6. Rappelling Down a Skyscraper!
When can I do this?
A moment that probably took less than five minutes of the over twenty hours I've played, being on top of the world while traversing down a glassy man-made structure, is one of the OMG highlights of the year. There's plenty of action as you switch between the three protagonists, but I stopped everything to rotate the right stick around and take in the never-ending skyline of downtown Los Santos. These are the moments that remind me why I love the immersive feel that games can offer. Sure, there are plenty of explosions waiting for me on the streets, but I wished I could just stay suspended up there indefinitely. One of the best moments in any game came when I realized it's not about trying every possible scenario, but just taking in what feels like an actual real life experience.
5. Tennis, Anyone?
Did you play Rockstar Presents Table Tennis? No? That's fine, this is better. Ditto playing golf! Tiger who?!
4. The Heists Should Make Michael Mann Jealous. Not Enough of Them Though.
The highlight of IV was the epic-sized mega mission when Niko, Packie and the rest of the crew pulled off a bank robbery. The scene even ended up being used for the opening for the cool second DLC, The Ballad of Gay Tony. (Turns out Luis was there the whole time!) I remember on my first play-through I spent nearly an hour in the bank, then escaping and so on.
I was never bored.
Well, that heist was like a beta version.
Now options have been put into the mix. It works like this: the trio and Lester (think of him as the game's dungeon master) look at a clipboard. You must choose: do you go in guns blazing? That will cost you an efficient gunman. Or maybe just be quiet and smart? Like hiring a hacker that can delay the police long enough to grab all the jewels from a Rodeo Drive-like shop? Before all that you'll need to case the joint, find a getaway car and buy creepy masks from a dude at Vespucci Beach.
The only downside? I wish there were more of these big score jobs.
3. Awesome Driving Is Back.
One of the biggest complaints against the previous GTA was the loosey-goosey steering of the vehicles. Personally, I never had that much of an issue, but I can't deny the cars here feel much more grounded. It's a bit strange that they flip over (and over) almost always landing on their wheels upright, but I assume that's just to make less chases go bust. With the streets modeled after Los Angeles and the west coast, the roads are much wider than they were in Liberty City. Great handling when jet skiing, riding a bike, all of it.
Still, the planes and helicopters suck to fly as always.
2. The Fun Cameos by People and Places from Previous GTAs
The three PS2 games (III, VC, SA) were peppered with wonderful cameos (silent Fonzie!) and references to each title. IV ended that, seemingly forever. V has brought that back, sort of. I won't spoil but the above Bob's Burgers image hints at who or what Trevor will come across...
So it looks like IV (plus, the two DLCS: Lost and Damned, The Ballad of Gay Tony) and V take place in the same universe. Woot!
Fans of the series know that a mention and (perhaps?) a glimpse of IV's lead Niko Bellic is the best we'll ever get since it's pretty widely known that the voice of Niko was pretty annoyed by his paycheck versus the over $300 million day one sales of the 2008 game. Come on, cousin!
1. Los Santos, Baby!
The day after my first night with V, I took a walk up to Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. My neighborhood. It's really telling how spot on GTA is in terms of making a city feel real. Suddenly, everywhere I looked I saw NPCs. There's the hipster guy! There's a few cop cars, sirens blazing speeding down La Brea! There's the gal who looked like she just finished a photo shoot! And so on.
The biggest compliment I can give is that I think I like Los Santos more than Los Angeles, at least for now. Like I said at the beginning, this has zero to do with killing random people. It has everything to do with that sense of serenity I get when I walk out of my Vinewood Hills mansion and take in the sights.
Well, that and that the mansion beats my one-bedroom in WeHo any day of the week.
My Pet Minor Peeve...
The HUD is sleeker but harder to use. Prior to the latest version, all the reticles for the auto-aiming have been big hard-to-miss colored pieces. Now, it's a tiny, and I mean TINY, red dot. Also, I know Rockstar doesn't want to copy any open-world game that came after them (Saints Row), but Square-Enix's Sleeping Dogs had a great way of picking new missions while not having to pause the game and go to the map screen. It was so simple. Having to go to the map in V is not terrible, but it is nonetheless, tedious. It keeps me out of the reality of Los Santos and the outlying Blaine County. That is not cool.
Minor Peeve 2
As has already been widely criticized, all the women that I have encountered are grating, to say the least. Okay, I sorta don't mind Tonya the tow-truck crack head, but that's just a personal thing...
Seriously though, the world of GTA has always been a big satire of western culture. I get that. Yet, when the story puts you in the shoes of three very different men, the absence of a female point of view is glaring.
Pretty much every character you meet in GTA, male or female, is over-the-top, but since we ARE Michael we can sympathize with his situation. His shrew of a wife, bimbo daughter, and idiot son are all a waste of space, but even here Jimmy the son is given a tad bit of shading.
This doesn't ruin the game, but it points out that back in 2001, we were laughing - despite our better judgment - at killing prostitutes to get our money back. In 2013, not so much.
Verdict with a 'V': I've yet to totally finish the game, but I'm pretty confident Rockstar has delivered yet another landmark achievement in the open-world field. Are the intertwined tales of Michael, Franklin and Trevor as moving as Joel and Ellie's journey in The Last of Us? So far, no. Then again, I played TLOU three times. Ask me in a year. Maybe I'll outdo my IV record with V.