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Grand Theft Auto V Review

Grand Theft Auto is one of the seminal franchises for open-world video games and the most successful entertainment product ever released.

So it should be no surprise that Grand Theft Auto V immediately became a cultural phenomenon, managing nearly $1 billion dollars in revenue on its first day alone. To date, it has sold an astonishing 90 million copies and generated revenue of $6 billion for publisher Rockstar Games. Unlike many other games that have topped 10 million units sold, GTA V has largely managed those sales from individual game sales rather than console bundles.

Commercial success aside, Grand Theft Auto V also garnered rave reviews from respected critics. Some have hailed it as the best game ever made. This is an overstatement, in my view, but GTA V is indeed an exceptional game.

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GTA fans will immediately recognize Los Santos, the sprawling Los Angeles-inspired city from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The design of the city is surprisingly accurate on a smaller scale. A number of landmarks can be made out on the ground and in the air: LAX, City Hall, Skid Row, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood, and too many others to name. Even the Salton Sea, a desert ghost town outside of real-life LA, is represented in Los Santos’ distant outskirts.

You start off playing as Michael, a well-to-do former crook on witness protection who is now living in the hills of Los Santos. Eventually you run into some other characters including a stereotypical African-American gangster, who liberally drops the n-word, and a psychotic drug-abusing red neck who is impossible to predict in any situation. None of them are particularly sympathetic or likable, but they can be entertaining.

Grand Theft Auto V introduces for the first time a multiple-player selection system. You can switch between characters even while you are in the middle of a mission. Sometimes it is required to advance the story. For instance, one of the characters may get into a physically-precarious situation with a gun to their head. In this case, you would want to switch to their partner in order to take out the threat. You may also do this during driving segments. The AI takes over the wheel, allowing you to get a better aim of your target. It works smoothly and changes up the gameplay quite nicely.

The characters in GTA V are raunchy, virulently racist, and extremely violent, although Rockstar does its best to make the experience feel comedic. Of course, Grand Theft Auto has always been a magnet for controversy. In the early 2000s, it was the subject of scrutiny over the option to pick up and kill hookers. A few years later, a “hot coffee” mod enabled a sex mini-game excluded from the final retail release, brewing parental anger and a temporary re-rating of the game to “Adult Only” until Rockstar released an updated version without the mini-game included on the disc.

Despite the franchise’s reputation, Grand Theft Auto V has not engendered nearly the same level of public backlash and hysteria. Perhaps people are finally accepting that these types of games are here to stay and that they do not actually do the harm to society that their critics contend that they do. Either way, this game earned its Mature rating, and the developers wear it as a badge of honor.

That’s not to say that GTA V doesn’t have its scandalous moments. One mission has you chasing down a celebrity teeny bopper so that you can record her having sex with a guy who is likely meant to be Justin Bieber. She then hunts your character down in her vehicle to try to take the video camera away. These kinds of scenes are equally entertaining and completely inappropriate for young children. That should be self-explanatory with a name like Grand Theft Auto.

Rockstar lets you choose from a number of different missions to progress along in the story. Some of them are side missions called “freaks and strangers” that do not have to be completed but add to the backstory of characters. At other points, events will randomly appear at certain parts of the map, which you can either respond to or totally ignore. The side missions are generally entertaining and add a considerable number of hours to your overall game time.

As far as the core missions are concerned, a select few allow you to choose how you want to go about a mission before it even starts. In the planning stage, you select whether you want to go the “smart” way (i.e. stealthy) or whether you want to go in guns blazing. You then need to assign a crew. High-skilled crewmembers perform a better service but take a higher cut of the profits. The inverse is true for low-skilled members.

In one of the missions, I stole a helicopter from a Los Santos-area military base. It was surprisingly easy to do, too. Anyway, the helicopter was used to pick up a miniature submarine, which was also stolen, in order to acquire some secret military weapons. Pulling off these kinds of heists depends on what level of commitment you want to take in the planning and preparation stages.

Grand Theft Auto V is the first in the series to implement online multiplayer. It’s called GTA Online. After initially having server issues at launch, the servers have been going strong for over five years now with patches and content updates that include new missions and vehicles, all of which are technically free. You purchase DLC content with in-game currency that you earn grinding through missions, or you can just use real-world currency to unlock it.

The multiplayer offers a multitude of game modes. There is everything from simple deathmatch to racing and novelty modes, such as jets versus bikes. You heard correctly: jets versus bikes. In this mode you play as either a fighter jet pilot or motorcyclist. The biker is attempting to get away to the docks. The pilot’s job is to blow each motorcycle to smithereens. These types of moments make GTA Online worth it, and the free DLC will have you coming back for more.

From a purely technical perspective, Grand Theft Auto V is an impressive video game. It pushes the PS3 and Xbox 360 hardware to their limits, and it looks even better on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Los Santos is vibrant, the scale is impressive, and the numbers of cars clogging the freeways makes you feel like you are in Los Angeles.

My main complaints are that you spend more time driving around than playing the missions, the game lags at times, there are jagged edges in the textures, and there is more pop-in of the environment than is acceptable for a late-gen PS3 and Xbox 360 game, although the graphical issues have been smoothed over for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One release. On balance, though, the pluses greatly outweigh the minuses.

The bottom line is that Grand Theft Auto V will please both longtime fans and past GTA critics alike. A lot of the issues with GTA IV have been ironed out. Police enforcement is not nearly as stringent as it has been in past games. It has a ton of missions, a thriving open-world city environment, an ever-evolving GTA Online to keep you up late at night, and Rockstar’s signature cracks at pop culture, politics, and society more broadly. Best game ever made? Not quite. Best GTA and sandbox game to date? Definitely.