It’s no surprise that a product coming out of Rockstar Games’ development studio would receive a wide range of excitement, hype, high expectations and applause; it’s also no surprise that Rockstar never fails to deliver on all aspects. Sure, there are some methodologies implemented in say, Grand Theft Auto IV or Red Dead Redemption that some gamers weren’t a fan of. Some said Liberty City was too bleak and colourless. Some weren’t interested in an old western cowboy theme. These seemingly petty, albeit completely valid opinions might seem nonsensical to some – considering that Rockstar’s games have never received anything lower than an averaged 9 out of 10* – however, Rockstar always seems to take every opinion at face value and incorporate the feedback from the fans into future projects. That, my friends, is one of many signs of a quality company.
When Rockstar Games officially announced that Grand Theft Auto V was in development, there might as well have been a riot in the streets of every major city; the reception of the announcement was wholly positive and anticipant, and gamers started circling dates in red on their calendar to take a week off from work, call in sick at school, or what have you. Understandably, with the small percentage of gamers that were disappointed with Grand Theft Auto IV – not as a whole, but with most aspects of it – there was a twinge of scepticism and concern, but it seems that the development and marketing crews at the company simply reclined in their chairs with their feet crossed on their desks and said, “Just wait.”
Grand Theft Auto V takes a huge leap forward from its predecessor and almost continues into the next-generation of gaming and returns with some features and material that we gamers would not expect from the current generation, due to perhaps lack of effort or innovation or perhaps the fear of trying something new. Rockstar Games threw caution to the wind here and took what they’ve learnt over the course of several years and incorporated their notes alongside what was and was not successful this generation, fan opinions and concerns and produced a truly magnificent masterpiece.
For the first time in Grand Theft Auto history (and perhaps even the history of gaming itself) you are put into the shoes of three, vastly different protagonists whose individual lives and stories come together to create an interwoven narrative that reminds me of something Tarantino would take inspiration from. These protagonists are able to be controlled at virtually any given point in the game and when the other two are not being directly controlled by the player, live their own personal lives and engage in their own activities thanks to an advanced AI component implemented in the game. When dropping in and out of the three characters, what they’ll be up to varies nearly every time based on the time of day and previous activities participated in. There is virtually never a time where the player will jump into one of the character’s lives and see them doing the same thing.
Grand Theft Auto V reintroduces San Andreas as gamers had asked, prayed and crossed fingers for since we entered the seventh console generation. It’s an expansive, beautiful and colourful world that is larger in scope than Liberty City multiplied by five. We’re introduced to the three protagonists, Michael, Franklin and Trevor; three men with their own different personalities, behaviours, vices, set of friends and preferred leisure.
Michael, a retired, former bank robber, is in his early forties living with his dysfunctional family living off of the proceeds of his former life in the upper class Rockford [Beverly] Hills. His wife, Amanda, a suburban mistress of extravagance, spends more time out and about, spending all of Michael’s money, than at home and is most likely having an affair with her yoga instructor. Michael’s daughter, Tracey, is the rebellious, Kelly Osbourne meets Britney Spears wild child, who claims her parents are ruining her life by merely existing and is seemingly the type to run off with a member of a motorcycle gang. Lastly, is Michael’s son, Jimmy, the stereotypical Hollywood rich kid – think Justin Bieber, but more rotund – who spends his time smoking weed, playing video games and pretending to be of African American descent, a drug dealer, a ‘gangsta’…or any combination of the above. “Let’s bounce, homie.” Michael retired from his life of crime after making a deal with the FIB and after realising he’s running out of money quickly and is tired of being bored and miserable, decides to return to the criminal path.
Franklin, speculated to be in his mid-twenties, never really had a family, money or an education to rely on. During his adolescent years, he became a gangbanger and dope dealer, but was arrested shortly afterwards. Following his release from prison, he started working for Simeon Yetarian, an Armenian, luxury car salesman whose dealership is a front for extortion and vehicle repossession. Franklin soon meets Michael and they perform a job together; after Michael notices potential in Franklin, he calls him the “son he’d always wanted,” and introduces him to his best friend, Trevor Phillips.
