There’s no turmoil as the one surrounding the release of a new Grand Theft Auto game. All the moral and political implications of a series that has shaped the gaming world for years, setting the bar with new concepts and bold efforts. But what really matters right now, in this place, is the real, true valor of a videogame.
Rockstar Games is well known for projects at the same level as an Hollywood production, both in scale and in ambition. This time the series comes back to San Andreas, to the city of Los Santos to be specific; leaving behind San Fierro and Las Venturas of the previous title. There are three playable characters, you can change between them at any given moment during the free-roam of the city or during missions where there are two or all of them. Each protagonist has his own personality and specific field of expertise. This has a resonance on their specific abilities. Michael can slow down time in the middle of a gunfight, Franklin can slow down time and twist physics laws when driving a vehicle to perform insane getaways and Trevor is the crazy lunatic who doesn’t feel any bullet or injury as long as his ability is active.
The story revolves around bad decisions and the past always coming back to bite your butt. In an attempt to bring back a false sense of peace, the three different characters will find themselves in various situations revolving around two government agencies, mexican drug dealers, hollow celebrities, corrupted agents and plain stupid and empty rich men. Add to that some heists to finance the all circus. Between missions you are able to navigate Los Santos, a city vividly resembling Los Angeles, a believable city, full of people and activities. The level of detail is overwhelming and the city feels alive, populated, in motion. The streets are full of traffic, the pedestrians argue with each other and they will react to your every action; calling the police if they see you commit a felony.
You can drive cars, ride motorbikes, learn to fly planes and helicopters, ride jet-skis and sail boats. You can do base jumping from the buildings or fly an helicopter as high as you want and launch with a parachute. If you can come up with some activity or a new extreme sport it’s quite possible you can perform it in-game. Ride a bike to the top of Mount Chiliad, drive it off a cliff, do a few backflips and then open your parachute to safely land after a spectacular fall. If you want a more relaxed sport you can play golf, tennis or darts; you can perform yoga or participate in a triathlon. Or you can search the streets for familiar places like Rockford Hills/Beverly Hills, the Vinewood/Hollywood sign; which you can freely climb to the top. In every mission, every activity, every dialogue you can hear a satirical take on modern society, from social networks, to reality shows, to fake celebrities, to government behavior. The more they exaggerate, the more they go off the lines, the more you realize how much it is all too close to our reality.
The gameplay is fluid and addictive. You can build your personal empire of safehouses, garages, hangars, heliports, naval docks and various businesses; from theaters to strip clubs to golf clubs. The shooting mechanic is exactly like the one in Red Dead Redemption, one button to take cover, and a semi-automatic aim system that will stick the cursor on the chest area of the nearest enemy. If you want to perform headshots you take aim, flick the right stick up to move the cursor and it will be on the level of the enemy’s head. If you played Red Dead Redemption you are used to it; if not you will find yourself right at home and comfortable with the system after the first shooting. You can disable the semi-automatic targeting system and use a completely manual one but I suggest you don’t do it. The movement of the camera is not precise enough and too responsive to the movements of the stick and the health bar drains really fast when you’re out in the open, leaving you with no time to refine your aim. Driving normal vehicles brings no problems, the only thing that annoys me are the flight controls. Every jet, airplane, and mostly helicopters, can’t stay put in a straight direction. There is turbulence simulation but apparently the wind is restless and always present. While flying around you will be constantly adjusting your alignment and when missions require you to follow someone, or fly under bridges, or hover steady on something some lose of control and frustration may ensue.
As of cars and bikes, if you don’t want to commit a grand theft auto, every protagonist has its own specific vehicle. This time you can’t lose it if you destroy it or leave it behind. It will respawn at your safehouse, same thing will happen if you’re using a generic vehicle and you leave it for a mission or to enter a shop. When the cutscene ends in a mission or when you leave a building you’ll find your last used vehicle waiting. Remember the old times when you had to search for a vehicle after a mission briefing? Those times are now gone. It’s all about fluidity. But there’s always the problem of your garage resetting and you losing any vehicle you parked inside. To start a mission the camera will switch to a cinematic angle, moving from behind your character or above your car into a cutscene; just like what we’ve seen in Max Payne 3. There are no in-game loading screens, even when you switch characters the camera will fly over the city to find the next one. And when you come back to the one you left you’ll find him in a different situation from the previous one, like watching TV, boozing away his sorrows, or taking a walk down the pier. The presentation is tuned exactly to transmit a sense of a living world, and it works perfectly. When you’re in a car and your character is talking with an NPC if you stop the vehicle and zoom the camera you can see there’s actually a discussion going on, fully animated and lip-synched.
The story revolves around personalized missions for every protagonist, and shared missions for heists, where you’ll need to decide an approach, choose a team and then get the right resources. When you’re choosing your team make sure to get all the best teammates available. They will cost a little bit more but they won’t screw it up. One time I made economy on the driver, he brought us superbikes when we needed off-road motorbikes and one of the crew crashed during the getaway and I had to leave one million dollars behind with him. Better to pay a few more bucks for the best available. After all it is funny to see how both great and bad ideas work out. I only wish there would be more heists.
The story flows smoothly, every one is connected to one another. There are so many different individuals that will interact with you, give you missions, coerce you to do something. And the fact that the game throws at you the funniest activities and scenarios you can possibly imagine makes you crave for more; to see what’s next. As every Grand Theft Auto game true to his name there are hidden collectibles all over the map. Hidden letters to solve the murder of a young starlet murdered in the 70s, spaceship’s parts to unlock a special low-gravity vehicle and of course crazy stunts to perform with your car or your motorbike.
Grand Theft Auto V has everything you could ask to an open-world game: a breathing city, believable and fully explorable, an engaging and articulated story, three different playable characters, every possible vehicle and aircraft to drive, from submarines to jet-planes and everything in between. You can even shoot hipsters in the face in a specific Trevor mission. With all the main story missions, side activities, side missions, sports you will always be driving, flying, walking to explore, discover and simply push the boundaries of a title that has been developed exactly for this reason.
+ A perfectly designed city to fully explore
+ An engaging and diversified story with three different characters
+ An insane amount of different activities to perform