Grand Theft Auto V - Review

This is it. One of the most highly anticipated games of this generation just got released. Gameplay trailers for GTA V made a huge splash when they showed fans worldwide the ridiculous amount of things to experience and to simply gaze at in GTA V's huge world.
With not one but three protagonists, that can be switched between at any moment, there are many perspectives to experience this sequel. Yet still, there's the possibility that Rockstar won't be able to pull off a good enough story to balance all three of them.
But to be honest, Rockstar is hands down one of the best video game developers in the world. With a record budget of rougly 270 Million dollars, this financial support is definitely in good hands.
Was GTA V worth the hype? Let's find out...


The plot:
The narrative of the game follows three characters with interconnected stories.
Michael De Santa is a retired former bank robber in his early forties who lives with his dysfunctional family on the proceeds of his former life in the upper-class suburb of Rockford Hills, based on Beverly Hills. Trevor Philips, his former partner in crime, lives alone in a trailer in the desert of Blaine County, where his reckless and psychopathic behaviours are fuelled by drug addiction. Franklin Clinton makes a living in Vespucci Beach—based on Venice Beach—as a repo man for an unscrupulous Armenian car dealership. The three acquaintances are drawn into Los Santos' criminal underworld in "the pursuit of the almighty American dollar".
(source: Wikipedia)

GTA V focusses not on one but three characters.
Each of the characters has a very distinct personality with a mostly well developed backstory, that comes clear through various dialogues and scenes in the game.
Especially the long friendship between Michael and Trevor makes their backstories (as well as characters) easily the most fleshed out in the franchise's history.
With that said, after a dynamic prologue, the game's story really starts and slowly leads the main three characters together through a series of funny and clever situations, although Michael overall represents the main pillar of the game's general plot.

Yet still, GTA V's story is fairly scattered. A definitive theme or motive like the manhunt in GTA IV is missing here. Therefore, the game's story often loses a necessary focus on why characters (especially Michael) are doing their criminal activities throughout the game despite their previously calm life (despite simple greed). Motivations therefore sometimes become fairly shallow in the longrun and further underline the basic criminal nature of the characters.

Welcome to Los Santos.

GTA V is without a doubt the most realistic but also the darkest entry in the series. It has a ton of very adult and mature content. Known themes from previous games like drugs, sex, violence etc. really get pushed to the limits here. Especially through the psychotic Trevor, whose all around unpredictable and violent behaviour more than once can get really disturbing throughout the course of the game.
It gets to a point from which it gets clear that relating to the main characters is extremely hard if not impossible. All three characters, Franklin, Michael and Trevor, are very bad people, who did (and do) very questionable, criminal things that very rarely can be put in an understandable, relatable context (unlike Niko in GTA IV).
Other than that, the story also includes a good amount of social commentary and satire, which occasionally appears but not consequently enough to make it a very obvious theme throughout entirety of the game. Accordingly some stereotypical characters in the game sometimes take away some of its real feel through their caricature-like personalities, but then again, this probably is intended.

Although being pretty unfocused, the game makes up for this by featuring a well written crime drama at its very core, which includes many connections to previous GTA games like GTA IV and the Lost and Damned.
Summed up, GTA V's story leaves quite a bit to be desired in terms of focus and character motivations but makes up for it through its very cinematic presentation and the possibilty to witness it through various perspectives.

This ain't a story about good people.


To be able to cover the huge amount of gameplay possibilites given in GTA V, the following part of the review is separated into individual sections focussing on specific gameplay features:


One of the biggest selling points of GTA V is its new feature to switch between its three main characters at any time, which gets enabled after about 1-2 hours into the game.
Each of the three main characters (Franklin, Michael, Trevor) has his own life, bank account, house, cars, contacts and personality. When not controlled, the other two characters pursue their daily lives and goals independently from the player. Switching between the characters results in the player often catching the character in various situations, from being in the middle of a police chase to watching TV and others.
The use of the switch feature further gets underlined through team missions that require you to tactically switch between the characters, who each have their own part in the mission. While not every mission is a team mission with a switch possibility, especially bigger heist missions make good use of this feature.
Still, there are some occassions which make the switch feel a bit forced, when the game automatically switches you to a certain character and doesn't let you switch back. But considering that this happens for progression's sake, this is just a minor nitpick in an overall fun feature that avoids is always entertaining and keeps the gameplay's momentum.

