Los Santos, I’m yours: A week with GTA V

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Grand Theft Auto V. Image: Rockstar Games.

The sun is setting on a beautifully crafted Californian sky as I roll down the beach in my newly stolen, phenomenally detailed, jet black monster truck. The effortlessly cool Still D.R.E. blasts out of the radio as I contemplate how best to tackle the menacing stunt jump before me. As I do so, a friend suggests stealing a passenger jet from the nearby airport, whilst another has a more laid back suggestion of watching some of GTA V’s superbly cynical in-game TV. My brain’s logical proposal of ending the (by any normal standard) horrendous five-hour binge and perhaps doing some work seems to be the weakest of the three options. As a result, the wonderful sandbox thrills happily continue deep into the night.

Anyone who has played a game from the Grand Theft Auto series will probably have shared many similar experiences to this one, but they are unlikely to have done so within the same GTA iteration. This is the most striking difference between Rockstar’s latest masterpiece and its predecessors: its exhaustive, uncompromising definitiveness.

The team’s previous effort, GTA IV, excelled in terms of graphics and storyline, but was viewed as far too po-faced and serious for many fans of the long-running franchise. Indeed the 2008 game’s tale of an Eastern-European immigrant’s bleak new life in New York City was perhaps destined to disappoint some of the series’ more thrill-seeking devotees. Nevertheless, Rockstar did not help their case by enforcing some bizarre restrictions on gameplay, the most notable of which being the inability to fly planes, parachute or dive: pastimes that had been vital to the sense of fun that countless gamers had fallen in love with in the 12 years since Grand Theft Auto III was released.

Thankfully, GTA V feels like the game everybody wanted its predecessor to be. The engaging storyline, incredibly detailed city and unsurprisingly brilliant visuals have all remained; but now they have been combined with all the ridiculous, balls-out madness that made the last generation of Grand Theft Auto games so great. Indeed, it’s easy to see why some in the media have described GTA V as essentially a Grand Theft Auto ‘greatest hits’.

However this summary doesn’t do Rockstar’s latest release justice. To call GTA V a ‘greatest hits’ is to imply that it adds nothing new to the series, and merely repeats past designs. In reality, Rockstar have made several key additions that make GTA V feel like the first truly ‘next-gen’ Grand Theft Auto title.

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Grand Theft Auto V. Image: Rockstar Games.

Gone is the archaic map design, in which one was forced to progress the game’s storyline before they could travel freely to the other islands in the world. From the off, GTA V is a truly free-roaming experience, with one gigantic body of land open from the outset, lending players an almost limitless sense of freedom when cruising around San Andreas.

Furthermore, there are now three interchangeable in-game characters to choose from – a feature that helps add another level to the series’ storytelling mechanics. In terms of plot delivery, the early signs are very promising, and though I am yet to complete the storyline, it’s difficult to see the standard of Rockstar’s writing and narrative manipulation dipping significantly.

This new element also leads me on to another of GTA V’s superlative assets: its presentation. Transitioning between characters feels crisp and effortless, and changing radio stations or weapons is no longer fiddly and obtrusive. Now, a streamlined, circular menu presents you with all your firepower and musical options, whilst also managing to keep you immersed in the game’s world. Rockstar’s dedication to immersion is such that these menus do not even pause the game, rather they keep it going (keep it breathing almost) via the implementation of slow motion, instead of a static pause menu, whilst you make important adjustments.

And yet, despite all the gushing praise in this reflections piece, GTA V is not a perfect game. The most obvious signs to point to are the occasional texture pop-in and frustratingly long load up times that the game requires, although these are hardly experience-ruining problems and are also issues that could potentially be rectified through patches in the future.

When considering the magnitude of Rockstar’s achievements however, any reservations melt away. GTA V is everything I could have possibly hoped it would be, and I’m almost certain that it shall continue to keep me out of lectures, employment and any form of serious relationship during the weeks and months ahead.

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