Grand Theft Auto V review
Hype is a dangerous thing. While it’s important for publishers and developers to generate a buzz in the community, it’s all too easy for such pre-launch excitement to wind up setting the bar impossibly high. So in the case of GTA V, we can only assume that said bar is somewhere out in the stratosphere. Yet somehow, Rockstar has managed to come good on every promise, deliver in every department and create what will surely go down as a generation-defining game. Believe the hype – GTA V is exceptional.
We’ve been so very patient up to this point, and Rockstar kindly acknowledges this with an almost immediate start to gameplay. You’ll learn the ropes and get a feel for the refined controls over the course of an explosive opening mission, although in typical Rockstar fashion, extra mechanics and features are drip-fed over the course of the entire game. Not all of them find their way into the main story missions, either – if you want to see everything the game has to offer, you’re going to need to go out of your way and work for it. There’s no story mission that introduces you to the simple tennis mini-game, for instance (or, as we’ve dubbed it, Rockstar Presents Normal Tennis), nor ones that demand that you win big on the stock market or street racing circuit. The only stuff you’ll see over the course of the story is gameplay relevant to the three main characters and both their individual and collective plights, which makes a nice change for the genre.
Pastimes and activities aren’t the only thing to have been shunted off away from the main narrative, either. While Michael’s dysfunctional family, Trevor’s psychosis and Franklin’s incompetent companions all serve up laughs (if not in equal measure), much of the playful silliness has been pushed into side missions and optional extras. It makes sense in context – this is basically a game revolving around a series of huge heists, after all – and means that there are amusing moments throughout the campaign (It’s still incredibly well-written, for the most part) but plenty more proper laugh-out-loud-funny ones waiting off the beaten path.
And trust us, most of the play area would be considered ‘off the beaten path’. The map is huge, the city itself a sprawling urban expanse that sits at the bottom of the gigantic map while several towering mountain ranges punctuate the desert above, with dusty hick settlements, backwater coastal towns and rolling plains still ruled by nature all just waiting to be explored. And that’s before you embrace the game’s vastly enhanced verticality, with the expected aerial antics joined by proper underwater exploration. It’s far more than just a deep blue abyss down there – sunken ships, crashed planes and ditched cars all lie buried on the sea bed and while you’ll never reach them with just the air in your lungs, a set of scuba gear will help you scavenge the cash, weapon caches and other treasures that never made it to their final destinations.
It certainly helps that GTA V looks incredible, too. Weather and lighting effects are staggering, draw distances put every other game in the series to shame while the sense of activity and life in the city is second to none. Whether you’re zapping between characters at street level or soaring above Los Santos, the bustle of city life is absolutely incredible and it even spills over into gameplay, with random events such as muggings, robberies, carjacking and cop chases going on all the time should you see fit to save the day or even help yourself to someone else’s big score. Every now and then, you’ll just find yourself staring out over the city in awe – head up to the Vinewood sign at dawn and you’ll see exactly what we mean.
And with everything you do, you’re adding more activities, options and waypoints to the map and inviting more crazies to send you off on wild goose chases – Los Santos is rapidly swamped in things to do, places to go and ways to blow the fleeting fortunes that come from a successful job. LA (or rather Los Santos) is the perfect backdrop for this tale of the American dream gone wrong, the contrast between rich and poor never clearer than when you’re cruising through Vinewood with slums on one side of you and mansions with private pools on the other.
So it looks amazing, plays better than ever in every respect (handling and gunplay are both hugely improved), is set in a huge and busy world and features better attention to detail than more or less any other game you might care to mention – where else can you relax after a tough heist with cartoons and a cigar? Scour every nook and cranny in the city and you still won’t find a single place where Rockstar skimped on detail. The soundtrack’s great, the writing top notch and there’s loads to do, which only gets even more ridiculous when you consider that this is only half the game – the rest comes when GTA Online launches in a few weeks’ time.
We said it once and we’ll say it again: believe the hype.