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I think I was lucky enough to be born around the time action movies were in their prime. The Terminator, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard had already released by the time I was born and all throughout the nineties I would watch them repeatedly and still do, even today. Gun fights, car chases, explosions, I just can’t get enough. I noticed that many of my favorite action movies had a common setting – Los Angeles. I’ve only been to California once but I love it. I love the warm weather, palm trees, the laid back culture, and if you have a fascination with cities like me, you owe it to yourself to see the massive urban sprawl of Los Angeles.
I think it’s safe to say I am one of Grand Theft Auto’s biggest fans. I fell in love with the franchise ever since I played Vice City. That game consumed my life for a brief period until San Andreas was released. When that came out I was glued to my PlayStation 2 for years. It just blew me away. San Andreas wasn’t just a city to roam around in, it was an entire state based on California complete with three cities. It was incredible. During that time I started following Rockstar religiously and began collecting all of their games including previous GTA titles. There’s just something about this series that draws me in. The GTA games are known for their writing, cinematic style, action, satire on American culture, and open world freedom. Each game is like an action movie experience in video game form, thanks largely to their cinematic style. The series is also known for including elements of what you would see in a crime drama. Each game manages to combine the two genres I love and they even throw in some comedy.
I’ll never forget when Rockstar first announced that Grand Theft Auto V was in full development. I was so excited at the time I was shaking. As soon as I was able to pre-order the game, I did and I own every single version available. And I don’t mean for just one system. I own the standard, special, and collector’s editions for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, all unopened. I got an extra copy of the collector’s edition for 360 just so I could open and play it at the time of release. And that’s the only copy I’ve ever opened. Jeremy and I were at the midnight launch and, when we left, he had to help me carry some stuff since my hands were full with bags. As time went on I eventually acquired the digital versions of the game across all systems including the enhanced versions for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Yes, I own the retail copies of the enhanced versions, unopened, as well. For this review I played the PC version and this was my third time completing the game to one hundred percent. I will not be covering Grand Theft Auto: Online.
One of the most obvious additions to the enhanced version is the first-person perspective. When this new feature was announced my jaw dropped. This was the first time we could play a GTA game in first-person and not only that, but you can switch between third-person and first-person at any time. The enhanced version also ran at a relatively solid thirty frames on both PS4 and Xbox One, and even supports 4K on PC. More animals roam the wild, there’s better weather effects, additional radio content, original DLC vehicles would appear in traffic, and there was even additional content for returning Social Club members. Of course I got it day one and completed it on PS4 within a week. The enhanced version of Grand Theft Auto V is by far the definitive version of the game, making it hard to go back to the original.
Unlike other open world developers, Rockstar manages to always create worlds I can get immersed in. Rather than encompassing multiple cities, San Andreas in GTA V, focuses specifically on Los Santos. Rockstar’s condensed version of Los Angeles and southern California. This is Rockstar’s biggest world to date complete with an urban city, countryside, desert, and for the first time in the series history, an underwater ecosystem. I often find myself cruising around just gazing at the beautiful world, impressed by the amount of detail. Palm trees line the streets, animals roam the wild, and you can see the mountain ranges from anywhere in the world. The draw distance is quite incredible, even if there is obvious pop-in. Different areas of the world represent different types of people. Vinewood and Rockford Hills are the affluent areas of the city full of rich people with high-end vehicles for the taking. And if you look hard enough, you can even find people partying at Rockstar’s version of the Playboy Mansion. While GTA V doesn’t have a big focus on gang life, south Los Santos is full of gangs ready to blow you away if you’re not careful. There’s several nods to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, including Grove Street itself, occupied by the Ballas gang. The countryside, on the other hand, is filled with less pedestrians roaming the streets, more wildlife, and even off-road vehicles. You can see the immense amount of detail and care put into the world here and it truly is unmatched.
