Reviews September 30, 2013

Grand Theft Auto V

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Reviewed By: Andre Thomas
System: Xbox 360 (Also on PS3)
Genre: Action
Rated: M
Players: 1
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 09/17/2013
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North

I’m sure as I’m writing this most of you have already tackled the single player story on GTA V and are salivating for the release of GTA Online* on October 1st. Well as you pick up strangers, cause statewide turmoil, or whatever else you are doing to kill time before its release, I’m here to represent UFG and give our review of the already critically acclaimed video game!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Grand Theft Auto V is the latest installment in Rockstar Games’ sandbox crime series. With this title, fans will wreak havoc all over Los Santos, a satirical version of Los Angeles, using not one but three characters - a first for the series. Each protagonist offers unique perspectives, backgrounds and motives that emerge in interesting ways before intersecting over the course of the story.

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The first character you’ll be able to control is Franklin, a small neighborhood gang member who’s tired of living in the hood. While he longs for a better life, his hot headed friend Lamar’s wild schemes tends to get them both into trouble. One minute they are repossessing cars for a crooked car salesman, the next they are engaged in shoot outs and police chases. Most of which are the normal trappings of this series. That changes when Franklin inevitably runs into the second protagonist, a retired bank robber named Michael. One thing that separates this entry from previous GTAs is how each character’s individual narratives progress before intertwining with one another. Franklin has his own friends, foes, problems, goals and aspirations. Basically he has his own life to get in order. What’s great is that it’s fully fleshed out content; Franklin is the main character in his own right. Of course, by coming in contact with others, his life’s ills will spill over into the other characters’ lives.

The game facilitates this notion of individuality by allowing you to jump into Franklin’s and Michael’s shoes at will (unless a story thread prevents the swap). Holding down on the D-pad will bring up a radial menu, allowing you to pick who you want to play as. After picking them, the game’s camera will pull away from the character you’re currently controlling, hover way above Los Santos as it shifts to the other person’s position, and then zooms in on them as you resume control. This new mechanic is made cooler by the fact that each character goes on with their life when you aren’t controlling them. Often times, when you switch characters it feels like you’ve stepped into a private conversation; one time I switched to Franklin and he was seconds away from fighting a random group of men on a basketball court. It seemed like someone wasn’t playing fair, which prompted the argument.

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This is also shown in the gameplay when it comes to each character having specific missions to tackle. And while I questioned some of the things they’d get into, none of their exploits felt like filler just to pad the game. As you go through each mission, just like the story, they’ll start to merge with one another. Michael’s beef with a criminal becomes Franklin’s and vice versa. Which is how gamers are introduced to the third character; an unfortunate turn of events brings Michael’s psychotic best friend Trevor into the picture. With all three characters pulling and pushing in their own right, they offer up a great, over-the-top, explosion ridden crime drama to lose oneself in.  

Going back to the missions for a second, Rockstar did a good job updating its normal formulaic approach. You’ll still have car chase missions, helicopter missions, another random construction yard shoot out. At the same time, there is a lot of verity in how these missions play out. In the past, I’ve drove by a moving train and shot at gangbangers (San Andreas). Here, I got to hijack a train before crashing it into another train in order to steal its cargo. Then there is the popular heist missions sprinkled throughout the story. Not only do you to help in the planning of each heist but the game also allow you to carry out said plans with corresponding sub-missions. Grabbing a getaway car and parking it nearby the place you’re going to hit, buying masks or disguises, stealing a building’s blueprints, and taking pictures of security cameras are all examples of pre-heist objectives. What sub-missions pop up are based on how you planned on going about the heist. Going in guns blazing might be an option while taking a more stealthy approach is another. Playing it smart will usually net you more money and an easier getaway. That goes double for picking your crew (extra criminals like a hacker or hired gun). The actual heists are large scale missions that play out like classic scenes from famous crime movies. I don’t want to spoil what happens as they are great to witness for oneself, but I can say that they are easily one of the main highlights of GTA V!     

