Sunday, September 22, 2013

Grand Theft Auto V Review

Grand Theft Auto is one of the most critically acclaimed, controversial, best selling, and revolutionary game series of all time. The first game that really drew the public's eye was GTA 3 which put you into the role of a sociopathic criminal and gave you free rein to do whatever you want in an open world game. Steal cars, kill cops, drive on the sidewalk, and so on. It won dozens of game of the year awards, become the best selling game of the year, and was heavily criticized by the media, government officials, parents, and everyone else who gets easily upset. But with GTA 3 the developer Rockstar Games found a formula that worked. Since then Grand Theft Auto has become one of the most popular series the video game industry has ever produced, with multiple games in the series selling over ten million copies; GTA San Andreas was even the highest selling PS2 game. The last major installment in the series was GTA 4 released back in 2008 to overwhelming critical acclaim. Winning several GOTY awards, selling 25 million units since its release, and has even made it on several best of the generation lists. That game was released five years ago and people have been itching for a sequel ever since, well in 2011 Rockstar finally announced that GTA 5 was in the works; and people have certainly shown their enthusiasm. Reportedly GTA 5 was even one of the most pre-ordered games of all time and is expected to sell over 20 million units within a year of its first year. Well it's finally arrived and I can say wholeheartedly the hype was 100% spot on. Unlike the previous GTA games this one revolves around three playable characters instead of one. The first is Michael, a retired criminal who was placed into witness protection several years back. Michael is a middle aged family man who got out of the game and was hoping to retire in the life of luxury, but he's miserable. He has a cheating wife, a jackass son, a promiscuous daughter, and is all around miserable. One day he is approached by a young man named Franklin, our second protagonist, who is looking for some work. Franklin grew up in the "bad" part of town and has been around the gang life for as long as he can remember. He currently works for a shady repo business but has dreams of making it big. So that's why he goes to the once extremely successful Michael. All this commotion ultimately gets the attention of our final character, Trevor. Trevor is a former army pilot who left that line of life and started some less than reputable work, and in the past he had actually done some jobs with Michael. Trevor currently lives out in Blaine County, a trailer park many go to in order to disappear but in his free time he's in on the arms trade. He's paranoid, methed out, and bat sh*t insane. The three protagonists eventually decide to go into business together with one common interest, make lots, and lots of money. I know I've said it twice this year, first with Bioshock Infinite and then with The Last of Us; but Grand Theft Auto 5 is one of the greatest games I've ever played. Rockstar has taken the open world game to the next level, they haven't just made a map they really have made a whole world. The shear amount of stuff you can do is mind boggling, you can do pretty much everything: menial tasks like bike riding and tennis, create your own criminal enterprise, participate in the stock market and buy real estate, they even have in game TV shows. Like every GTA game there are tons of side missions and activities you can do throughout the city, amazingly even the most pointless of these activities are fun and worth your time. The game takes place in the fictional world of Los Santos, a satirical look at sunny California. Huge cities, beautiful mountains forests, and open dessert are yours to explore and use as your own personal play ground. It really does feel like the most complete open world ever put into a game. The game itself can only be described as a technological marvel, it's been announced that GTA 5 is the most expensive game ever with 265 million dollars going into development and marketing. You can really see where that money went; the game has a certain level of polish and shine that I've seen in few other games. The world is beautiful and vibrant while still feeling grimy like what the areas it's based off actually feel like. It's amazing that Rockstar has the technical prowess to make a game like this work on eight year old hardware and still have it look so good. I wouldn't compare it to something like The Last of Us but it still looks great. Like the last several GTA games the music is great, there are tons of licensed music from old school rock to modern day pop. The game also has an original score which hasn't been used in a GTA game and is one of the best original soundtracks featured in a game this year. One of the most drastic differences over the previous games would be the use of three main characters. Each of them come from different walks of life and have different personalities, with each of them likable in their own ways. Rockstar put a lot more time and effort into character development than in previous installments in the series. Each has their own sh*t they got to go through and don't