Unlike the “rags to riches” theme of several previous GTA titles, Grand Theft Auto V is about the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Money has more meaning in this game than any other entry in the series and the story focuses on three protagonists rather than one. After a bank heist in North Yankton goes bad, crew member Michael Townley ends up in witness protection, living in Rockford Hills, Los Santos, with his wife and kids. Mike is miserable, his wife cheats on him, and his kids are douchebags. One of the other crew members, and Michael’s best friend is Trevor Philips. He ends up moving out into the desert of Los Santos, “off the grid”. He’s crazy, unpredictable, and psychotic. After the prologue, we meet Franklin Clinton, a young guy trying to get out of the hood and make something of himself. These three characters have their own lives, personalities, and motives. They end up working together in several missions, including heists, which is one of the core elements of the story. The three characters end up getting involved with the feds, gangs, and mercenaries, all while trying to resolve their own differences and not kill each other. Just like previous games, the voice acting for the protagonists is phenomenal as is the motion captured performances. Each of the characters also represent different types of previous GTA protagonists. Mike is rich, retired, and one could say he’s already “won”. Trevor is the standout character, and also one of my favorites. His psychotic nature represents the typical GTA players. The players that run around causing havoc for no particular reason other than for their own amusement. I’ve noticed many GTA fans seem to dislike Trevor and I really don’t understand it. If it’s because of his interaction with Johnny from GTA IV, well then people just need to get over it. Franklin is a more down-to-earth character trying to move up the ranks of the criminal underworld. He frequently has to back up his childhood friend and gangbanger, Lamar, in various dealings with other gangs, that usually go horribly wrong. Unfortunately, the story can feel a bit disjointed at times since you’ll be bouncing between characters often and they all have their own personal lives and issues. The story also comes to an abrupt end and the villains are not quite as memorable as previous GTA antagonists.
New to the series is special abilities. Each character has a special ability that can be very helpful during gameplay. Michael can slow down time during gun fights to aim more accurately a la Max Payne 3, Trevor can go berserk and do more damage, and Franklin can slow down time while driving which is by far the most useful ability out of the three. It’s helpful when evading police, during races, and I used it extensively to avoid collisions. When using a special ability you drain a meter than will refill over time. But the length of the ability can be increased just by using it which improves the special ability stat. This type of extremely lite RPG system applies to other stats as well including shooting, stealth, driving, strength, and even lung capacity. Participate in sports or beat people to death to increase your strength. Swim underwater for a while and you’ll increase your lung capacity. Put bullets in the back of people’s skulls or go to the shooting range to increase your shooting stat which means better accuracy and faster reload times. Just by playing the game can you increase your stats giving each character a sense of progression. The cover mechanic from GTA IV returns and is much improved. You’ll fluidly go in and out of cover trying to get shots off with the new free aim system. No longer is there a lock-on mechanic so aiming is a bit more difficult than it was in previous games as is the combat in general. It doesn’t take many shots to put you down making cover essential. Switching between characters during missions is also helpful since you can then back up the others during a firefight. Enemies will often take cover, throw grenades, and do a decent enough job at avoiding your gunfire. Needless to say, the AI is significantly improved compared to previous games. New to GTA V is regenerating health but it will only regenerate half way. You can always equip body armor to take more damage and find health packs to restore full health.
Grand Theft Auto V is a very cinematic experience. The story plays out through missions and they consist of your typical GTA variety with some excellent scripted events and sequences. You’ll be killing people, stealing things, sneaking into places, evading police, and of course, blowing shit up. Some missions include nods to classic movies like a heist sequence that directly references the movie Heat and another that references Lethal Weapon 2. You earn a medal for missions based on your performance and all missions can be replayed which is truly an amazing thing. Outside of The Ballad of Gay Tony DLC for GTA IV, and Chinatown Wars, this is the first time you can replay missions in a full 3D GTA game and has been one of my most requested features for a long time. As you roam the world you’ll come across random events that you can participate in like robbing security vans, assisting people, and even giving people lifts to their destinations. Many of these situations involve you retrieving a stolen item and you can either return it or keep the money. If you return it there may be a reward. You may come across some guy getting kicked out of his house by his wife and some of the people you encounter can even be recruited for heists. It would be cool if these events were actually random but they’re not. There’s a specific amount of these events and they happen in specific locations throughout the world.
