|Grand Theft Auto V|
|Developer: Rockstar North
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1, 1-16 online
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five and a half years since GTA IV, but GTA V is finally here and it would seem that everyone and their sister are playing it. Rockstar were determined to give us more varied gameplay in a much larger and more diverse environment to play in than Liberty City, and with Los Santos and Blaine County by heck, have they have delivered!
For a start there are now three playable characters; Michael De Santa, Franklin Clinton and Trevor Philips. These guys couldn’t be more different, and an inspired gameplay mechanic allows, and even requires, you to switch between them, both on and off mission. Sometimes one of the characters will be in danger (outnumbered, pinned down etc) and their icon will flash and a musical warning tone will sound to let you know you should change to them, but it’s rarely forced upon you. This works superbly, allows for a lot of freedom of choice and means that no one is going to have the same gameplay experience. When switching between the three characters I even found myself taking on their individual personas; trying to sort things out smoothly and clinically as Michael, stealing any vehicle that looked expensive and driving like a pro as Frank, and acting like a completely perverted sociopath when playing as Trevor.
Let's get this straight from the start; Trevor is the best game character ever, and should have his own spin-off series. He's a complex, dangerously violent sex-crazed lunatic with a romantic/misogynistic streak, and if you don't enjoy playing as him there's something wrong with you. Playing as him removes any of the moral shackles that you may have had when playing as the other two guys, and yet you'll still find yourself performing acts of kindness and doing people favours.
The three guys each have a special skill (activated by clicking both thumb sticks) which can be used whenever your yellow “special” gauge is at least partly full. The gauge is extended by continued use and topped up by all sorts of actions including driving fast, having near misses, drifting on corners, getting stealth kills and head shots and, in Trevor’s case, even colliding with things.
As mentioned earlier when on a mission you’ll sometimes be prompted to switch between characters but you also have some freedom, meaning that some missions can be played in quite different ways from the three different viewpoints. When “off mission” and just free-roaming switching to another character will find them going about their daily lives; Frank may be leaving a nightclub, waving a girlfriend goodnight and putting her into a taxi or even something as mundane as ironing; Michael may be trying to throw his weight around, having a thoughtful smoke on a park bench or just watching TV, and Trevor… well Trevor could be chasing strippers, unconscious in a dumpster, trying to have sex with somebody or something or disposing of a body. I was amazed and delighted that you can actually manoeuvre the three into the same location at which point they’ll communicate, often arguing but usually asking if you want to “hang out.”
The game is playable from three third person or chase cam views, a first person or bonnet cam view plus cinematic cameras (hold ‘B’), with the submersible strangely being the only vehicle you can’t control from a first person view.
As well as some of the most extensive and realistic impact body damage yet (including scratches, dents, detachable bodywork, punctured tyres, smashed windows, bullet holes, blood smears and fire) the vehicles also get dirty, so it’s just as well there are car washes dotted around the city. Smash the front of your vehicle at night and you will miss the headlights. Damage the suspension and the vehicle will handle badly and pull to one side. Steal a cop car and if it gets damaged the siren starts to malfunction in a sadly comical way.
It’s not all good news on the ground vehicle front though. It soon becomes apparent that, despite the power of the Xbox 360 and the PS3 and the amazing visuals displayed by Rockstar’s impressive new game engine, vehicles still load in blocks, so as you travel around despite there being a huge variety of vehicles you’ll often see a lot of the same type. For instance I pulled up at traffic lights once to be surround by 5 other cars of the same type, having driven down a street populated by nothing but that car model! This is a hangover from GTA III and it’s disappointing to see it happen again in GTA V 12 years later. Disappearing cars are still a problem too; leave a vehicle and you’ll never know if it’ll be there when you return, and this seems a crazy occurrence when you can spend thousands on customizing a car only to have it vanish. A new car impound was obviously supposed to cure this problem (abandoned vehicles appear here and can be reclaimed for a $250) but doesn’t. If Rockstar fix one glitch in the solo game it needs to be this. The three guys each have their own personal vehicle which seems to turn up back at their home base no matter how many times it gets abandoned or destroyed, which is a nice idea but why on earth can’t you trade it for something else as you progress through the game? This would seem like a natural progression.
