Grand Theft Auto V

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The latest and greatest masterpiece in a long line of crime-saga royalty, Grand Theft Auto V is sure to make history with its preposterous level of ambition and equaling ability in execution.  This outrageous example of gaming greatness is rare, in that its only physical limitations are the boundaries of your imagination.

Richly populated with ever-abundant opportunities, Grand Theft Auto is the answer to every misguided gaming prayer. Here to rip apart the world’s tattered remains of social interactivity, this coded behemoth is a tower of incredible craftsmanship, each block of which is sculpted meticulously to blur the lines of reality.

Grand Theft Auto’s famous brand of social satire knows few bounds and has made the trip all the way back to Los Santos. With each and every one of its larger than life caricatures bolstering a well-fleshed, over-amplified series of wacky traits. Both the larger world and its inhabitants incisively critique many of the social archetypes that litter western society, every step of the way. And the city itself is the kind of materialistic, under skilled, smelting pot of self-centered fools and egotistical morons that is now expected of the western world – only here it’s dialed up to eleven.

The dark undercurrents of this amplified plastic world never rest and as such, the mood flips from whimsical fun to horrendous trauma in a matter of minutes. Despite this, the tone is relentlessly impactful and never feels stretched in spite of the frequent shifting.

Within this increasingly psychotic world exist our protagonists (notice the plural), all three of whom are fascinating beyond the initial shock factor of their coexistence. Providing a triple-threat in both narrative and functionality, having three lead characters offers up some interesting variety in terms of how both the narrative is formulated and also the structure by which the player perceives it.

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The story itself follows three starkly different criminals at very different stages of life, who through a rather odd set of circumstances, are united by a series of high-stake crimes. Between Michael, Trevor & Franklin there are very few similarities. And in this difference, lies the chemistry that makes this game an absolute delight to experience from start to finish.

Michael is like a fish out of water in the most literal sense. A direct antithesis to his surroundings, he finds himself understandably exasperated and disillusioned with the trashy, disposable gloss of modern western life. Through him the player can project a real sense of placement within this anarchic world and truly understand the feeling of isolation in a crowded society. It’s this level of player connection, that makes Michael the most interesting and relatable of the three protagonists, all despite an increasingly abstract series of events.

Trevor, the self-proclaimed ‘King of things’, is a preposterous hypocrite and an exhibition of just about every example of human excess. He is an intentional opposite to the other two, and thoroughly hilarious. Once the game hits its stride, this eccentric’s brand of unusually dark humor builds to some genuinely sidesplitting scenes, making Trevor one of the most successful pieces of comic relief in the industry. Watching Trevor relieve himself outside a warehouse is unquestionably amusing. Watching him then walk into the warehouse and ferociously torture a man immediately after develops a depth of unnerving characterization that’s impressive and frightening in equal part.

Completing the team is youngest member – Franklin. Frustrated with his life on the street, his ambition leads him away from low-level criminality and straight into the path of Michael. Arguably the most human of the pack, Franklin’s confusion by Michael’s self-loathing and Trevor’s escalating madness is both endearing and amusing. Acting as a social counterbalance for the team, Franklin helps ground the pack whilst remaining an insightful pointer of criminal escalation.

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On a purely mechanical level, Grand Theft Auto V is unimaginably ambitious and near-perfectly constructed. Redefining the genre that Rockstar created so many years ago, this iteration has a mass of mechanics that for the most part, hit the mark sumptuously. One of the key additions is the ability to switch between the three lead men on the fly. This gives missions a real depth and variety unlike anything seen before. For instance, each member has a different skill set, (Michael the shooter, Franklin the driver & Trevor the pilot) meaning that in several missions flicking between gunfights, car-chases and helicopter dogfights is instantly possible. This mechanic effectively means that levels can have triple the level of content without ever feeling overly packed. Admittedly, dividing attention between three individuals does reduce the level of care and focus on any given one. But thanks to a stellar script and rich backstories, all three will be nestled in your heart come curtain close.

