There are video games and there are video games go beyond the confines of the screens they inhabit. GTA V is the latter. Which would be a perfectly plausible explanation for the tardiness of our review.
That and the fact that we’ve spending way too much time playing it to actually pen our thoughts down. Yes, you read right, “we”.
Taking a page from our BioShock: Infinite review, our fearless commander conscripted three of iLLGaming’s finest (well, two of them and one degenerate who was charged with putting a mash up of emails and texts into something semi-comprehensible) to give you a somewhat definitive take on this year’s biggest game.
Without further hesitation, our dramatis personae includes:
Ansh (A) : His snark is legendary. His words even more so. And somewhere amidst his indie game fuelled escapades he finds time to play some AAA goodness from the house of Rockstar. Keeping in tune with his hipster roots he’s playing it on the Xbox 360 (a console that’s nowhere close to being mainstream here in India).
Tathagatha (T): Rumour has it that his piece on how to dump your girlfriend before GTA V was based on some first-hand (cue innuendo here), real-life experiences, possibly explaining the manic speed at which he’s managed to blast through the game (on the PS3 of course) and do a great job of nagging his fellow reviewers to get their stuff ready.
Rishi (R): Rage and caffeine are what keep him going. Even more so when real life activities such as sleep, hygiene or putting this piece together come in the way of time (read: every waking moment) that should be spent cruising the mean streets of Los Santos.
Does GTA V meet their exacting standards? Read on to find out.
T: The last time I took a bicycle ride into Grovestreet was when I was maybe 17 years old, discovering a title that was soon going to turn my days upside down – GTA San Andreas. Today I am 25, at the very age when people would force you to settle down and change baby diapers. Instead I take a detour into Grovestreet, and I find nothing has changed much. The ghettos, the bikes lined up on the walls and people staring at me. As Trevor, I rode my cycle straight into a pedestran. Before I could twitch, he alerted some of his home boys and decided to go all guns up my a**.
R: San Andreas? That game kinda grated on my nerves in the first couple of hours what with the annoying cycle mission and drive-bys laced with clunky controls. Besides, I never understood what is with everyone in this country loving the whole gangsta rap vibe. All that game made me want to do was play Vice City.
A: Word. San Andreas irked me with massive backtracking across its huge world for large parts of the game. GTA 4 and RDR did a lot more for me in terms of creating a cohesive world filled with interesting characters. Which brings me to a question. What did you do when the bullets came flying?
T: Smitten by nostalgia I decided to stand there and face the bullets instead of running away from the streets of my childhood. Grand Theft Auto V seamlessly blends the best of the GTA legacy with an outstandingly fresh sandbox and story to give a game that truly deserved to be waited for.
R: Boring choice. I’d have gone guns blazing. Then again, I have no attachment towards anything San Andreas related. To be perfectly honest, this is the first game in the series after Vice City that I’ve truly played. And I find the apparent emphasis on “freedom” rather unsettling.
T: The moment you enter Los Santos, you realize the world that has so much to give you, and every time you feel a new spring in your steps. Choose freedom while buying a shotgun in the Ammu Nation store, choose freedom in your leisurely ways – by playing tennis, golf watching movies or visiting Strip Clubs, choose freedom in the car you drive or the way you drive. And with the all new GTA V gameplay, you can even customise how you want to go about a mission.
A: Cool story bro but I have to disagree with you when it comes to mission structure..while GTAV does bring excellent mission variety to the table that uses every single aspect of the mechanic and mixes them up nicely, the utilizing of “switching” between three character leaves a lot to be desired. Rockstar are classic control freaks and their major problem has always been wresting away too much control from players. This continues despite having multiple playable characters in some missions. They determine far too much when you can switch to X character, killing potential of many missions sometimes.
R: Yeah, missions end up feeling way too linear at times and the factors that determine whether you see a game over screen or not are random too. You’ll get a mission failure for not putting a crate down exactly how the game wants you to or for simply stepping out of a vehicle for a second. It’s erratic and takes away from the sheer joy certain types of missions like heists bring to the table.