I think the heists are worth talking about since they’re both amazing and disappointing. Heists in the GTA games have been some of the best missions in the series history. The bank job in Vice City, the casino heist in San Andreas, and the bank job in GTA IV are some of the most memorable missions series. When Rockstar revealed GTA V had a focus on heists, I was so excited. Before the game released, Rockstar had revealed the heists were more involved this time around. We’d be able to plan out jobs, recruit crew members, prep for heists, gather the necessary items, weapons, and getaway vehicles. Man, I was ecstatic. Running through my head was Rainbow Six style planning, gathering weapons that could mean life or death, and choosing crew members that would actually mean something. Now don’t get me wrong, the heists are actually the best missions in the game. They’re fun, exhilarating, and sadly, scripted as fuck. That’s the biggest disappointment. Yeah, you can plan out the heists, but you only get to choose from one of two scripted sequences. There’s only one or two heist prep missions that require you to obtain something of your choosing for the heist, like masks for example, but most of the prep missions are scripted. A couple of missions let you choose your own getaway vehicle. When I first heard that crew members heist skills would improve with each heist, I thought that was the coolest thing. Unfortunately, it’s underutilized. The crew members with the best stats get a bigger cut from the take but the crew members that get a smaller cut won’t perform as well and that’s the trade off. Their stats do improve with each heist but I don’t understand why this mechanic was included since there’s only a handful of major heists the game. There’s just not enough heists for any of these stats to matter or for you to get attached to any specific crew members.
While the main story missions are excellent for the most part, many of the side missions in GTA V are not. If you’re like me, then the first thing you’ll want to do is complete the game to one hundred percent. Achieving one hundred percent in Grand Theft Auto V is the most tedious thing ever and the reward is definitely not worth the effort. Even some of the side missions that are not required for one hundred are tedious. For example, the Epsilon missions. By far, the worst missions in the history of Grand Theft Auto. The Epsilon Program is a religious group, I think based on Scientology, and while their dialogue and bullshit can be humorous, you would never know since everything about these missions is just aggravating. Only Michael has access to these missions and you’re required to spend ridiculous amounts of money, you need to wear Epsilon robes for ten in-game days in a row, and even walk in the desert for five miles while wearing these robes. Not fun, not enjoyable. Then there’s all the racing. Franklin can participate in street races at night, there’s also sea races, off-road races, and even stock car races. I don’t like racing but I do it for hundred percent and then never look back. Because of Franklin’s special ability, the races are extremely easy, even with the rubberbanding AI. You can drive people around in a taxi, participate in base jumping, and Trevor can do air and ground weapons trafficking missions. But none of these are really super enjoyable. There’s a serious lack of action-based side missions. Rockstar decided to remove the vigilante missions which baffles me as that was the only real action-based side mission in GTA IV and was arguably the most fun out of all the emergency vehicle side missions in previous GTA games. And let’s not forget about the triathlons which are just as bad as they were in San Andreas. You swim, cycle, and run to the finish line, hopefully winning the races, and hoping to never have to do them again. The first two are easy enough and if you’ve maxed out your stamina skill you can sprint infinitely without losing health which makes the triathlons easier. The final triathlon is way too long, tedious, and not enjoyable.
I’m happy to report GTA V still retains the series basic activities and even includes some new ones. You can play golf which, for some reason I found really addicting. You can play tennis, participate in yoga which is just boring, play darts, go hunting, visit the strip club, and, of course, fuck prostitutes. The strip club allows you to toss money at the strippers, get a lap dance, and even go home with one. If security sees you touching the strippers inside the club, you get thrown out. Prostitutes now offer services at varying prices and just like in previous games, it’s fun to do once in a while just because. And, yes, you can kill them and take their money because well… fuck them, this is Grand Theft Auto. Each of the characters can call each other up and even their own friends to get together, hang out, and participate in some of these activities. To me, most of these activities feel more like novelties than anything. They’re cool to do at first but not something I want to do often.