GTA V reportedly cost £170 Million to make and you can see, hear and even feel where the money went. The scenery in Blaine County is amazing; the architecture varies from glass & steel skyscrapers in the city to swanky multi-million dollar houses in the Vinewood hills to wooden shacks and trailers in the desert. Everything looks impressively realistic and pleasing to the eye, and the wildlife and fauna look incredible-even the graffiti looks real. If you played Red Dead Redemption then you’ll get a similar feeling when you’re “out in the sticks” and a pair of deer run across your path, or a cougar growls, or coyotes howl.
You’ll see moths, butterflies, various birds, deer, pigs, wild boar, cattle, dogs-even rats. Some of the wildlife can be hunted and the mountain lion (cougar) needs to be given a wide birth or shot on sight as they can kill you with one swift pounce, even if you have full health and body armour. During my play-through of the game I came across literally hundreds of buildings and locations so interesting and so detailed that they surely must feature in future DLC missions or in GTA online shenanigans. It’s just hard to believe that so much detail can be lavished on scenery that might never be seen by the player.
The water is quite simply the best I’ve yet seen in a game on the current generation of consoles, with only the Assassin’s Creed IV’s or Battlefield 4’s coming close. Rivers flow with strong currents, in the ocean waves roll, form white horses, floating objects get swept by the current, the tide rises and falls, the sun or the moon glints off the surface and swimming underwater feels remarkably realistic too. The underwater exploration missions and scuba diving are done so well, the watery environment so convincing, that with a little work they could probably have been released as a standalone game.
Los Santos has an over-ground/underground passenger transit train circling the city, which you can ride on, and a series of massive goods trains rattle around the county too, which you can also hop on (although they don’t stop anywhere and they can’t be stolen and driven anytime you want as in GTA San Andreas.) With the amount of railway tracks, rolling stock and a general level of detail that would delight the average trainspotter, I expected the railways to play a bigger part in the game than they did; perhaps a job as a freight train driver or shunter in the goods yard?
Los Santos is well-populated by “normal” people, but there are also plenty of prostitutes, strippers, homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals, as well as assorted murderers, thieves, drug dealers, gang bangers, cultists and psychopathic killers to meet. The number of different characters and faces is remarkable, and the amount of animation quite staggering. Little things, just a few of which, while trying to avoid spoilers, I’ve listed below:
The sheer fact that...
• Your character looks around nervously when being chased by the cops.
• Moves their hands realistically when you steer or blow the horn.
• The three guys show battle scars that heal over time.
• People walk hurriedly with their shoulders hunched when it rains.
• There's dip and main beam headlights on vehicles and electric roofs on convertibles.
• The submersible actually expels air when you dive.
• There are so many different reactions form people to your driving and general behaviour.
• The guys’ shirts sweat through when the weather’s hot or they’re exerting themselves.
• There are footprints left in snow, sand, mud, even pig
• The rain and thunderstorm weather affects vehicle handling and makes clothes so soggy wet that you leave a damp trail behind you.
• There’s a collision detection with birds, so that you can not only shoot them for target practice, but also kill them accidentally with your helicopter blades or aircraft collisions.
• The reflection, lighting effects and shadows are some of the most complete and realistic ever seen in any game, and the way the game engine simulates distance looks remarkably realistic too.
• There's a heat haze from aircraft engines, and dust trails, spurts of gravel and tyre tracks from vehicles that put dedicated flight and driving sims to shame...
At one point you even pour a trail of gasoline through a house and then set it alight, with spectacular results. Cans of gas (petrol) can be found at most gas (petrol) stations or bought at any Ammu-Nation gun store, and can be used for setting fire to just about anything, including Cop cars! Sloshing a very realistic looking trail of gas around and then setting it alight looks amazing, and although I’m sure we were all told not to play with fire from a young age you’d be a very odd and incurious individual if you didn’t play around with the a fuel can at some point.
Although I feel some things could have been more interactive and there could maybe have been even more destructible scenery, the attention to detail is second to none. Blaine County is a wonderfully inviting environment, and one that rewards exploration and experimentation.
