Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Grand Theft Auto is a franchise that needs no introduction. After all, when it launched for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2013, it made one billion ($1,000,000,000) USD in three days. To put things into perspective, the development and marketing for GTAV cost an estimated $265 million, making it the most expensive game ever created, but who cares because ONE BILLION DOLLARS! Nothing makes that kind of cheese without a prior reputation.
I’m a longtime fan of the series, for better or for worse. It made its mark on my life with the creative save locations in GTA2, shrewdly marked “Jesus Saves” in neon, and complimented further with the audible hum of an organ as players approach in proximity. This was the same game where I could run down the sidewalks punching or shooting people, stealing cars, delivering drugs, and so on, yet I could save my progress at a church?
Anachronistically, I said “WUT!?”
GTA2 was a decent sequel, but GTAIII revolutionized the gaming industry in ways that perhaps only Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear Solid have thus far managed. Relinquishing the top-down perspective in favor of full 3D, GTAIII became the first true sandbox game that allowed gamers to do just about anything illegal that they could imagine. The options were only limited to the engine, such as the Dodo allowing limited flight. This realm of possibility was circumscribed by the franchise’s now-infamous crass and parodic humor, such as the Miabotsu Monstrosity commercials on the radio poking fun at the gas-guzzlers that were popular at the turn of the century (such as the Hummer H2). The GTA franchise would continue to build on these foundations while expanding the number of deployed character archetypes, genres of songs on the radio, variety in vehicle types, and square footage of terrain explorable by land, air, or sea.
GTAV is both the swansong of last gen, and the call to arms for the present.
Nine years prior to the formal introduction of GTAV‘s main characters, Michael Townley, Trevor Philips, and Brad Snider rob a bank in Ludendorff, North Yankton. They escape the ensuing police shootout and chase, but fail to beat an oncoming train while crossing the tracks and get sidewinded. Proceeding on foot, Michael and Brad apparently sustain wounds after being ambushed. Trevor, in shock that his friends have been incapacitated, runs off into the engulfing winter storm, but not before single-handedly reducing the local police battalion into a band.
Fast forward to 2013 Los Santos. The title sequence rolls and ends with Franklin Clinton’s introduction involving his legitimate trade of repossession despite working for a crooked employer, Simeon. Following the natural progression of the only story missions available, Franklin is eventually assigned the repo of a BeeJay XL (yes, that is a GTA-trademark innuendo) from a lovely mansion. Scaling the roof of the home to access a window, he sneaks through the domestic space to avoid detection and access the garage where the vehicle is naturally stored. On his way back to the dealership, Michael
TownleyDeSanta, who was hiding in the back seat, puts a gun to his head.
Michael demands that Franklin crash into the dealership, and he complies. After beating Simeon down, Michael returns home where players are formally introduced to most of the DeSanta family, the source of Michael’s “middle class” ennui. For the past nine years, he has been living in a witness protection program after faking his death, hiding from Trevor who he (rightfully) deems dangerous and unstable. Eventually, he walks in on his wife, Amanda, sleeping with her tennis coach, and chases him in a fit of rage. Bringing Franklin along, they pursue the coach and vengefully destroy the house where he flees. Unfortunately, the house does not belong to the coach, but to the mistress of Martin Madrazo, a Mexican drug Cartel leader—and the home is worth millions. Michael, liking the way God made his face and not how Madrazo promises to rearrange it if he does not pay up with interest, decides to go back into the bank robbing business with Franklin as his protégé. He reestablishes his relationship with with Lester Crest, the operations support of his heist crews, and they recruit a ragtag crew and hit up a jewelry store.
The robbery makes the news, much to the astonishment and stress of Trevor Phillips who currently resides chaotically in Sandy Shores, north of Los Santos. After first raising some serious Cain in the countryside, Trevor travels to LS and arrives on Michael’s doorstep, infuriated that his old pal is still alive. Dave Norton of the FIB (GTA‘s satire of the FBI) soon afterward contacts Michael and reveals that his recent activity has risked blowing their cover—it was Norton who arranged for Michael’s “death” among other things that would be spoilers here. It is at this turning point where the player gains access to all three characters simultaneously and fulfil Franklin’s desire to become more than a two-bit thug, Trevor’s thirst for mayhem, and Michael’s quest to become liberated from his status as the FIB’s puppet.
