Rockstar’s GTA V has finally released and the GTA franchise is finally back to San Andreas (in particular Los Santos) which is arguable the best location the GTA series has ever been set in. It has been just over 5 years since GTA IV came out for the PS3 and 360. A lot has changed since GTA IV came out but has GTA V caught up with modern times. The answer may surprise you.
GTA has never been renowned for its in depth story but GTA V is a new low for the GTA franchise. The problem starts with its characters (or lack of characters). GTA V has three main protagonists (Michael, Franklin and Trevor) whose stories intertwine with each other to give the game direction. The issue is none of these characters have any real depth to them. Let’s start with Franklin who is the most pointless protagonists out of the three as he doesn’t do anything. He has no real role in the group and often is the tag along to Michael and/or Trevor’s story. There is one, possibly two, incidences where Franklin really takes the lead. What makes this a problem is with how the ending played out as Franklin which shoved into the driving seat when he has always been that background/tag along character (don’t worry I will not go into it. If you want to know please read my most recent blog titled GTA V problem: Story/Storytelling). Michael is no better. He is the retired criminal who craves to get back into the game at the annoyance of his family. Michael has a lot going on in his life but none of those issues are explored into any depth. He often saw a physiatrist, argued with his wife, children and past friends but these things are merely introduced at a superficial level which means Michael had very little, meaningful, character progression. Trevor is by far the best character out of the three with his offensive and psychotic nature but even he doesn’t avoid the superficial theme. His interaction with Michael really ruins this character (something I briefly mention later) and he could have been so much more. There are parts where he says and does something interesting (something I can’t get into due to it could spoil certain parts of the game) but they are just dumped and ignored in the following scene. It is not only a wasted opportunity but an example of poor writing. The other characters are equally poor. There isn’t one main antagonist but lots of smaller antagonists that are treated to a similarly poor conclusion.
Like its characters, GTA V’s story is lacking in quality. The problem was it had no drive and the inter character relationships were shallow. When all three characters meet up, the game turns into some crappy soap with two ex-lovers constantly fighting with each other with a random black extra in the background unsure if the developers even remember he is a playable character. The story tries to keep upping the ante with new characters and situations but the problem is it never resolves those issues until the last five minutes which comes across as a really random event (to the point where I was unsure the game was ending until the credits starting coming in).
Even though the story is lacking and the characters have as much depth as a puddle the missions are generally fun. There are a few occasions where I was really bored, mainly the side missions which felt like they were padding out the experience rather than adding to it, and that is the one major positive I could take away from playing the campaign. But the missions are very limiting for an open world game. It is worth noting that GTA V isn’t an exception as many open world games do this but the fact is you feel very constraint in an open world game. This is most apparent in the Heist missions. They are very structured, to the point where the only choice is Heist A or B and what car you want to take to get there. Also the last Heist doesn’t fit well into the story. It is mentioned hours before then forgotten about until nearer the end of the game. This would be fine if the story naturally fed into the Heist mission but it doesn’t. The story decides to pause just so the Heist can be done. It felt tacked on.
GTA V’s single player mode isn’t a totally mess. Graphically this game is good for an open world game. Rarely do I see the frame rate drop and the character models look and act natural. I like the art style which Rockstar has gone for a realism look but still managed to retain some GTA charm. The core gameplay mechanics are phenomenal (shooting is perfectly ripped from Max Payne 3). They physics engine may be a bit silly at times (you can end up jumping into walls and doing yourself some serious damage) but it works and shows up a lot of other games. Driving and flying has weight to it but it is still easy to wipe those vehicles around the map. Talking about the map, it is huge. Actually huge is an understatement. It is one massive playground. It is sparsely populated but the city area is big enough to get your town needs. An issue with the map is that it highlights how it isn’t used to its full potential. It feels certain things would have been perfect to use in the story but are totally ignored (for example the massive prison). I get they need stuff that feels new for the online component but it is still a wasted opportunity especially since, at the moment, it isn’t interactive at all. Apart from the obvious using the map as a massive playground, there is a lot of stuff to do in the map. Fully fledge tennis /golf mini games are available, there are races to complete, property to buy…. you name it GTA V has it. I am going to single out one aspect that need fixing and that is the stock market. I have heard other people have had no issue but the more online stock market doesn’t work. I found the market rarely fluctuated. The in game one is perfect and I earned and lost a lot of money using it but the other one seems to be a bit static.
I could go on describing the insane amount of things to do in this game but I will leave it there. Just be aware there are a lot of small things to do in GTA V. One thing that isn’t a small feature is customisation but I still would have liked more (for both driving and gun customisation). The problem is there is only one option to really choice to make your gun/car better. Apart from car paint jobs the rest feels limited. I upgraded all the weapons by about a quarter of the way through the game and I dabbled in the car customisation but I found it unnecessary as part of GTA’s design is to take the nearest vehicle and make do (also there was the whole car in garage glitch which made you not want to spend a fortune on one car).
Sound is a big thing in GTA games and I feel GTA V does a good job. I quite like the radio stations and it made me fall in love with “DJ Mehdi – Lucky Boy (Outlines Remix)”. There are a gret range of stations but each station doesn’t have a great list of tracks. This is a minor issue but I would like Rockstar to release song packs (for free/small fee). The radio track list is not at the same level as Vice City, nor was I expecting them to be, but It is still one solid list of songs. The general soundtrack is okay but nothing special. It does add a new dimension to GTA but it isn’t one of those soundtracks you buy and listen to on the go nor is it rememberable. One the other hand, the voice acting is very good and it is nice to see unknown actors take those roles in such a big budget game. Also guns, vehicle….. sounds are perfectly executed and really gets you immersed in the game
Now I am going to briefly talk about the online component. This is a total mess. It basically doesn’t work. I have gotten as far as the character customisation screen which by the way is awful and complicated. You may be thinking it is unfair for me to comment on something Rockstar could fix and I have every faith in them fixing it but as it stands right now it is a complete disaster. I was expecting for a dodgy launch of the online component but I didn’t think it would be this bad and that is unacceptable since they have had two weeks (and years of development) to make sure procedures are in place to reduce what is happening now. It is just pure laziness and I feel more like a beta tester for a game I paid full price for.
Overall this game has major problems. Its entire story/story telling/characters is appallingly done. I know the GTA series isn’t renowned for story telling but things have changed since GTA IV came out. Other developers have adapted and overcome story telling boundaries. It feels Rockstar is still stuck in 2008. Also the online component is a mess. That being said there are some good points to this game and it would be unfair to brush over these achievements. Would I recommend this game to anyone? No. At the moment GTA V is a $60 d*ck around simulator because the other stuff is poorly done. I just hope Rockstar can redeem themselves by fixing the online component.
Just a quick side, but relevant, note about the score. With past experiences giving a popular game a “low” score I must address the reason why (if it isn’t clear in the review) this game’s score is so “low”. If the online worked/ignoring the online component this game is a 7. Even if the online mode turns out to be a masterpiece in engineering I still wouldn’t give it higher than a 7.5 as the issues I brought up bring this game down.