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User Review : Grand Theft Auto V

Ups
  • Graphical Fidelity
  • First-Person
  • Story
Downs
  • Online Connectivity

An expected reboot with an unexpected twist.

“Everyone here is insane!” bellows an exasperated Michael as he and Franklin pull into the parking lot of a strip club.

Michael is perhaps more attentive to the ‘Los Santos effect’ than anyone. He is an outsider. An adoptive citizen. A foreigner to all things San Andreas who has reluctantly settled down within the sun-baked, acid drenched city in order to see out his remaining days. A mere bystander to the city perpetually digging its claws into his stir crazy wife, fame hungry daughter and blissfully dull son, Michael spends his time partaking in the only thing that will see him reach the grave with his own personal sense of sanity intact; pure, unabashed detraction.

But for as much as a whole box of cigars, an odious fast-food injection or a poolside pondering tends to help, Michael’s agitation continues to fester, his own inaction causing little more than a deep self-loathing. Add to this the gradual movement of things in the background beyond his control, and Michael finds himself at the mercy of the city he despises, unable to break free from the hold of his past life, yet secretly appreciative that he has once again been removed from a state of slothful ignorance.

Michael De Santa is our protagonist, however in the context of Grand Theft Auto V, he is merely a single point on the triangle.

Standing opposite Michael are two other bastions of chaos; Franklin Clinton and Trevor Phillips. The latter is a character from Michael’s past, a former running-buddy whose lofty felonious ambitions, unnerving level of aggression and intrinsic sociopathic tendencies all mix together to create a man that’d sooner kill you with a broken bottle than he would with a rifle. The polar opposite to Michael both psychologically and geographically, Trevor finds himself calling the arid, sand-brushed wastes of Sandy Shores his home, as he divides his time equally between huffing paint stripper and waging a one-man crusade against anyone with an engine between their legs.

Lastly, we have Franklin, who is arguably the most level-headed member of this otherwise volatile trio. Franklin’s alignment with the other two leans heavily on his need to ascend from a life he deems himself better than. After having failed to distance himself from the gang culture and constant clash of green and purple that has taken over his life, Franklin is looking for a new way to earn a living, and who better to teach him how to do just that than a bloated former bank robber and his maniacal ex-partner.

These are the broken, beaten and bent out of shape protagonists that you’ll be taking on your journey across Los Santos, and although they may each individually not be as permeable as certain previous GTA characters, as a trio, they perfectly embody the complete Grand Theft Auto experience.

Replaying Grand Theft Auto V for a second time makes it far easier to appreciate things I may have glossed over during my original play-through back on the Xbox 360. One example would be just how cohesive that the layout of the games story seems, despite each character having their own experiences and tales to tell in the interim of each main mission. Grand Theft Auto V’s plot, like the plots of previous GTA games, allows for an overarching narrative to both begin and end your time with the game, with your interactions with other characters in between helping to stand you in good stead for the rousing finale. In Grand Theft Auto Vice City for example, it was the pursuit of Sonny’s money, whilst in San Andreas, it was the quest to reunite the Grove Street families and uproot all corruption within. Grand Theft Auto V’s plot however isn’t nearly that predictable, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. There are several antagonists that crop up as the games story unravels, and whilst there is a tense final showdown, the emphasis throughout remains on the trio at hand, rather than the MacGuffin on the horizon. This, coupled with the crossed wires of each characters individual pathway becoming perfectly untangled upon the games conclusion, is one of GTA V’s biggest successes. This isn’t necessarily a game about killing an evil spectre that lurks in the distance, it’s a game about growing to revere three different characters for different reasons and ensuring that they continue to live on regardless.

Since the release of Grand Theft Auto III all the way back in 2001, the GTA series has been a stricly three-dimensional, third-person affair. I can still vividly remember the camera panning onto Claude for the first time as he clambered to escape a burning bridge amidst a timely jailbreak. Clad in a loud orange jumpsuit and now behind the wheel of a colourless, laboring sedan, he sped off into the towering maw of Liberty City, a living, breathing, death-dealing figure at the forefront of the first true Grand Theft Auto chronicle.

Every aspect of GTA III was a wholly different experience than had ever been seen in the series before, with the games evolution affecting everything within the world, be it minute nuance or core facet. Driving for example was more realistic than it had ever been, with all manner of trucks, low-riders and muscle cars each bringing with them a discernible look and feel. Shooting was revamped too, as shotguns and machine guns now fired with an actual weight behind them and with a series of cacophonous accompanying sounds. And of course, the world itself was more interactive than ever, with trains to ride, weapons to purchase, bombs to rig and even taxi-fares to complete.

