Released: 18 November 2014
Originally Released: 17 September 2013
Developer: Rockstar North
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox 360, Xbox Series X/S
The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) franchise (ibid/Various, 1997 to present) is an incredibly successful and well-regarded series of open world videogames that have the player pulling off a series of heists, robberies, and other illicit activities generally by stealing or making liberal use of vehicles and guns. The series began life as a top-down title on the PC and PlayStation and set the standard for how successful and controversial the series would become over the years thanks to its violent content.
My experience with the Grand Theft Auto series is quite limited; I’ve played the original and dabbled with both Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar North, 2006) and Grand Theft Auto IV (Rockstar North, 2008) but these experiences were either extremely brief or boiled down to simply messing about with the game’s many infamous cheat codes. However, I was recently gifted GTA V and was determined to see it through to completion despite not really being a fan of the series; GTA V was developed to be the most graphically impressive of the series so far that would give players control of three distinct characters rather than just one and improve upon many of the studio’s gameplay mechanics. GTA V was released to widespread critical acclaim and went on to ship over 140 million copies and is largely regarded as one of the best videogames ever released at the time.
Nine years after faking his death and entering witness protection following a botched robbery, former career criminal Michael Townley has become a shell of his former self and is living a tumultuous life as a family man in Los Santos under the alias Michael De Santa. After crossing paths with the foul-mouthed gangbanger Franklin Clinton, Michael finds himself brought back into his old ways as he helps Franklin pull off more profitable heists and runs afoul not only of the city’s seedy underworld and his handlers at the Federal Investigation Bureau (FIB) but also draws the unwelcome attention of his psychotic former associate, Trevor Philips.
As you might expect, given it’s the norm for the series ever since it jumped to 3D, GTA V is a third-person action/adventure game with a heavy emphasis on story, character interactions, violence, gun fights, and vehicles. The lengthy story and large city of Los Santos and its surrounding area will see you exploring a variety of locations (both seedy and legitimate), encountering many different non-playable characters (NPCs), and taking part in numerous side quests and activities to keep you busy. As you play the story, you’ll eventually gain access to all three playable characters, each of whom controls exactly the same but has a different “Special Ability” and has their strengths rooted in either driving, melee combat, or shooting.
The game’s controls are different depending on your current situation; when on foot, you can use the Left Trigger to aim and lock on to enemies, and fire your weapons or use melee attacks with the Right Trigger. Weapons are selected from a weapon wheel with the Left Bumper while the Right Bumper allows you to duck behind and move away from cover during gun fights. You can also press LT and the X button to dodge or roll out of the way or in conjunction with the left directional pad (D-pad) button to toss a grenade. Pressing in the left analogue stick will have you crouch down to sneak up on enemies, while pressing in the right stick allows you to zoom in and you can also switch between different perspectives (including a first-person view) with the Navigation button. Y is used to enter (illegally or otherwise) and exit vehicles; B reloads your weapon and is also used for melee attacks; X performs a jump and allows you to hop up small walls or ledges; and you can hold down the A button to jog along. If you tap A, you’ll break out into a sprint but be sure to keep an eye on your health and stamina in the heads-up display (HUD) as sprinting for too long will drain both of these.
When in a vehicles, the controls alter somewhat: LT is now used to brake, reverse, or descend when flying while RT is used to accelerate or ascend; RB is the handbrake or (in conjunction with LB) controls the rudder and you can switch to a “cinematic” camera angle with B or duck down to avoid incoming fire with A. You can cycle through weapons with X and use them by pressing LB to aim and RB to fire, however the controls for shooting whilst driving are extremely slippery and imprecise. Not only are you travelling at high speeds and having to adapt to the fact that every vehicle handles differently depending on its size and capabilities, but it’s also extremely easy to lose control, spin out, or crash when driving at the best of times, let alone when trying to gun down enemies. Thankfully, some missions will place two characters in the car and will even give you the option of switching between driving and shooting but, in the instances where you have to do both, I found it to be very imprecise, slippery, and needlessly frustrating.
The D-pad also allows for a number of different functions depending on whether or not you’re in a vehicle; pressing up will bring up your character’s phone, which can be customised with backgrounds and ringtones and is where you’ll make and receive calls, texts, and e-mails about missions and such; pressing left allows you to detonate bombs on foot or access the in-game radio when in a vehicle; pressing right toggles the car headlights or folds/unfolds a convertible’s roof when in a vehicle or allows characters to interact when on foot; and holding down accesses the character wheel so you can switch to a different character. Primarily, you’ll be using the D-pad for your phone, though; from here, you can perform a quick save, browse websites, buy stock to earn money, and review your income or additional information about the current plot or missions.
