Is this just a re-skinned “San Andreas”?
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is my favourite in the series. The story and characters were great, and the city was massive without any single load times (for the exteriors anyways). It was and still is a technological achievement this many years later, even if characters’ hands still look a bit creepy. Fundamentally, San Andreas was everything I wanted from games since I first started playing.
With Grand Theft Auto V we move back to the one true Sin City and my first thought when the game was announced: is this just a remastered version of San Andreas. Short answer: not at all. This was both a welcome relief and a bit of a bummer. Most of the game mechanics from San Andreas are not there. Sure, I thought the random gang attacks and need to eat were a bit annoying after a while but it fit within the overall flavour of the game. In many ways, GTA V feels like a step backwards for the franchise despite its undeniable technological beauty.
GTA V is smaller than its predecessor, yet far more dense with plenty to see and do. Its size is still rather massive and can take 10-15 minutes to drive through (depending on your car and concern for obeying the law). There are plenty of mini games, side quests and ephemera to dabble in. Some random events do occur which add to the variety of gameplay. There are a few events which have you encounter old friends from Liberty City, and in most cases the people can be used during your heists throughout the game.
“In many ways, GTA V feels like a step backwards for the franchise despite its undeniable technological beauty.”
Heists are perhaps the most entertaining aspect of this fifth outing. As the name suggests, you get to plan and stage a number of dramatic heists throughout the game. Not all of them are massive (although breaking into the IAA building is still a favourite) but most require extensive planning and prerequisites before you can launch the heist. For example, the jewelry store heist early on requires you to recon the area first before deciding the best way to attack. You also get to choose your people to tag along with you which can help or hinder your success depending on how good they are. It is an interesting mechanic which feels quite organic to the story and can be interesting to try a few things differently on another play through.
The story itself feels rather straightforward, though not as good as San Andreas or even GTA IV. The most interesting thing is having three main characters to play. At first, this seemed more of a gimmick which was not going to work. Yet after playing this game I felt equally connected to all three characters and switching between them made sense within the story, never feeling forced or unneccessary. In many cases you have the option of chosing one character over another if you prefer to play part of the mission as them instead. Depending on your choice, you get different perspectives and conversations throughout the mission which adds to the character dynamics as well as being a nice detail.
I certainly felt Trevor was a favourite (especially those Canadian jokes) with Franklin being the most normal of the trio, while Michael was relatable yet always self-loathing. None of these characters though are paragons of virtue, rather paragons of vice and corruption. This does not give the message of “it’s good being bad” but instead “people can be horrible”.
One exception here is when it comes to torturing a poor guy to progress through the mission. You do it as Trevor, who takes to it quite naturally, so it fits within his character. Yet you do end up getting information out of the guy so Michael can shoot some other random person. You never know who these guys are, you just do what you are told to go to the next level. I am not sure if there is supposed to be social commentary to this or what the point is forcing the player to commit an act of torture (granted, this is just a game). Yet I felt quite unsettled about this particular quest (the endless violence and murder of hundreds of other people does not seem to faze me apparently). Another incident happens with Trevor who does not take too kindly to some of his flatmates’ attitudes and handles the situation as only Trevor can. Again, this fits within the character but it still felt wrong and pointless to have it happen. These are minor gripes though and do not ruin the overall experience.
We also get to experience Grand Theft Auto Online which allows us to explore the entire GTA V world within a multiplayer arena. I was pretty impressed with this side of the package as I do not usually enjoy multiplayer games. Yet there is so much content here you can enjoy by yourself or engage in many of the other worthwhile group events. Another aspect I enjoyed was the level of rivalry which could develop between players. One particular player and I ended-up with a rivalry against one another because I tried to steal a car as part of a random event. I stole it first, he killed me, I killed him then I drove it into the ocean so no one could have it. He did not take too kindly to this and was set on hunting me down, which I did likewise. It was fun, and the game reminds me if he is in the same instance so we can go at it again.
“Grand Theft Auto V is everything and more than I expected it to be. It is simply a thing of beauty to see what digital interactive entertainment is capable of.”
Rockstar has continued to update the online content, which also updates the content within the single player game, since launch with numerous events and content made regularly available. You can lose dozens of hours playing the online side on top of the 100 or so hours you can play on the single player alone.
Grand Theft Auto V is everything and more than I expected it to be. There is so much content here and the it is simply a thing of beauty to see what digital interactive entertainment is capable of. Yet I did feel a little disappointed with the game. Perhaps it is because of the ridiculous expectations put on such an IP.
However, I think the biggest reason is because PC users like me had to wait so damn long for the game to come out on our platform of choice. Nearly two years! By the time we got to play you knew so much about it already and had to play catch-up with the rest of the gamers. Despite being considered the best version (it even introduced an amazing first-person perspective which has superb attention to detail), the PC was the last platform to get the game. Rockstar said they wanted to take the extra time to make the PC the best there was, which I think they succeeded. So in one sense, you feel short-changed for having to wait so damn long. Yet in another sense console users could feel equally short-changed having to play a supposedly inferior version. Regardless, I did not enjoy having to wait so long for this game (even though it worked much better out-of-the-box than GTA IV ever did after two years).
Those concerns notwithstanding, what a game!
So, is this Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Remastered? No, it is a completely different game set in the same place but looks so different (although it was nice to see many recognisable landmarks from San Andreas). GTA V is full of content, an entertaining story with a unique (albeit corrupt) cast of characters. Not sure if it was worth the long wait to the PC, but it is definitely a game worth having in your collection.