This is GTA, the franchise that built a reputation for being as offensive as possible without earning an AO rating. Here at GUG, we try to be as exhaustive as possible in this section, but that would be nigh impossible for a game like GTAV. I will try to keep this section as brief as possible by touching on some key areas.
Language: There is no filter in this game. Every bad curse, epithet, and slur that the average person can think of is in this game, on radio stations, billboards, or from the mouths of NPCs. Trevor’s introductory sequence features him mockingly Johnny Klebitz about knocking boots with his girlfriend, Ashley Butler, by asking if he wants Trevor to do him instead. Trevor then proceeds to shove Johnny to the ground, spike a liquor bottle onto his head, and stamp the glass into his face, synchronizing the chanting of obscenities with the rhythm of the stompings.
Violence: Besides the ability to murder in ways that are now pedestrian seven games deep into this franchise—not to forget GTA: Chinatown Wars and GTA: London, of course—the
highlowlight of this category is an unwarranted and distasteful torture scene that is part of a mission required to complete the main story. Trevor inflicts upon a poor Azerbaijani hostage electrocution, waterboarding, a tooth removal, and genital mutilation. I did not have the opportunity to try the gasoline can, nor do I wish to…ever.
Licentiousness: In the old days of GTA, the most one could settle for was suggestion; picking up prostitutes and parking in a dim location and watching the vehicle bounce to the negative ticks of one’s stash was the talk of school lunchrooms everywhere. GTA: Vice City brought non-nude strip clubs to the table and GTA: San Andreas featured Hot Coffee for those ambitious enough to unlock it with an eligible copy of the game before Rockstar was legally forced to reship the game without the AO rating of doom.
GTAV features a strip club which, like the torture scene, is a mandatory part of the main story, though lap dances themselves are optional. Should players decided to solicit a private dance from a stripper, they will be treated with a topless session.
Trevor is introduced while giving it to Ashley Butler doggystyle, complete with a camera angle showing his exposed, thrusting rear accompanied by sound effects projecting his angry panting and grunting.
In a cutscene, Trevor drops his trousers to demonstrate that he is of average size; when he pulls up his pants, his penis is briefly shown.
In a “Strangers and Freaks” mission, a paparazzi brings Franklin on an adventure to acquire photos of a certain Disney-like teen star having sex to jeopardize her career as an on-screen role as a virgin.
It is more than slightly suggested that Michael’s daughter has an illicit tape in circulation.
In a random encounter while playing as Michael, a drunken couple request to be chaperoned to their hotel. Rudely, do not wait to get there before starting….
Alcohol/Drug Use: It is possible to drink oneself to death. One can also drive after drinking, which incidentally makes for a fascinating “drunk driving simulator.”
Trevor’s first missions involve familiarizing players with his methamphetamine racket, Trevor Phillips Enterprises. This involves the slaughter of several would-be competitors.
I owned a Marijuana…store…with Franklin, and conducted missions to transport the product.
In a series of highly amusing “Strangers and Freaks” missions, a pro-marijuana legalization peddler offers the main characters a smoke of his special cannabis. Depending on the character, some entertaining sequences ensue.
Other Spiritual Content: The tortured Azerbaijani hostage wears a conspicuous cross. This is important because Azerbaijanis are traditionally Muslim.
I have been criticized because of my past work; I tend to use uncommon words which sometimes alienates my audience. I confess that there is no word or arsenal of words that can adequately describe the scope of GTAV.
GTAV is so big, it’s stupid.
