If You Want It, Take It: Grand Theft Auto V [Review]

The latest game in the series raises the bar and doesn't disappoint.

Grand Theft Auto V

Coming off of GTA IV, I have to admit that I wasn’t the least bit excited for GTA V.  The previous game in the series was my least favorite of all and mostly the driving drove me nuts.  I knew Rockstar had big plans for this game with a huge map and three protagonists, but even with all I’ve seen in previous GTA’s, Rockstar still managed to surprise me with all they packed into the GTA V.

For the first time in the series history you can play as multiple characters.  Each character has their own missions, and to a degree, their own story.  Michael and Trevor as previous partners in crime; bank robbers whoes last job went wrong and left Trevor thinking that Michael was dead.  Obviously he wasn’t, and the story behind that gets a bit tangled when the two finally get back together.  You also have Franklin, not a seasoned criminal like Michael and Trevor, but he has big ambitions for making money; and through a funny series of events gets involved with Michael.  Each character has their own unique personality, and each of them approach missions differently based on those personalities.

I really didn’t think I would care too much about the three protagonist system, but because each of the characters are so strikingly different (their only real similar quality being their love of money) it’s refreshing when you need to switch characters.  Get tired of Trevor’s craziness, switch over to Franklin’s more grounded demeanor.  Most of the time outside of missions you can switch characters whenever you want, but there are many missions where you can (or are forced to) switch characters.

Each character has their own strengths and weakness, at least at first.  There are several stats involved with things like how well you shoot, how strong you are, how much stamina you have, how well you drive, etc.  By doing most of these skills you will upgrade them over time, so if you really want to you can level out all of your characters.  That being the case, however, the special ability that each character has is their own, and will lend itself better in certain situations.

Grand Theft Auto V

Franklin has an ability to go into a “bullet-time” effect while driving – allowing him to better navigate at high speeds and take sharp turns.  Michael has the ability to slow down time while shooting, but while it gives you a better chance to see what’s going on, it also slows Michael down.  Trevor’s ability has to be the most useful while in a tight spot ; not only is he able to take more damage while using his special ability, he also deals out more damage.  Actually, there is an entire mini-game dedicated to Trevor’s special ability called “Rampage” where you’re swarmed with enemies and need to use Trevor’s ability to stay alive and kill everyone.

As always, GTA V brings a slew of colorful characters and interesting missions.  Being that it’s a GTA game some of these missions can definitely push the envelope.  I was expecting the game to push it, but I realized that we were on a different level when in one mission my objective was to get some pictures of a celebrity having anal sex.  Besides that gem there are plenty of memorable moments in the game like getting on  dirtbike and chasing down an airplane, one you just shot out of the sky, while it’s falling, or rappelling down the side of a government agency building to bust in and kidnap a target, then fly away via helicopter.  Pretty much every mission I came across was unique, and because of this the game kept me playing for hours at a time because I knew that even if I did ten more missions I wouldn’t find a repeat.

After you complete a mission you will be scored and given a medal somewhere between bronze and gold.  I’m all about having extra objectives in missions, but it’s a bit frustrating when I don’t know what those objectives are.  I wasn’t able to find a way to determine what the score areas were for each mission until after the mission was complete.  Some missions want you to complete it in a certain amount of time, get a certain amount of headshots, or perform a specific action, but at no point do they show you what they want you to do to hit those marks so you can get a higher score.  Of course you can replay them, but the point is that I wouldn’t have too if they just told me what those objectives were in the first place.

Something else that’s new to the series are Heists.  Heists are a set of mission that you complete,  ultimately culminating in you stealing something of high value.  Usually heists start with a mission where you go to the location to gather intel on entrances, guards, security, etc.  From there you hit the planning stage where you can choose your approach.  Most of the time you will have at least two options, with one usually being more aggressive than the other.  Naturally more noise, shooting, and explosions means more police opposition, but the trade-off is that you will likely need to rely less on your crew.

Grand Theft Auto V

Different heists will require different specialists.  The first heist required a driver, gunman, and hacker.  Each crew member will take a certain part of the money made, and the more skilled they are means the more money they will want.  With every heist, the crew members you choose will gain experience.  The good thing about this is that if you choose less experienced crew members and build them up, their cut will remain the same.  That is, if they survive the heist.

For my first I went the cheap route.  It’s the first heist in the game, how bad can it be?  I’m so used to games where it doesn’t matter how bad your AI partners are that I figured I’d just carry the extra weight of the team.  I figured wrong.  First off, my hacker couldn’t keep the security cameras off for long enough, so I ended up missing an item I was supposed to take.  Second, my gunman didn’t even make it to the end of the heist.  To get away we used motorcycles, and he ended up crashing his.  Luckily I was able to pick up the bag he dropped, otherwise I would have lost part of the cash.  Finally, my driver, who was supposed to plot out the escape route, forgot the way he was supposed to go during the middle of the getaway (On top of that he led us into an area with a bunch of cops).  With one man down I was able to finish the heist, but even though hit was successful, it taught me the value of a seasoned criminal.

After you confirm your plan and crew, based on what you chose you might or might not have Heist missions available where you need to obtain (read as steal) the supplies you need to commit the heist.  Some of these missions were a lot harder than I thought they would be.  How hard can it be to steal a garbage truck?  I don’t know the answer to that in real life, but I can guarantee it’s harder when you’re trying to dodge the cops in that huge beast.  Not all heists are very organized, and you will run into some that need to be organized and executed in a fairly short amount of time.  I do wish there were more heists in general to make more money.  Many of the heists appear to be strictly out of necessity and some you don’t even make money on.

