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WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS. Although if you are worried about spoilers because you haven’t been playing the game yet, what the fuck have you been doing?

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As I’m sure most of you Dear Readers out there should be aware, one of the biggest games of the year, Grand Theft Auto V, came out on the 17th of September. Since purchasing it at a midnight launch, I have clocked in roughly 18 1/2 hours game time, with roughly 50% game progress, and completed 45 of the 69 story missions. I think it’s about time I discuss the game that has taken up a shitload of my time in the past week.

For the first time in the history of the franchise, GTA V tells its story from the perspective of three separate characters. There’s Michael De Santa, an ex-con living the good life in witness protection, in a nice mansion with his wife and 2 kids. There’s Franklin Clinton, a gang banger who meets Michael, and begins working with him in criminal activity. And then, there’s Trevor Philips, former best friend of Michael, and complete fucking psychopath, who believes Michael is dead, until a series of circumstances finds him reunited with Michael, and the three main characters begin working together.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can start talking about how fun the game is to play. Let’s be honest, we’re not buying GTA for the story, right? Sure, it’s important for the story missions to be fun to play, and since there’s 69 of them (69! Dirty…), they better be fun to play. But forget the plot, is the game fun? Short answer, yes. So let’s talk about that, shall we, Dear Reader?

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The wealth of things to do in this game is fucking enormous. Aside from the story missions, which as I said there’s plenty of. there’s a series of missions labelled “Strangers and Freaks” that each of the 3 characters can engage in, where they interact with some of the bizarre people who live in San Andreas. More on that later. Missions aside, there’s tons of activities to engage in as well, which bring back a lot of what was available in GTA: San Andreas (still the best of the series), and others, such as the shooting ranges, races, triathlons, flight school, parachuting, the list goes on. It also brings new activities to the table, like golf, tennis, yoga (yeah, yoga, not exciting, but it’s there), hunting, and more. Some of the activities are great, some not so much, but the fact that there are so many options that are rather well designed is wonderful, and ensure that you will never run out of things to do.

Just like GTA: San Andreas, skills are back as well, skills which improve over time, depending on what sorts of things you’re doing, and as those skills increase, each of the three characters become more powerful. So you want to engage in a bike race across Mount Chiliad? Not only do you get the thrill of the competition, but you’re increasing the strength of your character as well, which could become beneficial in future endeavours. The more you drive, the easier it becomes to weave through traffic. Keep working on those gold medals at the shooting ranges, and gun fights will get easier. It all serves to make the game more fun, and no matter where you are in the world, you will find plenty of shit to fuck around with.

Aside from activities like these, the level of customisation for your characters is massive, too. Not quite as ambitious as GTA: San Andreas, but a gigantic improvement over GTA IV, to be sure. You can take any of the three characters across the world, and get fancy new clothes (or even shitty new clothes, if that’s how you roll), haircuts, beards, tattoos, whatever you want. The beauty part, too, is that each of the different clothing stores, barbers, tattoo parlours, and so on, will have different options compared to what the other stores of the same type are offering, so the game invites you to explore the world, and see what you can do.

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It can definitely said that GTA V is a fuckload more fun than GTA IV. GTA IV, while it was a great game, stripped down most of the wackiness that GTA: San Andreas brought to the table. But a lot of that wackiness has returned, and the game is better off for it. It still stays reasonably grounded, though, at least as far as the game like this can. It certainly is more consistent and reasonable than one of its major competitors, Saints Row, that’s for sure. Things like searching for UFO parts, playing from the perspective of Franklin’s Rottweiler Chop, getting eaten by sharks (which there is an achievement for!), and much, much more. Some of that insanity even pours over to the missions themselves, especially the “Strangers and Freaks” missions.

In the “Strangers and Freaks” missions, each of the three main characters will meet a man called Barry, an advocate for the legalisation of marijuana, and this leads to some of the games most crazy moments. When Michael smokes some of the weed offered to him, he goes on a trip which sees the player having to shoot a series of aliens that are trying to attack Michael. When Trevor visits Barry, and is also unfortunate enough to smoke some of his grass, he envisions a series of clowns attacking him, who have to be fired upon with a gun that shoots out a series of comical symbols (you know the type, @#*, stuff like that). There’s also missions that involve Trevor having to steal a bunch of items from celebrities for a perverted old British couple, Franklin having to help a member of the paparazzi catch famous people in compromising positions, and much more.

