Sunday, September 29, 2013

Grand Theft Auto V

It's almost two in the morning, and will likely be after that by the time I finish writing this. Few things can make me want to stay up this late, especially considering how tired I already was before I even started the final missions of Grand Theft Auto V. But I was compelled to finish it, purely because of how invested I had become. GTA V has already received its praise. A bit more won't do much.

Where should I even start? GTA V, if you didn't already know, is an third person, open world, sandbox game. Probably the best of its ilk at what it does, if you ask me, challenged only by games such as Red Dead Redemption(another Rockstar title, go figure), and maybe games like Skyrim. It takes place in the fictional state of San Andreas, mainly in the city of Los Santos and the surrounding Blaine County, which is essentially southern California in all but name. Some may recall this(minus Blaine County) as having been the setting for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and while names of landmarks are shared, it's very much a new playground to explore. Though there are a few cool places to go back to if you're a vet of the series.

The story follows three people. Michael, a retired bank robber having to deal with the tedium of day to day, along with his family that makes even the word 'dysfunctional' seem too subtle. Franklin, a gangbanger who wants nothing more than to not only move out of the hood, but up in life. And Trevor, a psychotic hillbilly, who used to work with Michael, but hasn't seen him in nine years after an event at the start of the game. So respectively, a GTA protagonist after the end of a game, a GTA protagonist at the start of the game, and your average GTA player. All of them are interesting, have their own story arcs, personalities, friends, side missions, activities, and so on, while also remaining connected and having their stories intertwine. This also leads to the game's most interesting mechanic.

At most points in the game, not counting points in the game where certain characters are unavailable whether because they're hiding out or have yet to be properly introduced, you can switch between playing as these three men. By hitting down on the D-pad and selecting one of them with the right thumbstick, the camera will zoom out to the clouds, shift over to the character of choice, and zoom back in. Usually you'll get an interesting little scene of what they've been doing. For instance while popping into Trevor, I constantly found him having caused some sort of trouble, sometimes of the murdering variety, while nearly naked and wasted. I wasn't sure this would actually work out, but it does. This is probably one of the most interesting mechanics to have in an open world game.

Other aspects of the game include a variety of things to do on the side, ranging from things like golf and tennis, to more adrenaline filled sports like racing through the streets, or if you're the athletic type, a triathlon. These are all responses, and as easy to play as they should be expected to be, considering the high production values of the game. There are also side missions, called Strangers and Freaks a concept that people may recognize from Red Dead Redemption, that are shorter than your main missions, and involve interacting with a few nuts from around the city or state. These are humorous, and many introduce even more activities to do. Some activities are restricted to certain characters, giving you even more incentive to play each one.

On the gameplay side of things, the gunplay is very responsive, more so than it was back in GTA IV, though not quite at a level that some may enjoy right off. Auto-aim can be both a life saver, and an annoyance when it doesn't actually seem to snap to anything. At other times, it can make the game seem almost too easy. Mess with the options, and you'll probably find some sweet spot for difficulty, though. I stuck with the default option throughout the game, and only rarely found a reason to complain. Cover works well, though a few more ways of being mobile in it would have been nice. Perhaps I just missed the prompt for such, but I never found a way to move between cover, aside from being able to move around corner of the cover being currently used. Driving has improved since GTA IV, with the vehicles feeling lighter and more responsive, making them easier to maneuver. Of course this will depend on what you're driving, and while it may be less realistic, it is more fun to play. Putting the main aspects of the game together though, shooting and driving, can be a pain to do. Shooting while focusing on driving is hard, but it's only made worse by having a tiny reticle in the center of the screen that can easily be lost while you're trying to focus on driving. Eventually you will get better at it, but for me, this was probably the most constant source of frustration in the entire game.