Besides missions and heists there were quite a few side activities that you can get involved in.  Many of them improve your stats like playing sports or going to the gun range.  They also have medals you can get by performing well.  Others, such as the (optional) flight course, act as training.  If you don’t want to do that you could always call up a friend and hang out at the bars, strip club, or somewhere else.  Even the strip club has a mini-game where the objective is to touch and flirt with the stripper but not let the bouncer see you.

Grand Theft Auto V

One thing I really enjoyed about the game is the dialog, and more specifically, how the dialog adapts to the situation.  There are varying factors in many situations that will determine what is said.  Who is walking in front, if you’ve already completed a certain objective before another, who initiated the mission, etc. can change the dialog.  Sometimes the dialog is changed just slightly, but it helps make the dialog feel more natural than hearing an NPC tell you to do something you’ve already done, the AI realize it, then immediately move on to the next line.

The weapon selection is quite massive, and not only do you have a lot to choose from, there are also many attachments and upgrades you can purchase.  The addition of the weapon wheel really makes it easy to move through your weapons quickly.  During my play-through I really didn’t find it necessary to purchase weapons, and when I did it was usually because the mission requires it.  So if you have a set of weapons that works for you and you want to stick with it you won’t be punished by the game, but you also have the opportunity to try out a bunch of weapons and build up a massive arsenal if you want.

Fighting large groups feels more manageable than previous GTA’s.  The cover system with the addition of target locking and switching allows you to better manage your enemies.  The over the shoulder camera used for precision aiming is wider, so that helps you keep track of other enemies while you are dealing with specific targets.  Also moving in and out of cover feels a bit smoother.  Not all of your missions require shoot outs, but the ones that do are a joy to play.

San Andreas is huge.  When I opened the box and found a map of the area, then saw that the city was only 1/6 of the map I knew that I would be in for some long drives.  Luckily this doesn’t happen too often, as you can grab a plane or helicopter and fly to the extremities of the state if need be.  If you don’t feel like doing that you can always catch a cab which has the feature of skipping travel time.  This basically gives you the ability to instantly travel to all points of interest in the state.  It may sound like I think the size of the game is a point of hassle, but this really isn’t.  It gave Rockstar a chance to really flesh out each area and make them feel lifelike instead of condensed.

Grand Theft Auto V

When you go to different areas of the game, even inside of Los Santos, you can see the differences in the homes, the cars, and the way people speak.  Each area looks unique.  There are regular suburbs and then the celebrity suburbs — financial districts, beaches, country sides, etc.  It being a GTA game I wasn’t expecting to be looking at the same backdrop the entire time, but the level of detail is commendable.  You can own some of the landscape, as property is for sale.  Most property will just give you a certain amount of money weekly after you buy it, however, some properties will open up entirely new mission.

My biggest complaint about GTA IV was the driving, and that has been completely overhauled.  Vehicle physics have been adjusted to be more realistic, so while you can still drive at high speeds and maintain control, bumping in to another vehicle or taking a wild turn may send your car out of control.  It doesn’t take long to get adjusted to the new physics, and you gain more control based on your driving stat.

Most of the time you will be traversing the areas via car, and with that you have quite the selection.  Each character starts with their own car that they will have throughout the game no matter what; however, cars that you steal from others can be saved in your garage or an off-site garage for storage. Taking vehicles down to Los Santos Customs allows you to upgrade the vehicle’s performance as well as the looks.  Tires, rims, hoods, paint, etc. are all interchangeable.  I loved the large selection of cars.  Not only was it a great selection to choose from, but it also helps the city feel more authentic when you don’t see the same cars over and over again throughout the game.  Also.  finding new cars was a joy when I came across them.

On the flip side of that, managing cars is a pain in the ass.  The only guaranteed way for you to keep your car is to either have it in your garage or in the off-site garage.  If you take one of your cars out on a mission and then are forced to switch to another there is a chance you may lose that car.  This includes cars that you spent a bunch of money on upgrading.  Most of the time when your car is left out on the street it will be brought to the police impound and you will need to pay a small fee to get it out.

Grand Theft Auto V

I’m happy in those cases that I still have the car, but constantly going down to the police impound gets annoying.  There was more than one case where a car I left out didn’t go to the police impound even though I made sure I saved it in my garage at least once.  There should have been a feature that allows me to select my main ride, and that is the one that is in my driveway when I get home.  That’s what happens with the default car, so I don’t see the problem with them adding a feature for the other cars you obtain.

You’re supposed to be able to access Los Santos Customs on your mobile device (I mean YOUR mobile device, not one of the characters), but if you are an Android, Windows Mobile, or Playstation Mobile user, you’re getting the shaft for now.  The iFruit app allows you to customize your car on the go as well as train your dog, Chop, through the mobile application.  However, on launch the only users that get to use this app are iOS users.  I can see Windows Mobile and Playstation Mobile phones having a delay on the app, but Android devices?  Really?  It’s not like Android has a small market share, especially among gamers.  Los Santos Customs is available in the game proper –  training Chop is not, so I feel a bit slighted.  Training Chop means he is more obedient during missions, and now I don’t get a chance to see what that’s like.  It’s a small gripe, but it’s something I think Rockstar should have been able to do on launch.

With only a few complaints, I have to admit that GTA V is an incredible game.  It’s one of those games that I didn’t want to end, however, I knew well that the closer I got to the end the better the game would get.  GTA Online is available in October and is supposed to be so big that it’s pretty much its own game.  We will review that when it’s available, and maybe that will satisfy me.  GTA V left me wanting more, and not because there wasn’t enough content in the game (it’s pretty beefy), but because it made me greedy.  Let the debates begin, because I think this is the best game in the series.

Jarret Redding
Jarret Redding
Jarret Redding

Executive Director

Jarret is Executive Director as well as one of the founding members of Mash Those Buttons. He plays all types of games, but tends to lean more toward FPS, Stealth, and Combat games.

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