As mentioned, each character comes with a different degree of stats and a Special Ability, which can be activated at any time by pressing both analogue sticks in at the same time and will last as long as the yellow bar in the HUD is full. As you run, drive, shoot, fight, and play, you’ll raise each stat (Stamina, Driving, Stealth, etc) higher; the higher your stats, the better you’ll perform, and each character’s stats are set to different levels to give them different proficiencies that tie into their Special Abilities. Being an up-and-coming car thief, Franklin’s ability allows him to slow time when in a vehicle, which makes it easier for him to avoid oncoming traffic or obstacles, perform better drifts, and make tighter, more precise turns. Michael, meanwhile, is more focused on melee combat and his Special Ability slows time when fighting to give you more time to dodge and land blows. Finally, Trevor is focused on shooting; when his Special Ability is activated, he’ll enter a kind of rage mode and deal additional damage during the slow down, which is great for taking out vehicles or clearing rooms quickly.
The in-game map and a variety of other game settings can, of course, be accessed using the Xbox’s Menu button; the map is shrouded in fog and will be revealed the more you explore but will also highlight a number of key locations, such as your safe house (where you can store vehicles, change clothes and sleep to save the game, replenish health, and pass time in the game to day or night), weapons shops, and a variety of other points of interest (such as barbers, tennis courts, airports, and other properties, mini games, and areas). From here, you can set a custom waypoint and the onscreen mini map (which you can freely zoom in and out) will show you the most efficient route to take to get to your destination as long as you’re in a road-based vehicle (when in a boat, aircraft, or on foot, you’ll have to make do with a smaller indicator). The mini map also shows you helpful dots that will lead you to objectives, side quests, or identify enemies (represented as red dots). If that wasn’t enough, the game also comes complete with an actual physical map, which is quite useful for finding areas not easily spotted on the in-game map.
Playing GTA V in a way to not attract attention is incredibly difficult; the streets of Los Santos and the surrounding area are full of drivers and pedestrians who will crash and bump into you at the worst possible moments. As mentioned, driving can be very slippery and difficult so it’s easy to hit pedestrians or go careening off a bridge or collide head-first with an oncoming vehicle but, sometimes, pedestrians and cars will pick a fight with you and you’ll have to decide on the best way to deal with this. Cause too much carnage or enter restricted areas and the cops will start chasing you. This is represented by a star rating in the top-right of the screen and flashing red and blue lights on the mini map; you’ll also pick up chatter from the police band on your radio and see a helpful cone on the mini map that will aid you in giving the cops the slip. Continue to cause trouble, though, and the rating will increase up to five stars; the cops will bust out the helicopters, become much more aggressive, set up roadblocks, try to push you off the road, and shoot at you and it can be very difficult to get past them even on a one star Wanted rating because of how awkward some vehicles are to control.
Occasionally, you’ll pick up first-aid kits to restore your health but, if your health drops below halfway, it will regenerate back up to halfway if you manage to avoid damage for a short period of time. If your car flips over, you can right it by holding on the left analogue stick; cars and bikes will incur damage as they get bashed and shot at but you can repair (and upgrade) them at one of the many Los Santos Customs dealerships across town for a fee. However, if you take too much damage, you’ll eventually be killed (or “Wasted”) and find yourself respawning at a hospital and suffering a hefty loss of funds. Thankfully, you can quick save at any time when not on a mission so you can choose to reload to your last save to keep your money but, sometimes, the game will load you clear across town or on the far opposite end of the map, which is often more frustrating than being killed. When on a mission, there are some generous checkpoints in place and, if you die, you’ll respawn at the last checkpoint, which is much less annoying.
Right off the bat, GTA V gives you full control of where you want to go and what you want to do once you get past a few tutorials that are masquerading as story missions. You’re free to drive anywhere you want and interact with characters to start side quests but, if you want to progress the story, you’ll have to travel either to your character’s safe house or to a predetermined area on the map. Sometimes, it’s not clear when you have to do this or which character you need to be to progress the story but, with a bit of trial and error, it’s not too difficult to pick up. The game’s story primarily involves the planning and execution of a number of heists using Michael, Franklin, Trevor, and other crew members; these heists generally involve some preparation on your part, such as staking out the target area, gauging the police response time, and planning an escape route, all of which is clearly marked for you to do. Once the target is properly researched, the group’s planner, Lester Crest, will talk you through your options and you’ll be given two choices to pull the mission off (one is generally easier and safer and the other is usually louder and more dangerous). You then have to select additional crew to pull the heists off; these NPCs have different abilities (hackers, drivers, gunmen, etc) and different stats that correlate to how much of a cut of the profits they’ll need; if you want the best driver or hacker, for example, you’ll have to give them a higher percentage of the cut. However, the more you use the same crew members, the better their abilities will be and their cut won’t increase.