I pride myself in my ability to address a little of everything in my game reviews. At the risk of compromising my integrity as a writer, I will confess that here, I will not. Because I can’t. It is impossible. GTAV is simply too big! From the moment that I gained control of Franklin as he is racing this friend, Lamar back to the dealership and we drifted through interweaving roads on the interstate, a movie set, and streets of LS, I I was mesmerized. I hit my ESC key to take a look at the map, and it takes up my entire display. I try to zoom out to see the entire thing like in other GTA games and it simply is not possible. I have tried several times to complete an entire lap around the whole thing, but the longest interval that I have managed to travel has been about twelve minutes before I encounter a random event or I simply get bored of driving. Yes, the size of the map is possible to become bored of driving just like in a real-life road trip. Traditionally, GTA maps have been described as a “playground,” figuratively. I think it has cross that threshold into the literal. There are more cars than one could ever hope to keep in their default or purchased garages. I have no idea how many nautical or aerial or nautical vehicles are at my disposal; I never even made the time to see or ride the blimp that my cell phone alerted me of at the beginning of the game!
GTAV features over one-hundred missions spread across the main story, “Strangers and Freaks” side missions, random encounters with armored cars and other NPCs, triathlons, street racing, base jumping, playing drug mule, and so on. Even if none of these scripted events and crafted missions do not satisfy, none can always just fool around doing whatever in some arbitrary location on the dumbfoundingly gargantuan map. I would say that if one can’t find something entertaining to do in this game, it’s a personal problem, but I myself at times felt overwhelmed with the paradox of choice. I would load up a game, look at my map to see the 6-7 readily-available missions, and experience a bout of anxiety, wanting to 100% the game like I have every other GTA before, but not knowing where I should begin or if it is even possible to do. Know that 100% is indeed possible, for the stats screens in GTAV are more generous than they have ever been, cataloging everything the player has accomplished between all three characters, including the specific elements necessary to achieve that coveted 100% completion.
The paradigm-shifting feature in GTAV is the ability to seamlessly switch between Michael, Franklin, and Trevor. Not only does this serve as a fast-travel in case one finds themselves stranded in the wilderness with no way to fast-travel to a vehicle, but it also adds a distinguishable amount of depth and personality to the game. An upcoming mission requiring intensive driving may encourage players to switch over to Franklin; if one must commit a minor act of genocide, Trevor is the man.
All three characters are equipped with a activated special ability that can be refilled by…committing more crimes, and Trevor’s is to literally rampage, gaining a double-damage multiplier and resistance to damage for its duration. Incidentally, Rockstar reintroduces the Rampage missions after their conspicuous absence in GTAIV, but only Trevor can do them because he alone is insane enough to murder thirty individuals because they mistook him as American rater than Canadian—truly, this was one such scenario used to justify his aggression. My personal favorite is Franklin’s ability to drift; far too often am I cruising at 80 MPH through the city and I cross an intersection right as another vehicle intercepts my path. By activating drift, I can dodge oncoming traffic and maneuver around hairpin turns and other obstacles without losing speed. In fact, I gains speed during the slow-motion effect. Michael gets the least-exciting effect, bullet-time, which we have seen in other games like Rockstar’s Max Payne and movies like The Matrix. It is good for missions but Trevor’s rampage is preferable, while Franklin’s drift accomplishes the same while driving, making getting headshots on drivers to stop vehicles that I am in pursuit of a…drift.
The radial dial for weapon switching from Red Dead Redemption returns here, though like character selection, time slows down while players pick their choice piece.
Oh, and all of this that’s just the singleplayer. GTAV Online is the equivalent of beating the original Legend of Zelda and then trying to beat it again after the entire map has been remixed. For all that GTAV has to offer, those who plan on going online to play with or against others can double their expectation of how much content is in this game. I did not spend much time online because my OCD nature demands that I finish the single player portion in its entirety first, but I can say that I did enjoy playing deathmatches, working cooperatively with strangers, and the “good sport” system which discourages others from being complete jerks lest they end up on a server full of like-minded individuals ruining each other’s games.
I still have a devil of a time trying to create an avatar that looks like I do.
I feel as though I would be committing an act of sacrilege using the following adjectives to describe the looming pretentiousness throughout every polygon in GTAV, but I will use them anyway: Wondrous; Paralyzing; Extraordinary; Astonishing.
