Grand Theft Auto V: The End of Your Social Life

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From the moment the game’s first trailer hit the internet on November 2nd, 2011, anticipation for Rockstar’s next entry in the GTA series started to build. Fans knew that Grand Theft Auto V was coming, at some point, but it was finally on that day that the world got to see just what would be in GTAV, and boy was it exciting.

Grand Theft Auto V officially launched for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on September 17, 2013. GTAV is the fifteenth title in the Grand Theft Auto series, and the first main entry since Grand Theft Auto IV was released back in 2008.

Now that the game has been out for more then a week, and many players have had a chance to put ample time into the game, it’s now that we can make a pretty fair assessment about Grand Theft Auto V. However, before we talk about the game, we must note, all online functionality was not available at the time of this review. Rockstar has promised a constant online world for GTAV, but unfortunately the online portion of the game will not be available until October 1.

Grand Theft Auto V takes players back to the fictional state of San Andreas (based on Southern California), but this time the action is more or less kept in Los Santos (based on Los Angeles). The last time gamers were taken to San Andreas, back in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, we got the chance to not only hit Los Santos up, but we also went to San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Vanturas (Las Vegas). While GTAV has the largest map of any Rockstar developed game, the developers decided to stick with one main city, while giving us plenty of mountains and open areas to visit.

The size of GTAV is incredible. It’s a massive world, which dwarfs Liberty City (GTAIV) and every other Rockstar game before it (like Red Dead Redemption and Bully). You’ll never feel confined by the size of the map, and thankfully Rockstar has put plenty of things to see and do into the game; being bored is not an option here. One thing I loved about being back in Los Santos is it feels familiar. They didn’t keep the exact layout from San Andreas, but once you get into the game and look around, you will get a deja vu feeling and it’s great.

Rather then having a lone single character, like CJ from San Andreas or Niko from GTAIV, this time around you get three characters to play as. Each character has their own look, personality, and attributes to bring to the table. Each character has their own back story as well. Rockstar made sure to make each character their own individual person. Even though you can take each character and do their own thing, collectively, the crew is unstoppable.

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As cool as they come.

Michael De Santa is a retired bank robber in his early forties who lives with his dysfunctional family in Rockford Hills (Beverly Hills). His son is a wannabe gangsta, his wife is sleeping with her tennis coach and his daughter is constantly getting herself in trouble with random men. Michael sees a therapist once a week to deal with his issues, but nothing seems to be working out for him. Once Michael pisses off the wrong crime boss, he’s forced back into his old line of work to make money. All Michael wants is to live a peaceful life, with his money, and have his family not be so messed up; pretty much what everyone in the world wants.

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One crazy son of a….

Trevor Phillips, Michael’s old partner in crime, lives alone out in a trailer in the desert of Blaine County. His psychopathic behaviors are fueled by drug addiction. He’s a loose cannon to say the least, murdering first and asking questions second. Between smoking meth and killing people, Trevor actually has moments of clarity proving that he’s not as dumb as his antics would lead you to believe. Trevor, for all his issues, is a loyal kinda guy and wants nothing more then to make some money and keep his friends alive, even if that means killing people and doing drugs.

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Franklin’s moving on up…

Franklin Clinton, our third and final character, lives in Vespucci Beach (based on Venice Beach). Franklin makes a living as a repo man for an Armenian car dealer, who of course is corrupt. Franklin wants nothing more than to be a legit businessman, or at least his own boss. It’s clear he needs help making this happen, and during the process of car repo, Franklin meets Michael and the two of them strike up a working relationship which eventually grows into a student/teacher relationship. Franklin wants to be his own boss, his own man, and Michael seems to be the only one that can help Franklin make it happen.

Eventually, all three of our characters meet up and work together over their love of money. Each character brings their own special features to the crew. Franklin, for instance, can slow down time while he’s driving, allowing him to maneuver out of tight spots and potentially change the outcome of missions that require driving (which is all of them). Michael can slow down time while on foot, giving him an advantage in a gun fight. Trevor’s special ability is to deal out extra damage, while taking less damage, and he can also perform a unique melee attack when the special meter is activated. These special moves can only be done for a certain amount of time, so it’s not a crutch players can use to beat the game as they’re only here to help when things get ugly.