Trevor, a sociopathic maniac, entered the military as a pilot sometime in his earlier life. Not too long after his retirement, he meets Michael and the two go on a series of heists together, but suffer a falling out and consequently, a rift in their friendship is formed. Years later, with Trevor now in his forties, has run out of his robbery-earned finances and reconnects with Michael, who introduces him to Franklin, and the trio go on a series of Reservoir Dogs styled heists, thus forming the main story of Grand Theft Auto V.
In the event that you haven’t put two and two together yet, Grand Theft Auto V’s story revolves mainly around pulling off increasingly audacious heists, from knocking off jewellery stores to ambushing armoured vans, to high-stakes bank robberies. However, these heists are far and few between. There are only a small handful of them and they all serve as plot devices to keep the story going, some more than others. You won't find yourself earning serious money (ergo, anything more than a few hundred thousand dollars) until the final heist. These acts of Hollywood-style felonies are provided to the player in different methodologies of execution. You’re able to execute what I like to refer to as the methods that James Bond himself would raise a martini to, or the methods that Rambo would shoot an RPG into the air in celebration for.
Your choices affect the subsequent consequences, including the time you have to collect the stash, how much you’re able to escape with, and how easy it’ll be to evade the constabulary. Before performing the heist, you’ll be able to choose your methodology and following that, select from a list of qualified participants to assist you. Your options range from safe crackers, to muscle that provide assault support, to a getaway driver. Each selection comes with multiple applicants with varied skill; the higher skilled assistants will get their job done faster and more efficiently, but also desire a larger cut of the proceeds. On the other hand, you have the less skilled criminals who take longer to open a safe, but don’t demand a larger percentage. You’re also tasked with finding an exemplary spot to ditch the getaway vehicle and transition into something less conspicuous; in other words, park your second getaway vehicle down an alley before the heist, head on over after the heist and ditch the vehicle the police are looking for.
One of the more tantalising features that Rockstar improved on is the wanted system. The police, when either protagonist has a wanted level, will search for you based on description, and if in a vehicle, based on vehicle description. Police vehicles each have their own search zone on the radar and no longer miraculously know exactly where you are. You can drive around as normally, as long as you stay out of their field of vision. You can also avoid them by turning down the next street, hiding in an alleyway or parking lot or away from main roads. However, the higher the wanted level, the more in-depth the police searches become. They'll search the parking lots and the alleyways, so evading them proves a bit more difficult. Depending on the severity of your wanted level, if you're able to evade the radars, you may switch vehicles which will often throw the police off your scent, allowing you to casually drive past the alerted cars. Once you've escaped, go reward yourself with some new clothes or a haircut or maybe some tattoos.
You heard me correctly; character customisation has returned…but not as prominently as in San Andreas in 2004. Eating too much won’t make you fat and exercising won’t build visual muscle. However, you’re able to purchase clothes for your character – shirts, pants, shoes and glasses, and mix and match between outfits – as well as change hairstyles or facial hair and get tattoos. It’s not a wildly vast customisation scheme like in Saints Row or even The Sims, but it’s prominent, aesthetically pleasing and not overwhelming whatsoever.
What might prove to be overwhelming is the fact that while you’re allowed to customise your character, you’re also allowed to customise your weapons. Gone are the days of a tactically inferior arsenal! You’re more than welcome to mosey on down to the local Ammunation store and select from a nice inventory of pistols, submachine guns, rifles, what have you, and customise to your heart’s content. Throw on a suppressor, your choice of reflex, red dot or magnifying sights, an extended magazine, laser sight, underbarrel attachment, etcetera. You’re able to make your weapons your weapons, and they aren’t simply aesthetic customisations, but functional ones. Twisting on a suppressor to your favourite handgun will lessen the sounds of your shots which allow for silent kills without alerting nearby enemies. Civilians still somehow hear the suppressed shots and flee the scene and the police are still alerted. Your rail-mounted sight will allow for greater range and accuracy and the mounted fore-grip will allow for greater accuracy, stabilisation and control. It’s just what a professional criminal needs! Your customised weapons remain in your inventory even after running out of ammunition, dying or being arrested. You’ll never have to worry about losing the money you’d spent customising it.