I can’t talk about GTA V without mentioning the collectibles, stunt jumps, knife flights, and “under the bridges”. Every 3D GTA game has a form of hidden packages scattered throughout the world to collect because somebody at Rockstar thinks that’s a good idea. I’ve proven myself time and time again collecting all of these packages in each game and in each game, it’s not fun. I don’t know who would ever go looking for these things without a guide and in GTA V, collecting the fifty space ship parts and fifty letter scraps count towards one hundred percent. There’s your hidden packages. If you think that sounds like an amazing good time then I have good news for you. There’s optional collectibles like the peyotes that put your character on a drug trip and turn them into animals. You can photograph fifty Monkey Mosaics and that only rewards Trevor with new clothes. Michael can collect the ten Epsilon tracts but they have to be collected in order and Trevor needs to destroy the multiple real estate signs in Vinewood. You can go deep sea diving and collect thirty nuclear waste containers and even sub marine parts. Then there’s the other stuff. Counting towards one hundred percent is flying under twenty five bridges which is easy enough, flying or “knifing” between specific buildings which is just frustrating, and the stunt jumps. I’ve tolerated them in previous games but holy fuck are they awful here. It’s one thing to go off jumps on your own, flip around, and have some fun and it’s another to repeat the same jump over and over again because you keep failing due the jump’s ridiculous requirements. You need to land clean and in specific spots, drive off the ramps and go flying for a certain distance, some jumps have you jumping across gaps and water at the risk of losing your vehicle, it’s just awful. I’m very thankful you can quicksave and quickload in this game or the stunt jumps would go beyond testing my patience. I really want to know who thinks any of this is fun? Scouring the land for small hidden items and random ramps that may or may not be required for one hundred percent. It’s ridiculous.
Money is a big deal in GTA V and you only earn money from a few story missions. Sadly, you cannot farm story missions for more money. Helping strangers can earn you some but it’s never enough to really afford anything significant. There’s actually a full blown stock market here and it’s quite impressive. You can invest money, follow trends, and earn a significant amount of money from stocks. If you haven’t heard already, saving the assassination missions until after you’ve completed the story is the best way to earn millions and billions of dollars. There’s plenty of guides online that tell you what to invest in, when to do it, and how long to wait before buying and selling, making these assassinations probably the most important missions in the game. Unless you invest correctly, you won’t be able to afford the various businesses, garages, hangars, and docks, let alone the luxury vehicles you may desire. Any businesses you buy can earn you income and the business managers will often ask you to help out once in a while. Other than that, it’s just like how businesses worked in previous games only the money is directly deposited into the protagonist’s account. In order to buy that luxurious and ridiculously expensive vehicle you see online you need to have a garage to store it in. You’ll need a hangar for planes, and somewhere to dock your boats. Every protagonist has their own vehicle which is actually great because many times you’ll be switching between characters and normally their vehicle is close by. You can even spend money on clothes and haircuts. Any purchased clothing will be stored in the character’s closet at their safehouse.
One of my biggest issue with Grand Theft Auto V is the whole money aspect. Because money is such a big deal here you need to be very careful of how and when you spend it. Considering the game is so focused on money I do question why there isn’t any form of heist side mission. Yeah, you can rob convenience stores but the reward is never enough to buy anything of importance. Also, by the end of the story, you’ve pulled off some of the greatest heists in the series history and the protagonists are professional robbers. Why on earth would they resort to robbing only convenience stores? Even if you want to say “they’re laying low” for story purposes, this is still a video game and I want to rob shit. The fact that there’s no heist side mission is a huge disappointment. I mean it would have been awesome to go to a hideout, get a crew together, and maybe pick one of several spots around Los Santos to rob like banks for example. But no, that’s not an option. Sadly, I feel that the single player was gimped in favor of GTA: Online. New heists and many of the action-based side missions and activities I wanted are or were eventually included in GTA: Online which is a real bummer.
