Rockstar have always set the benchmark for open world gaming, especially during the previous two console generations. Settings like Vice City and San Andreas feel like living breathing worlds which feel vibrant, imaginative and above all else, alive. The inhabitants and themes of these worlds cleverly satire our own real life counterparts in a way that feels bitingly relevant and a joy to witness. Grand Theft Auto V is the best in the series by far, combining the stellar writing and outrageously fun gameplay we’ve come to expect into one of the most excellently realised game worlds to ever grace the medium. It isn’t without its faults in storytelling and occasional gameplay inconsistencies, but journeying through Los Santos is still an absolute joy, even more so on next gen consoles.
The biggest star of Grand Theft Auto V is arguably Los Santos itself. From the compact and plastic streets of Downtown Vinewood all the way to Blaine County, a desolate redneck ridden town surrounded by miles of scorching desert. The world itself is impeccably detailed, and absolutely dripping with variety and authenticity that only few games manage to achieve. Even after 30 hours in its clutches you will still find yourself stumbling across new areas, or at least aspects of it you never noticed before. The continuous element of discovery makes exploring Los Santos brilliantly satisfying and the means of exploration available to you from the beginning only furthers this rewarding sense of satisfaction.
Normally in past GTA titles the world is gradually opened up to you as you progress through the story, spoon-feeding you new mechanics along the way. This time around Rockstar have taken a surprisingly different approach, presenting the whole world to you as soon as you finish the opening mission with only slight limitations to what you can do. This gives GTA V a sense of expansive freedom that previous games simply lacked. The game’s opening moments give you a momentary glimpse of what to expect from Los Santos, and the abundance of secrets you are compelled to uncover.
The most innovative addition in this installment is the inclusion of three protagonists to choose from. Michael, a miserable, middle aged man stuck in a loveless marriage with children who despise him. Franklin, a young “gangsta” who is trying to move up in the world and past the petty crime his friends love to indulge in. Last but not least there is Trevor. Trevor, to put it lightly, is absolutely mental. He happily kills, mobs and ruins the lives of anyone he comes across, without stopping for a second to make a rational or conscious decision. All of these characters are developed enough that you can’t help but care and root for them throughout the single player campaign, despite some of the horrific acts they may commit along the way.
The multiple perspectives the game can be played through provides a newfound level of depth and variety I honestly didn’t expect. Some of this may be superficial, but I felt myself behaving and approaching certain situations differently depending on which character I was controlling. The mission types available to each character also feel unique and interesting, eliminating any potential for repetitive frustration or loss of momentum. Previous entries in the series always lost me before the conclusion, but GTA V had me hooked until the end. The “drive here, pick someone up, shoot a guy, mission success” template of series past is no way near as prevalent as it used to be, and the multiple ways missions can be approached this time around moves the series forward in a way that can’t be understated.
The unmistakable highlight amongst the missions are heists. These large scale escapades see you making extensive preparations before the actual mission takes place, making the consequences that may occur if you screw up that little bit more personal. Before Heists occur you also have the opportunity to hire people to assist with the job, and they upgrade accordingly depending on how they perform. Unfortunately this mechanic feels kind of pointless, as heists aren’t frequent enough for upgrading them to make a difference. To be honest your own firepower is normally enough to push through most encounters, so long as you stick to cover and avoid being careless. Regardless of the shortcomings, heists are a thrilling addition to the series that feel incredibly crafted and rewarding, progressing the narrative and your place in the world each time one of them concludes.
There is always an aura of skepticism surrounding re-releases onto the current generation systems, but I’m happy to report that this is easily the best remaster we’ve seen yet. Rockstar have really outdone themselves, adding far more than the generic upgrading of textures that some remasters seem to get away with. The entire experience looks, runs and feels better than I expected it to, making it seem that GTA V was originally planned to be released on the new consoles. The best addition to this version is First Person Mode, a feature that changes how the entire game is played. Exploring Los Santos from the first person perspective is fantastic, almost liberating in a way. So many minor details that you previously ignored are now immediately noticeable. I found myself extensively exploring areas just to observe all the little details, even if some ground textures look a little gnarly when you looks straight at them. Controls can also be customised to a more traditional FPS layout if you decide to play the game this way, and the display options are more akin to something I’d expect from a PC release, which is awfully impressive.
One of my only complaints with GTA V is its somewhat inconsistent narrative. The story is brilliantly told and acted, but at times the actions of the character’s don’t feel realistic or relevant to the story at all. The sudden implication of moral choice towards the conclusion also feels forced and unnecessary, I would have preferred if Rockstar stuck to their guns and had a definitive ending, rather than randomly having us make a choice that literally comes out of nowhere. The consistent use of satire within Los Santos is brave, creative and oftentimes hilarious. But the message Rockstar tries to send through this satire is paper thin at best, and often comes across as needlessly misanthropic than something in depth or meaningful.
Grand Theft Auto V is a masterpiece. Rockstar have once again set a benchmark for open world game design, bravely reinventing the conventions of the series into an experience that feels ludicrously fun and refreshing to play. Aside from some minor frustrations the experience is near flawless from start to finish where there is hardly a dull moment to be had. The world of Los Santos is a living, breathing beast that draws you in, inviting you to explore its expertly detailed confines through the eyes of characters you’ll come to love and hate right up until the ambitious narrative’s conclusion This is also the definitive version of game, at least until the PC version arrives early next year.
Now available on Xbox One and Ps4 (version reviewed)