The largest edition to the gameplay comes in the form of heists, which you will be preforming throughout the game. These range from small jewelry store robberies, to large scale bank robberies that. They start off with you usually having the option to go loud(or as the game likes to call it "loud and dumb") or in a more stealthy way("smart and quiet"). While the former may sound like it's not the game's preferred method, both options are equally fun, and have their own unique twists to make you want to replay them again(which you can from the pause menu), just to see the other side of things. Once you've selected your option, you'll select your team should you need one from a pool of people you've met over the course of the game. These people's skills will range from good to bad, with their cut of the profits being higher if their skills are better. They also have a range of stats pertaining to their role, such as how well a gunman chooses their weaponry, and how soon they'll crack under pressure.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. I'm sure there are better looking PC games out there, but when it comes to consoles, I'm hard pressed to find a competitor. The Last of Us is close, and probably does win in some aspects, but considering it's a very closed and contained game as opposed to GTA V's open world, that's a very tough call. The game's framerate holds up well even when it's moving at its fastest pace, which honestly surprised me. Yes, there is a bit of pop-in here and there, and some objects, and on occasion people, seemed a bit lo-res, but this was a rare enough occasion to be a bother. There's some breathtaking sights to be had here.

It's really hard to pull apart a game that's as big as this, and judge it all. I haven't even scratched the surface on the little things, like the internet, TV shows, and radio. Everything you see is largely satirical, and it's hilarious, if not a bit scary, about how accurate it is. And for people thinking that Rockstar picks sides? Nope. Whether you sit on the right, left, middle, or just don't care, there's probably an aspect of your life that's parodied here, and it's spot on, and a tad worrying at times. GTA V is incredibly funny, and not in an insane Saints Row sort of way, though there's quite a bit of 'mature' humor in there, that's crude for the sake of being crude. The world feels alive, lived in, and you get the impression that even if you do nothing, people's lives will continue on. There's little touches, like conversations on the street between pedestrians, or random events in the world that range from simple robberies that you can stop(and have the option to return the loot or keep it for yourself), to plain out crazy(there is a wonderful No Country for Old Men reference in there).

Now, with all that said, I should actually put some criticism on the main aspect where I thought GTA V faltered. That was easily the story. With the three protagonists, you can constantly jump about as you wish, and follow a person's personal missions while ignoring others. This leads to less flow that past GTA games had, and other, similar games have, because you can jump back into one character's story and not even remember what was going on. This happened to me the most with Franklin, the character I played the least of. I would call him easily the least interesting character of the bunch, but that doesn't mean he isn't a good character. The other two just prove to have more interesting situations, contacts, and so on. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the story, it's still not as strong as other Rockstar games plot-wise. It has its moments, trust me, but it just felt a bit disjointed at points. I suppose what I mean is when it comes to the plot, I find it hard to summarize. Whether that's good or bad, is up to you. I found it to be more of a character study than anything else, and with these characters? The interaction is great. The dialogue is witty, funny, and all around well-written, which is what it should be. I want to continue on, both to hear more of it, and to be able to see what's going to happen next. Whereas other GTA games start slow to introduce mechanics individually, GTA V is smart enough to keep you moving and always look towards the next big heist, or other large scale event.

Sound design is another one of GTA's high marks. The voice acting is great all around, with the leads all offering wonderful performances. Not even the side characters drop below decent, even the random pedestrians you'll pass by(or run over) on the street. The music can be spoken about in two ways: the radio, or the game's original score. When it comes to the radio, there's something here for everyone(unless you're into metal, in which you might be disappointed), ranging from rap, to pop, to classic rock, and even a country station making a return. The original score does a good job of building up tension when it should, but it isn't as good as other game's. Considering this is the first Rockstar North game I can recall having this extensive of an original score, though, hopefully they'll nail it the next go around.

This is all being said having played only one half of the game, though, since they haven't even allowed people to play the Online mode(which releases Tuesday, October 1st, 2013). If that's as much as it's being hyped to be(or even if it's not entirely what people may be expecting) it looks to be even more content for people in the way of 500 missions, with at least 200 more on the way, along with many side activities from the main game being available. Combine that with the ability to create your own races and death matches, combine it with the single-player portion, and you have an incredible bang for your buck here.

At the end of the day, GTA V is great. Will it offend people? Sure. Is it perfect? Of course not, but what is? Is it fun though? Oh yes. Oh yes it is fun, it gives you enough content to justify the purchase and then some, and it's a highly polished product from start to finish, with little skimped. Of course it's gotten its fair share of praise already. It'll probably continue to get more as time goes on, while also getting people nitpicking at it. But for right now, with the euphoria still in overdrive after having played it? I couldn't care less. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I have a number of freaks to meet up with, before I try skydiving again. Maybe this time I won't smash my face right into the side of a mountain again. Fourth time's the charm, right?

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