The Grand Theft Auto series has become renowned for making realistic worlds that feel both unique and original at the same time. This summer I was in New York City for the first time and I felt right at home due to me exploring similar streets in GTA IV. It made me realize how great these worlds were. After playing GTA V I have no doubt I could visit LA and feel the same sense of familiarity that I felt when I was in NYC. It is this detail along with many others that makes GTA V one of the best games released this generation let alone this year.
GTA V sees the series moving it’s focus back to the west coast of America, which brings in more colorful and vibrant surroundings compared to the grey dullness of Liberty City. The map is massive, adding much more variety in scenery compared to GTA V. In the long drive it takes to go from one end of the map to the other you drive through industrial districts, ghettos, posh neighborhoods, mountains, national parks, red neck desert settlements, smaller coastal towns, military bases and many other landmarks. Variety is everywhere that keeps the game from being stale and repetitive.
I don’t want to go too much into the story but it is a classic GTA tale involving gangsters, gangs, police, secret agencies and crazy people. It is well written and all the characters, while stereotypical, seem fleshed out and real. The biggest new feature is the ability to be able to switch between the three main characters and anytime. For example I can switch from Michael, the retired gangster, to Franklin the classic gang member. Usually when you switch that character will be up to something that you expect them to be doing. So you could catch Franklin, for example, in the middle of walking his dog. Then if I were to switch to Trevor, the meth cook madman, he might be in a stolen helicopter getting chased by the police, while drunk. I like to see the characters as the three ways people like to play GTA. Michael is ideal if you like the humanistic side of GTA. Franklin if you want to be a gangsta or Trevor if you like to do whatever the hell you want. These characters stories mix together and provide a nice variety in mission type going from gang based missions to really insane crazy missions but with a valid context.
Outside of the story there are lots of things to do. Lots of side quests and random events to keep you busy. There is also fully thought out mini games such as golf and tennis you can play which feel just as good as any golf or tennis game. You can also do yoga, race cars, planes or boats, explore the ocean, climb mountains and do various other bits and bobs.
Gameplay wise everything has been improved. The cover system works better, shooting feels better and more precise and the driving feels so much more solid. There is a new feature that each character has a special power, Franklin’s for example slows down time when driving so he can maneuver better. These powers are a nice addition but I felt like I forgot they were there and never fully utilized them to their full potential. Flying however seems much harder than before with helicopters being affected by the wind and turbulence which makes it difficult to maneuver around tight turns between buildings. The general AI is also massively improved. Police act smarter and are harder to evade. Instead of the large circle that you have to escape from the police act on a line of sight system. This means you can hide from the police instead of running by hiding in bushes, alleyways etc.
Overall GTA V comes out as a massive improvement from GTA IV. It is more colorful and has much more variety. The story allows you to play in different styles, which makes the game stop getting repetitive. Similarly, as usual Rockstar manages to include some sharp jabs at the American lifestyle, which helps create a realistic world that is both familiar but new. This is perhaps one of the best games of this generation and for a game running on 8-year-old hardware it looks stunning. Buy it.