Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V

The Grand Theft Auto franchise might be the most lauded, yet also the most divisive of all time. GTA V is no exception to the precedent. Any game where you play as a criminal and earn points by breaking the law is going to come under scrutiny. Yet Rockstar has, so far, balanced the aggressive (and sometimes psychopathic) aspects of its anti-hero protagonists with enough back story and supporting cast that players feel at ease. Even when mowing down pedestrians or murdering people on the flimsiest of pretenses.

This time around we have three characters, and the ability to jump between them. Each brings something different to the overall story while maintaining secondary storylines of their own. One question for me to answer, then, was "could Rockstar pull this off or would it be a mess?"

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GTA V has been hyped to the point of breaking in the lead up to release. The heavy NDA from Rockstar I had to sign before reviewing it only added the excitement for me. [Note that part of the NDA required that my PS3 was not connected to any online aspects of the game].

This is a lengthy review so if you want a tl;dr.... this game is good.

The gang’s all here
The main crew is made up of three very different characters: Franklin, the gangbanger from Grove Street who dreams of doing more than just hustling; Michael, the former criminal who is living a comfortable life he’s not comfortable with; and Trevor, the meth cooking, gun-running psychopath and all round dangerous person.

The writers have done a masterful job of blending these three character’s stories together. In a spoiler free version: Franklin comes to Michael for “career” advice, after the two meet during one of Franklin’s repo jobs, while Michael and Trevor are old acquaintances from Michael’s criminal days.

For the most part, each character is played separately. You roam around the city doing character-specific missions (denoted by colour, eg. Franklin missions are green) or just general shooting, driving, and the usual GTA gameplay. To switch between characters, you hold down on the d-pad and then use the right stick to chose a character when the character wheel pops up. On the wheel you’ll see the character’s portraits and a number telling you how many missions they have available (more on the missions later.)

When you switch, the camera changes to a top down view of your current character, which then zooms out, Google Map-style, before moving to where your new character is and then zooming in again. The character you change to may not be where you left them. They may have also changed their clothes and might sometimes be in the middle of a conversation or altercation, but there will always be a very short animation or dialogue to lead you in. This means that, every time you change characters, it feels like the story is progressing and that the others haven’t just been frozen in time waiting for you to return to them.

Holding down on the d-pad also shows you each character’s ability levels. There are a number of abilities like driving, flying, stamina, lung capacity, etc, and all of them can be increased by performing tasks in those areas. For example, hitting top speed in a car, making narrow misses, and pulling off stunts will increase your driving skill, while headshots and taking on the Ammunation shooting range will increase your shooting skill.

Each character starts with different strengths. Franklin, for example, is the driver, while Trevor is a pilot and Michael is a shooter. Their strengths are somewhat reflected in each character’s special ability. Clicking both thumbsticks activates their special ability. For Franklin, time slows while he’s driving and suddenly his car is incredibly agile, allowing you to dance it through even the trickiest situations. Michael can slow down time in a gunfight, giving him Max Payne-esque gun control. Trevor also has a gunfight ability (no, not a flying one); when activated, he deals double damage and takes only half.

These special abilities aren’t unlimited, naturally. In the bottom right, below the minimap and next to the green health and blue armour bars, is the yellow ability bar. It drains the longer you use your ability. You fill it back up in the same way you gain experience in your regular abilities. It’s a good idea to remember you have these abilities - often I found myself about to die before remembering “oh wait, I can slow down time and waste these guys.”

It’s important to upgrade the regular abilities when you can too. Early on I managed to steal a police helicopter by climbing Franklin onto the the roof of the police station. Franklin’s flying ability was terrible, though, and I had to land the helicopter after a few minutes because I was getting seasick watching the screen constantly bobbing erratically as the ‘copter ducked and dived around.

As with previous games the, characters’ looks are customisable. After Franklin’s intro mission his friend Lamar tells him to go get a haircut, so I did. Franklin walked in looking fresh-faced and came out looking like Ice Cube. Gangsta.

Your options for customisation are fairly limited. There’s a few different clothing stores and tattoo parlours, but they don’t offer too much variation. The chance to wear suits is pretty cool though, so you can feel like an upmarket criminal. Gangster.