just feel like they were put in the game to be controlled. Each feels like an essential part of the story and without them the game would feel like it's really missing something. You can change between characters using the D-pad pretty quickly and you'll see the camera pan up then over to where the character you're about to control will be. An interesting element that they implemented would be the use of stats on various gameplay elements that you can upgrade to improve in their own right. For example if you're a bad shot go to the shooting range and practice. Your aim will get better, you can hold onto more ammo, ect. Each of the characters starts off with different stats. Michael starts with higher gun stats while Franklin starts as a much better driver. Each of the characters also has some sort of special ability; Michael can go into bullet time to improve his aim, Franklin can slow down time while driving to make turns more easily, and Trevor can go into a berserker mode where in combat he takes half damage and deals out double. And I'd like to go ahead and say Trevor is one of the greatest characters ever put into a game. One thing that really impressed me about the game would be the story, with GTA 4 I wasn't overly impressed with the narrative. The story seemed more like a formality than anything else. For the most part people just played the game to kill hookers and beat up random people on the street. But of all the improvements the ones that are most obvious would be the driving and the combat. Driving has always been what the series has been known for, but in GTA 4 it was less than satisfactory, it felt like bumper cars; the driving in GTA 5 feels so much better. The driving can be difficult and does rely on a certain level of skill but isn't aggravating like GTA 4 and doesn't hold your hands as much as a game like. Saints Row. Whenever you do fail it's more likely to be your own fault than anything else. I'd also like to say there are a ridiculous number of cars in this game, everything from hunks of junk to the best sports cars money can buy; Rockstar has given us a lot of variety to choose from. The combat has also gone through a major overhaul and has been improved drastically. The combat in GTA 4 was sluggish and hard to handle, the weapons didn't feel like they had any weight and hand to hand combat was more trouble than anything else. GTA 5's combat is much closer to some of Rockstar's other games like Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3. The combat is fast, fluid and fun. New to the series are heists, there are several jobs throughout the game that if done properly can earn you millions. The fun part is you can actually plan the heists yourself; choose your team, your approach to pulling it off, and gather the material to get the job done. The main problem people seem to have with these jobs is that there aren't very many. When I first heard about this gameplay mechanic I was actually worried that the game would hold your hand through the entire process; while your options are limited they do let you run the show. Like I said earlier Los Santos is a satirical look at southern California and in some ways acts as a social commentary. It takes a hard look at real life; touching on subjects of corporate greed, celebrity worship, and social media domination. Now I have to talk about the elephant in the room, video game violence; there's reason that GTA is one of the most controversial series ever released. GTA gives you the ability to do just about anything and lets you live out your darkest fantasies. It seems that in the last few years shootings like the Sandy Hook incident and video games are often blamed, most often GTA. The media and ignorant old people think that since you play a violent video game that you must be violent. They completely overlook the fact that after years of research psychologists have found no hard evidence that violent games lead to violent behaviors. These people never just say that the shooters are sick, if at any point in their life they played something like Call of Duty it had to be the video game that drove them to kill innocent people. Anyone who goes along with this train of thought is either an idiot or has no idea what they're talking about. I've been playing violent games for years and I'm a pacifist. Grand Theft Auto 5 is a masterpiece; there really isn't another way to put it. The story, characters, gameplay, and setting are just about perfect; playing GTA 5 makes you feel like you're in a gangster film. The game is available for the PS3 and xbox 360, and I imagine that within the next six months it will be available for PS4, xbox one, and PC. If you have a system that can play this game, you need to get it. This is a game where years from now we'll look back and complain why all games can't be like this. In my opinion this isn't just the best GTA game, it's the best game Rockstar has ever done. Aside from just a few minor glitches I really can't point out a problem with the game, it really is that good. Rockstar has raised the bar for open world games by not just making one of the best games of this console generation, but one of the greatest games of all time.

5/5 Stars
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