Honestly, these heist missions were the most interesting and entertaining part of the game for me; it’s fun seeing how the job is going to be pulled off and adds a lot of variety to the game as you’ll be posing as a dock worker, stealing fire trucks, knocking off armoured vans, and racing through abandoned tunnels as part of it all. It also adds some replayability to the game; after you complete a mission, you can choose to replay it from the main menu and see how the other options play out, which may see you flying an aircraft or using a drill to break into a bank rather than using subterfuge. The best part of these heists, though, is that they are the best way to earn a chunk of cash; you can earn money by doing side missions or buying properties but you’ll get a good chunk from these bigger heists and they’re generally quite fair and engaging so I definitely enjoyed them the most.
Of course, there are numerous side missions to undertake as well, many of which are tangentially related to the story or specific to each character. Franklin, for example, has to help out his drug-addled friend by towing cars; Trevor runs across an old British couple with an unhealthy obsession with celebrities; and Michael crosses paths with a cult who keep fleecing him for money. Later, Lester will also give Franklin assassination missions, which are fun to pull off; Trevor can also deliver arms packages in an aircraft; and Michael is forced to repair his damaged relationship with his wife and kids by doing yoga, rescuing his son after he falls in with some dangerous people, and attacking a talent show host who is taking advantage of his daughter. With enough cash, you can also buy properties like an aircraft hanger, docks, restaurants, a taxi firm, and so forth, which will provide you with a weekly income and also ask you to perform tasks like stopping robbers, cleaning up toxic waste, or picking up fares.
Graphics and Sound:
In terms of presentation, it’s hard to really find any fault with GTA V; the game world is huge, massive even, and full of things to do and see. Cars get into crashes or are chased by the cops, street muggings and violence occurs around you, day turns to night turns to day, and there’s even different types of weather and numerous districts and regions to see and visit, all with very, very minimal graphical pop up or load times. This is probably because just loading into the story, or reloading a save, takes forever but that long load time is worth it for a fast in-game experience; I noticed very little slowdown during my playthrough and even less instances of textures failing to load properly. The physics are a bit janky, at times, with characters ragdolling all over the place and vehicles either being extremely heavy or slippery as ice but a lot of this is part of the game’s aesthetic style so I can just about forgive it…it just took me some time to adapt to the vehicle controls.
GTA V’s game world is probably the biggest I’ve ever seen; you’ll spend the majority of your playthrough in the bustling metropolitan city of Los Santos, which is basically an exaggerated version of Los Angeles. Here, you’ll find skyscrapers, office buildings, a beach front and fairground, a massive airport, banks, and rundown ghetto-like neighbourhoods like Franklin’s alongside the more luxurious condos like the one Michael lives in. It’s very impressive how varied and alive the city is but, it has to be said, this can be a bit inconsistent; you can’t go into every building, for example, and the lively nature of the streets can cause you to jump to a two star Wanted level without even meaning to just because you ploughed into a bus or police car at an intersection or cut a corner wrong or spun out into a gaggle of pedestrians.
Later in the game, the story switches to the desert-like outskirts of Blaine County where Trevor lives in a rundown trailer park. Out here, things are much less grandiose and far more lawless and you’ll be able to travel across mountains and explore vast, arid dry lands between pockets of civilisation. This effectively doubles the game’s world but also means that travel time is a significant factor in GTA V. You can jump in a taxi to fast travel to a destination, but it’ll cost you money unless you own the taxi firm. Helicopters, boats, and other aircraft make travelling vast distances much faster but can be difficult to control and come by and you have to be careful not to crash into buildings or drift into restricted airspace. Thus, most of the time, you’ll be driving; normally, this isn’t too bad but, sometimes, you’re tasked with driving all the way from Los Santos out to the badlands, which can take a lot of actual, real-world time and if you accidentally attract police attention, crash, or slip off a cliff along the way, you may end up having to reload and do it all over again or be suck on foot desperately waiting for a vehicle to drive past.
