GTA 5 Review
There was reason to worry about GTA 5.
GTA isn’t the same it was in the PS2 era of the series, it just isn’t. There’s a sense of self-importance about the series now, perhaps an expectation of its hyper-popularity or perhaps a maturing Rockstar looking to do something ‘serious’.
So there were concerns – after GTA 4 – that Rockstar was taking a different, unwanted direction, and many gamers were bored by GTA 4’s missions, the surface-deep appeal of Liberty City or the not-so-tongue-in-cheek characters.
None of that matters, though, because GTA 5 is exceptional. This is GTA, as we know it.
GTA 5’s Los Santos
As is often the case with any GTA, the star of the show with GTA 5 is its city. Los Santos is something else entirely, a world brimming with detail and as much a technical achievement as anything else.
Sure, it’s not nearly as smooth-edged as the GTA 5 trailers suggested, but it’s impressive all the same. It’s rare for a game to stop you in your tracks these days, but there are a number of moments where GTA 5 does just that.
It could be the glaring light of sunrise as it peeks over Mount Chiliad, racing through the Los Santos sewer basin at sunset or simply watching a realistic world just happen as the lights of distant tower blocks switch on.
GTA 5’s world is something else, with a level of detail we haven’t seen since Sleeping Dogs – but on a considerably larger scale.
Pick any point on the map and there will be some finite – and inconspicuous – piece of the world to absorb.
GTA 5 is easily one of the most impressive creations this generation, if not for high-end graphics – the likes of Crysis 3 and Battlefield 3 win on this front – than for its scale.
But make sure you check out the water – especially out at sea – it is uncanny.
Things To Do And See In GTA 5
But any world – however impressive – is useless without things to do. Learning from the mistakes of GTA 4, however, GTA 5 has countless things to do and see.
This could be the incidental games of tennis or yoga sessions, competing in triathlons or races on the dusty trails of Blaine County or even the far grander events in the form of parachuting or hunting.
Then there’s the myriad collectables, Red Dead Redemption-style bounty missions or the numerous dynamic events that appear within the world.
Or the Freaks and Strangers that litter Los Santos, from an elderly couple collecting celebrity underwear or a two-man Border Patrol crew who hunt down and arrest suspected immigrants for no reason other than their own sense of prejudice.
Then, of course, there’s the general dicking about. GTA 4 was too sombre an experience; as great as Niko Bellic was, he wasn’t someone you could live in. He was too serious, too melancholy.
Thankfully it’s not such a task to get hold of weapons and it doesn’t feel quite as horrible to gun a random citizen down in cold blood. If genocide was your favourite pastime in GTA then know that you’ll have hours of pointless murder to look forward to.
And we all love pointless murder, right?
Three Characters, Three Points Of View
Unless you’ve ignored every mention of GTA 5 since its reveal – if so, why are you reading this? – then you’ll already know you can play as one of three characters, at any point.
There’s Michael, the retired crook who’s far more psychotic than he lets on. There’s Trevor, who’s far more psychotic than he lets on, even despite making it clear to the world just how deranged he is.
And then there’s Franklin, who will likely become known as ‘the other one’.
Rockstar’s finally managed to create a set of characters outside of its usual template: you know, the inherently bad guy who just wants to be a good guy, but The Man just can’t let him escape his past crimes. That Rockstar template.
Michael is perhaps the closest fit to this typically Rockstar protagonist – with the exception that he’s already settled down, and actually prefers the moments where he’s a little more anarchic.
Trevor is the complete opposite. He isn’t settling down any time soon, and revels in the bloody chaos. By far the best character of the three – and not just because of his penchant for murder – Trevor is surprisingly deep as a character, too.
And Franklin, the humble would-be gangsta that acts as a sort of neutral ground for Michael and Trevor. He’s as happy to kill as the other two, but somehow manages to come across as quaint, friendly, nice even.
Like a puppy killing a bird Franklin somehow seems pleasant in spite of his brutality, immune to the otherwise highly-strung nature of Michael and Trevor.