Furthermore, each character has a his own set of stats like shooting, stamina, etc. Through frequent usage, each character's stats can be upgraded, although each progress is of course locked to that certain character.
Also, special character-specific abilites help making each of them feel distinct from each other from a gameplay standpoint. Whereas Michael is able to use a bullet-time mechanic, Franklin can use slow-motion while driving and Trevor a "Rampage Mode", in which damage is reduced and time slowed down as well.
The game luckily never directly forces you to use those mechanics and mostly leaves the choice completely to the player when to use them (or to use them at all).

They don't always get along.


Missions in GTA V work pretty much the same way through navigating the map.
Because of the switch mechanic, some Missions can only be done with specific characters, while others can be triggered by any of the three.
What really steals the show is how seemlessly the game starts cut-scenes and missions. By approaching the mission-start spot, the camera zooms in on relevant characters in the middle of a dialogue or action and immediately involves you into the beginning cut-scene without loading screens.
Additionally some missions are even automatically triggered when switching to a character who happens to be in the middle of said mission. This all adds immensely to the game's overall organic feel.
Also, missions can all be replayed through menu selection, which is especially useful regarding heist missions that offer multiple approaches.

The variety of mission designs is (aside from the heists) nothing special if it wouldnt be for the switch mechanic. Most of the missions however are designed and structured very closely to the missions from GTA IV.
With that said, this doesn't mean that the missions aren't fun. Taking place in various locations even involving some stealth mechanics, several vehicles, weapons and mini games (which sadly often drag on for too long), missions are constantly fun to do, but except for the heists nothing essentially new. In that regard GTA just mostly stays true to its roots.
Dragging moments in the game only really arise when a mini game tediously has to be done multiple times or objective destinations happen to be located on the other end of the map forcing you to take quite some time to get there. But on the bright side, GTA V FINALLY introduced checkpoints in its missions, that avoid that you have to drive all the way to the mission starting-point after failing. 

A very negative specific mission however sticks out as going to far into dark territory.
Although one of GTA's household trademarks is social commentary, a specific torture scene/mission, in which you are forced to torture a victim with various instruments in form of a minigame goes (in my personal opinion) way too far.
The detail and presentation of the misery caused in this particular scene make the game (at least for that moment) really stop being fun and just disturbing. I am all for creative freedom in entertainment media, even if it may include such drastic examples, but the ability to skip this specific torture scene in the game would've made many peoples' experiences much better.

Mission variety is good but nothing too remarkable.


Heists aren't only the main emphasis of the entire game, but also easily make GTA V's greatest moments.

Most Heist missions give you the ability to plan them. In this process the player can choose between two approaches, whereas one usually involves a loud approach and the other a more professional, silent way. In that regard, both approaches still always can be pulled off equally succesfully.
Another more influential factor however, is the ability to choose between team members (aside from the main characters involved), of whom each has distinctive stats in his field and demands a specific cut of the robbed money.
Whereas simply choosing between two approaches in the heist makes the game's promised "detailed planning of heists" feel fairly underwhelming, choosing the right team members turns out to be very important. Depending on your gunman or driver, a badly chosen unexperienced team member for example can eventually lose orientation in the middle of a pursuit, get killed or lose his carried amount of cash (and therefore a certain amount yours).

Heist missions are of course team missions, that include not one but a small group of sub-missions in order to prepare the big heist. Sub-missions consist of objectives in order to setup the heist properly by scouting the location, getting a specific getaway car, armory, vehicles, substances, etc., which vary according to the chosen heist plan. They come off as a great idea and very useful to emphasize the game's realistic feel.
After all the prep-missions and planning, the actual heist missions really feel epic and intense and are great (often pretty unpredictable) set piece moments.
As a matter of fact, it's especially the parts during heists, when things DON'T go according to plan, that make them feel so much more memorable. Often this is caused by a greedy, poor choice of team members due to their small cut of the profit.

Heists - Easily the highlights of the game.