Grand Theft Auto V has the biggest roster of vehicles and weapons in the series. Unlike GTA IV, Rockstar decided to deviate away from realistic vehicle handling in favor of more arcade style driving which I’m all for. You can even flip cars back over now, it’s fantastic. I like realism to a certain extent but some things go too far and Rockstar really pulled back on the realistic elements here. You can take vehicles to Los Santos Customs and not only get them resprayed but upgraded with better engines, brakes, suspension, exhausts, tinted windows, armor, and even bulletproof tires among other options. It’s quite extensive. However, modifying vehicles is only helpful for certain missions but it never feels required to succeed. I would say it’s helpful for racing but the races are so ridiculously easy with standard vehicles that it’s not worth the money to modify them just for racing. But now that you can store more vehicles than ever in your own garages, modified vehicles and vehicles in general have more importance than in previous games. Weapons, too, can be modified with different colors, scopes, silencers, flashlights, extended clips, and grips and they do make a difference in how weapons handle. They are a fantastic addition and give you a little freedom in how you develop your arsenal. Once you’ve maxed out your shooting stat and fully modified a weapon, you can really feel unstoppable. There’s plenty of melee weapons, handguns, submachine guns, heavy machine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, explosive weapons, and even a rail gun. Many weapons were part of the free GTA: Online updates. You can hold every weapon at once and the first-person gun models are exceptionally well detailed.
GTA V includes the Rockstar Editor complete with a Director mode. I said before I love the GTA titles because they feel like action movie experiences in video game form. Thanks to the Rockstar Editor, I can now literally make my own little action movies. You can record clips of your gameplay or even enter Director mode, choose “actors” you’ve unlocked from the story, mess around with modifiers like invincibility, different weather effects, time of day, flaming and explosive bullets, low gravity, and other stuff to make things as action packed or as silly as you want. There are some limitations like some actors can’t carry weapons or drive vehicles and the NPC actors don’t have any special abilities. You just play around and record and you can add your saved clips to a project and make a video. You can apply different camera effects, including the horrid shaky cam effect, although you have the option to not make it not as obnoxious as its use in real films. You can change around camera angles, add depth of field effects, choose what actor the camera will focus on, add overlapping text and music from the game, and there’s a bunch of other stuff, too. I mean it can be really overwhelming at first. It’s one of those things that looks simple to use on the surface, but is actually really deep and robust. You can create some really cool shit. It’s a powerful tool and you can share your finished videos on Rockstar’s Social Club and even YouTube. This is the kind of mode that, if was still in high school, or had an extensive amount of time on my hands to dedicate to GTA like I used to, I’d be in the Rockstar Editor all day. You can watch tutorials on how to use it online and luckily, it’s pretty straightforward and not hard to figure out. When you hover over options, it will give you descriptions. I have yet to play with the GTA IV Editor so I don’t if this is an improvement but I think this and the optional first-person perspective should now be standards for future GTA titles.
What would a Grand Theft Auto title be without it’s radio stations? The stations are full of licensed music and of course I only listen to a select few – the two talk stations and Los Santos Rock Radio. Unfortunately, ever since Vice City, the radio stations have been going downhill, not just because of the lack of Slayer songs, but even the talk stations. Lazlow, a radio host who appears in every 3D GTA game, returns in GTA V and has a small segment on one of the talk stations here but it doesn’t even come close to the quality of his work in GTA III. There’s hundreds of licensed tracks from multiple genres including pop, hip-hop, rock, punk, electronic, and more. Since I only listen to the rock stations I can only comment on those songs and the selection is alright. You’ve got some Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top, Kenny Loggins, and even Don Johnson who I didn’t even know was a singer. It’s a decent array of classic rock but it doesn’t come close to V-Rock from Vice City. The real musical highlight is the score heard during missions. This is the first GTA title with an original music score and it fits in perfectly with the missions. It adds a bit of drama and tension while being subtle enough to not get in the way of what’s going on. It sounds very cinematic, matching the cinematic visual presentation.
