04 January 2014

GTA 5 review

A couple months ago I bought myself a Playstation 3 (Slim edition 500gb) quite cheap. "Why bother with an old console" you may ask - well now is the time to buy it cheaply and pick up all those good games that never reached or were poorly ported to PC. Games like Red Dead Redemption (which too will be reviewed soon).

Anyway, so for the past 4 months I've been dividing my playing time between the PC and the console, playing console games beside my regular PC gaming. I picked up GTA 5 when it was released an played through the campaign and a bunch of the sidequests (still a ton to do). I actually played GTA 3 and Vice City on my old Xbox back in the days so I'm not unfamiliar with the series being played on console.

Perhaps a quick recap of the series is in order, the first two games were topdown perspective (great games upon their release and very popular among my group of friends), the series got a 3D overhaul with the third game - GTA 3. Both GTA3 and the standalone expansion as I like to view it - Vice City - were both great games but stuck very closely to the established GTA formula of the topdown perspective games. You did jobs for crime bosses and families, and the protagonist did not speak a word of dialogue. They were very "gamey" and  fun as they didn't take themselves too seriously - not much of a storyline other than you moving up in the world of crime with each completed mission.

GTA San Andreas was the next game in the series, it introduced a lot of new stuff. The world was huge with 3 large cities on a big continent. Your character now had his own lines of dialogue and interacted with other characters, there were new features that allowed to alter you characters physique and clothing - and perhaps for the first time in the series the game attempted to provide a real story and flesh out the main character. It was a really damn good game, though I always thought the overly ghetto talk by all the main characters was ridiculous - them being "gangsta" and all that... One very noteworthy thing about San Andreas was that it played very well on a PC something well worth to remember when we talk GTA4.

GTA4 added improved graphics and pushed the story driven main quest of the game even further than any previous game. The gunplay was also improved in this game and it had its share of fantastic characters, the bumbling idiot cousin of the main character perhaps being the most memorable. Interestingly enough the GTA4 removed the weightlifting and physique altering mechanics, only keeping the change of clothes. The map was also considerably smaller than that of San Andreas, we were back to playing in a single city and while it looked good it had serious deficiencies on the PC port that made it almost unplayable. Game crashes, awful shadow renders, epic loading times and other technical problems marred the PC release which was a disaster. On top of that the game was shafted with another shitty developer tool to control the gamers - called Rockstar Social Club. You had to register an account and log into that to play the game, but that wasn't enough. The game also required you to have an account and log onto "Games for Windows Live". Yeah, you needed to be logged onto two separate internet based features to play the game and be able to save it properly.
Infuriating as this was the features were more or less merged into a single one which you will experience if you install the game today.

With the god-awful port in mind I made a promise to never buy GTA5 on PC again, luckily it was released on PS3 as well as XBOX360. The graphics of the game actually look pretty damn good considering the age of the console, but then games always tend to look the best towards the end of a console production cycle. Playing GTA5 on a console eliminates any problems that a PC port probably will suffer from, and there are no stupid login online requirements.

As a game GTA5 brings back the big open world of San Andreas, we now once again have a big continent to roam - though it only has a single big city and a couple of tiny villages scattered around the map. The graphics are awesome, the gunplay has been improved even further and cover is now being more important than ever to survive a gunfight. The city itself is probably the same size as that of GTA4 and with about the same level of complexity and layout.

As for the main attraction, the main quest/story it is the best written and most enjoyable main storyline of any GTA game so far. It does not handle just a single storyline either but has you juggle 3 main characters each with their own story and merges all those into one combined storyline as the game progresses. This had me initially worried because it could prove cumbersome or make the game lose focus, but fortunately it is implemented with perfection. The game focuses on each of the three characters at certain points of the story - and in missions where all three of them are acting together it allows you to easily switch between them (sometimes it is required to finish a mission). Apart from their vastly different personalities -

Michael, being an old experienced bank robber turned family man.
Trevor, old  experienced bank robber turned maniac.
Franklin, young car thief growing tired of the "ghetto" and wanting to make real money.

- all three characters are also masterfully presented and their involvement with each other is both logical and feels authentic. The characters also each have their own special abilities, with Michael having a bullet time function when firing normal weapons, Trevor being a great sniper and Franklin having an ability that vastly improves the driving during car chases. There are some very nice twists and turns to the story as well, much of which involves the past friendship of Trevor and Michael. However when it comes to pure awesomeness and enjoyment the character of Trevor really makes the game a 10/10 experience. His lines of  dialogue, crazy antics and unpredictable personality makes his character interactions and missions being a blast to play through and to experience. One of many nice touches to how this trio of characters is presented is that whenever you swap between them the characters are always in the middle of doing something. Be it chilling at the front porch with a  cigarette, visiting a strip club or doing something hilarious (most of it comes from Trevor).

I've had numerous encounters where swapping to Trevor would see me jump right into Trevor chasing a guy on a Vespa (himself driving a Vespa) screaming threats after him, or waking up in his underwear - bloody and dirty on a beach surrounded by dead bodies LOL!

The main story and the way it unfolds also make the side quests and characters that you encounter appear in a more natural and less forced way compared to previous games.  And though they may not be as many memorable secondary characters in this game (the most memorable is a pair of old people that have a celebrity fetish and have Trevor steal random stuff from celebrities) the trio of main characters make up for it on their own.

Also, there is a ton of stuff to do that has nothing to do with the main story or any quests - something that was introduced in San Andreas. You can still gamble, complete various challanges with all characters, do hunting, street races and all other kinds of stuff that makes the game enjoyable long after the main story is completed.

A few more words on the main story, it is similar to the previous games in that it involves organized crime and some heists. However, this time around there are also a few "big scores" that require planning and acquiring special equipment and personnel before starting the mission. These missions feel a lot, and indeed borrow a lot, from movies like "Heat". The preparations also make you a bit more involved in the outcome and potential rewards.

As such GTA5 is not only the best game in the series so far in terms of character development and story, it is also great fun with some really good missions and sideshow entertainment for you to enjoy once you finish the main storyline.

Highly recommended for anyone owning a PS3 or XBOX360. Hopefully the PC port, when it comes, won't be a complete disaster like GTA4.

10/10

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