When you are not doing missions, GTA V offers a ton of things to do.
Only to name a few, you can do Tennis, Yoga, hunting, basejumping, biking, hiking, take part in a Triathlon, go to the shooting range, do flight school, buy properties, train your dog through your iFruit app, go to the strip club, bounty hunting, do races, watch movies on your TV, meet with friends, be active in the stock market, do stunts, search for collectibles, mod your car, mod your weapons, buy clothes, etc.
The list seriously goes on and on and on. Although many of the activities represent often some sort of a mini game, other activities like bounty hunting are more engaging.
Overall, GTA V is seriously PACKED with content and stuff to do. The game's love for detail really gets obvious in little things like listening to the recent happenings in radio news to find out what stocks to buy. It's just crazy. What other game does this?!
After beating the 30-40 hour story, according to the game, you have only finished about 50-60% of the game...and that's totally true. There's just still so much more to see after the credits rolled.


Another great innovation that in my opinion absolutely deserves a special mention, is the improvement of the cops/wanted feature.
Although the A.I. of the police is mostly only slightly improved, cops now no longer have omnipresent view onto your precise destination, but own cones of sight when the player is wanted. These cones of sight of every police vehicle can therefore now be strategically avoided by either switching your getaway car or cleverly hiding from it. Police cars will actively search for you and realistically drive slowly in the around in the surrounding area of your last sight.
This great mechanic finally gets rid of the annoying pursuit-mayhem of previous GTA games and is in my opinion essentially the biggest step forward for the franchise (aside from heist planning and the switch feature).

"Get away from the choppa!"


GTA V is probably the best looking sandbox/open-world game to date (or at least one of them).
Along with a map that really is as big as San Andreas', Red Dead Redemption's and GTA IV's maps combined, it is truely ridiculous how much detail can be found in this world.
It can be extremely impressive when looking at the scope of the world from a chopper or plane flying over the big city of Los Santos (especially at night).
On top of that, GTA V feels incredibly polished. I encountered very little to no glitches in my many hours of gameplay and the framerate always manages to keep the game at a good speed without even the appearance of loading screens between entering different locations.
Additionally, character animations really shine through the great mocap-performances and feel very real.
GTA V is another one of those games that push the current gen (PS3 and 360) to their absolute limits with incredible graphical results.
Oh and did i mention, that you can also explore the game's huge underwarter world, which can be accessed from anywhere in the ocean by simply diving?....Crazy! (Suck it, Assassins Creed 4!) 


You know that developers put great effort into authentic voice acting performances when they hire actual former gangsters from prisons to come record their lines.
Once again, GTA proves that it has a great backup of voice talents to deliver the lines from the amazing dialogue in the game. 
Yes, there is a lot of cursing and swearing, but in all honesty, that's just how real criminals and gangsters talk and it just further underlines the game's sense for realism.
Also, GTA V happens to be one of the hands down funniest (as well as darkest in the game). Especially in conversations with Trevor the great, dry, dark humor shines through and keeps dialogue sequences, cut-scenes and small talks during rides very entertaining ("Trevor is a hipster!").
And if you don't have anyone to talk to, just switch to one of the 17 radio stations, that include several music genres focussing on classics but also on modern, current hits. While not as distinctive or great as Vice City's radio stations, they still get the job done and find a good balance between great old and new titles (underlining Michael's motive of being an 80's man stuck in 2013).

You did good, Rockstar. Time to relax for a while.

The Verdict

In terms of scope, detail and gameplay possibilities, GTA V is a giant achievement.
It's a sequel, that despite its already hugely successful franchise, isn't afraid of pushing boundaries and constantly evolving. Not only does GTA V get rid of the annoyances of its predecessor, but it also leaps forward by introducing new mechanics that change the way we play GTA.
With three different characters, the biggest GTA map to date and tons of additional content, it would've been very easy to crumble under the weight of the sheer concept, but Rockstar impressively managed to pull it off and put the massive budget of the game's development to good use.
Playing GTA V gives you the feel that you are playing a high-quality game that oozes professional game design.
Yet still, GTA V is not a perfect game. Although it features the most cinematic, real and dark approach in the franchise's history, the story often feels somewhat functional and scattered and only pulls itself together in the most important moments. But thanks to fantastic performances and the sheer amount of fun things to do and to explore in the vivid world of Los Santos, those are all minor nitpicks in an overall amazing game.
Calling it the best GTA would be unfair to the unique atmospheres of other titles like Vice City and San Andreas. But it would be save to say that GTA V is by far the biggest, most organic and ambitious GTA you can experience and simply worth every penny of its price (especially taking the multiplayer into account).
If such a beast of a game is still possible on current gen consoles, one can only dream of what projects Rockstar is planning for Next Gen.   
 Final Verdict: 9 out of 10 

Status: Amazing!

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