The supporting cast in all of the GTA games are as important as the leads.

To start with there’s Michael’s family: his wife who hates him, his daughter who is obsessed with fame, and his whiny privileged son who is the embodiment of every asshole you meet in online gaming. Michael’s relationship with his family forms the basis for much of his story but also it weaves into the other character’s narratives as well. Trevor, for example, knew Michael before Los Santos and seems to want Michael's family for his own. Michael’s Soprano-esque trips to his psychologist (who looks remarkably like the late Alan Arbus from M*A*S*H) give us more depth to Michael as he vents his inner demons and lets us know his motivations for what he’s doing. In a nice move these visits to the shrink don’t turn into missions (caveat: after a weekend of playing I’m still not 100% through the story) but they do cost you money.

Franklin is dealing with the hood keeping him down. His attempts to improve his life, by committing higher paying crimes, are derided by his friends and relatives, who say he needs to stay true to his roots. And so from this sense of duty he helps them out. From his best friend Lamar to the meth head wife of his cousin, Franklin is the guy who runs around doing odd jobs for everyone. And while the pay is better, he’s essentially doing the same thing when he joins up with Michael.

Trevor seems to be the only character who is on top of his life. He controls his meth empire by keeping everyone in his vicinity in a state of terror. His best friends Ron, a conspiracy nut, and Wade, a brain dead Juggalo - are actually more servants, too scared to not follow Trevor’s insane plans. I will admit that it took me a long time to warm to Trevor because his redeeming features (and every anti-hero needs redeeming features) are few and very far between.

Continue reading on page 2.


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Comments Comments (31)

Posted by Sam
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 7:15 AM
Awesome review, looks like I will have to get it
Posted by fifamessi
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 7:21 AM
Have only played over an hour or so but was really happy with it, hope it continues that way. Great review.
Posted by rocketman12
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 8:03 AM
The 1 must have game this year, can't wait to play it.
Posted by phantom
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 8:10 AM
Already been outside to check the letterbox, lest the courier had been while I slept. Come onnnn courier man D:
Posted by wharekura
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 8:27 AM
Brilliant review. My kid wanted to play COD BlackOpsII and after seeing how violent it is (cutting throats?!) I took the game off him. And your warnings on this game are welcomed. Now when I get to play this I have to ensure no prying eyes over the couch.
Posted by Mach1_9pants
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 9:44 AM
Bring it out on PC and I am there!
Posted by flex
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 10:30 AM
Do you have to install some of the game onto the XBOX hard drive?
Posted by deadlyraver
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 11:19 AM
oh god ive been sitting here staring at this mighty ape package for like 2 hours waiting for my brother to get home.
Posted by hadyngreen
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 12:18 PM
17 September 2013, 10:30 AM Reply to flex
Do you have to install some of the game onto the XBOX hard drive?
This was on PS3 but I'm guessing so. There was about an 8GB install from the disc.
Posted by Vicx
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 12:23 PM
I must ask, is it better than The Last Of Us?
Posted by Deanology
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 5:31 PM
That is a pretty high rating there..
I may have to get this after all.
Posted by joshdrought
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 8:52 PM
have played a bit game is seriously cool but has a few flaws that i hope get a later fix as this game is a solid contender for GOTY
Posted by thegr8link
On Tuesday 17 Sep 2013 9:15 PM
17 September 2013, 10:30 AM Reply to flex
Do you have to install some of the game onto the XBOX hard drive?
Yes, I read on IGN that there are 2 discs for 360, but Rockstar recommends NOT installing the 2nd disc on your hard drive as it can cause issues.
Posted by Bank
On Wednesday 18 Sep 2013 1:26 AM
GTAIV was the first game I played on PS3 in 2008 and first Platinum soon after - loved it. Feels like I'm truly obligated to get this.

But it's just not on my super-must haves until I see really good price. I still have 40 games in the backlog (PS+) and need to give love to all the Japanese goodness I'm swamped in these days :'(

Dw GTA I'll pick you up instead of the PS4. Still waiting for that shiny bundle Sony.