According to Dan Houser, each of the protagonists is unlike any primary character that has appeared in a Grand Theft Auto title to date: Michael represents a protagonist who “won” and is now trying to adjust to life after his story has come to an end; Trevor is styled after a supporting character who has been re-cast in the role of protagonist; and Franklin is someone who has had no real exposure to a life of crime until the events of the game, and his attempts to avoid such a life that he has been thrust into the middle of.

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Finally, we can skydive again!

The three characters give players very distinct different ways to play through the game, and while you are forced at points to use certain characters, you will eventually open up the ability to switch between the three on the fly. This can be done when you’re just walking around doing random things or in the middle of missions; in fact certain missions implore you to use this feature. It’s great to jump from one guy to another and see what he’s been up to while you’ve been gone.

The voice acting is also top notch, from the main characters to the average people walking down the streets. Rockstar really does bring it when they design a game and populate it with people, and hearing people having their own conversations that aren’t just stock phrases makes it feel like you’re in a real living world.

Some of the new additions to GTAV include the stock market options, buying vehicles like cars and airplanes, as well as modding your weapons. As long as you have the cash lying around to invest in your world, you’ll find plenty of toys at your fingertips.

The stock market options give players a number of options for investing their funds, and some manipulation in the game world can help your stock skyrocket or flat line. This is the easiest way to make big bucks in case you were wondering. Buy into Cluckin Bell, then blow up the Taco stands around town, and watch that stock soar.

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There are plenty of sweet rides to find.

Owning airports and garages is nothing new to GTA, but are a change from GTAIV. San Andreas let you buy property, but not vehicles. This time around, you get to buy property and store all your vehicles there, store-bought or stolen. Also to go with those new rides is the option of customizing your rides. This time it’s more than just for show, like in San Andreas, as the additions can help your car handle better, go faster and take more damage.

Modding your weapons is new to the world of GTA, and it’s a tad odd that Rockstar didn’t bring this feature in sooner. Here you can pimp our your weapons with a silencer, extended mags, flashlights, scopes and more. Want a shotgun with a silencer? Yup, you can make it happen. Also make sure you pick up a parachute and body armor while you’re at the gun shop, you’ll need it.

Activities besides the missions can make or break a GTA game. The last game gave players the chance to go bowling, play darts, pool and a game called Qub3D. This time around, darts is back, and there are some Qub3D machines (but they don’t work), however there’s plenty more to do in Los Santos. Wanna hit the beach and ride your four-wheeler? Do it! Wanna race jet ski’s? That’s available too. Ride the ferris wheel while you’re down at the pier, and the roller coaster, just try not to lose your lunch!

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I think someone’s trying to get into the House of Horror…..

Tennis, Golf, shooting ranges, races, and triathlons litter the world. Each offers hours of entertainment alone. Getting good at each game will help your characters strength, stamina and more. You’re encouraged to do these side activities, to help beef your three characters up. Doing plenty of running, swimming, flying, driving, shooting and fighting will see your stats improve. While you don’t have to improve your characters stats, it will make missions and other events in the game much easier for you. This does give the game a slight RPG feel, and it feels great to upgrade your guys, something you couldn’t do in GTAIV.

Take time off from hitting the links and get some new tattoos, a fresh haircut and new clothes. All of these customization options give players the ability to connect with our three “heroes” in a way we couldn’t in GTAIV. The characters still stand out, but now you can give them your own special touch of personality.

There are plenty of ways to traverse San Andreas. By land in cars, motorcycles, trucks, or by sea in boats, jet ski’s, or maybe you prefer the friendly skies? There’s plenty of planes and helicopters to travel in, all for the taking or buying, depending on your progress in the game. Hell, there’s even a tank you can use to bring the pain down on people!

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Yes, doing this in game is as awesome as it looks here.

The cars control extremely different then they did in Grand Theft Auto IV. The last game did away with the arcade-like feel of the cars that San Andreas had, and replaced them with careful tuning controls. If you didn’t know the car you were driving, you were going to have a bad time. In GTAV, it’s back to the arcade controls for cars. At first, it’s a bit hard to get a grip on the cars after the last game, and it’s easy as hell to wreck into all sorts of traffics and scenery, but once you get it down, you’ll easily blaze around Los Santos without a problem.