GTA 5’s Switching Mechanic
Of course the big selling point here is that you can play as any of these three characters however you want.
You can dress them up (or down, if you really want), kit them out with a selection of weapons while each has unique hobbies and pastimes to enjoy while out and about in Los Santos.
The switching mechanic works surprisingly well. Though it’ll take up to 30 seconds to switch, it does so almost seamlessly, hiding its loading behind a Google Earth style zoom-in, zoom-out function.
It’s all very slick.
But in GTA 5’s missions there are far more restrictions. We were promised complete freedom as to who we played as and when, but this most certainly is not the case.
It’s not necessarily an issue since such a feature allows Rockstar to handpick the most entertaining part of a mission, but rare are the times you’ll have total freedom to pick who you want to play as.
It’s a shame, admittedly, but it never really feels like a worthy criticism. There will be those who only want to play as one of the characters – and sadly that’s not possible – but everyone else likely won’t find this restriction too limiting.
GTA 5’s Missions
But what about the missions you undertake? Well, they’re a varied bunch. Some, especially early on, are more about introducing features or unlocking elements of the open world. Drive from A to B, your usual GTA fare and all that.
It’s a problem since the majority of gamers have played a GTA game before. We know ammo is bought from Ammu-Nation, we know how to buy clothes. It doesn’t always need a tutorial.
But there’s still a large selection of spectacular missions. They’re often set-pieces in an open world, but they’re nonetheless more flexible than GTA 4’s restrictive waypointed missions.
If you want to use C4 to lay a trap instead of a sniper rifle, then do it. Now you have objectives, and aren’t reigned in to dance to Rockstar’s tune when it comes to the missions.
And yes, checkpoints mean you won’t ever get frustrated about driving back to a location again.
The heists are undoubtedly the showcase here. These special missions tend to have a build up of sorts as you collect the necessary parts – a fire truck, a getaway car, knockout gas or what have you – making the execution all the more exciting.
It’s when these heists give you a choice that you really feel empowered, even if it does turn out that they’re more binary than they might seem on the surface. The low-ranking gunman will always die, regardless of how many times you attempt the mission.
It’s in their potential that the heists disappoint then, a set of missions that could be exemplary forms of sandbox GTA that, instead, become little more than a choice of scripts to read from.
Nonetheless the missions themselves are entertaining – some of GTA’s finest – and for that reason it feels unfair to criticise GTA 5 for its potential, especially when GTA Online could see this feature expanded exponentially.
We’ve talked a little more about GTA 5’s heist missions, why they’re wasted potential and what it means for GTA Online.
GTA 5 Review
GTA 5 is what GTA 4 should’ve been. Its world isn’t nearly as empty, its characters are solid and entertaining and you’ll have as much fun making the most of Los Santos in your own time than you will in the carefully crafted missions.
It’s true that GTA 5 – at least on the surface – isn’t quite as humorous as its predecessors, but it’s there for those who want to look for it.
It’s a story that Rockstar has taken seriously, so it has smartly opted to sticking the ‘funny’ bits to the sidelines: the TV stations, the random missions or the peripheral details in billboards and adverts.
While it is a whole new beast GTA 5 perhaps won’t convince those few gamers who don’t ever care about GTA, though it is the most finely tuned GTA game yet.
Driving, flying, shooting and even walking are now smoother than ever, enabling you to do exactly as you want instead of struggling around corners or climbing to your feet.
GTA 5 is one of the best open world games this generation, with a level of quality that few – if any – developers could ever hope to match. It’s GTA as we know it, and what that really means is that it’s a place to escape to.
Los Santos is GTA 5: it’s a world you want to explore, you want to exist in, you want to experience. There’s more to Los Santos than meets the eye, and you’ll gladly put in the hours to see it all.
Version tested: PS3
Note: GTA Online – the multiplayer mode for GTA 5 – is not yet live and, as such, could not be reviewed.
However, we have scored GTA 5 as a complete package including GTA Online, and will create a separate hands-on verdict when the online component goes live on 1 October 2013.