It isn’t that GTAV is the best looking game in the industry; it was not even so in 2013. What impresses me is that there is so much going on simultaneously while also looking as good as it does. In the past, we overlooked the fact that the models for people and cars in GTAIII did not look as good as those found in its peers, MGS2, FFX, and Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. We did the same for all the other GTAs up to IV. GTAV puts its predecessor to shame with a scale similar to that of San Andraes but with a greater level of detail and most importantly for a processor-intensive game—optimization—than any other GTA game to date.
How in the world did Rockstar manage to get THAT MUCH on the screen in THAT MUCH detail while running at 60 fps on most modern systems. Compared to GTAIV which did not even run at 60fps when I had a top-of-the-line rig, GTAV has set new precedent in video games in terms of both geometrical fidelity and sheer environmental content and interaction.
Graphical drooling aside, there are other features which contribute to immersion, such as how the game recognizes the co-existence its three main characters, especially during the best missions in the game, the Heists. In GTAV, players do not perform a series of seemingly wayward miscellaneous errands which may or may not result in a consequence that builds that contributes to character development, plot progression, and world building. I am pleased that I can now distinguish between essential and non essential missions. Woe be to 100% completionist, however. It is one thing to complete the game 100% based upon the stats screen, it is another to make par on all the sub-objectives of those missions, such as completing them within a certain time or not sustaining any damage to the mission vehicle. If getting a gold medal on every mission were not enough motivation to replay them at any time through the options menu, experiencing how the intro of each mission provides a different perspective with each character for the full effect is worth a second or third run.
Coming back to our not-so-heroic trio, depending on my progress in the main story whenever I switched characters, the person that I choose is highly likely to be engaged in something fitting for their personality. Michael might be exiting onto the gridlocked interstate mumbling profane things in a fit of road rage; Franklin might be playing fetch with his dog; Trevor might wake up in a drunken stupor while atop a mountain, wearing his briefs or a dress. In another instance, Michael might be leaving a movie theatre, Trevor might be puking his guts out in a water fountain, and Franklin might be cat-calling a woman on the streets. These are tame examples, but I do not want to spoil some unique and possibly contextual ones, such as Trevor waking up next so a certain special someone….
GTAV gives the impression that even when I exit the game, Michael, Trevor, and Franklin are persistently living in their virtual world.
It should go without saying that the music selection in GTAV continues to build upon all the cplayolossal libraries of the past games. A guilty pleasure of mine is to use GTA games to become familiar with modern secular music. The results vary greatly; while I thorougly enjoyed the West Coast Classiscs station, I loathed Radio Los Santos and its modern rap. There are more options for listening than ever, though while on missions, gamers might want to turn down the beats to better enjoy the banter between characters, which are almost always timed perfectly from point A to point B so that players like myself will not find themselves stopping just short of a checkpoint marker to hear the end of a conversation. One of my favorites involves the chat between Trevor and Lamar in a truck while Franklin takes a nap. They both keep it real.
GTAV is not a great game. It’s not even a good game. GTAV is the industry standard for virtuosity, and it is the kind of game that most other developers envy in that they wish they had the time, money, and talent to produce. I do not say this to be hyperbolic, because the production values in GTAV are excellent, and there are dozens of small details that were intentionally programmed into it—such as the nuanced animations for when player characters walk, run, jump, or climb up and down hills, stairs, or other various elevations—that would be impossible to enumerate comprehensively here. Despite its magnificence, it is not without flaws. One plays a GTA game expecting ridiculous character archetypes, but this does not pardon them from being tiresome cliches. The vexatious DRM known as Rockstar Social Club was not popular with GTAIV, and the sentiments remain with GTAV. And as well-optimized as the game is with its dozens of options for tweaking, on rare occasion GTAV would fail to load on startup or crash while in game.
That said, GTAV represents the zenith of the sandbox genre, and its mere existence is feat that every person who calls themselves a gamer should experience, even if in moderation.
The Bottom Line