GTA has taken us from a 2D top-down simulator to a 3D third-person shooter. We’ve been taken back to the 80’s in Vice City and brought back with GTA V. The series has always strived to be innovative, push the bounds of propriety, and focus on a singular theme. Does GTA V’s eclectic multi-person story live up to its predecessors?
Welcome back to San Andreas. The last time we were here was in 2004. The place was full of drugs, violence and apparently hidden hot coffee. After I set a foot in this fictional state once more, I found it had no inhibitions left and no hidden hot coffee. The series is 10 years older and were getting a much more mature game because of it.
This more mature game comes with full frontal nudity, torture, a broader selection of music, a proper first person mode and everything else you’ve come to expect from a GTA game. The most significant shift is that the player will take on the role of not one but three primary characters, all of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses. The characters you will be playing are Michael, Franklin and Trevor.
The story begins with you playing Michael and his best friend Trevor, who are in the middle of a bank robbery. After some sinister shenanigans between Michael and other members of that crew, he takes advantage of an opportunity for him and his family to enter witness protection. Trevor is led to believe that his best friend is dead and the other members are either in jail or dead as well.
The story moves forward 10 years later where a young car repossession specialist, Franklin, is struggling to make a name for himself so he can move beyond his limited opportunities in his neighborhood. His only option is to work with a crooked car dealer named Simeon. Franklin is tasked to reposes a vehicle that was sold only a few weeks prior.
After gaining access to the individuals home to open the garage, Franklin quickly takes the vehicle back to the car dealer when he is confronted by Michael, who quickly deduces that the car dealer is running a scam and forces him to slam the car into the car dealer’s place of business. Franklin is now out of a job and running short on opportunities, so he goes back to Michael’s home looking for some guidance in a vain hope that he can possibly learn something from him so he can be successful.
Michael initially rejects Franklin but after making a serious mistake, he is desperately needing a large influx of cash and must come out of retirement. With having been out of the game for 10 years, he takes Franklin under his wing to teach him what he knows. After successfully pulling off the heist, Trevor catches wind of it and pieces together that his old dead best friend could still be alive and be involved in the heist. Trevor begins a crusade to find out what actually happened to Michael and what befell the rest of their crew.
This is a summation of what players will experience in the story but because it is an open sandbox game, this small segment can take you a few hours or several dozen depending on how many side missions or how much exploring you want to do. The only real limiting factor is the weapons you can purchase, these are unlocked as you progress through the story.
While you progress through the single player portion of the game you will find that your actions can affect the in-game economy. While I found the mechanic easy to understand it wasn’t always clear what company controlled what resource. Therefore the easiest way to make money is to do missions, stealing cars or beating up hookers for cash.
The most monotonous task was trying to level up each character in a specific skill, which is done by performing certain tasks. Let’s say you want all the characters to be good at shooting; you need to go to the range and practice. You’ll need to do the same with driving, flying and etc. These tasks take three times as long as it would with just one protagonist and is something I took no pleasure in.
I mentioned before that this is a much more mature game. While I can tolerate the PG strip club, the very rude and obscene jokes, I found it very difficult to participate in a mission where I had to torture someone. I had no idea this was there. I’ve spent almost two years scrolling past news unless it was about a PC release date so I didn’t spoil the game, so this was a big shock for me. There have been only a few times I’ve been truly disgusted to do something in a game, and this was one of those times. The problem stems from having to participate in the act. Seeing it is one thing, but performing the torture really shook me and I’m making this apparent in the review so you can be better prepared for it than I was. Though I don’t think anyone can truly be ready for something like this.
Rockstar has chosen to differentiate Grand Theft Auto V from its predecessors by including GTA Online. It takes many of the elements from the single player mode’s chaotic environment, character skill advancement and bountiful missions, then adds the depravity of the internet. This concoction has created the most wretched hive of scum and villainy that I have ever experienced. There is always someone trying to kill you in the public instances and this is very problematic for new players.
There are those who have a great deal of experience playing GTA Online from the console versions. Thus they have an easier time taking advantage of the new players and griefing them. What Rockstar should have done is let a new player be untouchable from other players until they were level 5 or after they had gone through the tutorial and learned the basics. The only option new players have is to make themselves passive but when this is active the player is unable to perform any aggressive actions. The option to be able to go to a private instance with friends should be available to them.
Speaking of private instances the Online menu is a bloody mess. When you launch GTA V through Steam, it gives you an option to go into the Story mode or Online. If you choose to go Online from that option you will always be put in a public instance and there is no way to set up a private session. Except there is in the story mode, no not the main menu, you have to enter the story mode before you can navigate to the Online menu and setup a private instance for you and your friends, crew or a simple solo mode online.
Adding to the navigational frustration, the menu’s also feel very console’ish. When you click on say the settings, then click on display settings, you actually have to click on something in that sub-menu for you to change any of the options there. This is clunky and not very intuitive for PC users.
The keyboard and mouse controls can be another source of frustration. There were several times I was holding the Tab key down so it would bring up the radial menu for me to select a weapon, when you want to cycle through multiple weapons of the same type you need to use the mouse wheel. There were several times when I did this and my PC would beep at me like I was pressing too many keys. When I kept the Tab key pressed and used my 360 controller in these moments, I never had an issue. This has happened to several people I know and we have vastly different systems.
