When Rockstar Games launches a game it is more than that, it is an event, more than just a video game release. When it is a new Grand Theft Auto game, it goes beyond video game fans but invades every aspect of peoples lives including social media and mainstream news outlets. In many ways this is somewhat ironic as Grand Theft Auto games are typically a satirical depiction of exactly those things.
The Single Player Campaign
2013 marks the release of Grand Theft Auto V which takes players back to San Andreas with Los Santos and Blaine County being the locations players will experience the massive open world game. Rockstar has just about squeezed water out of a rock with GTA V as is massive in scale,visually stunning and filled with so much quality and detail that it’s hard to believe this game is running on Xbox 360 and PS3 hardware.
Grand Theft Auto V will take players into the world of Michael de Santa, an Ex career criminal who somehow gets sucked back into the life, Franklin Clinton a rough and tumble ‘baller’ who wants to make it and Trevor Phillips, the insane drugged out ex-partner of Michael who is doing is own thing down in Blaine County. For the first time players control three separate protagonists with their own lives, stories, families and goal which players can switch between with the push of a button.
At the games’ outset we get to control Franklin and get to know him a bit better and what his current life is all about. His buddy Lamar is one of my favorite characters who we meet in GTA V. Franklin is ready to leave the ‘gang banging’ life behind and do bigger and better things. Queue Michael’s entrance, who crosses paths with Franklin early on. After taking control of Michael who has a pretty dysfunctional life himself, which he seemingly wants to get away from, I get to experience the finer things in life as I hang out in Michael’s expensive house, drive his expensive cars and meet his crazy family.
At this point I am able to switch between Michael and Franklin, I push the button and the camera zooms all the way out to birds eye level and back in to Franklin who, at any point could be doing anything like driving around, hanging out in his home or getting out of a restaurant. This works really well, I encourage players to do this often as some really cool things happen in the world to all of the protagonists. Of course there is Trevor – the crazy meth-head who embodies how we ‘play’ GTA V. This is where the story really takes off. In addition to having three unique characters, they each also have special abilities. Trevor can slow down time and engage precision driving, while Michael can slow motion shoot his way out of a sticky situation and Trevor,who is also the flying expert, becomes virtually invincible on rampage mode. All three work very well and I used them often.
Gameplay is of course very important in a GTA V game, almost as important as the characters and the story. Rockstar has done quite a lot of work on all the aspects of the gameplay. Driving is greatly improved in the game and feels more precise and connected to the world and the work of the Midnight Club team is reflecting in the game. The shooting also made a good leap forward, it feels more accurate and smooth in free aim and of course we can still ping from enemy to enemy to contain massive shootouts.
Back to the story. GTA V is all about the heists and the characters that make up the story. Michael and Trevor have a lot of history which plays into the plot and develops its own narrative throughout the game. In order to move the story forward players complete heists for a big payout or simply because they have to. The heists are where the fun comes in and easily one of my favorite gameplay scenarios of 2013. Players get to plan the heists, gather supplies and equipment to match their approach. For instance, the first heist is to rob a jewelry store to get some start up cash. The team could go in loud or quiet, I chose quiet which meant gathering a van, some sleeping gas and getaway vehicles. The approach also has me choosing the team which includes gun men, hackers and drivers. A better hacker gets a bigger cut but a weaker hacker will potentially mess up in mission. That’s a solid trade off but can result in loosing money in the heist.
Go time. These heists are set up much like our favorite moves and players can switch between the characters during the mission to use their best abilities. Michael may be doing some shooting while Franklin will take care of securing the prize on the getaway. Doing the heists becomes addicting and I played them in the loud and quiet approaches to see how they play out. Of course the rest of the game is splendid as well. There are tons of quality story missions build around the main plot, the individual characters that had me jumping from mission to mission.
Along with the main missions and heists there are also the Strangers and Freaks missions which may take you on a chase for celebrity memorabilia for a crazy English couple or take photos for a TMZ-esque photographer. This doesn’t even include the other various challenges like stunt jumps and more. Players can go see their shrink as Michael, hang out at the movies with Lamar as Franklin or go hunting with Trevor. Talking about Trevor, I love going out an gaining a 5 star wanted level before making a last stand with this maniac who embodies our persona when we enter a Grand Theft Auto game. The game also allows players toplay the stock market, buy properties (which unlocks more missions) or go sky diving, play golf, tennis and complete other side activities. GTA V is filled with so much content that I spent nearly 60 hours in the single player campaign alone and I hadn’t even touched multiplayer.
The Online Multiplayer
While Grand Theft Auto IV included some basic multiplayer modes and free roaming gameplay, it was nothing like the GTA Online which is attached to the single player campaign as a free download that was released two weeks after the game’s release. While GTA Online had some serious issues at launch which included log on issues, glitches, disappearing characters and more, it is now up and running and Rockstar has been patching the mode ever since. GTA Online is now fully playable and has been an absolute blast on every level apart from a few gripes I had with it, I will touch upon those as well.
Players will load into the world of Los Santos after setting up a characters which is done by way of choosing your grandparents and parents as well as your gender and so on. While this doesn’t give players the detailed choices about noses or hair styles, it is a pretty neat way of setting up your avatar. After arriving in the city we get picked up by Lamar who runs us trough a tutorial and gets players acquainted with the city.
Upon completing the tutorial the world opens up and I was able to jump into races, deathmatches or free roam mode. Each instance will hold a city filled with 16 players to do as they wish. There are also mission givers in GTA Online that are characters we met in the main game. These are undoubtedly the most fun as they can be completed with friends and your crew members. Playing with friends and crew members is where GTA Online shines in the same way the single player does with the heists.
Friends can jump in your game with ease and the group will then choose the next missions from a menu upon completing the prior one. The one major grip I have with this setup is that players can only ever chose competitive modes from this screen and no cooperative missions that we get from mission givers. This causes us all to back out and accept a mission in free roam only to go back into the mission setup – this is just plain inconvenient. Another downside to the multiplayer is the fact that team chat cannot be used and all 16 players talk over each other. But maybe the biggest problem I had with GTA Online is that it will drop you to the main menu and into the single player campaign should the connection drop – I would rather it dropped us all back into online lobby.
While I had some issues with GTA Online, it is by far one of the funnest multiplayer modes we have seen this generation and Rockstar is continuously adding new modes, new content and eventually heists. Getting a group of friends or crew members together to complete missions, races or plain wreaking havoc around Los Santos is as addicting of an experience as they come.
Grand Theft Auto V and GTA Online may be separate game modes but they are the complete package when combined and it is hard to say which of the two makes up the ‘better’ half of this massive yet amazingly detailed video game experience. Even though GTA Online had a rough start and is still plagued by some issues, which will likely be fixed over time, it cannot be denied that GTA V will be one of the games to beat when it comes to the 2013 Game of the Year selections by many of us.
Score: 9.5 / 10
Grand Theft Auto V was developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games for Xbox 360 and PS3 on September 17th. A copy of the game was provided to us by Rockstar for reviewing purposes.