Rockstar Games has never been a studio to shy away from pushing the boundaries of what is considered right or wrong in any of their games and Grand Theft Auto V is no exception. Coming a long five years after the release of GTA IV, Grand Theft Auto V makes a huge splash on consoles by taking players back to the much loved state of San Andreas. San Andreas includes the fabled city of Los Santos, known for its gang activity and high profile celebrity community that resides in Vinewood, and Blaine County, which is known for nothing much but wilderness, desert and several questionable characters.
Grand Theft Auto V, unlike any of the previous games in the series, contains three very different protagonists that the player can control on the fly. Michael is a "retired" and slightly neurotic bank robber with a passion for classic movies and a troubled family life that he handles by drinking. Franklin is a gang banger who wants a better life for himself and, to an extent, his friends. Trevor is Michaels' best friend and due to certain circumstances they have finally been reunited after years of not seeing one another. While players will get to use and control all three characters at will, it is not an immediate feature because the game unravels an extremely well weaved story that reveals character relationships when the time is right.
Grand Theft Auto V takes a page from its PS2 predecessor GTA: San Andreas by bringing back "Skills". Skills include shooting, driving, flying, stamina, strength, stealth, lung capacity and the characters special skill. Skills differ based on the character but all characters can build up their skills through different activities. All of the skills are mostly self-explanatory in how they work and how to enhance them, yet it is the new special skill that changes the way characters are played. Michaels' special skill allows him to slow down time for more focused shooting allowing him to tackle groups of enemies without breaking a sweat. Franklins' skill is concentration and it allows him to drive extremely precise and maneuver whatever land based vehicle he is controlling with extreme precision (except for bicycles). Trevor is unique in that his skill is for complete carnage, he throws himself in a frenzied state and from that he can deal more damage to enemies and vehicles and, in turn, take less damage to himself. Utilizing special skills can make the difference between life and death in certain missions.
Most of the mechanics from GTA IV, particularly driving and shooting, find themselves in Grand Theft Auto V with tweaked performances. Cars tend to feel a bit more weighted depending on the size of the vehicle. Shooting has been improved overall as well. Gun recoil is obvious when firing semi-auto to automatic weapons or even shotguns. The quick snap feature is extremely helpful when facing big waves, but accuracy is completely dependent on your skill as a player, weapon choice and character shooting skill.
Sandbox games are usually filled to the brim with activities to keep players entertained and Grand Theft Auto V is no exception. The main story contains sixty-nine missions but there is a cornucopia of side missions to engage in along with activities to participate in. Side missions are called "Strangers and Freaks" and they pop up as color coordinated question marks on the mini-map. Strangers and Freaks are a good way to delve deeper into the immersive world that Rockstar has cultivated and while they can be avoided if you choose to do so you won't see everything the game has to offer and you'll miss out on some truly enthralling missions. Side missions can include everything from playing sports to racing cars or planes and even base jumping.
Most missions follow the same basic GTA formula of shoot this person or enter this area and handle a situation. However, the best missions, by far, are the heists. In Grand Theft Auto IV, players were introduced to a mission called "Three Leaf Clover" in which they robbed a bank and had to escape the police with their hard earned cash. In Grand Theft Auto V, heists make a return but have been expanded on immensely. Before a heist, players will be privy to a cutscene in which the characters will discuss the pending robbery and how to approach it. During this cutscene, players can choose who they want to bring on their crew and how to go about handling the heist. The game gives options on how to go about handling the crime and it gives an illusion of choice where there is actually none. The outcome of the heists will always be the same but the actual amount of money gained comes from who you bring along as a crew. Will you bring the smart driver or an inexperienced gunman? It all depends on you and their individual stats. NPC heist characters all ask for a cut depending on their skill and depending on their performance in the field, their stats will increase.
Aside from heists, some of the better missions come from playing all three protagonists and switching between them when the heat is on. Outside of missions, Rockstar has brought back the ability to call up characters and hang out with them. Gone are the days where characters will harass you and waste your phone minutes to go see a movie.
After all single player resources have been exhausted or you just get tired of playing alone you can hop on Grand Theft Auto Online. GTA Online is the newest multiplayer endeavor from Rockstar in the GTA universe. Grand Theft Auto Online promises huge things but so far it's been off to an extremely rocky start. GTA Online is a completely open world environment as in itself has a story, but that story is easily ignorable. Most of your time will be spent leveling up your character to gain access to more missions, weapons, and a variety of vehicles. Players can also spend their earnings on apartments or garages to store their vehicles. For the most part GTA Online is a warzone where time is spent looking over your shoulder for the next guy who plans on putting you six feet under and taking your money, and that's just outside of missions when you're roaming the city. Missions are taken through cellphone text\ messages from NPC players that contact you from time to time and can be played alone, with friends, or random people in your session.
Grand Theft Auto V looks extremely well polished from any of its predecessors. The lighting effects from indoor and outdoor shadowing along with sun flare from sunrise and sunset are spectacularly detailed. It's is amazing how much detail was put into even the smallest things. The weather system and 24 minute day/night cycle is also present from previous versions as has been touched up a bit. Tire traction is looser in the rain and cars tend to slide in the rain if you move too fast.
Voice acting in GTA V is great but what really shines through is the dialogue. The script itself is just superb and the amount of dialogue from players, NPC's and citizens is simply mind-blowing. Guns sound like they always have with a few exceptions but nothing particularly stellar.
Grand Theft Auto is the best its ever been in years, a truly fascinating experience with a story to tell. It rides a thin line between realism and fantasy with extreme bounds into the latter. Rockstar Games has outdone itself once again and they have a damn near perfect game on their hands. With the inclusion of GTA Online they have just added to the replayability and secured that gamers will be enjoying this well into the next console generation. However, the problems that GTA Online is currently suffering from are truly what make the experience almost perfect. I give Grand Theft Auto V a well deserved 4 TOV stars out of 5.
Note: When GTA Online runs smoothly and is free from bugs, I will gladly update and change my score.