I have a spotless reputation for avoiding things that require more exertion than necessary. So much so that in school I was the only guy to escape sports day and marchpast every year, the Big Boss of stealthing out of seemingly trivial things, if you will.
While every jock, nerd and wannabe was out in the scorching sun trying to impress the opposite sex or to simply keep their heart beating, I was in the cool confines of the computer lab playing Unreal Tournament. It’s been ages since I was in school, but the ethics are the same. Well, at least when it comes to reviewing games.
Until now, that is.
You see, I’ve prided myself on being able to dodge the bullet of having to review open-world games (expansions don’t count). Reason being, they’re like fine whiskey, meant to be savoured, not a pitcher of beer that demands to be chugged down without hesitation. However, it seems like my run is over (curse you Avinash Bali!), and what a game to end it with!
GTA V is a lot of things, and at times, a lot of games. From smuggling guns in a plane over the scorched, arid landscapes of Blaine County to playing golf on lush greens, you’ll find a substantial amount of variety at your disposal. Rather than, you know, just running over the fine folk of Los Santos.
Without spoiling much, there’s a lot to do. If there’s one thing GTA V doesn’t lack, it’s action and it delivers in spades. While the opening hour or so might be a bit of a drag, persist and you will be richly rewarded with a game that grabs you by your proverbial gonads. Whether you decide to take on the main missions or simply get on a Ferris wheel, there’s enough reason to keep playing. The pacing isn’t as spot-on as say, Saints Row 4, but the sheer assortment in missions you partake in makes up for it. Even in its quieter moments that have you closing internet ads or simply walking a dog, you’ll find it all steeped in the bizarre, surreal humour that’s been a trademark of the series. Along the way, you’ll be introduced to every gameplay mechanic and element to make your experience complete. Be it lifting crates with high powered machinery or tearing across the seven seas in a submarine, the main story leaves little to chance.
And so does the presentation. From the voice acting to the little details in the ads that you’ll hear and see during your stay in Los Santos, it’s brimming with a kind of exuberance that you can’t help but think is all real. Even if it is a radio spot trying to sell you on the idea of getting a coffee enema. Oh, and did I mention that the music selection is vast? With licensed music from commercial artists like Britney Spears to hipster stuff like Twin Shadow, there’s something for everyone.
The same OCD-level of detail applies to the visuals as well. The world of Los Santos looks glorious and is a far cry from Liberty City of GTA 4. Whether you’re chilling on the sun soaked beaches or in a strip club, every single pixel of the game looks fantastic and pushes your console to the max.
Sure, some of us who have been playing video games on exotic PCs sporting 8-core processors, enough RAM to map the human genome, and beastly dual core graphic chips to run Crysis splendiferously on twelve monitors would find GTA V more than a little lacking. Minor gripes exist though; it ends up playing choppily in some of the busier sections and there are a few instances of texture pop-in. But for the average Ashish who alternates between FIFA, Need For Speed and GTA, it’ll do just fine if not better.
Then there are the protagonists themselves. Franklin is an up-and-coming criminal who has a penchant for fast cars and driving even faster. Michael is a semi-retired thief who finds himself back in the business for a host of reasons, while Trevor is an insane, meth-laced walking hell on earth.
Each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own special abilities, such as slowing time down or being invulnerable to damage. You can switch between them most of the time. They have their own sets of missions too. Depending on the character, you could be running away from a crazy scheme that devolves into a gunfight or twenty, chasing after a celebrity with a sex addiction, or simply exterminating meth-cooking rednecks. It’s a welcome change from the earlier games that had you trying to ascend up the ladder of gangsterdom, offing every two-bit villain in your way. The narrative encompasses the lives of these three degenerates and it’s the darkest tale from Rockstar yet, albeit told in a less grim way.
All three protagonists are likeable, but Trevor…he is something else. Think of what every video game hating mainstream news outlet considers video games and their consumers to be and you have Trevor. A hulking force of chaos and wanton destruction fuelled by blood lust and insanity. Unsurprisingly, he’s the most fun of the bunch to play as and quite possibly the stand out character of the year.
By this point in the review (if you haven’t already jumped to the score and are looking up my address to end me), you’re probably wondering how it controls. Combat is a tad clunkier than it should be thanks to the cumbersome cover system. Nonetheless, the guns feel right and have a slew of customisation options. Heavy weaponry is particularly delightful to wield, letting off a barrage of explosions. After all, nothing says you’ve arrived better than a rocket launcher to the face of unsuspecting civilians.
Thankfully, driving is a lot easier this time around. Barring the odd truck and sports car, it’s a lot more responsive and you have far more control over them than you did in the earlier games. Planes and helicopters however, not so. They’re as painful as ever to use and feature far more often than they should.
Fortunately, if you fail a mission three times in a row, you can skip that section of it entirely. Purists might balk at the notion, but in retrospect, it makes so much sense that it should’ve been included much earlier. GTA: Vice City’s RC Copter mission, I’m looking at you.
Speaking of missions, there are heists. These are big jobs that need more than just Trevor, Franklin and Michael. You can hire hackers, drivers and gunmen to help you pull these off, for a slice of the profits, of course. Half of doing so is planning them, which involves a bit of recon, and depending on your plan of attack, a violent spree of mugging and looting, or something more in line with Ocean’s 11. They’re slick affairs and you’ll wish there were more to go around.
Also new is how you’d cloak yourself from Los Santos’ finest. I use the term “cloak” because you can be in stealth mode, literally. Borrowing a leaf out of Metal Gear Solid’s book, police cars are represented with a cone of vision that you have to avoid by using obscure alleyways or off-road tracks. It’s a welcome change to the formula and a delicious layer of stealth that makes these segments a lot more enjoyable.
Though most of you would probably try grabbing a tank or a jet early and revel in the mayhem, instead of partaking in the main story, you’d be foolish to miss out on the “freaks and strangers” missions. A good portion of the entertainment is derived from the quest givers themselves, ranging from garbage scouring couples to skin crawlingly sleazy papparazi. The characterisations are stellar and make for a more than laudable addition to the game. Word of caution though; this is not a game you’d want to play in front of your family or even some of your friends. The language alone deserves the big 18+ sign on the cover.
If you had to buy just one game this year, Grand Theft Auto V could very well be that game. It’s simply packed with way too much content to ignore. Throw in the fact that there’s an online mode from 1st October and not to mention the biggest single-player map in the series to explore, this is one title I’ll be playing well into next year.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some fine alcohol to savour…err GTA V to play.