Getting some quality time in with Grand Theft Auto V really brings a few things you might not have noticed to the fore. There’s a lot improved here, but you may not notice it until you get behind the sticks. Here’s a spoiler-free look at what’s improved.
Nearly five years and two great games have improved Grand Theft Auto as a franchise. Vehicle handling will be a little clunky at first, mostly because Rockstar flips the controls, but vehicles handle better and make more sense. It helps that as you play, you improve, so getting behind the wheel and exploring is heavily encouraged.
Similarly, gunplay is vastly improved. It actually plays a lot like Red Dead Redemption in that respect; hitting L2 will auto-lock onto an enemy, and the game lets you know when you take a target out. The radial menu for weapons is useful as well, and surprisingly, fistfighting is actually a lot smoother and easier.
There’s even nice little touches, like the radio being on a radial menu now and playing a preview of the song before you switch over.
Years of gamer complaints have finally caught up to this game, which has a sane checkpoint system. If you screw up a mission, and it’s surprisingly unforgiving in that regard, you won’t have to go allllll the way back to the start. It’s not too forgiving; you’re going to have to work at a mission to complete it, and if you want a gold medal on the first try, you’ll need all the luck you can get. But finishing a mission is no longer a source of aggravation.
Surprisingly, the stealth in this game is actually well thought out and works really, really well. It’s very easy to get the hang of, and it’s surprising how much it opens up the game and the various missions. It gives you an entire suite of options for finishing the mission without being obligatory or annoying. It’s not Hitman, but it’s a welcome and surprisingly rarely discussed addition.
So far, the funniest parts of this game are not the radio bumps, which admittedly are hilarious. Or the various conversations you have, although Michael in particular is prone to some hilarious sarcasm, especially when dealing with Franklin and his passive-aggressive behavior.
No, the best part is when you decide to switch characters. Michael struggles miserably with being a suburbanite, clumsily trying to cheat on his wife, getting stuck in traffic, playing sports he can’t stand. Trevor is apparently constantly doing something sociopathic, losing his clothes, or generally sending up how GTA players behave. And Franklin is possibly the character the game needles most; as you check in on Franklin it’s fairly clear his mouth and his ambitions aren’t matched by his willingness to take action.
The game always has a new moment of observational humor waiting for you, and you’ll probably spend a lot of time switching between characters just to see what’s going on with them.
We’ll have a full appreciation later in the week, but suffice to say, Grand Theft Auto V is a great step forward, mechanics-wise, for the franchise. Not that we were expecting any less, but it’s always nice to have your expectations met.