GTA 5 PC - Xbox 360 and PS3

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Available on Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed) – Originally review in September 2013 (awarded 9/10)

It’s almost too big

to judge. There’s so much to GTA 5 – so much world, so much

story, so many characters, so much to do – that it all gets a little

overwhelming, hard to get a handle on. Yet this game is in many ways the

culmination of Rockstar’s work of the last ten years, rolling in

everything its learnt from GTA 4, its DLC extensions, Red Dead

Redemption
and Max Payne 3.

A sprawling, open-world crime epic, with

three protagonists, three interweaving storylines and a setting that

encompasses a huge urban area and a sizable chunk of the coast and open

country that surrounds it, GTA 5 makes you rethink how you use words

like ambitious. There aren’t many developers with the talent and

expertise to build something like this. There are even fewer with the

money to.

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Grand Theft Auto V
GTA 5’s great innovation is the use of three protagonists rather than one.

After a brief prologue sequence you start the game as Franklin, a young,

ambitious former gang banger working for a suspect car dealer. GTA 5

uses this initial period to get you used to the fundamentals of the

gameplay before throwing in Michael, a retired master thief supposedly

living in a rich, domestic dream, but actually in the grip of a

disastrous mid-life crisis. Franklin becomes the catalyst for Michael’s

return to crime, and this in turn introduces Trevor. Unhinged,

ultra-violent and psychotic, Trevor is the most extreme anti-hero GTA

has ever produced.

It

would be doing you a disservice to tell you more of how this all pans

out, but we can talk about how it works in the game. Some of the time

you’re restricted to the one protagonist, but generally you can switch

between the three, doing a mission or two as one to move the plot

forward or waste a little time, then switching to another when you want

to move their storyline onwards.

At specific points the plotlines

intersect, and you have missions involving two or three of the

protagonists. Here you can switch from character to character when it

makes sense to do so, and sometimes the game makes the switch for you.

Each has his own set of talents, not to mention his own special

capability – involving slow motion, increased damage, added resilience

and faster reflexes in motion – making switching a crucial part of the

action.

There’s more to this choice than gameplay. Having three

protagonists enables GTA 5 to explore different stories, different

themes and different styles of GTA. Michael has the smarts and the

experience, but is trapped by the choices he’s made. His missions focus

on setting up jobs and protecting what’s his. Franklin wants what

Michael has, but might not know the real costs of getting it. He’s

looking for the money, but also the respect.

Trevor, meanwhile, is the

rogue factor. In some respects his tale plays out like a redneck

Scarface, and he’s a natural focus for the mayhem that GTA 4 was

missing. Yet there’s also more to Trevor than at first appears. He might

be a monster, but he still has principles, maybe even feelings.

Grand Theft Auto V

GTA 5 returns GTA to Los Santos, the focal point of GTA: San Andreas. Based

on Los Angeles, it’s both larger and more detailed than it appeared in

the earlier game, partly as a result of Rockstar’s decision to omit the

other two cities of San Andreas and concentrate on one. It’s a smart

choice. While Los Santos doesn’t have the density or the numbers of

pedestrians of Liberty City, it captures the feel of Los Angeles, and

there’s so much to do both in the urban neighbourhoods and the

wilderness beyond that the setting is utterly immersive.

Nobody

does this stuff better. From the side-characters, to the pedestrian

chatter, the shop signs and billboards, the TV stations you can watch

and the websites you can visit using the laptops and computers sprinkled

around the world, Los Santos comes away as one of gaming’s most

convincing and detailed alternate realities. It’s not perfect – it never

can be when you can run over pedestrians with impunity and cops forget

you after losing sight for a handful of minutes – but if it was perfect

then it wouldn’t be any fun.

Beyond

the city limits the game opens up in the manner of GTA: San Andreas and

Red Dead Redemption. There are hick communities, decaying motels and

bars where you can almost smell the stench of beer, blood and vomit.

There are also hills full of critters and coyotes, and farmsteads where

creepy families are brewing crystal meth. Like Red Dead Redemption, GTA V

can get awful pretty. It’s a world you want to explore.

Grand Theft Auto V

Of course, you

know the basics of GTA gameplay by now; you steal, you drive, you

shoot, you break into places and take things you shouldn’t be taking.

Rockstar has wisely adopted shooting mechanics refined in Red Dead

Redemption and Max Payne 3 to make the action smoother and more

engaging, and once again the mission designs do a fantastic job of

disguising any repetition in the formula.
 
