Grand Theft Auto V

This game is truly incredible. 

Before I go on, I should explain that this blog is going to be a collection of reviews of games I play. I'll have usually played through most of the main story and had a look at the multiplayer (if it's available). In the case of GTA V, I've played for 35 hours, and am maybe two thirds through the story.

Like I said, it is incredible.

Let's start with the setting. Rockstar are known for crafting fantastic worlds, and GTA V is bigger than all of them. The map is the same size as the maps from Red Dead Redemption,  GTA: San Andreas and GTA IV combined. It is immense. Within 24 hours, I hadn't even explored the whole of Los Santos, maybe a quarter of map. There is a huge expanse of countryside and desert filling the remaining three quarters, which I am beginning to explore now. There's still a huge amount left to see. If you switch to a character, you will always be able to get an idea of where you are, simply due to the huge diversity in environments.

And Los Santos. Damn, is it beautiful. If you're coming from the drab greys of Liberty City in GTA IV, the bright colours of San Andreas is a welcome change. The city itself is huge. One of the first things I did was fly a blimp to the highest building I could find, and just look around. I then realised that there was still parts of the city that were not visible, they were that far away. I then fell off said building trying to jump to a nearby window cleaning platform.

Beyond the look of the city, the visual quality is outstanding. Yes, there are some cases where assets don't load properly, and a pedestrian is floating in mid-air for a few seconds instead of standing on a balcony, but these are few and far between. And maybe the character models aren't quite as realistic as they could be, but by no means does this detract in any way from the game. The detail that's gone into the cars, the water, the streets of Los Santos is genuinely incredible, particularly given that it's running on almost eight-year-old hardware. If you were to jump back into GTA IV briefly, the animations, the graphics, everything looks terrible by comparison.

In a change from tradition, GTA V includes 20 hours of original scoring to accompany the game. This plays during both missions and during certain activities (like flying a plane, and during parts of missions), and really adds another dimension to the game. It makes everything, particularly stealth segments and gunplay a lot more tense. There are specific tracks that play during times, like a particularly relaxing piece for when you're flying. And then you crash into a tree you thought you could fly over and don't feel quite as relaxed. In addition to the scored music, there are 17 radio stations, featuring over 240 licensed songs. These songs are interspersed with hilarious radio DJs and the politically incorrect phone-ins of Los Santos residents. These features again, serve to make the world that much more believable. Rockstar have even gone to the extent to include regional stations - WCTR and Blaine County Radio will tune out and jump to another station as you drive away and towards Los Santos, respectively.

In a twist from most video games, there are three protagonists in GTA V. Michael, Franklin and Trevor. They each represent different personas from past GTA games. Michael is the one who's made it, the guy who started from nothing and has worked his way up to the top, essentially the character you play as at the end of GTA games of old. Franklin is the guy at the bottom with nothing, and the most familiar GTA-esque character. He is also the most fun to play as, thanks in part to his very useful skill of being able to slow down time while driving. Finally is Trevor. It is obvious the role he fills. He is you. You the player, who when they're bored will load up GTA and just go on a senseless rampage and murder hundreds of innocent civilians. Within two Trevor's first two missions, I had already amassed a body count with him higher than Michael and Franklin combined after around fifteen missions. They each have their own stats and a special power that can be activated by clicking in both the sticks. Michael slows down time in firefights, Franklin slows down time while driving, and Trevor... goes insane. He deals twice the damage and takes almost none. You can freely switch between them at pretty much any point you want, and during missions can jump around between the three of them, depending on who's got the advantage.

Despite playing the game for around 35 hours, I am maybe two thirds of the way into the story. That's because I've been doing absolutely everything available to me. Why? Because it is all so unique, and I don't want to progress without being sure that I've got absolutely everything done that I can. The missions begin fairly simply, mostly just introducing the mechanics gradually. That said, they are not in any way dull and most feature some brilliant humour and some outstanding references (such as the "Eastern European who was making it big in Liberty City). The first heist was incredible, and signified a change in the story; at this point the missions started getting much more interesting and impressive. Eventually all three characters meet , and you begin getting missions with all three of them. This is outstanding, as you can switch between characters, depending on who's got the best thing to do, or the tactical advantage in a gunfight. It's a seamless switch, and is a fantastic addition to the game.

Obviously achievements are a big part of the way I play games. I simply enjoy unlocking them, and trying to get the full 1000G in a game. I don't see GTA V being any different. On the first day, I only unlocked two achievements, but I don't consider this a bad thing. I'd rather have the achievements unlock very slowly over the course of a couple of weeks or months of play, rather than finishing the story and getting 500G simply for doing that.  Rockstar are also quite good at including achievements that get you to go and do something you wouldn't normally. One example in GTA V is where you have to get eaten by a shark. Now, I haven't even come across a shark yet, much less did I realise that they could eat you. That and a few other I am definitely look forward to.

This game is a true pinnacle for this era of video games. Rockstar takes established conventions, and basically say "nope, we're going to do it our way". It pays off brilliantly. Despite being the latest game in a 15 year old series, Grand Theft Auto V succeeds in being unique, innovative and genuinely some of the most fun it's possible to have in a video game. There are two ways of looking at it. It is the best of the best of the current generation. Or it is the start of the next. Irrespective of which it is, it is clear that all games running on next generation systems, particularly open world games, will be compared to this.