Character models are surprisingly good for such a big game; the main characters obviously stand out the most but even the random NPCs you come across are all distinct and varied. Voice acting is equally good, with the three main characters all offering constant commentary when driving along and conversing over the phone but I have to say that I was more than a little uncomfortable with the sheer amount of racial slurs spat out by Franklin and his “homies”. Still, you’ll hear a lot of voice work in the game (Kenny Loggins is even a radio DJ, which is great), all of which adds depth to the characters and brings the world to life, and every single cutscene or cinematic is rendered using the in-game graphics, which are impressive. There are also a number of radio shows to switch through when in vehicles that offer a variety of musical styles and genres; sadly, there’s no way to create a custom playlist or radio station and you’ll constantly have to reset the radio to your favourite station when you switch cars but it’s always one of the best parts of these types of games and offers such iconic tracks as Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It to My Heart”, Starship’s “We Built This City”, and the aforementioned Loggins’ “Danger Zone”.
Enemies and Bosses:
As mentioned, your primary enemies in the game will be the police; you can avoid attracting their attention by not driving like a maniac or going on a killing or attacking spree but, sometimes, you can’t avoid this. If you can’t find a place to land, for example, you can skydive out of your aircraft and parachute to the ground, which is great but it’ll cause your craft to crash and attract the cops; if you wander onto the runway or over restricted airspace, the cops will come after you in full force; and if you hit or shoot too many people (sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s more than three), the cops will start coming after you. You can choose to fight them off but their numbers are infinite so it’s better to race away down side streets and find a quiet place to hide until the heat dies down.
You’ll also attract the attention of some of Los Santos’ undesirables; Franklin and his dumbass friend, Lamar Davis, attract attention from rival gangs in the city; Trevor immediately makes enemies of a local biker gang; and Michael is repeatedly asked to perform “favours” for the FIB once he comes out of retirement. Gangsters, gangbangers, street punks, and even triads will crop up throughout the story as things begin to escalate but one of the more recurring enemy forces is that of Merryweather, a private security firm who you incur the wrath of during your heists and hijinx. Generally, the only things really separating these enemies from each other are the colours they wear and the munitions available to them; Merryweather are far better equipped than the street gangs and will attack in force, forcing you to take cover, use sniping positions, and shoot at them from helicopters but the street gangs usually just chase after you in cars or can be gunned down without anything more elaborate than a pistol or shotgun.
There are no traditional bosses in GTA V since the heists form the primary challenge of the game but you will have to contend with some noticeable enemies at various points throughout the story. A guy who is campaigning to legalise cocaine drugs you up so badly that you start shooting aliens, for example; Trevor has numerous side missions that put him in a state of pure rage and have him gunning down various factions in the streets; you’ll need to chase down motorcyclists to acquire story-specific items; and helicopters and even tanks will need to be shot down with rocket and/or grenade launchers. Later in the game, Michael is left to fend off a hoard of triads in a graveyard in a gruelling gauntlet and one of the game’s final missions sees all of the various forces you have wronged being led into a massive confrontation that requires you to switch between all three characters and take them out.
Finally, you’ll hunt down the figureheads behind all of your ills and put them down for good. These assassination missions, however, are mostly pretty easy; one has you gun down an associate of Franklin’s in a public basketball court, which is simple enough, but another has you assassinate an FIB agent who is riding a Ferris wheel. Your final target is protected by Merryweather agents but it’s a simple matter to pick a few off with your sniper rifle and gun down the others to acquire him, certainly a lot easier than some of Franklin’s assassination missions which can have him racing to locations across town against a time limit.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
While the only literal in-game pickup you will find are the aforementioned first-aid kits, there are a number of weapons made available to you from the Ammu-Nation stores scattered across the game world. From here, you can purchase bulletproof vests (which degrade as you take damage), melee weapons such as knives and knuckle dusters, and, of course, guns. Guns range from pistols to shotguns and machine guns but you’ll also use sniper rifles, grenade launchers, gatling guns, and rocket launchers; many of these can be purchased and upgraded in the shop to improve their capacity and efficiency but some are mainly used during missions.
You can also acquire a number of vehicles throughout the game; each of the three characters has a default vehicle but you can steal another whenever you like. It’s generally better to steal a vehicle that people are already in as it won’t set off an alarm but sometimes the slighted drivers will attack or chase after you and either option risks attracting police attention, especially if you do it too often. You can hop on bikes and drive a range of cars (from sports cars to trucks and buses), each of which handles differently and can be modified and customised at Los Santos Customs. Here, you can tint the windows and add armour plating and bulletproof tyres, for a fee, and you can stash any vehicles you’ve acquired in garages you can buy across town.
You can also steal a range of aircraft, from crop dusters to helicopters and military choppers. These can be stored at airfields but can be tricky to control and land properly since a slight error can mean the difference between a safe landing and you crashing in a fiery death. You’ll also get behind the controls of a submarine and various boats (such as water skis and speedboats); these can be quite fun but, again, either heavy or slippery to control. Jumping ship at sea also isn’t advised as, while you can swim, you’ll be at risk of being attacked by sharks but there are definitely a lot of transportation options available to you.
