Grand Theft Auto V provides a massive, responsive world for the player to wreak havoc upon.
courtesy Rockstar Games

Game review: Grand Theft Auto V

Rockstar’s latest instalment of its infamous franchise is the best yet

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With each instalment of the Grand Theft Auto series, the game developers at Rockstar entice the masses with a potential gem. Grand Theft Auto V reportedly cost its developers over $250 million to make, grossed $800 million after it was released on Sept. 17 and was the fastest game to make over one billion dollars. There is so much excitement surrounding this game that a man in London was stabbed while waiting in line for it. After neglecting all aspects of my social life to go on a Grand Theft Auto V bender, I soon found that my $59.99 was — unequivocally — worth every penny.

Grand Theft Auto V is situated in the sprawling metropolis of San Andreas which is based on the city of Los Angeles and its surrounding area. Fittingly, the game’s plot gave the impression of a Hollywood film. From the game’s very beginning the player is immersed in a dramatic, action-packed world.

After a bit of playing, I was independently in control of three different characters, whose different stories and personalities all interlink wonderfully. This allows the story to develop through the unique personality of each protagonist, as opposed to all previous Grand Theft Auto games which featured a single generic protagonist.

The player is first introduced to Franklin — a black man who wants to be more than just a small-time thug, but who can’t resist the temptations of the high life. Michael is a retired ex-criminal who is going through his own version of a mid-life crisis, and has to deal with his unappreciative and demanding family. And then there’s Trevor, a wily, libido-driven meth-head who has a murderous streak like no other.

Because Grand Theft Auto V has three protagonists, a new feature that is central to the game is character switching. In missions where all three playable characters are involved, the player can switch between them at any time. For example, the player can be up close and personal during a firefight using Michael, and then switch to Trevor to provide cover and then to Franklin to create a distraction. The player can seamlessly switch to where the most exciting action is taking place.

The missions in Grand Theft Auto V are diverse and creative, ranging from an eventful jewelry store heist that the player orchestrates, to run-of-the-mill missions like towing a car for Franklin’s crack-addict cousin. Another welcome feature is the mission checkpoints, which means that players don’t have to replay an entire mission after failing right at the end.

Initially, the ‘fog of war’ that covers the map hides how expansive the life-like world of San Andreas really is. Events happen all over the city which occur with or without the player’s intervention, making the world of the game feel much more exciting. Upon leaving Franklin’s house, I happened upon some criminals who had just robbed a store and needed a ride. Afterwards, I decided to save a battered women from her abusive boyfriend. I also neglected to save some dude’s bike from being stolen because hey, shit happens.

What is great about this game is that it feels like you can do anything your heart desires. Feel the need to calm down after an afternoon of indulging your id at strip clubs and shooting ranges? Try some yoga or a round of golf. Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at flying a plane and ditching it mid-flight for some impromptu skydiving. The game offers plenty of amusing diversions, which often feel like full games themselves.

Many events in Grand Theft Auto V revolve around new media. Protagonists receive emails and texts on their smartphones regarding everything from mission information to requests to hangout at the bar from a friend — you can even use them to take selfies. In addition, one can also make trades on the stock market or browse Rockstar’s spoof of Facebook, which is aptly titled Life Invader.

The controls are quite easy to get used to. I did fumble a bit at first — shooting someone while trying to change radio stations and drawing the ire of the police — but thankfully, the game isn’t very punishing if you make a mistake. The auto-aim is less finicky than before, and finding cover in a shoot out before your health is completely drained is actually feasible. I also found the driving to be a lot smoother than in previous games.

The game’s soundtrack provides a suitable background to the player’s self-directed adventures. For example, I switched from Michael to Franklin, who was beefing with his cousin in front of some rival gang members. I immediately put the smack down on the Los Santos Ballas, and when the police gave chase, I hopped on the newly deceased gang members’ motorbike to the tune of 2Pac’s “Ambitions Of A Ridah.” The timing of the music made me feel like a complete badass — which is exactly what this kind of game should do.

The world of Grand Theft Auto V serves as a commentary on contemporary American life, and nothing is safe from Rockstar’s dark sense of humour. For example, the first tip I noticed on the loading screen was a little box advertising that I could “relax like a real American by smoking, drinking, and watching mindless TV.” Narcissism is especially prevalent as everyone in the game has a self-serving evil streak. The game’s narrative does falter occasionally, such as when it makes you play through a lengthy and seemingly unnecessary torture scene. Those with weak stomachs should stay away.

Rockstar’s attention to detail is what makes Grand Theft Auto V feel so colossal. It’s wonderfully weird, overly engrossing, and just hands down fun. You need to be playing this game.