By many measures, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V is a landmark game. Even though it was first released in 2013, the game has cracked the 10 best selling games of the month list for the past 5 years. In fact, it is currently the third best-selling game of all time with 95 million copies sold, topped only by Tetris and Minecraft. At the time of its release, GTA V was the fastest selling entertainment product in history, reaching $1 billion in 3 days.
The game didn’t just sell like crazy either, it received massive critical acclaim. Considered to be the swan song of the seventh console generation, GTA V was given numerous Game of the Year awards on the year of its release.
Creating a world
One of the most celebrated parts of the game was its expansive open world. Rockstar created a detailed, living, and biting LA pastiche in Los Santos. The world has an incredible amount of diversity within it, with an entire city with multiple districts and surrounding areas to explore. From the celebrity excess and supercars of Vinewood Hills to the downtrodden and gang-infested South Los Santos, each part of the city has a distinct cultural and economic identity that helps the game world feel more like a real city and less like a simulation. Rockstar has recreated LA perfectly in digital form, soaking the city with so much life and color that you almost forget the vanity living underneath it all.
Mechanically, the game remains similar to previous installments. The main focuses of the gameplay are, as expected, driving and shooting. Shooting feels tight and responsive, if simple. On console versions, the default shooting controls rely heavily on auto-aim, which combined with a general lack of bloom or recoil can be a turnoff for hardcore shooter fans. Driving feels weighty in the right ways, balancing maneuverability and gravity. The driving is more arcade-y and less realistic than GTA IV, so whether or not the new driving is an improvement is up to personal preference.
By far, the most significant mechanical change is the introduction of three main playable characters: Michael, Franklin, and Trevor. Once all of their stories become intertwined, the player can switch freely between the three of them, adding tactics and distinct storylines to the missions and roleplaying potential and character variety to the hub world.
Each character has a distinct arc and personality; Franklin is a young and talented aspiring criminal eager to prove himself, Michael is a washed up wealthy conman with a family who despises him, and breakout star Trevor is a sadistic, psychopathic monster who thrives on chaos and violence. Trevor is Rockstar’s way of preventing story dissonance when he acts as a murderous monster. In previous GTA games, the protagonists were often reluctant to kill or were trying to escape their life of crime. Trevor, on the other hand, knows only chaos, and his rampaging throughout Los Santos as him feels perfectly in character.
The game’s story is sharply written and hilarious, balancing over-the-top missions with more relatable anxieties felt by the characters living in a post-financial crisis America. While many of the side characters are caricatures, the story mostly gives the obnoxious ones the comeuppance they deserve. The voice and motion capture work is also excellent, selling the protagonists as real people.
Men on a mission
Mission structure has also been reworked from previous entries in the series. A rebalanced checkpoint system ensures that you won’t have to endure another long exposition-filled drive if you fail a mission. An abundance of new vehicles and activities break the “drive > locate character > shoot them” design of past entries, constantly keeping you on your toes as you begin a mission. Heists are the obvious and advertised highlights of the campaign. They are multi-faceted missions that require the player to balance a crew, the three main characters, and their carefully laid plans in order to succeed. The heists are fun and varied, with most of them offering multiple approaches, usually either stealthy or guns blazing. While the heists are fun and cinematic, their design is very rigid and scripted, offering a disappointing lack of experimentation and improvisation.
Of course, we can’t talk about GTA V and ignore GTA Online. GTAO has been updated consistently, with new content, modes, vehicles, and more being added for the past 5 years. The mode is basically an MMO crossed with GTA. Players create their own characters, who do missions with others in order to level up and make money. All of Los Santos is open to explore, and the mission variety rivals the single-player campaign.
Unfortunately, the online experience is soured by technical issues and a soul-crushing grind. Load times are unbearably slow and pop up whenever the player does anything, and disconnects are unfortunately frequent and result in even more load screens. Additionally, although GTA Online and its updates have been entirely free since launch, much of its content is locked behind a serious grind. Whenever a new update comes out, all of the shiniest new toys are locked behind high-level caps and enormous amounts of cash.
By setting its prices so high, Rockstar is incentivizing its player base to purchase Shark Cards. Shark Cards are cards that are purchased with real money, granting your GTAO character with cash instantly. In order to access all of the fun content GTAO has to offer, you either need to grind mercilessly or break the bank, which mires an otherwise well-designed and chaotic online game.
GTA V has its flaws, but it still stands as one of the best games the seventh generation of consoles had to offer. Its commercial staying power is a testament to its longevity and continued pop culture relevance. GTA V is a defining game of a generation, and rightfully so. If you’ve somehow missed playing the game for the past five years, move out from under your rock and give it a shot. There’s a lot of game here, and there’s something you will love.