There are sixty Achievements on offer in GTA V and they are, honestly, some of the more laborious Achievements I’ve ever come across. While you’ll naturally get an Achievement for completing the main story and its heists, many of the others are tied to a lot of busy work, such as finding fifty hidden items or buying expensive properties and performing a number of side missions. You’ll get some for upgrading a gun or modifying a car to the fullest extent, but others are tied to the stock market and arduous tasks that take literally hours of real-world time (such as playing the game in first-person for fifteen hours or one side mission that makes you wait ten real-world days!)
A great deal of the Achievements are also tied to the game’s online mode, which I wasn’t able to experience. However, the game also includes a “Director’s Mode” that lets you play as basically any character in the game (including animals) and freely roam throughout the game’s locations with a number of ridiculous modifiers activated (such as explosive bullets and invincibility). This seems to be tied in to the game’s ability to let you record clips of your gameplay and customise them for others to see but, honestly, I didn’t really spend any time in this mode beyond getting a couple of Achievements tied to it but I’m sure it’s fun to just mess around in.
I’m not really sure what about this version of the game makes it the “Premium Edition” but, regardless, there are also a number of cheat codes you can enter to spice up the gameplay (though these will disable Achievements) and the bulk of your replay time will probably come from mopping up side missions or just going mental with your weapons. There are a lot of distractions available in GTA V; you can sit and watch TV, get your hair cut and buy new clothes, visit a strip club, play darts, go to a shooting range, hunt deer, get tattoos, take part in street races, play tennis, and take random NPCs home (or to a cult out in the wilderness if you feel so inclined). Most of these distractions are pretty pointless; you don’t really get anything out of it beyond maybe an Achievement and increasing your stats a bit but it does help to add some variety and liven up the world.
The game’s final mission gives Franklin three choices between killing Michael or Trevor or joining forces with them against their enemies. I chose this latter option (but, again, you can replay missions whenever you like) and, upon finishing the game, returned to the overworld with all three characters and able to mop up any outstanding side missions and Achievements. Sadly, I don’t really feel inclined to return to any of these loose ends any time soon; many of the side missions are tedious, you need quite a lot of money to buy everything the game requires you to, and my overall experience was so mediocre that I’m not very motivated to clear the map and be left with a vast game world where all that’s left to do is randomly run people over or completely mundane tasks I wouldn’t do in real life. Gameplay is nicely broken up in some missions, such as when you must torture a guy for information as Trevor or molest another guy with a piercing gun as Michael, and it can be fun and thrilling to be in the heat of a race or fire fight but once I’d cleared the story I just felt like my obligation was fulfilled.
For my first real GTA experience, GTA V was certainly impressive; I can’t deny that the game looks amazing and is one of the biggest open worlds I have ever explored. The game performs incredibly well (once it loads…) considering how much is crammed into it at any one time and I really enjoyed Michael’s character and how batshit crazy Trevor was and the general unfolding of the story. The game gets a bit confounding at times when you’re not on a mission and it both bombards you with text, hints, and notifications while simultaneously leaving it up to you to figure out where you need to go at times but, once you’re on a heist, things really pick up and become focused and enjoyable.
Sadly, as great as the game looks and how enjoyable it can be, it was lacking in a lot of key areas for me. Driving, for one thing, is mostly horrendous; even with a fully supped up car and a character’s Driving skill at the max cars can be slippery and unwieldy, spinning out or crashing seemingly at random and I spent a lot of time struggling with the driving and flying controls more than anything else. There’s definitely a lot to do in the game and just playing the main story will take a good few days but I can’t say many of the side missions and distractions are that compelling; most are tedious busy work and I didn’t feel like my playtime was being rewarded enough with Achievements or in-game rewards to really want to return to these any time soon. I imagine hardcore GTA fans will absolutely love this game but, for me, it just felt a bit of a chore and not all that engaging or interesting; it was more like work than fun, a lot of the time, which was a real shame.
Could Be Better
What did you think to Grand Theft Auto V? Are you a fan of the series and, if so, how did you find this one compared to its predecessors? Which of the three playable characters was your favourite and why? What did you think to the game’s driving, controls, and side missions? Which of the many activities was your favourite to be distracted by? What choices did you make in the heist missions, and in the game’s final mission? Did you play the online portion and, if so, what was it like? Have you achieved 100% completion on this game and, if so, how long did it take? Whatever your thoughts on Grand Theft Auto V, drop a comment below.