A few things to note about this review before we even get started. I own somewhere between 40 and 50 games for the PS3, and of them, the only open world games I have ever really enjoyed were Skryim (but not any of the other Elder Scrolls games) and the Fallout series. I have played Grand Theft Auto 2, 3 & 4 and have not really enjoyed any of them for more than a few hours, I have never come close to finishing the story for any of the Grand Theft Autos, simply because I got bored a few hours in. On another side note, as of this posting, I have only played about an hour of the multiplayer on GTA V.
I only bought this game because IGN gave it a perfect 10. They called it a masterpiece and a sure contender for game of the year. For me, GTA V may be one of the top five video games I have ever played.
It is important to first of all note the improvements over GTA IV. The cover system and firing controls are much more fluid. Your characters are set up as experienced criminals, and your ability to maneuver them in this game lends much credence to this idea. Car chases don’t inevitably end with you wiped out into the side of the building due to sloppy vehicle controls. The vehicles handle very convincingly and gone are the days of a slight turn whipping you into a tailspin and ending the mission. Another huge improvement is that from the second you start the story, all of Los Santos is open to you. You aren’t restricted to a 12 block radius at the beginning of the game and the environments are stunning, from the city lights to the starry skies out in the mountains.
The story itself is so much more relatable than the past installment. In GTA IV we walked around as Nico trying to achieve the American Dream and inevitably getting caught in the wonderful world of crime. In GTA V you control three very distinct and complex characters. Franklin is a gang-banger trying to move up into the world of white collar crime. Michael is an ex-bank-robber with a family that hates him and a psychiatrist using him as a cash cow. Trevor is Michael’s psychopathic ex-partner who runs a tidy little meth business out in the sticks. The way the game interweaves the stories and brings the three main characters together is believable, and your ability to switch from one character to another in a fairly seamless fashion allows you to swap characters strategically during missions, or for fun while screwing around in Los Santos. Rockstar does a terrific job of bringing the characters to life; you’ll be hard-pressed to find better voice acting in ANY video game. You’ll find yourself feeling sympathetic towards three men who go around every day stealing and killing, which is not an easy thing for Rockstar to have created.
The missions themselves are varied and go from transporting one of your friends to a location, robbing a bank, massacring an entire biker gang, hijacking a jet by crashing a crop-duster into it and fighting off a horde of aliens while in a hallucinatory stupor brought on by drugs. You’ll find yourself eagerly pursuing different storylines and looking for connections between characters, rather than wandering off on your own into the open world to go on a shooting spree. For once in a Grand Theft Auto game, the story and the missions that are a part it are more fun than the mayhem you can create in the open world setting, although that can be extremely entertaining as well. The game also does a fantastic job of outlining your mission requirements, ensuring that you know what you are supposed to be doing at all times.
There are a few minor problems with the game. The overall difficulty is fairly low, and unless you are completely new to your PS3/XBOX, chances are you’ll breeze through most of the missions without having to start over from an earlier checkpoint. This becomes even more apparent after your first heist, which will net you enough cash to effectively max out your weaponry and ammo. The shooting missions just aren’t quite as difficult when you are packing grenade launchers and the police are using pistols. Even upon accruing 4 or 5 stars in your wanted level, the most that will happen is the swat team and/or a helicopter will be brought in; easy prey for your RPG. There is only one mission where a tank enters the battlefield, and even then it is easily avoided. Another issue is the car system. Several times I stole a nice car, tricked it out at the customs shop and parked it in my garage, only to find it randomly missing after the next mission. This issue disappears if you buy a warehouse-style garage, but only one is available for Michael and Franklin, forcing the player to choose which character should get to have a fleet of vehicles.
GAMEPLAY 10/10 – Incredibly fun missions and much improved controls make GTA 5 an enormous amount of fun to play, some bugs are present, but will hopefully be dealt with in upcoming patches.
STORY 9.5/10 – An absurd story with (literally) crazy characters is grounded in surprisingly emotional connections between characters. Fantastic voice acting certainly helps as well.
LONGEVITY 10/10 – The story itself runs somewhere around 20 hours, and this doesn’t count the optional missions, the online experience and the open world wandering. The game probably ranges towards 100 hours of actual content.
AESTHETICS 9.5/10 – The game looks awesome, and you won’t find better voice acting.
OVERALL (not an average) 9.5/10 – Grand Theft Auto 5 improves markedly on the areas of past Grand Theft Auto games that were problematic. Incredible graphics, fantastic voice acting, and an extremely fun and addicting set of story and side missions make this one of the best games of all time. In my opinion, it should be a shoe-in for game of the year, even over The Last of Us.