The internet and TV is alive and well in Los Santos, and Google, Facebook and Twitter get lampooned by GTA’s equivalents Eyefind, Life Invader and Bleeter, and instead of America’s Got Talent, American Idol or X-Factor we get GTA veteran ex-disc jockey turned-TV presenter Lazlow hosting Fame or Shame. You can access the internet from various computers and even from your personal phone, and there are TVs all over the place on which you can view various programmes such as; Jack Howitzer, Kung Fu Rainbow Lazer Force, Impotent Rage, Republican Space Rangers and the noire-ish Moorehead Rides Again that will keep you entertained for literally hours if and when you want a break from the action. As well as browsing a veritable plethora of websites you can also access your bank and the Los Santos stock exchange. Initially Frank lives with his aunt Denise in a small house, but some dirty dealings with a shady computer geek named Lester and the completion of a certain side mission he moves to a luxury abode in the Hills, and thanks to Lester’s timely stock market tips he can become a very rich young man. If you’re smart you’ll obviously buy the stock with Trevor and Mike as well, but you need to remember to keep an eye on the share prices and sell at the right time.
The sound will surely win awards again. There are 16 or more radio stations that will keep you humming along with a vast selection of catchy tunes from every genre you can think of, and the talk radio stations (the sex-mad Fernando returns and Danny McBride stars as a talk radio host) supply the usual amount of laugh-out-loud moments. As in GTA IV there are various forms of entertainment, and you can visit any of the cinemas dotted around the city and watch well made and lengthy movie spoofs. As I mentioned earlier, the TV channels are well worth watching too, with plenty of irreverent digs at just about every facet of modern life, the entertainment business and news media.
GTA V has some brilliant dialogue, the usual amount of GTA humour, witty rebukes, rebuffs, retorts and one-liners, a lot of which will make you laugh, unlike certain other games that try to be funny and fail.
Music tracks by Queen, Bob Seger, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dog, C.W. McCall, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Gerry Rafferty, Simple Minds, Stevie Nicks, The Weirdos, The Doobie Brothers, Cult, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, All Saints, Hall & Oates, Mis-Teeq, Steve Miller Band, Pet Shop Boys and Wham appear, as well as a massive collection of other artists performing everything from punk to classical music.
Vitally for a game with so much gunplay, the shooting mechanic and aiming seems like an step up on GTA IV’s and the ‘sticky’ cover mode has been improved, but some of the same old third person shooter aiming issues still arise when you’re stuck to certain surfaces. In the main the shooting action is exciting stuff, the weapons feel and sound right and GTA’s default lock-on assist helps pick out concealed enemies or enemies who are just so far away they’re hard to see. Like me you’ll probably appreciate this aim assist (that I’d probably turn off in most other games) as unless you drive like your granny and act like a saint it’s very easy to get into trouble and being able to instantly pick off an enemy is very useful. The Cops are extremely aggressive, a single star wanted level (which can be gained by a cop cars running into you, or just doing something as insignificant as dodging a cab fare) will mean they shoot at you if you resist arrest. One star can soon turn into 2 or 3 stars, and once it gets to 4 stars you’re in real trouble. The cops now search for you rather than being psychic and the mini map shows their field of sight “cones” so you can gauge where best to hide; a winding path with several turns down alleyways will often do the trick, but escaping a police chopper search (3 stars or more) will usually require hiding you and/or your vehicle in, under or behind a structure. Escape a 5-star wanted level and you’re really doing well.
If anything both cops and other enemies are too plentiful and accurate with their shooting, often out-shooting you with inferior weapons and cover, and nailing you mercilessly from moving vehicles; once you’re under fire health and body armour don’t last long unless you treat the enemy and their bullets with a lot more respect than the law and use the cover mode tactically or drive like a pro.