What character switching loses in narrative focus is more than recouped by its ability to generate instantly dynamic gameplay. Gripping and varied, Grand Theft Auto V’s missions are some of the most entertaining and genre-defining pieces of wonder this console generation has seen.

The shooting is a revamped import of the system used in Max Payne 3. Sharply tuned and excellently animated, firefights hit a perfect equilibrium of empowering the player, whilst remaining challenging. Additionally, Trevor’s special ability can be activated by holding in both analogue sticks, engaging a red mist of rage making him invincible for a short duration. Whilst Michael’s ability allows him to perceive time at a slower rate, helping make those all-important headshots that little bit easier and even more morally unjustifiable.

Yet another vital component to Rockstar’s kingpin is the issue of driving. This one may divide players, on the basis that it is significantly different to GTA IV’s rather sluggish approach to automotive control. This time around things are lighter and more responsive, ensuring that there is always an exit strategy. A real division between the legions of vehicles can be felt instantly through the fingertips, whether that is an Italian sports car, a pushbike or a submarine – everything here is crisp and appropriate. Furthermore, Franklin’s special ability is a slowed perception of time, like Michael’s, but one that can only be activated whilst driving. Making that last minute handbrake turn a little bit easier and a little closer to a Vin Diesel effort.

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Looking at Los Santos is worth the admission fee alone. Massive in scope and gorgeous in presentation, every effort has clearly been made to squeeze every last drop from the Euphoria engine. Travelling across this genuinely gigantic map is a joy to behold, with everything from concrete jungles to picturesque waterfalls glowing angelically in the state’s endless quota of sun. Admittedly, the draw-distance is occasionally compromised when travelling at speed as parts of the scenery pop into view, but for the most part this game is pretty to say the least.

Running into shady characters by the dozen, the less than virtuous trio find themselves in some pretty compromising spots to clamber out of. Secrecy, shocks and thrills are just some of the means by which this crime-epic keeps proceedings fascinating until close. This web of crime and conspiracy has a rather fortunate habit of getting consistently more gripping as time goes by. Culminating in a final few hours possessing a physically palpable tension.

This iteration of Grand Theft Auto is possibly the pick of the bunch in terms of its ability to mix up the stakes. Flicking from bank heists and cop chases to low-key brawls and races at whim, a new found unpredictability of mission types gives this title a freshness previously lacking. Of the 69 missions, no two are the same. Ranging from bank robberies (several of which are some of the greatest levels ever constructed) and scuba diving, to yoga sessions and therapy sessions, Grand Theft Auto V is like a greatest hits collection of the best missions that console gaming has offered up. But make no mistake; this variation of mission structure takes nothing away from a fully cohesive experience that never misses a beat.

What’s remarkable about this giant playpen is that even in its vast size, it loses nothing in terms of content density. Thoroughly rich with things to do, there’s an activity around every corner, with leisure possibilities seemingly endless. The numerous offerings are sure to hit the spot with one and all, ranging from physical exploits such as mountain biking and sky diving, to more sedentary activities such as buying tattoos and trading on the stock markets. The amount of content on offer here is staggering, even without the forthcoming online proportion of the game that is set to increase this already colossal title.

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Music is a significant part of what sets this title apart from the pack. From pulsating synth to rhythmic beats, every note of this masterful score courses into the ears and down through each vertebrate of the spine. Each one like a chime on a keyboard, raising the hair on the surface as music ignites the senses. Soaking key events in whilst this standard of high-quality audio lines the backdrop is a simply beautiful experience.

Where the next generation of console gaming goes from here is anyone’s guess. But rest assured, Rockstar Games have upped the ante in terms of what a consumer should expect from a video game. There can and will be me many arguments made of whether Grand Theft Auto V is the greatest video game of the generation and indeed, of all time. However, what is incontestable is GTA V’s position as one of the most comprehensive, varied and finely finished interactive experiences ever committed to disc.

 

About Oliver Smith
Playstation obsessive and Red Bull fiend. Will play anything and everything. Max Payne champion, adequate FIFA player and hopeless driver. Currently studying Journalism at The University of Salford in the hopes of achieving game-reporting glory. A man can dream.

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