Grand Theft Auto V Review
An open world crime blockbuster that delivers the goods
On the subject of mission structure, most of the content in GTA V is by the numbers. You’ll be doing odd jobs for common crooks, and work your way up to high government and military corruption. One new addition, as mentioned above, is the heists. These missions usually require some prep work by collecting required tools or vehicles, and then executing on a plan. You’ll sometimes have to pick one of two approaches to a heist, as well as what crew members to use. Sadly, these mechanics are not utilized every time. Some of your escapes are totally outlandish and defy even movie heist logic. Further, the game only has a few heists in total and half of them feel like the usual destructive GTA missions that end in a shootout. From a gameplay perspective, the heists combined with character switching ability are a definite missed opportunity and a case of “what could have been” .
Grand Theft Auto V takes place in Los Santos, a fictional city located in the southwestern United States, within the State of San Andreas – and for the first time in the series, the whole map is open for exploration from the beginning. As one might guess, it is based on Los Angeles and contains many of that city’s landmarks and familiar sights. The city itself is quite large, easily comparable to that of GTA IV, and just as detailed. Every street corner is unique, each area modelled after its real-life counterpart, or at the very least inspired by it. Those who have been to Los Angeles will easily recognize some of the landmarks, recreated here with full grandeur but with their own unique take on the architecture. But that’s not all – there’s also a full island to explore that represents the wilderness areas. It’s probably the largest world that Rockstar Games has ever built, and although the rural areas are not as detailed as Los Santos, they add sheer scope to the game.
There is more to explore and do in GTA V than ever before. In addition to being able to easily replay story missions for better scores or try alternative heist plans, the amount of activities and mini-games is quite extensive. You can partake in some standard past times, such as tennis, golf, darts, car and sea races and more. Some brand new additions include yoga, triathlons, hunting, and parachuting. More involving activities include taxi missions and underwater exploration. The mini-games vary in their level of engagement and perceived entertainment value, but chances are you’ll find something enjoyable to do during the downtime.
You’ve also got two stock markets, one tied to offline play and one that involves other players and Rockstar’s Social Club. Sadly, there isn’t too much info on how these markets work/affected by player actions, and what best practices are for investment. Players are able to purchase property, but the returns are so tiny compared to buying costs – and you can’t even go inside these buildings you own – that it doesn’t seem worth it. Sure they give you a few extra side missions to do, but hopefully you won’t be so bored as to resort to those.
The vastness of the open world is as impressive as ever, but it’s not a case of building onto what has existed in previous games. Firetruck, ambulance, and police missions are not in the game. There are no street vendors, Burger Shots or other restaurants. Instead, new convenience stores and tattoo parlors can be entered. Clothing stores and barber shops are still present. The game allows players to rob many of these locations, but they are artificially limited – it’s impossible to rob weapon or clothing stores, for example.
With stores, the game offers extensive amounts of customization for both your cars and characters. You can buy all sorts of hairstyles and beards, clothes, and weaponry. Guns can be extensively customized, in both function and look. Similarly, cars have a ton of options and can be outfitted to be fast and bulletproof. It’s annoying that switching between characters or progressing the story will often make our heroes change out from whatever clothes you’ve put on them. On the other hand, being killed doesn’t take away any of your ammo or weapons, which is extremely convenient.
For the same reasons, cars are finally worth keeping and using throughout the game as they can be customized and saved. After many complaints about GTA IV’s floaty and slippery car controls, the physics have been revamped and driving feels much better this time around. It’s still fairly sensitive and easy to lose control of fast rides, but overall the cars handle better; you’ve now also got the ability to control the car mid-air to ensure a smoother landing.
Weapons also feel more satisfying, and there’s a big arsenal available to the players. You must purchase weapons for each character separately, and they can be customized in a huge variety of ways: from colors to silencers and extended clips. Thankfully, you get to keep everything upon dying, so no more Ammunation runs to re-supply. Cover is more important than ever, as you’ll go down quick in a firefight without good armor. Enemy AI is decent but not exactly tactical, and will try to stay in cover when possible. Shooting mechanics have been improved and feel more responsive than before, although the tiny reticule of your weapons can be difficult to spot in the heat of battle. On default settings, the game offers some aim assist to help with that.
The police in particular are much more ruthless this time around and can provide a good challenge if you earn a high wanted level. They drive fast, block your path at every opportunity, and open fire without hesitation; so much so that during the game’s 20+ hours of main story, there were zero busts but many trips to the hospital. There’s also a new system for evasion, based on line of sight. It’s no longer about escaping a heated area on the map, but actually getting them to lose visual. Once you do, all patrols display their vision range on your radar and you must stay out of their view long enough to lose the heat. It’s a more realistic approach, as you can play hide and seek within the same area using alleys and parking garages, instead of having to outrun the pursuit every time.
The vast openness of San Andreas looks pretty good at most times, considering there are still no loading screens when traversing the world and it’s all open to the player from the start. Characters are well animated and the physics engine performs well most of the time. GTA V has some of the best looking natural vistas and lighting effects in recent memory. It’s all very pretty to look at from the horizon, or when focusing on your protagonists from up close. Look around, however, and in the distance you’ll begin to notice some rough spots. Visuals begin to deteriorate the further out you look, with jagged edges dominating the nearby environment. Some of the textures are nearly from the previous generation era, and some cutscenes reveal very poor looking environments. Players may forgive these visual hitches, but one can only wonder what the game could look like on PC or next-gen consoles.