The default aiming reticle (gun sight) is a simple point on screen, and piddlingly small and difficult to see even on a large HD TV. Fortunately you can change it to “complex” in the options menu but this still leaves thrown weapons with the single tiny point to aim with, which is daft. Aiming while driving is also seems more fiddly and ham-fisted than ever; shooting at a car while driving requires steering with the left stick, controlling the throttle and brakes with the two triggers, firing the weapon with ‘LB’, aiming with the right stick while often needing to select rear view by holding ‘R3’ clicked in! At times this had me groaning with anguish and thumping the arm of my chair with frustration as the AI enemy seem to have no such problems, presumably because they have more fingers and thumbs. It’s another thing that should have been addressed after GTA IV and wasn’t-aim assist is ‘on’ by default for normal on-foot gunplay so why the heck not when in-vehicle when you really need it? Whatever the case, Rockstar clearly need to put their game testing out to gamers with normal reactions, the normal number of fingers and thumbs and normal eyesight, and not the team of eagle-octopus mutants they presumably used for GTA V.
Dogs are a great addition to the series (and I’m no dog lover) and really add to the believability of the environment. There are plenty to be found in the game; some friendly, and some definitely not. Frank “inherits” Chop, a young Rottweiler from his homie Lamar. You can take him for walks and throw a ball for him to fetch. In return he’ll protect you, attacking anyone who you target or who shows aggression towards you. You can teach him tricks if you download the iPhone, iPad or Android app (including a very useful ability to send him searching for the nearest collectible or pickup), but then you have to keep feeding and watering him by playing the inane minigames or he ceases to be ”happy” enough to perform, which is worryingly close to Tamagotchi country.
You get the same sort of annoying connectivity-related thing with Chop the Rottweiler; why can’t we train him and feed him in-game, or play the app on a laptop or PC? I’d also question the structuring regarding characters’ abilities that are unlikely to get anywhere near capped during a normal play-through of the story unless you deliberately boost them, and the price of some items ($3 million for a battle tank, $150 million for the Golf Club!) is way outside anyone’s budget until right at the end of the game, and then only if you invested wisely in the stock market.
With the amazing amount of quality animation in the game anything unrealistic really stands out, and your character can get caught out by the scenery and fall in a silly, unconvincing “ragdolly” way, which can be annoying when running from the cops or chasing someone on foot. Other things that can annoy and look silly are the way that the characters find even gentle slopes impassable and walk in such a leisurely manner when taking control of a vehicle-even when being shot at! The guys will now enter a vehicle if you press ‘Y’ as much as 30 yards away, but do they rush when their life depends on it? Nope.
Although you can now “rock” vehicles back up the right way should they end upside-down after a crash, you can’t push boats or jet skis back into the water when they’re beached (although you can respawn in the water if they get grounded in an online race). An anchor for boats would have been nice too, with all the scuba diving to be done the way your boat/jet ski/submersible drifts off while you’re underwater gets irritating. I’m also amazed and disappointed that we didn’t get a more elegant way of entering and leaving watercraft; we have the same simplistic and silly game mechanic as GTA Vice City, so a character will rarely do the logical or realistic thing when you drive a boat near a dock, and will usually jump or fall in the water rather than clamber ashore. Sleeping Dogs managed it beautifully, so why couldn’t GTA V?
I mentioned how the vehicles load in ‘blocks’ and how this is a hangover from GTA III, well another throwback and major let down is how various taxi driving (all three guys) arms dealer (with Trevor) and towing (with Frank) missions soon repeat. This seems really weak as they soon recycle the same targets, the same locations and same vehicles over and over again.
You can partake of typically San Andrean pastimes in the form of Golf and Tennis, but as fun as it is, the golf has very basic controls, and although you can hook, slice and put backspin on the ball there are some dodgy ball physics and someone keeps forgetting to put the flag back in on a couple of holes. Whatever the case, you MUST try it with Trevor just to hear some of his acerbic comments and see his “stylish” golf attire. The tennis suffers from some terrible line calls and although the players themselves swear plenty, some of the calls with have you cussing too, and it’s a bit laggy if you play it in GTA online with a transatlantic friend. But it’s more fun than the last full-price tennis game I reviewed (TopSpin or Virtua) simply because it’s in GTA. You can also play darts, but quite why you’d bother is beyond me. A return of the GTA IV air hockey, pool and bowling or something like Frisbee golf or archery would have suited the game much better.
