Grand Theft Auto V is a lot like one of its own protagonists, Trevor; an old friend, complex, occasionally twitchy and ready to go crazy at the drop of a hat. Not that Rockstar Games gives a flying iFruit phone what I think about their latest GTA instalment, with sales rocketing past one billion dollars in its first three days.
One. Billion. Dollars. The game practically prints money, one of the few illicit activities you don’t have a crack at in Los Santos. GTA V has been an outstanding success, but room for improvement remains.
Whereas 2004’s GTA: San Andreas presented one character (CJ) and three cities to travel around (Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas), GTA V switches it around, giving you three characters and the one city of Los Santos to explore. Franklin Clinton is a gang banger working car repos for a local dealership, Michael de Santa is a retired crook juggling family issues and a mid-life crisis, and Trevor…. Well, Trevor is a complete nutcase and, without giving too much away, knew Michael in his past life. After a short time, you will be able to switch between the three at almost any time of the game, whether they be working together on a mission or pursuing their own interests separately. This creates some diverse missions and the flexibility to switch characters when the notion of driving halfway across the map to another point of interest is a bit pedestrian.
Not that these long tours aren’t without reward. Los Santos is on an island, but it’s a big island and there is plenty to see and to encounter. Random events will occur nearby and if you step in to help, there can be some choice rewards as a result, including recruiting additional crew for later missions, or getting access to features previously unavailable. This doesn’t factor in all the sports events, car customisations, stock market investments, sightseeing, property purchases, collectables, and other past-times that will keep you occupied well past the main story. There is a lot to do, and it can be a bit overwhelming, but it is a rich sandbox that keeps on giving.
Each character also has their own special ability – Michael has a type of bullet time, Franklin has something similar when he is driving and Trevor goes into a rampage mode where he dishes out more damage and takes less himself. These abilities can be improved over time, as can other statistics like strength, stamina, flying and lung capacity simply through their regular use or by training in some cases.
Of course, the most spectacular missions and events are reserved for the main story, and much like Red Dead Redemption’s John Marston, Michael de Santa finds that coming out of retirement brings an almost unlimited waiting list of people demanding his services. While Marston responded to some requests with an increasing amount of incredulity and amazement, Michael bottles everything up into rage that occasionally explodes out at those in closest proximity. As events unfold, tensions between Michael and Trevor continue to grow and Franklin becomes a reluctant moderator to keep them from killing each other. During all this, you plan special heists, that require additional crew members and they come with a price tag. Usually, skimping on the extra hands comes at a cost during the heist, but those who you continually recruit grow in their experience and become more reliable over the time of the game. These heists make for some wonderful set pieces and it rarely came across as a chore to complete them.
As both major heists and standard missions are completed, you will receive a rating, with bronze, silver and gold awards. Some of the criteria are bizarre and even ambiguous, and I found that my rate of success was hit and miss – if the criteria were available to view in the pause menu, I don’t know because I rarely wanted to interrupt the flow of action.
Some features of GTA V require online connection, and with my wireless internet being an unreliable setup for my PS3, I was forced to miss out on these. One of the stock exchanges in Los Santos, BAWSAQ, was unavailable offline for me, as it apparently monitors transactions of all GTA V players through the Rockstar Games Social Club. I also downloaded the iFruit app to my iPhone, but with all the mucking around to register for the Social Club and then sync to my PSN details…. I just wanted to get on with destroying things in Los Santos. The app does allow you to train Chop, Franklin’s dog, to find hidden items as well as mod aspects of your vehicles. There were some glitches early on with this app, but Rockstar have patched the iOS app, although an Android version is still in the works.
Technical issues weren’t just the domain of online features and connectivity; I’ve seen cops in invisible patrol cars, cars winking in and out of existence right in front of me and I’ve developed a small hatred for ladders of any kind. The climbing mechanic is usually fine, but I lost count of the number of times I jumped instead of climbing a ladder, creating some embarrassing faceplants and bone-breaking falls. The worst case involved climbing aboard a freight crane at the port, and after a few minutes of futile face mashing into the side of the crane, I took Trevor on a rampage just to get killed and reload the mission checkpoint. There are also reports of customised cars, outside of each characters’ signature vehicles, disappearing from garages, so there are strong recommendations to hold back on modding additional cars until Rockstar can look into the issue and no doubt patch it up.
Whilst I found the writing to get a reasonable balance of the story and each character, the dialogue was a problem. It might be the thirty-something family man in me, but I thought the f-bomb especially was overused to the point of saturation. While it sounds conservative, this overindulgence in swearing became a liability to my enjoying the game in my family home – I either had to turn the volume down or play later at night. GTA V got an R18+ rating for good reason, this is absolutely not a game for children, parents you have been warned. Aside from those family considerations, such repetitive use of profanities diluted its impact, until it just became so much white noise in the conversations.
Despite all this, GTA V remains a stunning achievement in the twilight of the PS3 and XBOX 360 consoles, so I can’t imagine what might be accomplished in the next generation. There is brilliant attention to detail, from overhearing random conversations to subtle changes in sound depending on the environment, and what your character is doing at the time. I didn’t feel like I was staring at repetitive textures or designs in each suburb and there were some truly beautiful moments, such as sunsets over the coastline or skydiving over downtown Los Santos at night. Special mention needs to be made for also for a certain event where Michael is on one hell of a trip – it is a hilarious, inspired work of art and had me laughing well after it was finished.
Without a doubt, though, Trevor is the absolute highlight for me. While I could identify with aspects of Michael, Trevor was psychotic to the point of endearment. I couldn’t help but like this indiscriminately murderous, contrary, anti-everything drug-addled whacko. His mayhem and unpredictability was a perfect balance to both Michael and Franklin. Sometimes I would switch to Trevor just to see what sort of situation he would be in at that moment – some of the funniest moments you’ll see in the game.
And much like the game itself that I apparently ‘finished’ at a bit over seventy percent, I’ve barely scratched the surface of GTA V and Los Santos. I tended to skim past quite a lot of extracurricular activities for the sake of the storyline, but I would suggest taking your time and soaking up as much of Los Santos as you possibly can.