The mission structure hasn’t changed from previous GTA games. You still go to places to trigger missions, and this time you have more missions since each character has their missions and then side quests with strangers and freaks. Yes, you will have many missions that require you to drive here, pick up this, drive back, and some will involve shooting people. These are your basic missions, it’s like Mario jumping on the flag pole, it’s normal.

However, there are new missions that require more then just driving and opening fire on people. Certain missions can only be taken when smaller jobs have been pulled off. For instance, early on in the game you’re given the mission of robbing a jewelry store. Before you can actually do the job, you have to get a cover van, and can only do this at a certain time during the day. After you get the van, you have to steal knockout gas, which again has to be done at a certain time.

When everything is in place, you can do the job, but you have to pick your crew and your plan. I personally picked a cheap crew, the payout for them is smaller, and the chances for them to mess up are higher. I also went in quiet, as I didn’t wanna kill anyone and risk losing the merchandise we were stealing. After leaving the job, one of my guys was easily taken down by a cop, so I lost his cut, but because I didn’t have to pay out much to the rest of the crew, and got away without the cops taking all of us down, the overall score was great. On the plus side, the guys who did make it out with me got their stats improved, so they get better while taking their regular cut.

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Excitebike? Who needs Excitebike now?!

It’s these choices that change the way you play the game for the better. You can go back and attempt any mission a second time to try to clear the secondary objectives along with the standard ones as well. You want to get Gold on each mission, because it’s the best rating and you can get achievements/trophies for doing so. It also just adds some meat to the game, giving players a reason to go back time and time again.

The gunplay has seen a massive improvement from the last GTA game. Rockstar used the same shooting mechanic from Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3. Here, shooting is incredibly simple. You can easily dispatch of your enemies, and the flick targeting system works exactly as it should. In GTAIV, it was easy to get killed due to sloppy controls but not this time around.

As gushing as I have been in this review, there are still problems with the game. There’s plenty of glitches, and if you look over YouTube you can see some hilarious ones. I can understand with the size and scope of the game that you can’t catch every glitch, but quite a few of them have been game-breaking. Gamers have lost cars they’ve pimped out and then put in their garage, and yes, this happened to me just before writing up this review. Spending over twenty grand in cash and then losing the car is a pain; fortunately you can reload your save and get the money back, but if you hadn’t saved the game in a long time, you could lose some hours.

Another issue I have with the game is the police and the wanted system. The past games have always thrown plenty of cops at you when you broke the law, and of course the fun was getting a five or six-star wanted level and then trying to escape. It wasn’t impossible to get away from a six star wanted level, but it was always ball busting. Here, a two star wanted level means almost instant death. Seriously, it’s like dealing with an ED 209 when all you did was jay walk. A simple hit and run can spell your demise in Los Santos, and at times it borders on unfair.

While the controls for cars have been improved, in my opinion, the controls for helicopters have been downgraded. In GTAIV, it didn’t take long to master the controls of the helicopter, but with GTAV, the controls are so damn touchy it’s hard to set a course and follow it without spinning around in the air like you’ve been drinking before taking the controls. I do believe however this is something that can be fixed with a patch, but I’m not holding out hope that Rockstar will change it.

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The crew…..

Overall, Grand Theft Auto V delivers on it’s promise of having a living breathing world like no other. Rockstar pretty much created the sandbox genre, and once again it proves that nobody does it better then them. With outstanding graphics, a deep sandbox system to do whatever the heck your sick little brain can dream up, and the promise of a persistent online world, Grand Theft Auto V is clearly the Game of the Year, and the swan song of our current console generation.

There’s so much to see and do, so many missions and activities to complete that I didn’t even cover all of it in this review! Rockstar stepped it up and fixed what was wrong with its past GTA games, and put plenty of new features in to make this puppy the best of the bunch. It’s rare that I give a game a perfect score, but even with its faults, this is easily the best video game from the seventh generation of consoles. Grand Theft Auto V is a must buy.

Rating: 5/5

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Author: Jeremy Nichols

Jeremy Nichols is regular writer for the Place to be Nation, a father of two and a full time gamer. He hosts a video game podcast at VGCE.podomatic.com and loves Super Mario Bros. Sweep the leg! Send Jeremy an email