Through Grand Theft Auto III’s release in 2001, just a year after the beginning of the PS2, the landscape of gaming was irrevocably changed. The “open world game” as we now know it had arrived triumphantly over a decade ago, and with it came a whole new generation and a whole new world to explore. With GTA III came the possibilities of not only creating a huge open world where players could have the freedom to roam and complete the game as they please, but also the opportunity to build something contained but expansive, huge and grand, immersive and detailed.
Fast-forward to 2013, and on the eve of the current-gen’s last hurrah before the new consoles arrive, it seems only appropriate that Rockstar Games would cap things off with a new Grand Theft Auto title. Not just any GTA game, mind you. Instead, Rockstar gives us a weaving, labyrinthine crime saga that proves one thing most clearly.
With Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar Games doesn’t just make games – they make epics.
Grand Theft Auto V, as one of the final big releases for the Xbox 360 and PS3, is many things: a huge action-packed follow-up to the equally monumental Grand Theft Auto IV, a sprawling adventure filled with content to keep you entertained for weeks (or not shockingly, months), and a tongue-in-cheek commentary-riddled exploration of the current culture and social climate. But, most of all, Grand Theft Auto V is a culmination of many scales; a masterpiece taking all of the best parts of Rockstar’s accomplishments over the past eight years, and a fond farewell and celebration of the current-gen consoles on the eve of the next generation.
Luckily, Grand Theft Auto V sends the current-gen off not just with a bang but a rental van filled with explosives followed by a helicopter and adrenaline-filled carnage in its path. Rockstar’s opus to the current-gen sends off the last eight years of gaming with a volatile mixture of engaging storytelling, the series’ most-refined gameplay yet, and a trio of incredibly memorable characters that are equal parts psychopathic and sympathetic but always intriguing to play as.
Following Niko Bellic’s rendezvous through Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar’s latest switches things back to the West Coast in the regions of Los Santos, the GTA universe’s take on Los Angeles last seen in 2004’s opus, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Not set to just merely reuse the same locales and size of the last iteration, Rockstar Games has amplified the scale and scope of Grand Theft Auto V‘s world and map to rival a small state, out-scaling previous titles like Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, and L.A. Noire two, or even three, times over. “Massive” is only putting it at an understatement: Grand Theft Auto V’s rendition of San Andreas is expansive and full of life.
Aside from expanding the physical size of its world and map, Rockstar has also expanded its storytelling greatly with Grand Theft Auto V with the introduction of multiple playable characters, a first for the series which only supplements its already elaborate 30-hour campaign and ambitious story. Luckily, unlike some of the twists and turns that sometimes fell flat to the detriment of its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto V’s trio of gangsters, killers, and thug wannabes encompass just as much depth and wit as Rockstar’s rendition of Los Angeles can offer: they’re often despicable, but always relatable and interesting to be around.
This time around, Rockstar takes us through the paces as three playable characters across their treks through Los Santos: Michael (the 40-something retired criminal seeking the ends to his midlife crisis), Franklin (the young up-and-coming criminal looking to make his big break and break bank), and Trevor (the homicidal sociopath with a heart of…something). Taking a departure from the usual Rockstar formula of the one lone character’s journey, Grand Theft Auto V thankfully rights many of the series’ past misfortunes through its player swapping mechanics, and provides easily one of the largest improvements to the series as a whole.
With no longer being burdened by traveling the huge stretches of land as one character the whole time, the ability to swap between Michael, Franklin, or Trevor gives the option for variety and a (seemingly) quicker pace, a problem that has often plagued the series. Ready for a change of scenery after Michael’s big job? Swap over to see what Franklin is up to. Once you’re done with that, hop on over to Trevor’s territory to see him riding a dirt bike in the Los Santos desert areas. It’s simple in concept, but the instantaneous swapping and switching between characters is easy and drastically changes the flow of the game, continuing Grand Theft Auto V’s focus on variety and depth; Rockstar only shows they have more than imaginably possible on both accounts.
Even with three characters roaming around its parts, Rockstar’s Los Santos is mind-bogglingly big, and packed with enough content to rival a small MMO. Even at just a first glance of the open world’s skylines or roaming through the wilderness or desert areas, Grand Theft Auto V now more than ever shows Rockstar’s mastery of getting the smaller parts of their games feeling just as big and expansive as the worlds that they build. Even after a full run through the game’s campaign and completing a good chunk of its side missions and storylines, I was still left at just slightly over a 65% completion rate.
Little did I know that I still had a huge To Do list of things left to accomplish from Grand Theft Auto V’s checklist: tennis, yoga, base jumping, hunting, biking, jet skiing, taking hits from a bong, street races, sky diving, and the list can go on. Rockstar nails it by offering each of these activities as dedicated experiences that can keep a player entertained all by their own, and just the fact that they are just supplementary to the huge campaign is astounding.
Luckily, even with the huge excess of content and activities to keep you busy across Los Santos, Grand Theft Auto V continues to refine on many of the major gameplay changes from Grand Theft Auto IV and also makes some strides of its own. With one of the series’ major banes of existence finally being exorcised – mid-mission checkpoints now being generously added – the game rarely leaves you feeling kicked out of the experience or that effort put in is wasted due to a small mistake or inopportune car crash.
Likewise, the shooting mechanics of Grand Theft Auto V have been refined to feel more responsive and accurate, and just as equally so, the driving physics have also seen significant improvements to the sometimes rubbery-feeling mechanics of Grand Theft Auto IV. With each car having its own unique feel, sense of momentum, and keenly different driving abilities, Grand Theft Auto V succeeds almost entirely in its own rights as a racing game with its huge selection of varied and detailed cars and mobility to get around Los Santos.
Crime, double-crossing, and cars aside, Grand Theft Auto V is a much greater sum of its many, many parts. It encompasses an expansive story across huge swaths of varied, detailed terrain that cover all aspects of high crime and low lives. It is a keen-eyed social commentary rife with jokes both hilarious and completely uncomfortable, and always willing to take a sharp stab at our obsession with our “iFruit” phones and constantly checking our “LifeInvader” profiles. It is a daily life simulator filled with enough activities to keep you occupied for days, weeks, and even more likely, months on end. It’s a racing game, a stunt spectacle, and a third-person action-adventure shooter with more blockbuster movie moments than Hollywood can often dream of.
But on all of these foundations of its development and on the accomplishments of an entire generation of gaming, Rockstar only stands with three others – Michael, Franklin, and Trevor – in celebrating where gaming has come, and where it will continue to go with Grand Theft Auto V. Equal parts engaging, exciting, and epic, Grand Theft Auto V is one of a few games that reaches sky high and soars above those expectations, with Rockstar bringing a title that successfully takes the company’s best attributes, mixes them into a box, shakes it, and lets the volatile explosion of energy run rampant and unrestrained.
Sure, Grand Theft Auto V may be coming on the final hours before we head right along into the era of the next-gen consoles, and stands right there as we say goodbye to the current-gen. But, with Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto V, there will always be a reason to extend the stay or make a return trip back to Los Santos, since there will always be something waiting.
Check out our DualShockers review of Grand Theft Auto Online here.