Its strange to write this review on GTA V, as it feels like the end of something I’m quite fond of. It’s like those last goodbyes to friends and family when you’re going away to uni, or moving out for the first time, it’s unpleasant, but warming to know you have someone still there. GTA V is so big, so dynamic, and so damn good in almost all respects, I’m sad to have finished it’s campaign and will have to move on to another game.
You see, GTA V made me miss America. I started this blog in 2013, the year I also spent 3 months in the great US of A with my then girlfriend. It’s hard to explain what everyday life in america feels like; I mean, granted, most of the time it’s exactly like life in Britain and I’m sure many other places, but it feels different. There were so many times that I would be driving down a motorway or walking down the sidewalk in GTA V that I felt like I was back in California. Everything from the lighting, to the amount of detail in textures, to even the grimness of living in Los Santos harked back to my time in Hollywood. It’s so rare for a game to do this; to relate to me on a deep fundamental level as to make me feel like I’m elsewhere, but GTA V manages to pull it off spectacularly.
I’m finding it hard to decide whether the story of GTA V was good, or just ok. Don’t get me wrong, throughout the entire campaign there’s fantastic writing, and each of the characters have brilliant personalities, but what really let the story down as a whole was its pacing and extreme use of new characters. You’re introduced to so many new people throughout the course of the game that it gets hard knowing when ones will make a reappearance, and who’s the true bad guy at the top. There’s also inconsistencies: why the hell do players have to spend 30 missions (from half way through the game until the end) following these bad buys plans only to kill them all right at the end with no consequences? It makes no sense, especially with how often the crew explain what they want to do to these bad people, narratively speaking (considering the group kill everyone else that gets in their way), they should’ve killed them sooner rather than later.
The world of Los Santos within GTA V is absolutely stunning, especially on PC. It’s actually odd to say that, because a lot of the graphics on show here sometimes look like they’re straight from the PS2 era of consoles; we still have flat geometry when it comes to hills, and still have pictures in shop windows to give the impression the world has depth, which does at times detract from the games aesthetics somewhat. The amount of polish on show though is insane. Sun-rays and shadows gloriously adorn the world as you drive, with an orange haze (a signature of LA in real life) being ever present as you make your way across the extremely large world. texture detail and resolution is staggering here too, as roads aren’t just one texture, but a multitude of little crevices here and there where it’s been fixed in the past with new tarmac. These little nuggets of graphical prowess is where the graphics truly help to make the world feel like a real lived in place, unlike other games where the world is completely pristine. I suppose it’s like they always say: the devil is in the detail.
As for the gameplay, well Rockstar truly outdone themselves here. Much was touted about the games shooting mechanics, as they were taken straight from Max Payne 3, a game which has some of the most fluid and lovely third person shooter controls on the market. Here, they’re just as good as ever, with the added benefit of each member of the team having a unique ability which is activated by pressing in the left and right analogue stick at the same time. For Michael, he gets the ability to slow down time (brilliant for heists where you need to kill people quickly and efficiently), Franklin has the ability to slow down time whilst driving (allowing for faster turns and tiny adjustments to your vehicles direction) and for trevor the ability to withstand a multitude of damage but also to give that back. There was one problem about these abilities: they’re so damn good and useful that to not have them at times felt like losing a limb. You still have walls to stand up against (and I have to say, the animation for moving around is absolutely astonishing) but you’ll most likely find each of the characters abilities the best thing about the gameplay.
Heists are a massive feature throughout GTA V’s storyline, and there’s a reason the press talked about them non-stop up until the games release: they’re pretty damn awesome. First, you need to do a few missions where you’ll be grabbing all the necessary gear to perform this heist. Next up is the heist itself, which usually incorporates a few missions worth of length into one long drawn out objective. Drawn out was probably the wrong word to use there, as it makes it sound like the heists are boring; they’re not. Each one mixes things up constantly, and rewards or punishes you based on your decisions before the heist, and in real-time. A choice of driver for the mission could play out to bite you in the bottom when they lose their nerve later on, or on the other end of the spectrum, your choice could be so good you go by unnoticed by cops as the heist plays out. In making you have to react to these decisions in real-time, the heists feel like a genuine evolution of the GTA formula throughout the years, with this incarnation giving the player real agency rather than just being an innocent bystander to the structural underlying of the code going on.
As I said at the start of this review, I’m going to miss playing and exploring GTA V. The game itself is seriously a love letter to gaming; a potential of what all games can aspire to achieve (when enough money and time is thrown at something). It perfectly encapsulates America in ways I wouldn’t have thought a medium possibly could of, right down from the nitty gritty details of pavement, to how looking at the great sign of “Vinewood” feels. I’m glad I spent so much time in Los Santos, and with 50 million other people playing the game, I’m sure they feel exactly the same way.