Despite what the reviews would tell you in 2008, Grand Theft Auto 4 was a bit naff. Rockstar’s vision of Liberty City was undoubtedly brilliant but it wasn’t varied. There was nothing but endless city and urban areas and don’t even get me started the developer that created the system that blocked off three-quarters of the Island until you advanced deeper into Nico’s dull story. Come 2013 I had incredibly high hopes for Rockstar’s next installment in the Grand Theft Auto franchise and lets just say that GTA V is the best game I have ever played and here is why.
We must start at the sprawling Island that is Los Santos. Never has a setting in a video game been so rich and full of life. The sheer amount of things to do is mind-boggling from riding a roller-coaster to jet skiing across the massive ocean that surrounds Los Santos; believe me when I tell you that Grand Theft Auto has you covered. The NPCs that fill this world all feel interconnected and full of life and when playing the game you get the impression that they are living their lives as well.
Open-world games don’t tend to be associated with a good story as it can be lost amongst the sheer size of the sandbox the player is using but Rockstar managed to nail it and we are provided with a fantastic story that, most important of all, makes me care for the three characters we play as. That brings me to the next strong point of Grand Theft Auto 5 – the characters. This time around we get three different characters to use (Michael, Franklin and Trevor) with each of them fighting their own mental and physical battles. The first, and my personal favourite, is Michael whose disconnected family is a high point in and around his story; especially when the De Santa family are undergoing therapy. The second character, who I believe to be the weakest of the three, is Franklin – a man who get entangled into the story through encountering Michael in what can certainly be classed as a creative way. The problem with Franklin’s character is that there is a lack of depth to him that we see with Michael and Trevor and he can be seen as one-dimensional. Franklin certainly grounds the story and if Rockstar had have been more creative with him, there is definite potential for the main campaign to be even better. Finally, we have Trevor. The words psychopath, nutter and overall bastard come to mind when describing Trevor but the clever part with this character is that he is multi-layered. Despite his clearly mental appearance, we are playing with a character that has been hurt emotionally in the past which has led him to become this psychopath. On the face of it, Trevor should be your go to guy for those killing spree we all go one from time to time.
Another important aspect to a great game has to be gameplay. Gameplay can make or break a game; a fantastic story is nothing if the game is a nightmare to play. Fear not, Grand Theft Auto V is a joy to play with intuitive controls but I recommend you avoid using the Xbox 360 controller due to its poor D-Pad, a thing you’ll be using a lot to switch the radio, trigger detonators and switch characters, and to put it mildly – it’s rubbish. There are a few complaints that I have to make regarding gameplay, one is the framerate. I can forgive GTA V running at 30 frames per second on the Xbox 360 and PS3 – the fact that the game runs on those consoles is nothing short of a miracle. However, I was expecting the next-gen counterparts to run at a higher frame-rates but yet we are still stuck with 30 frames per second which admittedly is rather disappointing; it is a proven fact that games are better when played at 60 frames per second.
Despite not being the most important aspect of a game, Graphics can leave players with a lasting impression of the game the are playing; be them good or bad. Grand Theft Auto 5’s graphics depend on the system and hardware that you are playing it on. The best way to experience GTA V in all its glory is on PC, this is Los Santos imagined in the way Rockstar intended, without the restrictions of ageing console hardware. Textures are sharp and the level of detail is completely and utterly bonkers – everything from the beauty of the ocean surrounding the Island, and the water effects it leaves on the characters you play as, to the level of rich detail shown on the interiors of cars; with each model of car having a unique interior to add to the authenticity. I do have to reign myself in slightly, this isn’t the best looking game that has ever been made and it doesn’t even come close to other games (The Witcher 3 and Killzone Shadowfall come to mind) but I haven’t ever come away from playing GTA V thinking “this game looks shitty”.
Where the game does, and understandably, get a graphical downgrade is when it is played on the 7th generation consoles. The game doesn’t look good at all on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 which frequent pop-in of items such as trees to road-signs and the frame-rate definitely takes a dive below 30 frames per second at certain points – something that really ruins a gaming experience for me. Despite this, I really can forgive these short comings on the older consoles; the fact that the game runs at all on a 10-year-old Xbox 360 is nothing short of gaming wizardry. The third way to experience this masterpiece is on the current-gen consoles which does give the player quite a few graphical enhancements. The game looks sharper and more alive, the textures are detailed with menial things such as the characters shoes shown in great detail. This ‘definative console’ experience fixes some of the niggles and problems I had with the previous version. The annoying pop-in is gone with the entirety of Los Santos loaded and ready to use from the get go without hidden loading and rendering going on in the background. This is still the same game but for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC versions Rockstar added the much-anticipated first-person point of view and my experience is mixed. I must commend Rockstar for the fantastic amount of effort and detail that obviously went into making this new way of playing authentic. Everything from the interior of cars to the weapons have been remastered of sorts to show a new level of fidelity; this is certainly not a lazy-half assed gimmick. Having said all that, I did turn off the first person view after about 2 hours of playing. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, it seemed like extra effort to play the game in first person and it never even comes close to the experience I had in other first person games such as Call of Duty and Destiny.
The score that accompanies the game is superb. Plain and simple. The soundtrack isn’t forced upon the player as when roaming the vast world of Los Santos all we hear is the diegetic sounds of cars, footsteps, water and people. The score really comes into its own during the many heists you perform throughout the game, it adds to the tension but also makes you feel like a badass, something I must commend the game for. What you’ll be hearing throughout most of the game is the real-life songs provided by the vehicle radios. The song choices mixes songs everyone is familiar with such as Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl in the world’ with timeless classics by Johnny Cash. You’ll certainly find a radio station that’ll suit you and for those hardcore GTA players – I’m certain Lazlow makes an appearance.
I’m giving Grand Theft Auto 5 a 9/10 – ‘Excellent’ rating because that’s exactly how I’d describe it. It isn’t a 10/10 despite how badly I want to award it that score, the game does have its problems and it’s far from perfect; it’s still a bloody good game though. Summarising such a rich, complex and diverse game in a paragraph is quite a challenge but I’ll give it a try. Grand Theft Auto 5 is fantastic – borderline perfect. The world you play in is alive and beautiful, the characters you play as are detailed and interesting, the gameplay is simple and a joy to use and the story is gripping to the last – especially for an open world game. If you haven’t already bought this game; buy it.
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