Great, But Not Perfect
A video game review of: Grand Theft Auto 5
By: Lawrence Napoli
Let’s face facts. GTA5 is the frontrunner for 2013’s Game of the Year, and why not? First, it’s GTA, and its release means a cultural event far greater than the annual installment of CoD yielding plenty of media coverage showing kids craving ultra-violent entertainment, clueless parents acting shocked over “youthful corruption,” and plenty of knuckleheads out there acting out real world violence in the name of the game. Second, despite a number of excellent games in rotation right now like BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us, the hype for GTA5 has made many a gamer instantly set everything else aside to give this game its due. Third, we must recognize the sales, as in over $1 Billion dollars in three days, which cannot be ignored for any reason. Fourth, the game is, simply put, very good and very entertaining. Yes, GTA5 meets much of the hype by providing some of the most adult centric and intellectually stimulating content that Rockstar has delivered via this game series yet. No, this game will not make you a board member of Mensa, but the husky layers of social commentary regarding the state of the Western World are pretty thought provoking should the gamer take a brief hiatus from digital homicide and hooker beatings to read between the lines.
This is easily the prettiest looking installment of GTA to date. Colors are vibrant, nightscapes are sleek, vehicles are exquisite and character models (specifically facial animation) are super smooth. The world of Los Santos is more alive than it’s ever been. I’ve not seen more detail in such an extensive sandbox game that one could literally donate hours of gameplay to simply walking around and taking in the views. The only thing that doesn’t look incredibly awesome in this game is the NPC population, which is totally justifiable seeing how you will be pulling them out of their cars, running them over, busting a cap in their *ss and subjecting them to various other nefarious activities that giving them all the same level of detail as the three protagonists (Franklin, Michael and Trevor) would be counter-productive. The whole environment is beautiful whether you’re hanging out in the countryside, driving around the city, parachuting from planes or deep sea diving.
Gameplay: Mixed Bag
Rockstar made a big deal about talking about how every control element of GTA5 would be a vast improvement over its much maligned predecessor. If such a thing existed, I certainly did not notice it. The fact of the matter is that the player’s avatar still moves like a tank while walking and running with virtually no lateral movement or ability to change course without throwing the camera angle for a loop. Snapping your character in and out of cover can be very frustrating if you aren’t ducking behind a flat surface. You’ll think you’ve pressed the button to get into cover, but the avatar does nothing because you aren’t close enough to an “appropriate” surface. I noticed a slight improvement in the targeting, but using the aim assist option can sometimes make your character target something your own eyes weren’t tracking at the time; true veterans will go to work without it. Driving also seems more forgiving as taking bumps from traffic and the environment at modest speeds will no longer send your vehicle into a somersault, but that does not apply to pushing super cars to their max speeds and trying to handle corners without a healthy application of the hand and regular brakes in tandem. Flying helicopters is much more user friendly, albeit an acquired skill to engage in smoother flights, but even errant waggles on the analog sticks will not send the vehicle careening into the closest skyscraper instantly. Flying planes is very fun (especially the fighter jet!), but landing them is a whole different story: practice makes perfect and take it VERY slow.
I loved and I mean LOVED the heist (or significant job) planning mechanic and mission based execution. Unfortunately, this isn’t used nearly as much as what the advertising for this game made it appear to be, and it pays out for your characters even less. The first moment for the player to experience this occurs fairly early in the game via the diamond heist, and it’s a bit of a red herring because it is extremely fun to set it up and execute, but the player will see this perfect balance of missions and rewards rarely before the story ends. I thought we were a crew of professionals taking scores like in Michael Mann’s Heat. Shouldn’t we be pulling more jobs than random BS chores from “strangers and freaks” that pay out precisely zilch?
Functionality: Needs Patching
This is one of the biggest games, data-wise, that this counsel generation has been asked to digest, and as we enter only the second week of this game’s release, the gaming community is noticing a lot of issues. GTA5 is apparently making Xbox 360’s made prior to 2008 work too hard, forcing the game to crash fairly often. Players are noticing that vehicles stored in safe house garages and aircraft hangers will be erased spontaneously while progressing to story missions that instantly transport characters to a specific vehicle. I’ve personally run into several instances of the environment needing a few seconds to render back to normal fidelity upon exiting “skipped” taxi rides, which always makes me think the game is ready to crash before I get a chance to save my progress. Side missions seem to have an in-game shelf life as I’ve purposely put off doing some due to my increased interest in the story’s progression only to find side mission icons in the map to disappear permanently. That’s not to say all of the programming quirks are all bad. The very popular infinite money glitch involving sea exploration and swapping between two characters to reload money bags is a great way to acquire millions in the early game when money is fairly scarce.