Lastly on the heart-attack freightliner is the ability to customise your vehicles. Yes, as featured in San Andreas in 2004, but vastly improved and varied. Customisation includes aesthetics like rims, spoilers, body kits and interiors, and performance upgrades like engine tuning, brakes, steering and nitrous. It is also possible to over-tune your vehicle. Your customised vehicles are saved and you’re able to keep your favourites in your personal garage, and any vehicle of yours that is lost or totalled can be recovered from an impound lot for a price. In addition, should you be driving a convertible vehicle, you can retract and deploy the soft/hard top at will. There are no longer ‘variations’ of convertible vehicles with the top up or down. It’s now entirely in your control. Just don’t put the top up or down while the vehicle is in high speed. Not that you could, sadly, but we wouldn’t want a car careening off the road and squishing flat any pedestrians. Actually, yes…yes, we would.
Continuing onward, yes, you are able to purchase property in Grand Theft Auto V, but it is not as Rockstar Games led us to believe. Remember in the official gameplay trailer where it demonstrated being able to locate property for sale on the Dynasty 8 real estate page? Well, that was a fabrication. The only property you're allowed to purchase are businesses that generate a rather disappointing weekly revenue. So if you're expecting to blow your hard-earned money on mansions with ten-car garages, you're going to be terribly disappointed. The only garage you may use to store vehicles is the one garage that your character is given, which can fit two vehicles and a motorcycle. Unless you'd picked up the collector's edition of the game which gives players an 'extra' garage which can store five vehicles.
Owning businesses in Grand Theft Auto V isn't a matter of just owning a building like in San Andreas. Purchasing a business actually has its perks; owning the taxi company means you won't have to pay for cab fare. Owning a helipad or hangar means you have a place to store helicopters or aeroplanes. Owning a dock on the marina means you have a place to store watercrafts.
You may also purchase stocks from BAWSAQ including Ammunation (AMU), Bittersweet (BTR), Burger Shot (BSHT), Fruit Computers (FRUC), Sprunk (SPUK) and Whiz Wireless (WHIZ) to name a few. Owning stocks in companies is another way of earning (or losing money) if you’re willing to put your understanding of the stock market to the test…and of course, take a gamble. Reading up on the companies, listening or watching news reports will give you an idea of how the company is doing with its finances and whether or not purchasing a stock is a good idea. Grand Theft Auto V is centred on earning money and earning it fast; playing the stock market is one of the few legitimate methods of obtaining exorbitant amounts of currency...if the feature actually worked.
The stock market in Grand Theft Auto V is virtually frozen. It doesn't work. You're able to purchase stocks, yes, but you'll never see an increase or decrease in the company's value. It's almost just there to take up space, unless the feature will be reworked to arrive hand-in-hand with Grand Theft Auto Online. Either way, it's an incomplete feature in the game and that is not acceptable.
If there’s one thing Rockstar Games is known for, it’s their humble outlook on learning from past mistakes and taking into account what worked, what didn’t and actually making the effort to revitalise what needs to have the volume turned up. Gameplay in Grand Theft Auto V is a significantly large improvement to that of Grand Theft Auto IV and it seems that Rockstar did not let anything get in the way of producing the features exactly as they wanted them to be, as we gamers wanted them to be and how they should be. General mechanics such as character movements have been noticeably improved; each character has their own signature walk – although nothing as badass as Timothy Olyphant’s signature walk – and it seems fitting to their personality. Michael walks with a firm, yet I’m-bored-with-life demeanour. Franklin has a determined, focused, yet relaxed swagger about him. Trevor…well, needless to say, he walks aggressively and looks determined to sodomise the next person he sees with his foot.
