In the interest of FULL DISCLOSURE...
I've been a gamer my whole life. I even planned my move to
Los Angeles Los Santos around the launch of the PlayStation 2. (Oct 26th, 2000!) I wanted to make sure I could pick up my pre-order in Chicago before heading west. Years earlier, I dropped an exorbitant amount of cash on a Japanese version of the Nintendo 64 just to play Mario 64 months before the U.S. release. The entire mission screens were in Japanese! Let's talk why not?!
The release of GTA III in 2001, however, was pretty meh for me. My friends spent hours, probably closer to days, in Liberty City. Me, maybe three hours total. I hated the controls, hated the forced satire and above all, loathed the beyond frustrating unforgiving save system. (Forty minutes on a mission, half of it trailing some van only to have to redo everything because the auto-aim of my AK-47 missed the headshot was awful.)
Flash forward twelve years later. Here I was Sep 16th, 2013 in line at 9pm with hundreds of other nerds at my local GameStop for the midnight release of GTA V.
What happened? Niko Bellic and GTA IV happened.
In 2008, IV was the first game to receive a 10/10 from IGN and Gamespot since Soul Caliber in 1999.
Granted GTA: San Andreas earned a stellar 9.9 from IGN, remaining a favorite among fans. IGN gave Vice City a "terrible" 9.7. Still, a 10 for IV and that same year a 10 for Metal Gear Solid 4 was monumental. I had to crack this bad vibe I'd had with Rockstar's franchise.
I ended up completing IV's story mode five times: three times on the 360, twice on the PS3.
I wanted to give this disclaimer of sorts before diving into my impressions of GTA V because the reason I love IV (and to a lesser extent III, VC and SA all of which I went back and played after falling love with IV) is not why most gamers love GTA. I couldn't care less about killing hookers, rage meters or any other sense of chaos that many indulge in while seeing just how much mayhem they can muster.
First and foremost, I'm a fan of the worlds that interactive entertainment allows me to explore. It's why I played Mass Effect, The Last of Us and Portal 2 multiple times. It's why the underwater city of Rapture has stayed with me.
To revise Bill Clinton's '90s motto: It's about the world, stupid!
So far I clocked in over 24 hours in V, so this is in no way a complete review of the main story. I'm currently at 34% on the completion meter.
Lastly, though the game comes packaged with GTA: Online it will not go live until next month.
As usual, minor spoilers...
Leaving behind the more muted (some thought depressing) tone of IV, the newest installment takes us back to the hyper-colored, superficial world of Los Santos, i.e. Los Angeles. This was also explored in San Andreas, but here the focus is much more on LS the city proper and the nearby desert landscape of Blaine County.
For the first time in the series, you'll control three characters in one game: middle-aged Michael, from the streets Franklin, and meth dealer Trevor. Rockstar tried this idea somewhat with the two DLCs for IV but you couldn't switch between the Niko, Johnny and Luis on the fly. Here you can.
It works perfectly.
10. Radio Still Effective, Score Even Better.
Crank it up, gramps!
Some of my best memories of any GTA game are the radio stations. Not just all the great licensed tracks (except in part III), but all the hilarious talk radio jabber. Hearing "Weasel News: Confirming Your Prejudices" is grin inducing. And yet, in the world of smart phones, how many of us actually still use radio nowadays? Best not to dwell on that. In San Andreas and Vice City this wasn't an issue since they were set in the '90s and '80s, respectively. Here, as in IV, V is set in the present and the writing is effective as it makes fun of Facebook, Twitter, etc. I'm not quite sure what it means that I'm more inclined to listen fictional disc jockey Lazlow Jones than any real radio DJs today.
In a first for the series, many of the story missions now come accompanied by a strong musical score. Red Dead Redemption had to do this since there were no portable radios or Pipboys in the Old West. Nevertheless, I always missed having one even if it made no sense while riding a horse. Having both features in V is fantastic. I can't go back now.
Kenny Loggins, Pam Grier and Bootsy Collins are just some of the guest DJs!
9. Torture Mini-Game.
The only clip I found that is funny/torture-related. Enjoy!
About halfway through, Trevor is tasked with getting information from a hostage by any means necessary. While you can switch between Trevor and Michael, you have to do the torturing. There's no way out. At first, I was kind of annoyed, but as the captive guy kept giving info whether or not I shocked him with a car battery, I realized that co-writer Dan Hauser was heading towards a moment where the craziest guy in the game (Trevor) comes across as somewhat humane. It's a nice touch delivered with witty remarks.
8. Franklin: Helluva Repo Man
Refreshingly, no one in the GTA V starts off as just a common thug. Not even the youngest, Franklin. Like CJ, he's from the hood, but he and his friend Lamar are doing "legit" work as repo men. From a story POV, it works since it means when they steal a car, they in theory have the pink slips to avoid the police harassment. In a bigger way, it shows how Franklin really doesn't want to be a bottom feeder.
As an added bonus, the way Franklin and Michael meet is genius.
7. Missions Improve the Story, Are Not Tedious.
Hands down these are the most well-thought out missions in the history of the series. When you think of it, open world games don't really give players that much variety: drive this car, follow that dude, kill these other dudes, pick up that briefcase, repeat. And yet, the way Rockstar's team has the player juggling them all at once gives the illusion of doing tons.
Even if there weren't the whole new three-character switch mode, there are a lot of ways even with just one character I was kept on the edge of my seat.
When missions do involve more than one, like Trevor visiting Grove Street (!) with Franklin... just wow. Hilarious.
By far, though, my favorite missions involve Michael, the middle-aged retired criminal. The banter with his millennial ingrate son is priceless.
Trevor, I think, will be loved by gamers who adore just how "crazy" he is. Personally, I think a little Trevor goes a long way, but he does have some great moments.