In 2008 Grand Theft Auto IV graced both the Xbox 360 and PS3 systems for the first time, and the title was met with critical acclaim. It was the first time a GTA game had a soul as it put gamers into the shoes of Niko Bellic. Fast forward to the present and developer Rockstar North has ended its self induced five-year exile and blessed the masses with the follow-up in Grand Theft Auto V. It won’t take you long before it becomes clear that GTA is still the standard for AAA games.
In a dope twist, rather than settling on one character to follow, GTA V is the first game in the series to feature multiple nut jobs you can control, and it’s pulled off wonderfully as the trio of anti-heroes elevates the crime story to another plateau. There’s Michael the former crook trying to chill in his big crib, but his ungrateful family forces him to end his retirement to keep the money train rolling. You can almost hear him exclaim, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” Franklin is an up-and-coming gang-banger and the type of character you’d typically see in a GTA game. Franklin has big-city dreams, but the first thing he wants to do is get self-sufficient enough so he can bounce from his aunt’s house. And then there’s Trevor who has a lot in common with Walter White from the TV show Breaking Bad. Like White, Trevor is a sociopathic meth dealer who also happens to be a former partner of Michael’s. By far, Trevor steals the show in GTA V. He’s brilliant, blessed with most of the funniest lines, an unstoppable ball of aggression and a violent force of nature.
Rockstar ensured that navigating between the trio was a seamless experience, the three stories intertwine as circumstances arise that force them to work together, and you can switch between the characters at almost any point with the press of a button allowing you a glimpse into the mayhem going on in their individual lives. At any time you could see Michael arguing with one of his family members when you take control of him; Franklin might be leaving a strip club or walking his dog; Trevor, God forbid you switch to him at the wrong time, might be in a compromising position passed out half-naked on a beach. Each of the three personalities has his own missions he performs, which makes it easier to detour without making it feel unnatural. In addition, they have different skills sets that get better during the game, such as shooting, handling an aircraft, endurance or driving. Basically, some are more suited to some tasks than others. In what is a hint of past GTA games, particular skills can be improved through the use of training, so all three can improve on their weak areas.
Game-play wise it is a leap forward from what we had in Grand Theft Auto IV. While it’s not expected to be on a Gran Turismo type level, controlling cars in this series has always been a bit of a chore. Now, cars handle with less sliding, and overall handling is better. Mission check pointing is also improved as you’ll no longer have to do a long drive repeatedly when you keep failing a mission.
The San Andreas world is massive. Los Santos, which is a distorted image of Los Angeles, looks just like it thanks to the areas congested with skyscrapers and industrial plants, and the re-creation of famous attractions like the Santa Monica Beach helping to give the town its presence, making it feel like you’re really exploring L.A. Blaine County features vast landscapes, and the soft desert atmosphere lies in stark contrast to Los Santos. That one can alternate between exploring these two different and interconnected areas means that you rarely get tired of just being in GTA V. The different parts are packed by a detail that underscores the long development time has been well spent. The streets are populated by pedestrians and drivers who live their own lives and who have their own calls—of course most often about something superficial. Besides the different character missions that are fantastic, GTA V has a plethora of things available for idle minds that just want to explore San Andreas—tennis, yoga, hiking, flying planes, golfing, cycling and plenty more. If you’re the type of person that just likes to go around punching innocent pedestrians in the grill and watching their coffee cups go flying, GTA V has you covered.
It’s hard not to be impressed by what Rockstar manages to squeeze out of the nearly 8-year-old consoles. GTA V has superb game play mechanics, well developed characters and an incredible story to match. All of these elements add up to make GTA V the best game in the series to date and one of the best games you’ll ever play period.—Written by DJ Rhude (@DJRhude)