There are good games, there are great games and then there is Grand Theft Auto. For more than a decade, Rockstar’s action-adventure has set a high standard for open world games and then raised them with each new iteration. With GTA V, all those benchmarks have been obliterated and the game has been pushed to unimaginable heights. I got to spend a considerable time playing and exploring every possible aspect of the game and here are my two cents on it.
GTA V is based in San Andreas and you spend most of the time in and around the city of Los Santos. With a map that is more than twice the size of Liberty City in GTA IV, there is a lot to do besides the usual driving around shooting people. San Andreas is a living and breathing world with people going about living their lives without bothering about what you do. You can see girls in bikinis walking their dogs at Vespucci beach, a couple of drunken rednecks fighting outside a bar or gangbangers doing a drive-by at Grove Street. If you were to stand and stare at your surroundings, you could see so much going on around you. This gives you an immense sense of freedom as you go about exploring a world where anything can happen.
From the very first moment you lay your eyes on the game, you sense that everything has been tweaked and improved from GTA IV. The world is grander and looks absolutely gorgeous, the character animations have been considerably improved, the combat system feels a little less irritating and the cars feel more like cars rather than hovercraft gliding on roads.
The level of detail is so insane, it feels as if Rockstar has put each aspect of the game under the microscope and tweaked and re-tweaked them until they were perfect. The combat system, which seems to have taken the best bits out of Max Payne and Red Dead Redemption, feels much improved and reliable. As I mentioned above, the automobiles too have been greatly improved and they feel more plied to the roads. Cars have their unique way of handling based on their class, so a sedan won’t drive like a tank or an SUV. That said I did feel that the steering could have been a little less sensitive and wish that flying the helicopters was less pain in the a**.
All these improvements mean that our ageing consoles have to strain to run everything smoothly and it’s no surprise they stutter in between. In some of the busier parts of the game or when I played for long periods, I noticed the occasional drop in framerate and some rare texture pop-ins. But they are few and far between and don’t warrant more than a grunt of frustration.
Moving on to the story and narration; Rockstar has moved on from the single protagonist to three wildly different protagonists. The story revolves around Michael De Santa, Franklin and Trevor Phillips in a post-economic crisis America where the ‘American Dream’ is a part of history textbooks. All the three characters hailing from different parts of the city have their own story and special abilities.
Michael is a retired con artist going through a mid-life crisis, who besides lazing around his pool with a drink in his hand, loves complaining about his family and their expensive therapist. Franklin hails from the poorer parts of Los Santos, trying to escape the life of a gangbanger, but can’t quite escape the temptations of a bigger score. Trevor, though is the most volatile and dynamic character in the game— a psychotic murdering redneck high on methamphetamine and bordering on insanity. These characters also have their own special abilities, which help a lot during missions— Michael can go into Bullet Time ala Max Payne during a gunfight, Franklin can slow down time to make some impossible maneuvers while driving a car, and Trevor’s temporary Kratos-like rage mode helps him deal more damage and take less in return.
When not on a mission, you can freely switch between the three and continue what they had been doing. But Rockstar has hit the bull’s-eye when it comes to using the three characters together in a mission. Many of them are too big to be done by a single character and more often than not they will take each other’s help. Thankfully the characters also have their own set of missions, which balances the pace of the main storyline quite well. This is a welcome change from the earlier games, where you had only one character to live with and forced to relate to.
Coming to the missions themselves, each of them have been crafted to perfection and blown up to larger-than-life proportions. Almost every main mission needs the characters to get together, meticulously plan on if to go stealthily or go all guns blazing. The scale of the missions can be compared to some of Michael Bay’s over-the-top films. To give you an example, one of the mission has Trevor flying a plane into a larger cargo plane, taking out the soldiers, hijacking it and then jumping out of it to see it crash into the sea below. Another mission has Franklin dressed up as James Bond and stealing an Aston Martin DB5 look-a-like with the mini guns, spikes and the famous ejector seat.
There are many such memorable moments, but I rather not spoil them for you. One of the most welcome changes is the checkpoint system, which saves you a whole lot of trouble of driving back to the destination in case you fail the mission. Now you can restart from the said checkpoints every time you fail the mission, and in case you fail more than three times, the game also gives you the option of skipping the mission all together. Though purists might cringe over this, for the not-so-professional gamers this could prove a boon.
There are also a lot of other things you can do in the game like play tennis, golf, go to strip clubs or trade in stock market. Every character also comes across some ‘freaks or strangers’ who are poor souls of Los Santos asking for help. Do not miss out on those missions!
On top of everything, GTA V is also an immensely intelligent and witty game. It’s a full blown satire and the game’s writers have been given all the freedom to target everybody from celebrities, the government to the common man. Apart from fake soap operas on TVs or billboards across the state, it’s the radio that is the wittiest. From ads selling the American Dream to the breaking news about a guy who died standing in line for the latest ‘iFruit’ phone, they are all very well written. Then there’s the smartphone which along with providing a way to contact people, and read emails also lets you access ‘Life Invader’, a spoof of Facebook. Talking of radio, the in-game music is top-notch with a huge collection of licensed music catering to all kinds of tastes. If songs are not what you want in the game, then the background score during the heist missions really reflects the atmosphere well.
Rockstar has also seen to it that you don’t get withdrawal symptoms when you are away from your TV living your actual life. With the iFruit app on your iOS devices, you can buy new cars or planes and modify them at LS Customs. The best part is when you power up the game the next time, your new customized car will be waiting for you at the garage.
As you might have guessed from my 1,000-odd word rambling that GTA V is one of, if not THE best game you could buy today. Rockstar has taken the best bits from all its earlier games, including the previous GTA iterations, and mixed them into a heady concoction. It is the one game you need to experience and a game that will easily satisfy you for the next six months or so. With the multiplayer world opening later today, just image how awesome it would be to roam around this fantasy world with your friends.
GTA V is available for Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 for Rs 2,999.