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Rockstar North also improved the basic gameplay mechanics. Everything from the driving and shooting elements to just walking down the street have been upgraded from GTA IV. Honesty, V features the most realistic gameplay I’ve ever encountered (in a game like this). This is ironic because there are some unrealistic things that have been added, like light RPG elements and each character’s special abilities. For example, Franklin is a much better driver than Michael and Trevor. So much so, that he has the ability to slow down time while driving at fast speeds to avoid collisions and make sharp turns. Trevor, being crazy and all, can activate a sort of rampage mode that amplifies the damage he deals while reducing the damage he receives. Aside from special skills are normal attributes like lung capacity (for swimming), stamina, strength, etc. By practicing at gun ranges, playing sports, driving at top speeds and doing other activates you can raise these stats over the course of the game. Combined with the special skills, Rockstar not only highlights each character’s personality but also allows gamers to be a part of their development as competent criminals.

On top of the near flawless gameplay, this game really sets the bar graphically. From the player models to the beautiful landscapes, the incredible amount of detail featured here is unmatched by any other game of this generation. The same goes for the scale. All of the mountains shown in the distance can be reached and then climbed; you can traverse the ocean floor looking for cargo of a plane that was shot down in an earlier mission. That’s just…crazy. On top of that there aren’t any load times. Besides loading up the game or restarting a failed mission, you can walk into buildings, dive into the sea or fly across the map and not be forced to wait for the game to catch up. In between all that are random locals, harden criminals, police, multiple stores, barber shops, movie theaters (where you can actually watch movies) and more. Rockstar created a full scale city that’s alive with the hustle and bustle of “real” people. Then they put in the surrounding areas including a desert and forest, added animals - there is literally hours of stuff to see and do in GTA V. And all without load times!  

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The sounds of GTA V are just as amazing as the visuals. Rockstar kept its tradition and gave us a great set of soundtracks in the game. I found myself listening to every single radio station and loving the real as well as fictional songs within the game. They even went a step further by adding in music that would only play during key moments of the story. Not to be outdone by the soundtrack, the voiceovers are exceptionally well done. Each characters voice truly feels like it fits each character’s appearance and all the voice actors gave top notch performances. Whether it’s Trevor’s insane rants, Franklin’s use of the word “homie”, or a random NPC on the street talking on their cell phone, the life of Los Santos comes through each person.

If I had to make a gripe about anything, it would have to be how tough it is to make money early in the game. With multiple missions and heists not paying any financial benefits, it forces players to take chances in the stock market. Now to be fair, there are side-missions that can help you manipulate the market, making it easier to trade stock. That said, I felt that the difficult heists themselves should bring in the most money. Or at least have the game feature more heists. Don’t get me wrong, playing through the missions themselves are awesome, but it would have been great to make enough money to buy more of the available businesses in the city without having to complete most of the story.

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Nonetheless GTA V is the closest thing to a perfect game if I’ve ever played one. From the immense world and absence of load screens to the extremely unique characters and fun missions throughout, Rockstar has a classic game on their hands. A criminal masterpiece if you will. And though the game hasn’t been out long, I can’t wait to see what Rockstar has in store for the next generation of consoles!

Gameplay: 9
The gameplay was nearly flawless.

Sound: 10
The amazing soundtrack and voice work really gave a sense of realness to the world.

Graphics: 10
This game really shows what these systems were graphically capable of for the last 8 years!

What’s New: 10
The size and scope of Los Santos, three distinct characters, clever implantation of player choice into the heists, the heists themselves…there is a lot new here!

Replay value: 10
With so many side-missions and activities and the ability to replay story missions means GTA V could stay in your disk tray for a significant amount of time!

Final Score:

9.8

*Editor’s Note: GTA Online is being handled as a separate entity, so our review focused on the main game. We’ll be back to talk about the Online portion later!