Ambitious is a word I would use to describe this game but does that mean that GTA5 is a masterpiece? Lets find out.
It’s been a while since the last GTA game and in that time Rockstar has produced 2 gems in Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3. Here are 2 games, that while very different, went in a more mature route when compared to the GTA franchise. Not to say that they didn’t have their fair share of over the top moments but at their core they were gripping stories that packed a punch and made me actually care about what happens to almost everybody involved. Story wise I think GTA5 has failed to progress in that direction and if anything it has taken a step back in terms of story. The biggest problem is that the main character, Michael, is sooooooo unlikeable that it’s hard to root for him. Michael is an ex heist man who has been in hiding and trying play family man. Well he eventually gets pulled back into the heist game and falls victim to his old ways. This is where I have the biggest problem with him. The way he gets pulled back into the heist game is so stupid that I found myself shaking my head and thinking “thats it?”. He’s supposed to be this family man now who loves his family and will do anything to protect them. Two problems though. One, he absolutely did not have his families interest at heart when he did what did to get back in the game. It’s a selfish move made by a selfish man who thinks only of himself. Two, his family is made up of 3 of the most spoiled and unlikeable people on the face of the earth even if it is just fiction and a video game. At one point he’s trying to save his son from a boat sale gone wrong that leads to a high speed freeway chase. I actually wanted his son to die and this was the first time we had really got to know him. His wife and daughter are no better either. Each of them are spoiled and whoreish. Sounds harsh I know, but good lord. I was really hoping for a family I could pull for and want to see come out ahead but in the end I just didn’t give a flip what happened to any of them. Because of this I often felt that Michael’s missions or story had no weight to them. I had no problem putting him or his family in harms way.
Early on in the game we get to meet Franklin who has his sights set on getting out of “the hood” and is done with his life as a low level hustler. His grand idea to escape the hood and it’s life of crime is to…….go into a bigger life of crime by pretty much being Michael’s lap dog. For no real reason other being in the wrong place at the right time these characters, Franklin and Michael, join forces and Michael somewhat offers to teach Franklin the ropes. Franklin isn’t that great of a character as he’s really under developed. I found that his friend Lamar was a much better character then Franklin mainly because he knows his place in this world. Franklin just felt like he was part of the game so we could have a reason to get glimpse at life in the hood and so Rockstar would have a third character for their “Character Wheel” which I’ll get into in a bit.
That leaves me with one final piece to this puzzle. Trevor. Oooohhhh Trevor. This is one of the most sick and twisted characters I’ve seen in a movie or game but yet for some reason he’s the only one I really cared about in GTA5. Sure he’s a pure sociopath but at his basic core his fundamentals and approach to life are the most pure of the 3 and when he and Michael come to a fork in the road in their long standing relationship I actually felt some sympathy for him. The problem is that a little bit of Trevor goes a long way and because of that you can’t really base a game around him. It’s a shame for sure because he is such a delight in a dark and seedy kind of way.
In the end the main campaign just isn’t that thrilling, compelling, or interesting in terms of it’s narrative, characters, or overall story. To be honest I felt like it was to close to the story of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men in which you have an ex con trying to do right by his family who gets pulled back into a life of crime and he has a whacky psycho partner. I think Rockstar took a step back here in terms of storytelling when compared to their last 2 releases, RDR and MP3, where they seemed to be going down a path of maturity in terms of the way a story is delivered. I think they missed a huge opportunity here to create a true crime drama in the likes of HEAT or Reservoir Dogs. The structure is there for it especially when you are asked to pull off a major heist and you get to plan everything. You can pick your crew, decide if you want to take the sneaky way in or go guns blazing, and then set the plan into motion. Each one of the heists pays off in a big way, offers a good bit of variety, and more often than not you will feel a great rush from pulling off said heist. I just wish that they were featured more throughout the game is all.
Even if the main story falls a bit flat and this being a GTA game one should come to expect that there is plenty to when you are not focusing on the main story line. Not much has changed in terms of what to expect from GTA5 when it comes to how you spend your free time. It’s still the same old open world sandbox of mayhem and if you can think it you can usually do it. For the most part this is where the game truly shines but there are a few exceptions here and there. I found that some of the mini games to be more of a chore than anything. The addition of Golf and Tennis sounds like a welcome one but while solid in their mechanics they aren’t much use after playing once or twice tops. They almost feel like they are there just so Rockstar can say they added it to the game. I think the same can be said about the Arm Wrestling as well. It just doesn’t seem to fit in here in this world the way that it felt natural in RDR. But as much as those don’t fit there are some new things here that deliver in spades. Being able to invest in the Stock Market is great considering you can help control how it does depending on how much destruction you can cause and just by listening to the radio or plot lines and making investments based on that info. Another one that made me laugh was, as Trevor, being able to pick up hitchhikers and drive them out to the middle of nowhere and drop them off at a cult compound for a nice monetary gain. Long story short is there’s a ton to do when you aren’t bogged down with the main story and that is good thing. I suppose you could easily sink 60-70 hrs into the open world goings on and not get bored. It may sound daunting but there is so much variety that it just never really gets boring.