A huge part of GTA V and GTA in the future is GTA Online which works on a ranking and levelling system similar to just about all the other online games out there, with Rockstar’s RP (Reputation Points) replacing XP. You can play solo or join up to 5 different crews to compete with and against, and given my experiences in the first few days “rolling in a crew” is probably a good idea in an open game—Blaine County is a dangerous place full of real psychos who want to shoot you, blow you up and steal your money, so be warned. The first thing you have to do is design your character. This is done with a weird and wonderful selection system that has you defining what your character’s parents and grandparents looked like, and then how much like your character’s parents they look with a sliding bar scale. You also have to decide which gender you want to play as, as well as their character’s lifestyle and appearance. This’d be great if all the characters didn’t end up with the same generic facial look, with only weight, skin colour and clothing to distinguish them. It’s also seemingly impossible to make an attractive female character, unless David Walliams in drag is your thing.
Once you’ve made your character (you can randomise one if you hate this sort of thing) and done a race and a couple of introductory tutorial jobs, GTA Online allows you to play various sports (tennis and golf) and games (darts and arm wrestling), do solo jobs, missions, races (on bikes, motorcycles, various car classes, cars, SUVs, jet skis, boats, helicopters, planes and even parachutes), take part in heists with random crews, deathmatches (scratch teams, solo or crew), a survival mode and there’s even a spectator mode so you don’t have to just sit in a lobby and wait for a race/job to finish. You can buy just about everything you can think of, from clothes to vehicles, weapons, garages and apartments, and there’s even a GTA Dollars cash card for those who can’t be bothered to earn or steal their own money. You will normally get launched into an open game with random players, but you can set up a solo game, a game for friends, crew or crews only, and as there are a lot of people out there who seem intent on nothing but mayhem and spoiling other players’ days this is a great idea. A “quick GPS” gadget means finding vital mission objectives and placing a waypoint on them can be done quickly, and this really keeps a mission whizzing along (obviously you can’t pause the game and examine the map at your leisure in an online game). When it works as intended GTA Online is amazing fun and caters for a wide selection of player moods and gameplay types, but there’s a big “but”...
The preparation and set up process for heists is really interesting, and the reward/cost for paying for a talented crew or alternatively trying to do the job on the cheap with cowboys only becomes apparent after at least two play-throughs. It’s more than likely that you’re going to want to use the replay mission facility to try the alternative plan or do the job the same way perfectly and earn a gold rating.
I will definitely be replaying missions (another genius little feature IMO as it means you don’t have to play the entire game through again to see a different outcome) and trying to get all gold ratings, and as frustrating as some missions are there were several I thought "I really want another go at that!", and I can't think of too many games where that is the case. The different criteria for a Gold rating will often require extreme accuracy and/or speed, meaning that you’re encouraged to replay missions more than once and try different approaches.
Penalising a game that supplies such scope for fun and entertainment because it has a few technical problems would be a bit like criticising Ghandi for being "a bit skinny."
GTA V is a tale of murder, theft (of the “grand auto” kind and otherwise), cheating, double-crosses, shameless depravity and a few other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten, but because of its remarkable environment, cool, varied gameplay, high drama, amazing changes of pace, cinematic quality, humour and most of all the strangely endearing trio of main characters and their bizarre bromance story, it left me feeling uplifted-at least with the ending I chose first (there are three possible outcomes to the story). Regardless of whether you consider the online game and all the delights and disappointments it has to offer in the purchase or not, Grand Theft Auto V thunders its way into contention for the game of the year, and you’d be a fool to miss out on it just because of blinkered opinions, misconceptions and even past experiences. Even though I've suffered from the game's glitches personally, I can't give GTA V less than a 10/10 score, penalising a game that supplies such scope for fun and entertainment because it has a few technical problems (problems that are likely to be fixed by the time you read this) would be a bit like criticising Ghandi for being "a bit skinny." I guarantee you will have a good time in Los Santos, at least some of the time. Buy it.
- Superbly detailed environment & amazing scenery to explore.
- Varied, convincing vehicle handling & physics.
- Varied gameplay types and a ton of things to do.
- Immersive story.
- Superb dialogue, voice acting, sound FX & soundtrack.
- Overly aggressive and impossibly accurate enemies.
- Online glitches can ruin your day.
- Lost vehicles and “block” loading.
- Terrible in-vehicle shooting mechanic and other aiming issues.