One final score.
It didn't take long for Michael to leave therapy and immediately revert to his old destructive tendencies, stealing cars, cursing and gesturing profanely out the window at pedestrians, or popping a few oncoming commuters through their windshields. Likewise Franklin seemed persistently displeased with life as he knows it. Living alone in a Vinewood mansion, Franklin hits his water pipe and asks why he hates his throat, why he hates his lungs, and why he has no real friends. That's when I switched to Trevor and decided to stop by for a visit.
Trevor took Franklin drinking and then to a foreign film for some reason or another. On the way home, my screen took a woozy swing to the right and I ran Trevor's truck into a police officer. In the ensuing chaos, I searched for meaning, for a message, anything to redeem Rockstar's trio of hopelessly depressed and anything-but-lovable protagonists, but by the time I lost the heat I was too busy admiring the view to care. Grand Theft Auto V greatly improves on its predecessor in all aspects of design, but you'd be forgiven for finding fault in their attempts to triple-down on Niko Bellic's morose futility.
Franklin hails from south Los Santos, not far from Grove Street but a neighborhood certainly short of his aspirations. Car repo missions reintroduce GTA's third-person shooting and driving mechanics, and Rockstar wastes no time in joining Franklin with Michael, the middle-aged reformed robber with plenty to complain about in his palatial compound full of annoying and unimpressed family members. They've all grown tired of his drunken lazing about and Michael's wife drives the stake home with her tennis and yoga instructors.
Inhabiting these two will make you feel confused, lost, struggling to come to grips with an absurd reality when the idealism of youth (or of hype) has worn off. It's not unlike adolescence itself! Your parents and teachers tell you about truth, justice, and the American way, but the real world rears its ugly head. Franklin bemoans his business partner Lamar's lower-than-sky-high aspirations, and Michael hates himself as much as everyone else in Vinewood. All of that wears off in the heat of the game's first heist, though. You can choose to go in guns-blazing or in disguise, but the thrill of looting and escaping by the skin of your teeth works as a proof of concept for the remainder of V's finely crafted capers. The jewelry store heist is GTA V's means of burning rubber and screeching off in a 0 to 60 mph start. And then there's Trevor's monstrous, crashing debut….
This trio of characters is jarring, but perhaps not more than GTA's persistent tendancy to offer up the occasional boring mission. Every once in a while, you're forced to do something certainly no more entertaining than exploring the world at your leisure. At one point, Trevor hopes to steal a secret government container, but when scoping out the docks, you're forced to load crates menially onto semi-trucks. It's bearable, but the second quarter of the game sets the narrative more where it should excite.
As definitively as Rockstar's writing and characterization condemns these three, they can't help but curry favor over the course of the campaign. It's difficult to illustrate this without spoiling anything (because you'll definitely want to play the game for yourself), but humor still reigns supreme in Grand Theft Auto's world. Spectacularly witty dialogue never repeats itself and will likely be under-recognized for how blue it all is. Lamar will be a favorite (and one that'll thankfully return in Grand Theft Auto Online) as will Trevor and some of the secondary characters you'll meet, but I instantly BFF'd Franklin.
One of Franklin's Stranger and Freak missions, which involve characters who paint Los Santos with their antics, their tragedies, and their extraneous missions, meets Franklin by way of, shall I say, a "Lassie mirage." That said, Franklin's Vinewood Hills home is so picturesque I couldn't help but enjoy the sunset on numerous occasions. Even better, F has a spacious garage and a dog named Chop downstairs by the pool. It's the ultimate virtual chill-out spot... and my excuse for delivering this review so late.
Grand Theft Auto V must be played leisurely, with distracted and wandering thumbs. Where many players find entertainment in grinding their Dinosaur Person or studying to impress their classmates, Grand Theft Auto V offers radio stations complete with news reports and fake ads. Ambient missions reward anyone flying down the highway in a boosted ride willing to pick up a hitchhiker or leave the GPS trail to stop a mugging. You can be the hero, or you can be the enemy. Trevor, by choice, can deliver his desperate hitchhikers to a sinister cult in the mountains.
As Franklin later in the game, I discovered a skilled driver, injured on the side of the freeway after a botched robbery, one who took a significantly lower cut in a central-to-the-story-and-my-wallet Heist Mission. Ambient and side missions like these don't just reward the player; they help GTA V to clear those problematic and outright boring missions to coast along the LS freeway of life. Some of the middle-game missions play better than anything else in the series and the surrounding Blaine County proves a wasteland of explosive, high-flying action. The tangled web of Grand Theft Auto clichés quickly turn the magnifying glass on inept and extremely flawed government agents, but the hilarity from Trevor, Chop, and Michael's son keep the story light and modernly sarcastic.
Hours go by and even more content will remain untouched or ignored. Soon challenges and purchasable properties will double and triple the number of side activities. Even after the end game , pursuits you particularly enjoyed will still have hours laying in wait. Dozens of parachute challenges, air, land, and sea races, and game-rewarding collectibles will keep you coming back for more and more. The best thing about Grand Theft Auto V over IV, or San Andreas, or any of the franchise's previous titles is that the long road to 100% isn't lined with pigeons or mere stunt jump ramps. Full-blown activities will drive your playtime into triple digits (again, totally without online multiplayer modes to open in October).
GTA V's campaign doesn't highlight its prison, or its military base, or the bottom of its lakes. You won't get to fight a shark or see the inside of its Chiliad-topping shed if you stick religiously to the game's campaign and nothing more. If all I had to base this review on was the main storyline, I couldn't add to the praise it most certainly deserves. Grand Theft Auto V takes the RPG elements of San Andreas, none of the grinding or weight-gain, and the developer's best from the Xbox 360-generation of consoles. That the game fits on this seemingly ancient hardware is further testament to the technological and computer engineering achievement Los Santos represents.
No, not every door opens, but everything is interesting to look at, to play with, to be collateral damage in an absurd 5-star rampage. The Los Santos police department does not fuck around and you'll probably face growing pains until you understand how to outsmart the AI and hide in the desert as easily as you hide downtown. Being a criminal is hard work for sure, but Michael, Trevor, Franklin, and the city they run proves irresistible.
Grand Theft Auto V is one of the most expansive and impressive games I've ever played. Maybe you'll hate its protagonists, but they each illicit challenging emotions, laughter, and excitement. The San Andreas state benefits from impressive lighting, modeling, and believable population levels, especially given how incredibly frustrating it would be to drive so aggressively in L.A. traffic. (That doesn't stop Rockstar from throwing speed freaks a rush hour wall every so often.)
Rockstar Games have unleashed the Skyrim of third-person action games. It'll have a lasting impact through controversy, through harshly addictive gameplay, and by taking the zeitgeist of 18-36 year-old males hostage and torturing them with nipple clamps.
Copy provided by publisher. Review based on Xbox 360 version. Also available on PS3.
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