Grand Theft Auto V Review

I played Grand Theft Auto V to completion.

“Of course you did Jason,” you’re saying to yourself. “How could you possibly review the game if you hadn’t played it all the way through? That would be dishonest, stupid.” Certainly it would be dishonest, but despite the obvious theme of dishonesty in GTA V, that’s not why I bring this up. Perhaps I should rephrase:

I played Grand Theft Auto V to completion; it was the first time in the series I’ve ever done that. That’s better.

I’ve never been a GTA guy; I’ve always found the games uninteresting, and I’m not sure why. I used to think that of Rockstar entirely, but Red Dead Redemption changed my mind. Before I started GTA V I had hoped that what drew me into RDR, namely the living world and engaging story that I still think about three years later, would transfer to Rockstar’s flagship series, allowing me to finally enjoy a Grand Theft Auto game. GTA V not only has those concepts, but expands on them in such a way that makes them even more enjoyable. Los Santos is ALIVE. Blaine County is ALIVE. At every street corner, on every radio station, in every landmark area, the world of San Andreas swells with life, its inhabitants creating a sense of realism that few games can even aspire to.

Rockstar has done such a remarkable job creating this living, breathing world that at times I have to remind myself I’m playing a game. I feel no different walking my avatar down a few city blocks than I do walking myself a few blocks to the supermarket. When I turn on the radio while driving or when I watch TV at home, I’m presented with a variety of fictional commercials, each one lashing out at the ways of the real world: materialism, politics, etc. The Weasel News break-ins, however, contribute to this living world more than anything else, as they detail my last mission with perfect media spin, leaving out the major names involved and just sticking to the main details. You’ll be hearing Weasel News throughout the game, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t amazing every time.

Even when I’m not on a mission, the city bursts with things to do. There are shops to visit, gentlemen’s clubs to patronize, and sports to play. I could partake in a full 18 holes of golf or three sets of tennis if I so chose, which is amazing! There’s a lot of space to cover and it may seem intimidating, but traversing this giant map is made so much easier due to the improvements to driving. Driving is WORLDS better than any Grand Theft Auto game I’ve played previously. Sports and muscle cars feel powerful in my hands, while heavy trucks and big rigs are realistically sluggish and durable. Whenever I crash a car (which happens a lot) I feel like it’s MY fault rather than shoddy driving mechanics. I’m the one who rear-ended that poor sap, not the game. It’s amazing.

There are times where Los Santos’ visage of reality is shattered, however, reminding me that this is indeed a video game. Throughout my time in the city, I’d experience textures popping in all around me. One particular time, the front door of Michael’s house loaded after the rest of it, and I couldn’t enter until the door showed up. A better example lies in the return of the dynamic events of Red Dead Redemption and LA Noire, which place a blue or red dot on my GPS and allow me to decide if I want to pursue. A woman screams for help, lamenting her friend who seems to be in bad shape. On approach she runs up the stairs to a blind corner, where that friend is waiting with a gun to rob whoever answers. The first time this happened I was legitimately caught by surprise, amazed at the detail. The fourth time I passed the exact same location and heard the exact same dialogue, however, I ignored it; the impact was lost. What began as a landmark moment in the game turned into a repetitive drag, a rare break from total immersion into the city.

Rockstar took the George Thorogood approach in creating its “hero:” “One ain’t enough Jack, you better make it three.” Each member of the trio — Michael, Franklin, and Trevor — primarily looks out for number one, only branching out when looking after the others has direct benefits. Being able to switch between them on a whim provides a fresh perspective; I’ve never had to worry about three people living three separate lives before. Each character has a particular perk they can activate in battle, too: Michael causes more damage, Trevor absorbs more damage, and Franklin heightens his driving ability for getaways and car chases. Most interesting is what each of them is up to when I make the switch: I’ve found Michael playing video games with his son Jimmy, I’ve had to finish a fistfight that Franklin had started without me, and twice I took control of Trevor after he woke up on the side rail of a bridge wearing nothing but his underwear. Being able to drop in on the lives of my characters like that humanizes them in a way few other games can.

Throughout the tale of GTA V, these three miscreants make it obvious they aren’t after my approval; in fact, if they knew they were in a video game, a few fourth wall-breaking middle fingers may have been directed my way. Michael, Franklin, and Trevor are all hardened, merciless criminals, yet somehow Rockstar has made them relatable. All three of them have some trait that sticks out to me: Michael’s balancing act with his family and his “profession,” Franklin’s desire to ascend in his “career” path, and Trevor’s persistence and “efficiency” are all to be admired, even if their intentions aren’t exactly pure. I want to like these guys, and in some cases I really felt for their struggles, but soon after, the ugly side would present itself again and I’d wonder what I saw in them in the first place. The more I think about it, the more it sounds like one of those daytime TV relationships: that “I love her but not when she cheats on me” dynamic.

The supporting cast is less interesting than the three main characters, which is exactly how it should be. Michael’s marriage to former stripper Amanda is rockier than the mountains of Blaine County, the tension heightened by their stereotypical millennial children Jimmy and Tracey. Trevor has conspiracy theorist Ron and Juggalo Wade, two bumbling sidekicks clearly intimidated by their overly hostile boss. While interesting, none of these supporting characters hold a candle to the entertainment provided by Lamar Davis, Franklin’s partner in crime. Lamar is GTA V’s Joe Barbaro, the perfect sidekick for Franklin and his new associates. He certainly stirs some pots, particularly with the Ballas gang of Grove Street (memories!), but I still love the damn fool. I knew going into the game that GTA V would have its share of laughs, but the two loudest were thanks to Lamar: once in the beginning when he asks Franklin to come inside and hang out, and again toward the end of the game during a ride with Franklin to a mission location. I’d play any DLC Rockstar wanted to make starring Lamar; just putting that out there.

Grand Theft Auto V is a humongous undertaking, both for Rockstar and the player. There’s so much to take part in during the excursion to Los Santos it’s almost intimidating. After completing the storyline, the hardest part of the game was figuring out what to do next. That is never a bad problem, especially when everything offered is a blast. If ever you needed a proper sendoff to a magnificent seventh console generation,
look no further than Grand Theft Auto V.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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