Good review NZGamer, much better than the sadness that was the Puppeteer review...
Posted by kiwibadboy
On Wednesday 18 Sep 2013 10:23 AM
What a review! Shot NZG
Posted by phantom
On Wednesday 18 Sep 2013 10:29 AM
17 September 2013, 09:15 PM Reply to thegr8link
Yes, I read on IGN that there are 2 discs for 360, but Rockstar recommends NOT installing the 2nd disc on your hard drive as it can cause issues.
You have to install the contents from the first disk (it's even called the "install" disk), which is around 7.8GB. The game then runs from the "play" disk. Some people were then exiting the game and using the Xbox dashboard to install the "play" disk onto the hard disk (which you can do with any game, as far as I know) but doing so will cause problems with GTAV because of the way it streams content from both the hard disk and the DVD at the same time. If all of that content is on the same device (i.e. the hard disk), the console will be seeking constantly between different locations on the drive which is slow and results in graphical problems in the game.
Posted by Ron
On Wednesday 18 Sep 2013 10:42 AM
Still yet to play over an hour so far with a bunch of work stuff on. Maybe tonight?
Posted by ademorg
On Thursday 19 Sep 2013 6:51 PM
Just brought this. So hanging out for kids to go to bed so I can play it.
Posted by SlamPunk
On Thursday 19 Sep 2013 9:24 PM
Anyone want to join a New Zealand GTAV Online Crew?
NZ Elite (unique 4-digit tag: 1337)

Welcome to join now! :)
Posted by atipuss
On Thursday 19 Sep 2013 11:09 PM
Great review :) definitely r18 stuff!!
Posted by PE0PLEKN0WME
On Friday 20 Sep 2013 7:38 AM
This Game really has it all, everynight I find myself smiling at something new I have found, if you haven't got it you are missing out!! Great Story and Classy characters.... That Trevor is Comedy GOLD!
Posted by Winger Gee
On Friday 20 Sep 2013 7:10 PM
Never cobsidered GTA before but its looking more and more like an adventure worth taking.
Posted by Bappernz
On Friday 20 Sep 2013 7:35 PM
after reading this definitely time to pick the game up
Posted by PE0PLEKN0WME
On Saturday 21 Sep 2013 3:08 PM
20 September 2013, 07:10 PM Reply to Winger Gee
Never cobsidered GTA before but its looking more and more like an adventure worth taking.
Its never to late to dip into GTA, this is so much better then any other so you shouldn't be dissapointed.
Posted by KatalystaKaos
On Sunday 22 Sep 2013 6:15 PM
Its a great game no doubt, has hit me with that sense of awe and amazement GTA:SA did but very impressive non the less.

On a another note, I wonder if R* will release this on next gen consoles in a few months time, I know nothing has been said to this affect, infact quite the opposite(possibly to maximise sales at the games launch), and then no mention has been made of a PC version as yet either. There can be no doubting when parked overlooking the landscapes that this iteration of the State of San Andreas would come to life with even more gusto when powered by next gen tech. My fingers are crossed that this does happen, and doubly so that all my progress on the PS3 version could be transferred across to PS4......
Posted by nFusion
On Monday 23 Sep 2013 9:26 AM
Yeah great review guys.

This game is everything it was hyped up to be, and more!

The shear size of the map, game content and 3-person story-lines seamlessly gel together so well.
For a game that cost $150mil it certainly lives up to expectations. And to think it's already grossed well over a billion dollars. That's more than most blockbuster movies!
Posted by jtbthatsme
On Monday 23 Sep 2013 10:24 AM
Looking forward to getting my handss on this game. Great review too.
Posted by Tzeit
On Tuesday 24 Sep 2013 9:00 PM
CJ is still my favourite GTA lead to this day. We'll have to see how this one stacks up.
Posted by democracy_savvy
On Friday 27 Sep 2013 5:57 PM
17 September 2013, 09:15 PM Reply to thegr8link
Yes, I read on IGN that there are 2 discs for 360, but Rockstar recommends NOT installing the 2nd disc on your hard drive as it can cause issues.
I've installed both discs and haven't come across any problems at all.
Posted by L40cal
On Monday 4 Nov 2013 3:31 PM
Awesome review for an awesome game
Posted by milandulovic
On Friday 11 Apr 2014 6:09 PM
saving my hard earned survey money to get this game