Combat has taken a huge turnaround and Rockstar definitely turned the volume up for Grand Theft Auto V. You’ll find the combat to be an interesting and functional hybrid of Grand Theft Auto IV and Max Payne 3, and the two mechanics come together instrumentally in a myriad of utter brilliance. While using firearms, or simply having one equipped, the aiming reticle is similar to that of Max Payne 3, allowing the player to free aim while moving and essentially “run and gun” unrestrictedly, unlike Grand Theft Auto IV. You’re also given options in the settings menu that carried over from Max Payne 3 that allow complete free aim, soft lock or hard lock auto-assists; when pulling the left trigger to aim your weapon, hard lock will lock on them completely while soft lock will lock on and then allow you to move the reticle to different parts of their body or away from them completely. With free aim, it’s up to you to manually move the reticle to your target. Targets react to gunshots properly and each weapon has its own understandable level of power, which of course is upgradeable.
For the first time in Grand Theft Auto history, a weapon wheel is implemented and it seems to be a hybrid of that from Max Payne 3 and Red Dead Redemption. Players are able to keep multiple weapons of different types in their inventory; the top wedge for pistols, top-right diagonal for submachine guns, the right wedge for assault rifles, the bottom-right wedge for sniper rifles, the bottom wedge for melee or to holster a firearm, the bottom-left wedge for shotguns, the left wedge for special weapons (grenade launcher, RPG, etc.) and the top-left wedge for explosives like grenades, C4 or dynamite. Toward the bottom right of the weapon wheel, it’ll also indicate with an appropriate icon whether or not you have a parachute in your inventory. With this new system implemented into Grand Theft Auto V, you can now simply hover over the pistol wedge and press the left or right buttons to cycle through the handguns in your inventory and choose the one you’d like, whether it be a Desert Eagle, a Taurus PT92 or a fully automatic pistol.
Vehicle handling has greatly improved since Grand Theft Auto IV and despite original speculation based on leaked footage, it is not arcade-like whatsoever. Every car handles differently and they all have the appropriate feeling of mass based on the type of vehicle it is. Motorcycles also feel heavier and more responsive and it’s just as fun weaving in and out of traffic on two wheels as it is on four. The new handling serves itself well, as it’s easier to manoeuvre about and pull off some pretty amazing moves; drifting, J-turns, 360’s, and last-minute executions are completely responsive, easy and fun to pull off. Vehicle handling also depends on the character's skills; for example, Franklin has a pre-determined professional skill in driving, so cars and motorcycles are more responsive to his touch. With Michael, however, who needs to develop his driving skill, driving is heavier and more clunky since he isn't as skilled as Franklin. It's an understandable and brilliant counterpart to the game's mechanics and it works beautifully.
In the end, Grand Theft Auto V did not deliver on all of the aspects that Rockstar Games had promised - or at least nudged toward - in terms of purchasing property, having different and varied ways of obtaining money earlier in the game and the emphasis on robberies. Your work in pulling off the main heists in the game often feel as if it were for nothing; Trevor still lives in a ratty, run-down trailer. Franklin gets himself a nice Vinewood home. Michael remains where he lives. At the end of the day, the only thing you have to spend your money on is clothes and vehicles. There's no casinos to gamble in, the stock market feature is non-functional and the overall experience feels empty afterwards.
However, looking at the game for what is actually is, overall, Grand Theft Auto V has proven itself to be a masterpiece of this generation. With 69 story missions that are replayable at any given moment (except whilst progressing through another mission), the story is vast and in-depth but not long enough that one would grow bored. The narrative progresses at a desirable pace and even after completing the main game, there is an overwhelming handful of other things to do on the side. Grand Theft Auto V introduces San Andreas as we’ve never seen it before, and Rockstar Games has essentially taken everything that we loved about Grand Theft Auto, everything we wanted, and everything it should have and mixed it into one big concoction of sheer brilliance.
Grand Theft Auto Online is a whole different story. It's a great concept...but its execution is horrendous. Rockstar Games postponed the launch of Grand Theft Auto Online to two weeks following the release of Grand Theft Auto V and quite frankly, the delay was not long enough.