No Grand Theft Auto game since GTA III has taken such a drastic leap towards redefining what it means to play GTA, however Grand Theft Auto V tries to make the biggest case yet with its inclusion of another brand new perspective. In Grand Theft Auto III, it was the revolutionary change that was a three-dimensional GTA game. In Grand Theft Auto V, it’s that you can now experience the game from a first-person perspective for the very first time.

First-person mode in Grand Theft Auto V changes things beyond simply putting you behind the eyes of either Michael, Franklin or Trevor. For one thing, it undoubtedly increases your immersion within the towering vistas and cool lagoons of Los Santos’ many biomes. The world around you simply feels more alive and vibrant than ever before. Catching the sun setting between the junction of two high-rises is a beauty that seems almost unbecoming of GTA’s satirical, vitriolic haven, whilst driving along a winding country road, lightning erupting in the distance as a torrent of rain assaults the veneer of your pick-up truck is another such incidence that adds a palpable presence to something so rudimentary.

When you’re not gazing at the darkened clouds moving lazily across the maroon sky, or into the eyes of a stripper named after an unsightly supercar, you’ll likely be warring across all corners of the city, painting the town a deliciously literal shade of red in your quest to rid Los Santos of some of its more depraved citizens. It’s here where GTA V’s first-person perspective adds a whole new plateau of bloody barbarism to its repertoire, with this new viewpoint making every action, be it a headshot or a hatchet strike, look and feel more visceral than ever.

Partly on account of Grand Theft Auto being a game that has always aligned itself with realism, and partly due to the sheer immersive effect of a first-person perspective being utilized in such an open game, GTA V’s new perspective is one that completely changes the core GTA experience. We’re used to being a spectator, watching as our protagonist runs, drives and shoots from an over-the-shoulder viewpoint. What we’re not so used to though, is being the actual set of bloodied hands that plunge a knife deep into the stomach of an unsuspecting pedestrian. There’s an unusual sense of contradiction that comes with GTA V’s first-person mode. But whether you’re taking photos of cats on the sidewalk or using an antique cavalry dagger to cut out the innards of an unwitting motorist, there’s more than enough difference between it and the atypical GTA perspective to bring something new to the table, without ever seeming excessive and out of place.

First-person extends across the breadth of GTA V’s many activities, including online play. A somewhat revamped GTA Online mode now seeks to cater for many more players at a time, yet still struggles with basic connectivity issues. As of writing this, two patches have been released in order to cope with the heavy demand on servers, and although they have improved the multiplayer experience greatly, it’s still intensely frustrating to be denied passage into a lobby full of your friends or become disconnected from a mission before it reaches its end.

Although Heists are due out in the near future, GTA Online undoubtedly offers a lot of content for the average player. Outside of structured jobs, death-matches and races are a series of objectives in the regular free-mode arena, such as stealing a designated car for Simeon, or robbing each and every convenience store on the map. The beauty of GTA Online however lies not in the senseless killing of others, but in the collective effort of multiple players to achieve something spectacular. In the one month since the game has been out, I’ve fought off five-stars worth of police on the back of a moving train with my accomplices in tow, taken a tank for a spin downtown and even used an athletics stadium as a makeshift bike race track. The average GTA Online lobby is still a charred warzone full of bombs, bullets and baseball bats, but you can at least take solace in the knowledge that embracing the chaos is but the first step to running the rule over Grand Theft Auto in its purest form.

Grand Theft Auto V ‘new-gen’ is an expected reboot that comes complete with an unexpected twist. Graphical refinements mean that draw distances are larger and lights are brighter, but it’s the inclusion of a whole new perspective that really allows this incarnation of GTA V to stand on its own two feet. Still ever the exemplar for the story driven, open-world symbiosis, Grand Theft Auto V on next generation consoles is the definitive GTA game, and the product of an evolution that has characterized an entire genre.

Score
9.5
Graphics
Near-perfect. Some texture tearing present, but in a world this big, what Rockstar have achieved aesthetically is nothing short of remarkable.
9.0
Sound
A great soundtrack has only gotten better with the inclusion of a host of new songs. Ambient SFX also stellar, as are weapon sounds and voice acting.
9.0
Gameplay
Dropped a mark for a pretty poor controller 'dead-zone' while in first-person. Other than that, driving, swimming, running and parachuting are all spectacular.
10.0
Fun Factor
There are so many things to do and so many ways in how to do them. GTA V is a world of almost limitless possibilities.
7.5
Online
It seems like little has been learned from the poor connection issues upon release last-gen. Disingenuous community creations and job voting system are also issues. Aside from this, Online is terrific fun, particularly if you're a part of a crew.
Overall
9.5
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