Grand Theft Auto V
Xbox 360 l PlayStation 3
DEVELOPER: Rockstar Games
PUBLISHER: Rockstar Games
RELEASE DATE: September 17, 2013
There’s few things as exciting as the day when a video game you’ve waited for impatiently for a handful of years finally finds its way into your hands. Sure, original games are always fun to check out in hopes of finding new favorites, but unlike movies where sequels are often greeted with much negativity—even when they ultimately prove to be good—video game sequels often elicit an eager anticipation making them unlike any other form of entertainment. This is because game sequels are not a cheaply made or rushed cash grab, and the talent making them is usually the same. They’re a way to play something familiar and sometimes continue a story, but with the added selling points of new options, graphics, and characters. Game developers take the things you love most and tweak them to make them better, and take the things that you might not like and try new things to improve them.
While this is all true for most video game sequels, few parallel the amount of buzz and excitement that erupts when we the gamers of the world find out a new Grand Theft Auto is on the way from Rockstar Games. There’s nothing quite like escaping your real life and running amok in a virtual world, and no one does it quite like Rockstar does it.
The buzz and excitement for the latest installment in the series, Grand Theft Auto V, has surpassed all of the previous titles by far, so all that’s left to do is find out if it lives up to the hype.
First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way right now. This is aimed at Fox News and people who share their views. Far too often these days are video games blamed for acts of violence in the world, as if acts of similar violence haven’t been happening for far longer than games have been around.
GTA is most often the game pointed at because of your ability to do pretty much whatever you want. Is it an ultra violent game in which you can do some despicable things? Sure is. But it is not a game made for children. Just like any adult-aimed movie, TV show, and so on, it’s made for those mature enough to handle it. I adore these games and plenty of other violent ones, and personally am not at all a confrontational individual. I’ve never even been in a fist fight. Because it’s not about the violence, it’s about escaping real life to fictional worlds, some very realistic and some fantastical, where we can play make believe for a couple of hours here and there.
So let’s stop throwing blame blindly at video games because a few mentally unstable people—out of the army of very sane folks that helped boost it to $800 million in sales its first day and over a $1 billion after just a few days—who happened to play them committed these unspeakable acts. Mmmkay?
NOW…with that out of the way, we can get to the good stuff.
With the next generation of gaming consoles, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, set to arrive this holiday season, we’re seeing the very best of what the current generation systems can pull off. This fact is overwhelmingly apparent with GTA V. Rockstar has done such an incredible job creating this new world, it’s almost too much for the human brain to comprehend. The size is even easier to appreciate once in the air flying, as you look around and realize you can drive to and walk around almost everything you see. If this were just a game where you hopped into a car and drove around a virtual map, doing absolutely nothing else at all, it would still be impressive. But this is not that kind of game, obviously.
The city you begin in is big enough, and it alone would have been an exceptionally large and detailed setting. But then you find yourself out in the middle of nowhere, and soon you realize just how gargantuan this map really is. In many instances you can travel for an insane amount of time before reaching your location. Plenty of times I found myself driving—in the city, in the mountains, on the Route 66-like midwest-type roads, and so on—longer than it would take me to get to a lot of places nearby in real life, all while being much more reckless and going much faster than cops in real life would allow. And that’s just the land; there’s still an ocean to explore!
When I first saw the ocean in Grand Theft Auto V I just about fainted, undoubtedly among the best video game water ever created. This goes below the surface, as well, with the first GTA underwater environments to explore. Wanting to test things out I grabbed the first boat I saw and headed straight out into the depths. How far it goes, I do not know, but I went what felt like miles out and finally decided to stop and go for a swim. At this point it’s far too deep to reach the ocean floor, of course, but it is a little intimidating out there as you might imagine. Especially knowing there are sharks. And sure enough, one eventually found me.
Usually when dealing with a map of this magnitude there’s a ton of similar scenery and repetition to lighten the graphical load. Not here. The realism is paramount, and it feels like every inch you travel comes with something new to see and some new detail or location to keep your eyes wandering and delighted. There’s also loads of random encounters—a police chase or shootout, animals running onto the road, etc.—to keep you on your toes, and random conversations between strangers to keep you entertained.
In addition to this jaw-dropping new living, breathing sandbox world to play in, explore, and maybe cause a little trouble in, there’s also a seemingly endless amount of activities to try out in the city of Los Santos and its surrounding areas. Going to the movies (not real movies, sadly—I remain wishing and hoping for a video game movie theater with one or two real movies just for the immersion purposes), golf, tennis, racing, triathlons, rides like a roller coaster and ferris wheel, sky diving, biking, and of course, the strip club if you’re into that, plus much more.
I could gush all day about how incredible a game Grand Theft Auto V is based only on the things mentioned above, and those things make it more than worth your hard earned coin, but there’s also the all-important story to discuss. Some require the story to be stellar to enjoy a game, but I don’t, so long as the game makes up for the lack of said story with other entertaining things. That said, the story so far has been really solid (this one’s going to take me at least 100 hours and I needed to get this review posted, so I haven’t experienced in full), and it appears Rockstar put just as much effort into telling their tale as they did everything else. Don’t be afraid to hang out with people you know, and be sure to sign onto Lifeinvader (the game’s version of Facebook) and check out the profiles of your characters and their acquaintances for little extra nuggets of info here and there that add to the overall story.
The use of three different main characters with different friends and acquaintances and different, intertwining stories is brilliant, and protects against things becoming stale. The ability to jump instantly from one character to the next when not doing a mission is also smart, making it feel like three campaigns in one, and the options to mold these characters to your liking via clothing, hairstyles, tattoos, and even full customization of the vehicles you own, only helps make the experience that much more amazing.
Rockstar spoiled us with this one, I have no doubt of that, but the main game alone wasn’t enough for them (which is why they’re so damn popular among gamers). For the same $60 you pay for the game, you’ll also get Grand Theft Auto Online, which looks like a standalone game all its own. That happens to open to the public today so I haven’t been able to check it out, but surely it too is something to see.
Grand Theft Auto V is one of the best games of the year, joining frontrunners like BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us, and quite possibly the best technical achievement in game crafting we’ve seen yet. The size and level of detail is astonishing, and even many hours into my playthrough I’m still constantly being blown away by the things I’m seeing and doing. It simply doesn’t get much better than this.