than worth playing through.
Grand Theft Auto V also pushes the graphical power of the PS3 to the absolute brink, creating a detailed and beautifully designed world. Cracks like the occasional texture pops and a few game breaking bugs prove this is a last gen game, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any serious flaws in the presentation. The radio station selection and soundtrack are predictably top notch and Rockstar’s trademark humor is refreshingly off color and bitingly satirical. The game controls like a dream as well. Driving is tighter, snapping to cover is easier and gunplay is the best it’s ever been. The only hurdle yet to be climbed is melee and close quarters combat. A basic counter system doesn’t make hand to hand combat any more satisfying and navigating tight corridors still requires some frustrating running around in circles.
One sticky bomb + a trail of gasoline + one shot from a silenced pistol = BOOM (image: the game's internal camera phone)
All of this culminates in the biggest gameplay enhancement, the heists. Ranging from standard bank robberies to all out infiltrations of government buildings, these massive missions require prior setup and planning before execution. Where before you could simply charge the gate and start shooting, GTA V offers multiple paths to the goal. You can choose from stealthy or direct scenarios, recruit outside help for the caper (at a price) and source the materials needed to get the job done (escape cars, weaponry and the occasional freight train). This allows the mundane missions to serve a larger, more epic experience and prevents the previously mentioned “errand boy” syndrome.
Another achievement is the character switching system. Since there are three playable characters, Rockstar allows you to toggle between them at a moment’s notice. Tired of roaming around the Los Santos hills as Michael? Switch to Trevor to find him passed out in an alley in the middle of nowhere. The mechanic is especially impressive in the larger missions. In one sequence, you may have Michael holding off the police in an alley, Franklin protecting the front and Trevor sniping from a higher vantage point. The ability to jump amongst the playable characters gives the firefights and quests even more variation and sense of control.
When you’re the best, the ultimate challenge is to get even better. With their eleventh entry in one of the most popular series in gaming history, Rockstar continues to push the boundaries of immersive gameplay. After pumping over 75 hours into cruising the landscape, taking down banks and running away from five star wanted levels, GTA V continues to exhilarate and keep me busy. There’s a stack of games in my queue waiting to be played, but every time I try to start another adventure, I’m pulled back into Los Santos for one more spin around an always awesome world.
(Review Note: I didn't get a chance to jump into the game's mutliplayer, which is why I didn't mention it in this review.)