I fully appreciate Rockstar’s desire to cram so much data into machines that almost need to over perform to get the job done, but giving them a complete pass on some of these significant issues is a mistake. I’m sure they will fix these issues in due time. My bet is a massive patch will come when we all download the GTA Online expansion next week.
Story: Immersive journey with a lackluster ending
If anyone had any apprehension about splitting this GTA narrative into the trials and tribulations of three characters coming from completely different backgrounds, I will have you know that this presentation is fresh, gives the player a greater feeling of control, and made me feel like I was actually forming an in-game GTA crew on par with any other faction in the game. A one man army against a world of opposition can only work for so long, and seeing how GTA5 is trending towards slightly more realism than a series like Saints Row is concerned with, being successful at taking scores requires being a member of a capable crew. The story doesn’t hang around any one character for too long as each one is fully fleshed out as an individual, but their balance and interplay as a group allows the player empathize with them all on a different level. My personal favorite is Franklin, despite Michael’s experience and Trevor’s crazy shenanigans.
Unfortunately, the ending of such an involved journey that GTA5 delivers is anti-climactic at best. There is a direct element of player choice that will determine three very different outcomes to the narrative, but in my opinion, there’s really only one option and I’ll leave that to the reader. The final sequence of missions is varied, interesting and filled with action, but the story leaves you (figuratively AND literally) at the side of a cliff left wondering, “That’s it?” Other games this year have delivered much more drama, but no one has been able to knock the ending out of the park.
Conclusion: Must-buy for adults. Parents beware. Peaks and valleys, despite the beauty. Budgets for many games seem to be spiraling out of control as every developer and publisher is going for AAA, Game of the Year money without having the staff, facilities and vision to produce such a product. This doesn’t apply to Take-Two and Rockstar as they have created another gem of a video game, but considering the time and money that went into this game’s development, anything less than what GTA5 is, would not be acceptable. I say this without factoring in any aspect of the online segment of this game as it’s yet to be released. Running around with an actual crew of your own buddies, online in the world of GTA has been a dream for many gamers and what seems to await us all on October 1 experience. But we don’t know quite yet what will be involved beyond the availability of “hundreds” of missions and micro transactions paving the way.
GTA5 really pushes the limit of the M-rating for video games as the excessive violence, pervasive nudity and relentless vulgarity are upstaged by the sheer adult content of the story and being able to understand why these characters are driven to the behavior they choose to engage in. Kids that are getting their mothers and grandmothers to buy this game for them should not be playing this because it’s much more involved than Call of Duty shooting. I say this because parents need to get smarter than their kids in regards to these kinds of games and because I don’t want these brats fouling up my online gameplay. Just kidding, but seriously, I don’t believe that video games turn kids into sociopaths, but immature people exposed to this kind of game without guidance might have their world outlook altered in unhealthy ways. Kids will find a way to play GTA5. It’s a fact. Parents need to be there for their kids to talk about it.
GTA5 is an excellent game that’s actually worthy of the $59.99 price point for a brand new copy, but by no means is it a “perfect” game. If I had to sum up its number one weakness (beyond the technical) it would be the restrictive controls and “feel” of the game, which is vintage Rockstar. Sure, the main characters are the furthest thing from trained ninjas, but I would have appreciated more precision to the overall control scheme. I also would have liked bank heists or high end robberies to be a larger presence throughout the game. I don’t think Rockstar would be concerned with stepping on the toes of a game like Payday 2, but as the player’s trio of protagonists attracts more heat, they aren’t exactly seeing the high reward for their high risk which results in fewer dollars to spend on stocks, property, vehicles and weapons to have even more fun with. Despite it all, GTA5 is just too much fun to pass on and the potential of GTA Online is as high as the sky, so my only recommendation to appropriate audiences is to pick this game up ASAP. Please, game responsibly.