I’ll cut right to the chase here, the game is a technical marvel. No, really. GTA5 has seen a natural progression in graphics and physics from GTA4 to Red Dead Redemption to Max Payne 3 and now to GTA5. I feel that the game is on par with MP3 in terms of gunplay and that is really saying something. Especially for a GTA game where in the past the shooting mechanics have been anything but stellar. But here they slick and easy to use. There’s a few other items that are new to the game that help improve the gameplay the first item being the special skill that each character possesses. Michael can slow down gameplay thus allowing him to target enemies easier and making it easier for him to avoid being hit, Franklin is able to do the same thing but only when driving thus making getaways and races that much easier, whereas Trevor’s skill is a “rage” that allows him to go on a bullet spilling rampage where he take little damage but doles out the carnage. A new wrinkle in the game is that most of the missions require all 3 main characters to be present and you have the ability to bring up a “Character Wheel” and switch between characters in mid mission, even right in the middle of a gun fight. The swap takes place almost instantly and it adds a ton of variety to the missions. All of these new features are fantastic add just enough newness to keep the game from feeling stale.
Ahhhhhhhhh….what could have been. That is what I will always think of when somebody brings up GTA Online. As of this review the online portion of the game, while large and ambitious in scale, feels incomplete and repetitive. The entire world of GTA5 is open to you and in it you can do just about anything you want. Only problem is that it’s not executed all that well. You start out making a character by choosing your family history. In theory this is a cool idea but it really isn’t. It’s kind of a waste of time as most of the characters, both male and female, end up looking pretty much the same. Of course you can go get a haircut and buy some clothes but the character builds look pretty bland. After doing this you’ll have a brief 20 minute tutorial in which you’ll meet some seedy character types who will give you missions you and your friends can do while online. They are the closest thing you’ll get to a co-op experience in this game and they can be fun but for every good one there is a throw away mission that will only last 2-3 minutes if done right. Doing missions will earn you XP and money which you can use to unlock and buy items such as weapons, cars, houses, parking garages for storing cars, clothes ect ect ect. But if you want you can just roam around and do whatever you want in this world that is inhabited with tons of NPC activity as well as other players and friends alike. Want to rob a gas station? Go ahead. It’s quite thrilling the first few times you do it but after a while it gets pretty stale. You can always graduate to robbing armored cars but the problem is you’ll need somebody with sticky bombs to do so and those don’t unlock until you level up quite a bit and the armored cars are few and far between. It is very satisfying to pull off one of these jobs but they just don’t happen all that often. Being able to plan major heists, like the ones in the campaign, was something that was promised to us players and was one of the, if not the main reason, for buying a house or apartment as having a planning room is needed. But there are no heists to be found as they just aren’t ready yet. You know what else isn’t ready yet? The promised ability to create your own races and versus game modes. So while we wait we are left with some missions we can do over and over and over again as all missions can be replayed. The problem with this is that the online experience can often turn into one giant farming experience where you find one mission that pays a lot and doesn’t take long to do and you just keep doing it so you can earn money and XP fast. But what’s the point of earning money? You can spend it on a home but then what? There’s no heists. You can spend it on a car and trick it up but there’s really no point as you can just steal a high end car from an NPC when you are in the game. If you want you can always enter into a traditional Team Death Match game, objective based adversarial game, or even a race involving cars, jets skis, planes, or even parachutes. They are all a lot of fun to play. Should you want some gun play action with your friends you can also try the horde mode that can be quite hard and will require some good teamwork.
While GTA Online has a lot of good things about it there are also just as many “meh” moments or a feeling of being incomplete at times that almost overpower everything else. I played for a few hours a day for close to 10 days straight and the last few times out it felt like a chore. It’s a weird thing because it’s not as organic or as natural feeling as the “Free Roam” experience in Red Dead Redemption and while it seems like it would offer a deep experience it feels very shallow. I’m sure Rockstar will get it all ironed out and knowing them they will probably reward players for their patience. GTA Online should be experienced though as there is a lot to do and it is quite fun. I just don’t think it’s reached it’s lofty goals. Yet.
|Developer: Rockstar North|
|Publisher: Rockstar Games|
|Reviewed Platform: Xbox 360|