Grand Theft Auto V is an impressive game in scope, scale, and even visually. Cruising down the street as the sun glares in your face and reflects off the buildings, vehicles, and puddles from rain is truly a sight to see. During a rain storm lightning may rip through the sky followed by booming thunder. Explosions are just a spectacle of impressive particle effects and smoke. Vehicles will dent somewhat realistically when in a collision, the area of a recent gunfight may be full of bullet decals, and bodies will show visible blood when hit with bullets. Even little things like the excellent depth of field effects, bullets ripping walls to shreds, seeing objects fly around during a gunfight, and the puffs of smoke from bullet impacts on different surfaces. I would say the animations and reactions to bullet impacts match the quality we saw in Max Payne 3, and are even a little less wonky, and far better than what we saw in GTA IV. Glass will shatter before it breaks, characters will often break the driver-side window before sticking their arm and gun out to take a shot for a drive-by, if damaged enough planes and helicopters will eventually die before crashing to the ground, forcing you to either jump out or crash to your death. Adding to the realistic elements of the world are all kinds of little things that make Los Santos a very immersive place. Pedestrians will phone the police if they catch you committing a crime, every now and then you’ll spot a police vehicle in pursuit of a criminal, and even breaking news segments on the radio will reflect what’s happening in the story. Fire your gun in a gang neighborhood and you’ll end up in a gunfight real quick. You can interact with NPC’s throughout the world for both positive and negative effects. Now evading police is similar to the wanted system in GTA IV, minus the police radius. You need to lose the police for them to lose track of you. Stay out of sight for a specific amount of time to completely evade them and staying off the main roads is the best way to do that. There’s five wanted levels rather than six and the police don’t mess around. It’s very easy to die here and enemies and police can be pretty accurate with their shots. Flying too close to the military base will cause a military response that can end you quickly if you’re not careful.
GTA V still suffers from some several flaws found in previous games. When talking about traffic, whatever vehicle your driving is the vehicle that spawns everywhere or sometimes vehicles will not spawn in the surrounding area if you get stranded somewhere. You normally have to wait for several seconds before one drives by. One minor issue I have is that you can’t crouch. The protagonists will crouch, if necessary, when entering cover but for some reason, manually crouching was removed. You can enter stealth mode where they kind of lean forward and walk quietly. My solution would be to press the button to enter stealth mode, hold it to crouch, and problem solved. Oh, well. It’s not like you really need to crouch but it just seems like an odd omission. On the technical side, the game ran super smooth but it did crash on me several times when recording clips for the Editor. I’m also a bit upset that I couldn’t max this out, visually, and get it running at 1080p in sixty frames.
While I love Grand Theft Auto V and play it regularly, I admit it has problems. Many of the side missions are tedious, the collectibles need to go, and the amount of end-game content is seriously lacking. I loved the story even if it is a bit disjointed and I love being able to switch between different characters. The action is the best we’ve ever seen in a GTA title but it’s a shame there’s not enough action-based side missions to keep me engaged. I’m just forced to make my own fun is all. The activities that are here feel more like novelties or are just not fun enough to keep me coming back. On the other hand, Rockstar has created another immersive world complete with references to pop culture and nods to previous games. The heists are some of the best missions the series has to offer, even if I did over hype my expectations of them, and now that we’re scored on missions and can replay them in full, plus the Rockstar Editor and Director mode, there’s plenty of replay value. I feel that many aspects of the single player were gimped in favor of GTA: Online, which I’ll probably never touch. But Grand Theft Auto V is still an amazing entry in the series and you may not even notice some of it’s flaws if you don’t go for one hundred percent completion. I still wish there was some form of heist side mission. I still play this regularly and this is my third time completing it so of course I would recommend Grand Theft Auto V as it’s still one of my favorite action games to date. I just hope Rockstar rethinks the overall single player experience for the next entry and tones down some of the repetitive activities in favor of other more exciting ones.