Rockstar releases games at a very deliberate pace. As such, there are few franchises that the company employs that aren’t handled with a deft touch. For any other developer, the Red Dead and Max Payne IPs would be incredible flagships. But Rockstar isn’t “any other” developer. They happen to make one of video games’ definitive series, the kind that brings basement dwellers and casual gamers together like few games can.
Grant Theft Auto V is everything that fans of the series want it to be, and much, much more.
What’s remarkable about Rockstar’s latest is it takes a formula we’ve seen since Grand Theft Auto III and makes it fresh. The GTA series, at its core, is very repetitive: steal something, shoot something, rinse, lather, repeat. GTA Vdoesn’t exactly shy away from these thrills but the variety that plays into what you can and can’t do is staggering.
This tone is set early on, when Michael (one of three protagonists) is tasked with rescuing his f*ck-up son from a yacht. The vessel is sitting on the back of a track, which is racing through Los Santos. After you chase down the boat, you’re tasked with pulling up to the yacht where your son jumps into your convertible. It isn’t the most difficult of jobs but no other mission in the game emulates it. It’s minor touches like this that give the shoot-shoot, bang-bang game a real cinematic personality.
Variety continues to introduce itself to the GTA formula, especially in heist missions, which are easily Rockstar’s best works. Need a quick buck? Rally up the troops – non-playable characters that you meet along the way – and plan how you want to hold up a bank. You can go in guns blazing or with a more focused, sleuth-like approach.
But be warned: in classic Sun Tzu style, the mission will, in all likelihood, be deemed a success before you even fire a weapon. Your squad is only as powerful as its weakest link, so if you decide to cut corners and hire a half-assed hacker, expect that cutting-edge security system you’re trying to maneuver around to compromise your mission.
The story itself is typically great, chalk-full of incredible voice acting and hilarious dialogue. At its center lie the existential struggles of the aforementioned Michael, a career criminal trying to keep his head above water. Of course, it isn’t that easy: his floozy of a wife cheats on him, his daughter personifies every Paris Hilton trying to make it in La-La Land, and his son is the kind of white boy who probably thinks saying the n-word is totally cool.
A less-than-favorable take happens when the American dream – mansions, fast cars and swimming pools – is actually realized. Michael gets drawn back into the proverbial game through Trevor, his former accomplice and best friend, and Franklin, a young lad trying to break into the underbelly of Los Santos. Like Grand Theft Auto IV, Max Payne III and Red Dead Redemption before it, you’ll be amazed at how attached you get to the characters and their struggles.
Problems aren’t common but appear nonetheless. Running around Los Santos can, at time, feel a bit sluggish especially when you’re trying to evade stray bullets. In addition, driving – which comprises more than half of the gameplay – can feel a little out of control sometimes. The streets are generally open enough where your car’s break-kneck speed won’t find yourself crossing paths with pedestrians often, but it does happen, and a few missions will have to be replayed to the point of frustration. These problems aren’t enough to detract from the overall experience, but the story mode isn’t without its flaws.
If the regular missions are the cake, online is the delicious, decadent frosting. Assuming you have a decent online crew, you and your neckbeard friends can run a muck through virtual Los Santos, pulling off heists and blowing up as much sh*t as you can think of. It probably won’t distract you from the single player mission but it’s a good way to continue the mayhem for untold hours after the credits roll.
Grand Theft Auto V is another win for Rockstar. The game provides everything fans of the series have come to expect, and no other company on the market will be able to emulate what’s been done here. From the minute details that will probably go unnoticed by the less observant – flip-flops physically act like flip-flops! – to incredibly balanced and varied missions, the legendary gaming developer has given us the best entry in their best series. As if there was any doubt.