First Impressions Review: Grand Theft Auto V
Available on: PS3 and Xbox 360. PC coming soon.
Played on: PS3
This is, as best I could make it, a spoiler free review.
I’ve played every Grand Theft Auto since the original. I was a fan, in my youth, of the top-down driving smash-em-up and it’s sequels, and with GTAIII I was mesmerised by the realism presented in this digital world. The freedom given to me to either follow the amazingly well scripted narrative or just spend three hours racking up kills from the roof of the casino, getting a higher and higher wanted level until finally the FBI cars were made available was something I had never really encountered in a game before.]
A player of games like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil I was used to my games giving me a more linear path. Sure by today’s standards the game looks pretty crummy but back then it was a masterpiece and it earned the awards to prove it.
Fast forward to Vice City and I spent hours just driving around listening to 80s synth-pop. Sadly San Andreas never really did much for me. I’m not sure what it was but the game seemed almost too open. Then GTA4 came along and I was back in the fold. The realism of the city, the amazing level of detail, the deep storyline which admittedly I never finished because I lost interest in taking that woman on dates so her cousin or whatever would give me work.
They dropped the ball a few times in that one. They’ve picked it up again with Grand Theft Auto 5.
Even at an early stage of my playthrough (which I am still just edging my way into) I was struck by the cinematic nature and the depth of gameplay. Without spoiling anything, the introduction to the game gives us both an outstanding narrative prelude and a flawless tutorial on the game’s updated movement and shooting control scheme. Like The Last Of Us before it, GTAV knows how to open a story and following this, the first missions of the game allow the player to come to grips with the games driving controls.
There’s a steep learning curve here – the controls are a lot tighter than in previous instalments of the franchise but still feel exaggerated until you manage to get your head around them. Once you’ve mastered just how tight to squeeze the trigger (acceleration and brake/reverse are mapped to the triggers rather than buttons) it seems a breeze to float through traffic at high speeds and only a few times in the very earliest of these driving escapades did I scuff up my car; to no negative effect.
Rockstar have taken from the best of their last decade of gamemaking and selected only the best of each to create their latest. The weapon selection is reminiscent of games like Red Dead Redemption, and the aiming and gunplay controls are also very much like their 2010 Western classic. Aiming feels natural and the guns feel powerful in your digital hand. It’s a lot easier to get head shots and with the improved cover system it’s also no longer a case of walking into the street, guns blazing, and hoping for the best.
Where the game really shines though is in the world building and the novel trio of playable characters. The city feels like a living, breathing world with far more life in it than GTA4‘s Liberty City ever had. Rockstar have dragged a truly obscene amount of power from the ageing consoles of the current generation and although there are the occasional jaggies and texture issues they are few and far between and one could bee forgiven for thinking this was an early next-gen title at first glance.
The cars are gorgeous – even the old shit buckets – and there’s a decent variety to keep you interested. The city around you glows with the vibrancy of modern LA. During an early session I was making my way down one of Los Santos’ many wide expressways and with the evening sun glinting in my field of vision I was struck by just how gorgeous it is. There’s an instinctive desire to stick to speed limits and obey the rules of the road in parts of the game where time is not a factor, and there aren’t any police giving chase, and it”s easy to just sit at the lights, engine idling and admire the pedestrians on the sidewalk, the car waiting in the Taco Bell-like drive thru, the plane coming in to land at the distant airport, the car next to you, music blaring one of the city’s many radio stations, the setting sun reflecting orange in the skyscrapers to your left.
The three characters – ex bank robber Michael, up and coming gangsta Franklin and crazy sociopath Trevor – can be switched between at any time (once you reach a certain, quite early point in the narrative that is) and their lives just go on around you when they aren’t in your hands.
With moderately realised existences of their own, you might find yourself dropping in on Franklin when he’s helping a cousin with family issues, Michael arguing with his loser son or Trevor being chased by the cops on a rural highway in a stolen RV.
I’m truly eager to explore more of the city, and the wilderness of Blaine County. There looks to be so much to explore that it is easy to feel daunted by the task. With so much variety, there’s a lot to miss. This just adds to the excitement though and with so much happening, you’re never at a loss for something to discover.
Once you’re in there, you feel the breathing of the city and start to live it and you just accept it as a real place. It’s full of the violence and sleaze you expect from contemporary America and it revels in the debased glory of it all.
I’m not very far in, just enough to do this first impressions review but I’m already hooked and cannot wait to get home and play more. With so much to do, and none of it feeling forced, we’re far beyond the painful bowling and dinner dates of GTA4 and into a breathing, living world.
If you’re a fan of the GTA series you already have this game and I think, for the most part, reviews are going to be preaching more to the converted than anybody else. The game smashed pre-order records and by all accounts Rockstar has already made back the money the spent on it in pre-orders and first day sales alone. So I’m probably not going to convince many people to buy it but I can confirm that by doing so you made the right choice.
And if you haven’t picked it up, or aren’t even sure you will after being burned by GTA4 take my word for it: this game is the pinnacle of open world, narrative driven, adult gameplay. It’s a strong story, wrapped in tight gameplay and drowned in a superbly realised cityscape and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.