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Now I think it’s about time to gush about some of my favourite missions from what I’ve played so far, and talk about some of the most fun moments that have just happened at random times.

Friend Request: Michael needs a job and turns to an old friend for help.
This mission happens pretty early on, and sees Michael going to the offices of Lifeinvader, a company not entirely unlike Facebook, and planting a device into a new smartphone being developed that blows the head off the CEO. One of the funniest missions that appears very early on, with one character in particular who works in the Lifeinvader offices delivering a lot of laughs.

Mr. Philips: Trevor has something to discuss with the Lost Motorcycle Club.
Notable for the fact that Trevor kills Johnny from the Lost, who players should remember from GTA IV: The Lost and Damned. It’s a quick end for Johnny, made especially worse since we’ve spent so much time with him in the past, but Trevor repeatedly stamping on his head while yelling “cunt” in time to every stomp is something that I will not forget any time soon.

Fame or Shame: Tracey auditions for Fame or Shame.
Fuck yes! Finally, after hearing him in every game in the series since GTA III, Lazlow has been turned into an actual physical presence in the game! You can see him on the television as the host of Fame or Shame in any of the safehouses, but this mission actually sees you going to where they film the show to protect Michael’s daughter Tracey from humiliating herself in the auditions, chasing down Lazlow, and absolutely humiliating the shit out of him. You have no idea how amazing it is to be able to actually interact with Lazlow. Awesome.

Did Somebody Say Yoga?: Michael finds his inner peace.
This mission starts off boring, with Michael just doing yoga with his wife and her instructor, but it goes to some great places. After the yoga session, Michael convinces his son, Jimmy, to go for a drive with him. They drive to a nearby Burger Shot, Jimmy buys a bottle of something from a dealer friend out the back, convinces Michael to drink it whilst driving, and that’s when things get crazy. Michael gets booted out of the car, and starts tripping balls. He sees monkeys surrounding him in an alleyway before being abducted by aliens. They start to probe him in their ship before he falls out of the ship, and starts hurtling to the ground far, far below him, seeing crazy colours and hearing voices in his head. He crashes to the ground, and when he wakes up back in reality, he’s lying in a field in just his underwear. He makes it back home only to find a note from his family, saying they have left him. One of the crazier missions so far, and certainly on of the strongest story points.

Hood Safari: Franklin and Lamar show Trevor a typical South Los Santos neighbourhood.
Notable for one reason, and one reason only. The mission takes place in Grove Street! Yes, your home from GTA: San Andreas! Sadly, it doesn’t look the same as the Grove Street we know and love from that game, but it’s still nice to be able to make a return.

By the Book: Michael and Trevor combine to locate a target for the FIB.
Not a great mission, but it needs to be pointed out because it’s one of the more controversial parts of the game, and has been talked about quite a bit. Reason being, this mission involves Trevor having to torture a man in order to get information out of him. Unlike other controversial missions in other games, like Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s “No Russian” mission, “By the Book” cannot be skipped, and the player must commit the torture in order to progress in the game. This mission has been met with controversy, but me personally, I didn’t find it all that harrowing. I found Trevor’s treatment of Johnny more difficult than this, honestly. But fuck, this wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto game without someone being pissed off about something in it, right?

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As usual, the radio stations are top notch. I find myself turning to WCTR, the talk station, as I normally do in the other games, and there’s really funny material to be found here. One of the shows, “Chakra Attack”, is my particular favourite, mainly because of how fucking funny J. B. Smoove is (who you might know from Curb Your Enthusiasm). And Lazlow is there too, as the assistant to the host on “Chattersphere”. It’s also nice to hear the brief return of Reed Tucker, who Lazlow interviewed on “Chatterbox” all the way back in GTA III.

The voice acting in the game is great as always. Don’t expect to see many big names this time around, but the cast does a fantastic job. The graphics are also great (I’m playing on Xbox 360, my Gamertag is RaoulDukeKD, if anyone wants to find me), and aside from a few texture issues now and again, I haven’t had any real problems.

So while it’s not the greatest game in the series, I still feel that title belongs to GTA: San Andreas, it is a brilliant game, and definitely one of the best games of this generation.

9 out of 10.

For more on Grand Theft Auto V, and the Grand Theft Auto series as a whole, be sure to listen to today’s episode of Four Finger Spatchcock, “Another kind of GTA Special”, and last week’s episode, “Some kind of GTA Special”, or read a piece I wrote last year, “Grand Theft Soundtrack: the brilliant radio stations of ‘Grand Theft Auto’”.

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