From the start, players experienced numerous issues connecting to the servers; it seems Rockstar Games foolishly failed to anticipate the vast number of gamers who would attempt to go online the moment the feature launched and did not prepare properly; they lacked the necessary numbers and reliability of servers to accommodate players. We're assured they're working around the clock to fix the reported issues; some people are playing without an issue while others are experience game-breaking problems.
Grand Theft Auto Online puts players in the shoes of their own, customisable character within the Grand Theft Auto V world; the setting takes place shortly before the events of the main game. Players are able to create their character's face based on heritage: what their grandparents looked like, how their parents looked and which parents' genes they incorporate most. Players who'd picked up the collector's edition of the game are able to choose special characters from previous games to use as their parents: Niko Bellic from GTA IV, Misty and Claude from GTA III and if you'd connected to the Social Club, you'll also be able to choose John Marston from Red Dead Redemption. You may select a gender here as well. Following the heritage generator, you then assign hours to your character's activities, including legal and illegal work, partying, sleeping, spending time with family, sports and exercise and sitting on the couch. It affects their skills and their visual appearance. Lastly, you select their hairstyle, colour and give them a name.
The introduction establishes that your character met Lamar Davis through LifeInvader and have been online friends for quite some time. Lamar invited your character to move down to Los Santos with opportunities to make a ton of money and a name for themselves. After giving your character their first gun, you're introduced to Hao who sets you up with a race and then allows you to bring a vehicle of your choice from the streets and fits it with a tracking device and insurance, with the vehicle becoming your personal mode of transportation.
After completing the introduction, the world is yours...metaphorically speaking. You're able to receive jobs from important characters in the game - some of whom you've met through the main story - and earn yourself money, reputation points (which help you level up) and job points. As demonstrated in Grand Theft Auto V, you're able to spend your earnings on clothes, weapons and further customisation: tattoos, vehicles, vehicle modifications, weapon modifications and altering your character's appearance at the barbershop. It should be noted that items in the Grand Theft Auto Online world are significantly more expensive and harder to obtain than in Grand Theft Auto V, as Rockstar seems to be policing the game and disallowing players from obtaining mid-to-high level equipment early on, just because they have the currency to do so.
Grand Theft Auto Online is essentially one, large open world. You can drop in and out of jobs and game modes at your leisure, without having to join or leave sessions, unlike in Grand Theft Auto IV. It's virtually seamless, aside from the loading times due to server connectivity issues. You're able to go anywhere and do almost anything from the start, providing you have the means and the money to do it. Heists are currently unavailable and will not be added until Rockstar fixes the issues currently presented, so the only ways of earning money at this moment is through robbing convenience stores, completing jobs, selling a stolen vehicle every once and awhile (there's a cooldown period) and killing other players in the world who have bounties on their heads.
Money earned can be deposited into your character's bank account, to safeguard your earnings from being stolen by other players upon your death. Which brings me to the biggest annoyance within the game: you have to be on your toes at all times, because with every death whether it be on a job/mission or exploring the world, you lose money. The variation is dependent on how much money you have, whether it be in cash or in your character's bank account; upon death, you lose 5% of the money you currently have. So if you're in a session with a bunch of players that like to run around and kill other players senselessly, it'd be wise to leave unless you're confident in your abilities to survive. Otherwise, you'll be broke before you know it.
Your best bet is to go into a private match with friends and members of your Social Club crew, to avoid losing thousands of dollars in lieu of trigger happy children in public sessions.
Further annoyances aren't that far and few between; driving any other vehicle that isn't your personal vehicle warrants a wanted level by the police, as the vehicle is stolen. Evading the police works temporarily, but if you drive past a law enforcement officer in a vehicle that does not belong to you, the heat is back on. It's no longer a matter of Grand Theft Auto V where once you escape, you're safe until you commit another crime.
It seems that in Grand Theft Auto Online, you're penalised for doing what you're supposed to do. You're penalised for having fun, you're penalised for exploration, you're penalised for dying and you're penalised for pretty much anything that's applauded in the main game.
Until Rockstar Games sorts this utter mess out, I'd pass on this disappointing and annoying online feature.