An issue that is no longer present but was a major one in GTA IV was the driving. In GTA V keyboard and mouse users we can now drive vehicles much more easily but the aircraft still require a gamepad to take full advantage of the aircraft’s precise controls. The planes currently feel a little floaty and I think they should be given a little more stability.
While the controls were an annoyance, my biggest concern deals more with GTA V’s stability problems and it crashing to the desktop. I’m not the only one with these problems either, when I was doing an online heist three out of the four of us crashed at separate times. This lead us to repeating the heist because the game forces everyone out and into a lobby until you have a full crew again. This problem is dreadfully apparent with varying PC’s and while I’m sure Rockstar is aware of it, there is no eta on a fix. The game had a tendency to run more stable after it either crashed a few times in a row or it crashed and took my Logitech software along with it.
A feature I wasn’t expecting to work as well as it did was the first-person view. In third-person the weapons worked flawlessly and provided unique kick back but it was never that apparent in first-person mode in previous games. Now I feel that first-person can actually be beneficial to someone who prefers to play that view. And I think this highlights what the PC is about: choice. The only issue I had with it was that it seems you can sprint faster in that view compared to third-person.
Despite these annoying and at times infuriating problems, GTA V is still one hell of a fun game when it works right. The game is a massive time sink but you will be entertained by the story, the diversity of the characters, the mission types and so much more. The heist system is the most unique feature I’ve experienced in a long time. Never before have I gone through the whole planning phase of a heist, get the things needed for it and then executing the plan. Sure, I’ve played Payday 2, but it doesn’t require or provide as much preparation, character and world flexibility as this game does.
The technical accomplishments are no small matter either. The online servers are stable enough to handle 30 characters at once in the whole of San Andreas with no loading screen when traversing the map what so ever. The same is true when playing a heist or mission of any type, the world is an open playground.
I was particularly amazed by these features during an online heist. I was in a plane flying evasive maneuvers from jets, another friend was in an attack copter shooting down the jets and my last two friends were breaking someone out of prison. I was spotted by the two in the prison and when they took off driving, I saw them headed for the runway in their truck from a very high-up altitude. This is not something I expected to experience from a console port and I am impressed with the game’s ability to provide that experience. These amenities make the problems I mentioned before seem minor by comparison; and sure, there are things that need to be fixed, but overall GTA V is a rich and enjoyable experience either online or in the story.
While these technical features are available on the console, there are several that are not and are unmistakable. The most profound feature I experienced was with NVIDIA’s PCSS option for shadows. This makes the shadows become blurred the further away they are from the player, along with a few more things. This had no noticeable impact on my overall performance when I was using it on my NVIDIA GTX 980. Another feature exclusive to NVIDIA is TXAA. This is used in concert with traditional MSAA and at 2x it provides increased anti-aliasing with no cost to performance in my situation either. These features push the bounds of an all ready beautiful game and if you do enable them, you will not be disappointed.
A lot of PC gamers are now using ultra-wide or multi-monitor configurations to play their games. Unfortunately many games do not natively support these resolutions even if the game is exclusive to the PC. Fear not! All of these unique configurations are available and work flawlessly in GTA V. I personally run NVIDIA’s Surround and I never had an issue with the game at anytime with this feature.
San Andreas is a living believable world not only because of the graphics but also because of the magnificent design of the world environments. While I traversed San Andreas, I never felt like something couldn’t be there like wind turbines in the desert, the location of the observatory, the Vinewood sign and etc. The attention to texture detail in every location is monumentally impressive as well. Locations in real life like the Griffith Observatory and the Chinese Theater are here and appear to be very authentic.
This attention to detail is not lost even in the smallest of places like a convenience store, a parking garage, or in other aspects of the game such as the sound, writing and actor performances. A character I honestly didn’t care for at first was Trevor, not because he was portrayed as a redneck asshole but because I actually believed he is a redneck asshole.
There was a moment in the story where he showed a glimmer of vulnerability by almost trying to say he was sorry for what he had done to another character but he just didn’t know how. When this was transpiring I realized I was genuinely sympathizing with Trevor and in a way I had not expected to. That is the hallmark of being influenced by an excellent performer and writing staff. I can’t say I’m always drawn in by all of these characters that much but I do feel attached to them in different ways and in ways I don’t expect.
The sound design is just as excellent. The vehicles, weapons, explosion and etc. all do an amazing job, and the attention to detail is second to none. When you’re firing a pump action shotgun it genuinely sounds different than a double barreled shotgun and I don’t mean with how it reloads. The impression I got was that the barrel effected the sound of the round fired as you would expect it to be in real life. You don’t always hear that in a game.
One of the mainstays of the GTA franchise has been its inclusion of varying music via the radio stations. Well, GTA V does not disappoint here. There are 17 radio stations with unique styles, with new songs added to each station list since the game was first released. Rockstar has even brought back the option to allow players to configure their own radio station if they choose. That is a dizzying amount of content but you can only listen to them in a vehicle. With the game being set in the modern age with cell phones and online music, I figured we would be able to set up our in game phones to listen to music but sadly that isn’t an option and it is a bit disappointing.
In the end, Grand Theft Auto V genuinely impresses on every level. Sure there are still some issues to work out (some big, some small), but Rockstar has all ready fixed several issues since launch so I have no doubt it’s only a matter of time before they will have the remaining bugs stomped out. This game maybe almost two years old but it is worth every penny for admission if you haven’t played it before.