After years of hype, delays, speculation and anticipation, it’s finally arrived – GTA 5, the latest iteration in Rockstar Games’ seminal open world action series is here!
With a budget of $170 million, Grand Theft Auto 5 is the most expensive game ever produced, and over the next year, over 25 million people are expected to buy it – but can it live up to the weighty expectation?
Our games review team take a long-awaited return to San Andreas (and discover Los Santos) and find out…
Simply put, GTA 5 looks great, and whilst it’s not the absolute best looking game of this generation (although it’s close), it’s still spectacular, especially when you consider the size and scope of the game.
They’ve squeezed every last ounce of power out of this generation’s hardware, and it’s staggering to think about how far the graphics have come from GTA 4, or even that both titles run on the same console. The only downside is that there is a lengthy install of around 8GB before you can start enjoying the game, but it’s well worth the wait!
Character models, vehicles, scenery and buildings have all been significantly improved, whilst little details like the sun rising, and animals roaming the countryside add a sense that San Andreas & Los Santos is a living, breathing world.
The Los Santos roads and motorways are clogged with traffic, hikers enjoy the mountains, and there are sharks in the water – it makes the whole experience feel more authentic than any of the previous titles in the series.
The game world
San Andreas isn’t just beautiful to look at, it’s also incredibly vibrant and detailed. It’s also absolutely huge! To put it into perspective, the map is bigger than GTA San Andreas, GTA 4 and Red Dead Redemption combined, but even that description doesn’t do it justice.
The whole world is open to you from the start – and with no locked areas, terrorist bomb scares, or broken bridges to stop you, you can start enjoying the vast game world straight away.
From underwater exploration, to tennis, golf and even triathlon games (which feel almost as good as standalone titles themselves), to flying planes and driving tanks, the variety and scale is truly staggering, and there’s always something new to keep you entertained.
In fact, the whole game world is so vibrant and interesting, and there are so many places to see and explore, that you could be playing it for years and not see it all. In many ways, the game world itself is the star of the game – it’s the most well rounded, rich and detailed open world setting ever created.
Characters and story
Perhaps the biggest departure for GTA 5 is that, unlike the other games in the series, you’ve got three separate characters to play as this time around – Franklin, the young low-level gangster with ambitions of greatness; Michael, the ex-con gone straight who can’t (and doesn’t really want to) escape his past; and Trevor…the psychotic one (and perhaps the most naturally twisted and violent GTA character ever)!
There’s a sense of life about the characters, who seem happy to get on with their everyday lives whilst you’re not controlling them, helping to add an additional layer of immersion to the game. Switching between them also provides a good way of exploring different sections of the map without taking a lengthy drive!
Switching between the characters couldn’t be easier, and although it takes around 30 seconds (on the Xbox 360 version we tested), the process looks smooth, as the camera zooms out above the game map, before zooming back in on your new characters location.
Story wise, it’s a lot grittier than any of the previous GTA titles. Whilst a recurring theme of GTA stories was that somehow, the characters had been forced or coerced into doing the bad things they do, in GTA 5, things are different.
It’s much more about personal gain, greed and remorseless violence, as the three characters are thrown together as they try to make their fortunes.
Whilst Nico Bellic seemed to be a victim of circumstance, none of the characters in GTAV seem to have any moral compass at all – there is one mission in particular that is bound to have the ethics groups baying for a ban!
One of the only downsides of having three characters is that it is difficult to get invested in them all. Of course, you’ll probably have your favourite, but none of them are particularly well rounded, and we ever felt quite as connected to any of them as we did to Nico Bellic in GTA 4.
Simply put, it’s ridiculous fun, and made all the better by the refinement of several core game mechanics.
Thankfully, driving has undergone a total overhaul, and has been significantly improved from GTA 4, with car handling being both more responsive and more forgiving than its predecessor.
Combat has also been revolutionised, fixing what had been a consistent flaw in the GTA series. Everything feels much more natural, and the game is much better for it. In addition to a new sticky cover system which helps to add a more tactical element to combat, aiming is also much improved, and it’s easier than ever to change weapons in the heat of battle.
Even simple things like moving around the map have been made better, and tripping up and bumping into walls are no longer a huge hazard.
The story centres around six big bank heist missions, as the three characters try to build their wealth.
These turn out to be the most engaging and detailed of the game, and make for some exciting player choices. Each of these missions requires an element of planning, from the hired guns chosen to accompany you, to the getaway vehicles and overall approach.
You can decide to go for the ever-popular ‘Butch Cassidy all guns blazing’ robbery, or take a more tactical methodical approach to your crimes. These choices are a refreshing change from the set piece missions, and enable you to customise the gaming experience.
The bank heists are separated by plenty of the standard set piece style missions found in the previous series, which vary massively in terms of quality, from the simplistic and mundane to the exciting, innovative and very explosive!
Early missions feel a little too familiar, in the worn out tutorial style –introducing you to gameplay mechanics and the games’ different settings. For the seasoned player, they’re unnecessary, but they don’t take a huge amount of time or effort to complete and thankfully, a new check point system means you won’t end up driving half way across the map if you fail at any point.
Whilst the main story arch is very entertaining, as with other games in the series, you’ll probably have the most fun just exploring Los Santos and San Andreas itself, and having your own adventures.
GTA 5 is a huge game, and we’ve barely scratched the surface in this review.
We could have talked about the fantastic selection of vehicles (quad bikes, planes, tanks, submarines!), the immersive radio stations, or the underwater exploration. We could even have gone into the trademark humour, or the upcoming online multiplayer (launching October 1st), but we’ve run out of time.
Suffice to say they are all great, as you’ll undoubtedly discover soon.
So should you buy it?
Yes, 1000 times Yes! GTA 5 really is a work of pure genius, and nothing we could say here would do it real justice. Whilst it’s not perfect, it is a spectacular piece of gaming art, and set to go down as one of the best games ever made.
It’s fair to say that it will probably affect your productivity and personal relationships for the next few weeks, and if you’ve got anything important to do, we’d suggest doing it before you buy GTA 5!
In our opinion, GTAV isn’t just a great game, it is the best game in the Grand Theft Auto series, the defining game of this generation, and a fitting swansong for the Xbox 360 and PS3. It’s everything we hoped for and more, and the absolute pinnacle of the open world genre.
So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t already bought it, head over to Xpango to pick up your GTA 5, then get it ordered now!