Within

a given session you might be wrecking the house of cuckolding tennis

coach, robbing a jewellery store and tackling a gang of bikers. You’ll

find yourself driving bikes, ATVs, buggies, jetskis, boats, trucks,

heavy plant machinery and a wide range of cars, not to mention piloting

helicopters and planes. There are stealth sequences, sniping sequences

and all-out shoot-outs, and it all hangs together very well. Those who

found GTA 4 a little slow-moving or po-faced will be glad to hear that

GTA 5 sees a return to the free-wheeling mayhem of GTA: San Andreas and

GTA: Vice City. It starts with a bang and rarely lets up.

And of

course there are numerous side-activities. Paparazzi need help to get

their crotch shots, there are drugs and guns to courier by train or

buggy, wild beasts in need of hunting and races to win. There are

drug-crazed arcade action sequences and bounties to be earned. You won’t

be bored, and if you tire of Michael’s current missions, you can always

switch to Trevor or to Franklin and see what they have on their slate.

The

heists are the most exciting new spin. As soon as your associates set a

target you can choose the crew and choose your approach, before

tracking down any additional equipment needed and doing any recon that

the job requires. Once in play you take each protagonist through their

part in the plan, watching as – hopefully – it all comes together.

The

heists are GTA at its most thrilling and evocative, bringing in elements

of every great caper movie you’ve ever seen.

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Grand Theft Auto V

It’s an incredibly rich, huge and enjoyable experience, so much so that we could forgive a few graphical quirks. But Rockstar’s

RAGE engine has come on dramatically since GTA 4, and GTA 5 follows on

from Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3 in delivering realistic-looking

characters, detailed scenery and impressive, cinematic lighting. GTA 5 isn’t quite up there with modern benchmarks like The

Last of Us or Crysis 3, but there’s a pay-off in the massive draw

distances and the sheer scale of the settings. The important thing is

that, whether you’re driving around the city or watching a close-up

cut-scene, it’s hugely atmospheric and believable.
 
As ever,

sound and music play a key part too. We’ve already touched on the

effects of the radio chatter and conversations, but GTA 5 also captures

the pleasure – as introduced in GTA: Vice City – of doing really awful

things to a weirdly apposite soundtrack. Ramming vehicles off the road

to Chicago’s ‘If you Leave me Now’ certainly qualifies, and the use of

gangsta rap, hardcore punk, classic rock and country, all selectable at a

tap of a button, helps make the game come alive. The between-song

chatter, the adverts and the weasel news reports remain a highlight, and

prove that GTA has lost none of its satirical edge.

Saints Row 4 might

be funny, but this is funnier, edgier and a whole lot smarter.

Grand Theft Auto V
In summation, There’s

very little to complain about in GTA 5. Earlier bugbears like poor

checkpointing, restrictive save systems and ropey gunplay have now all

fallen by the wayside, and the overall impression is that this is

Rockstar at the very top of its game. If we have any slight criticism of

GTA 5, it’s this: that it’s arguably more fun, minute to minute and

hour to hour than GTA 4 or Red Dead Redemption, but the story doesn’t

quite have the same depth or power.

Niko Bellic remains the most complex

and intriguing protagonist in GTA history. There was something uniquely

compelling about his story, even if there was a noticeable dissonance

between the serious story and knockabout gameplay. GTA 5 avoids this

split, and the interweaving storylines are put together with incredible

skill, but there’s a slight sense that it’s not quite so rich in its

themes overall.

Yet it’s hard to moan about that shift in

tone. GTA 5 is still more interesting, more sophisticated and more

layered than any other game in its genre – or most any other genre – and

it’s every bit as exciting, illicit and addictive as any previous GTA.

If GTA 4 was a controversial triumph, then GTA 5 resists any controversy

bar the usual moral panics. It’s a great GTA, and so – inevitably –

another landmark video game.

Verdict
With its multiple

protagonists and interweaving storylines GTA 5 is the most sprawling and

ambitious GTA yet. There’s so much to see here and so much to do that

you might as well forget about playing anything else for the next month

or two. Yet the amazing thing is that it holds so well together. Playful

and dramatic, satirical, sophisticated and shocking, this is Grand

Theft Auto at its very best.

Next, read our Xbox One vs PS4 comparison

Score