The Grand Theft Auto franchise is among my favourite series of games. GTA3 and GTA: Vice City were among the first games I got when I first got a PS2, and I loved GTA: San Andreas even more. For some reason, however, I haven’t yet finished Grand Theft Auto 4 – it has much of the same gameplay, the same big sandbox environment, new extra features, but I just couldn’t get into it as much as the others. Maybe it was the fact that both the characters and environment felt bland compared to San Andreas, or because there was little that was new about the actual missions. Now, more than a year after the rest of the world, I finally got round to playing Grand Theft Auto 5. For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing at least a bit of this game every day, until I finally completed the main storyline a few days ago. So yeah, it’s a good one.
Opening with an action-packed bank robbery that goes wrong, thus introducing you to shooting and driving controls right away, GTA5 then cuts to ten years later in the city of Los Santos, last seen in San Andreas. Unlike in previous games, there are three main characters whom you can switch between. You start the main part of the game with street hustler Franklin, who quickly encounters retired criminal Michael – and naturally, they soon start getting up to no good together. After a while, the third playable character is introduced: Michael’s psychotic former associate, Trevor.
Great video games these days are able to introduce an interesting narrative into their gameplay, and GTA5 is no exception. The three main characters are not only diverse and interesting, but actually manage to be somewhat likeable despite being hardened criminals who kill lots of people – even Trevor, who begins his first section in the main game by stomping a man’s skull in the dirt. Throughout the game, they have to deal with a lot of different issues, much of it revolving around Michael’s dysfunctional family and the Bureau agents who are keeping an eye on him since he gave up crime and changed his identity. There’s quite a bit of good humour within, both plain and satirical, as in previous games. As for the missions themselves, they’re more inventive than in GTA4; there’s a lot of gunfights and chasing cars, of course, but there’s also making air drops, driving a motorcycle onto a moving train, taking pictures of celebrities – plus no less than six grand-scale heists and the planning that goes into each one.
The overall environment of the game consists of Los Santos in the south, and the rest of Blaine County in the north; a combination of desert, mountain and forest, with a few small towns dotted around. As in other games, it’s great to explore and exceptionally detailed; when you first begin this game, you’re struck at just how good the graphics are. Admittedly, missions can sometimes require you to spend a bit too much time driving, though you do get some idea of how far you need to go each time, as GTA5 now tells you the distance to the next waypoint in miles. There’s also plenty to do: as well as the main story missions, there are a lot of side tasks. Some of these are ‘Strangers and Freaks’ missions, where a particular character meets someone on the street and ends up doing missions for them; others are optional ‘Random Events’, where you may encounter someone who needs a lift or has just been robbed, and can choose whether or not to assist them. As well as that, there are activities like tennis, golf, darts, yoga, parachuting and hunting elk – some are more scintillating than others, but unlike GTA4, you won’t have your friends calling you up at annoying moments to ask you to partake in them. There were quite a few times throughout the game when I had so many missions available, I couldn’t decide what to do next.
I found that the controls were a bit different from other GTA games, and there seemed to be more to remember. The various missions try to give you direct control over just about everything, from drawing a tattoo to the particularly controversial mission where you (as Trevor) have to torture a man through various methods. All the controls were a bit difficult to grasp at first, but you should soon get the hang of it. I noted in particular that flying feels very different in this game compared to San Andreas (there wasn’t really much flying in GTA5). Happily, you get access to planes and helicopters sooner in the game than before, but the vehicles are quite tricky to handle, so I recommend Flight School at the earliest opportunity. It generally appears to be in the name of increased realism; for example, you can feel increased turbulence when you fly close to the slopes of a mountain. But again, with enough experience, you should be able to handle yourself in the air without crashing too many times.
Brilliant gameplay, a wide environment, endless replay value – if you’ve got the stomach for it, Grand Theft Auto 5 is a must-have. Rating: 4.5/5.