T: Speaking of heists, they’re awesome. Think of what happens when GTA sensibilities have a torrid affair with the best of Hollywood flicks like Drive or Ocean’s 11. Recruiting a crew and planning your method of attack (loud or quiet, smart or dumb) isTone of the most innovative ways to preplan a mission in video games, it’s next-gen!
A: Yeah,some of the heists are really good(while others are a little anti-climatic) and they’re easily the game’s high-point. While mission design is a big plus, failure systems are problematic. You keep failing missions for the smallest reason and it once again shows how highly restrictive the game is beyond the “open” world. It also once again brings my issue of Rockstar being control freaks that end up ruining the “freedom” they provide to players. Allowing us to skip mission checkpoints if we fail is a BIG plus though.
R: Yes got to agree with that. It makes it easier to skip the annoying plane and copter segments by simply crashing and burning three times in a row to be given the opton to skip that section altogether. Love heists though. There’s a distinct Pay Day 2 vibe from the proceedings that makes them all the more enjoyable.
T: Yep. Even better is the replay button allowing to replay certain missions and there are a lot of memorable ones. What I really love about this GTA is the amount of jugaad missions you need to do before a major heist/upseige. It never bores you. GTA V gameplay stays classic no matter what, and so are some of its gun down or map chasing missions. Love the paparazzi mission, I dug it!
A: The content is varied and well thought-out. It’s not put in just for the sake of it. It’s also unlocked at a good pace so as to not overwhelm or underwhelm the players.
R: Oh sure, once you get the initial few hours out of the way it opens out very nicely. Just as I felt every mission was cookie cutter or repetitive, something new would open up and have me going for hours on end. The sense of surprise and wonder rarely cease even as you finish the final mission…
T: Don’t say another word. Spoilers are death! Anyway you’re doing it wrong if you’re not exploring this so-called-biggest-map ever developed by Rockstar. The beauty lies in free roaming. The developers and the creative team put their hearts out into developing an America that feels so absorbing and compelling that surely will trigger the tourist in you. If you travel south of Los Santos, you will feel the heat of a buzzing city life. While if you go north, you can feel the detachment of civilisation, amongst gypsies, biker gangs and never ending desert roads. You will see two distinct parts of America, two distinct lifestyle patterns amongst people. And the best bit is, you will find love and rawness in simple North and glamour in the urban Southern part of Los Santos. The cars they drive, the clothes they wear, the way they behave differ so much.
A: Absolutely, it’s a brilliantly fleshed out world that has you hooked. And it does a good job of taking way attention from some of the game’s more critical elements. The narrative is “experimental” to put it in a good way. Focus is purely on the three protagonists’ and that’s what drives the story. Writing is two steps back from GTAIV and RDR and embraces the themes and inane humour(even aping Saints Row in couple of those “weed” missions) while ignoring character depth and maturity that GTAIV and RDR brought. The result is a highly inconsistent experience. Without an antagonist, character and their motivations are the sole driving force of the story and often they remain a mystery (as two out of three are supposedly mid-life crisis people who do shit for no clear reason.)
R: Yeah, now that I think of it, the lack of a villainous figure is a bit of a concern. However when you’re having fun planting sticky bombs in trailer parks it doesn’t matter. Even then I feel that the motivations of the characters you control do more than enough to keep you hooked. Michael is going through the pains that come with being an out of retirement thief with a dysfunctional family, Trevor is crazy and is motivated by sheer bloodlust (all while defiling stuffed animals and spooning members of the same sex mind you) and Franklin is a budding career criminal trying to find his bearings. It all works quite well for me. Then again, GTA IV’s annoying checkpoint system put me off the game completely.
T: In terms of plot, there’s a lot more to it. You see, while most games sells stories, GTA V sells ideals, revolutions and makes one aware of what’s right and what’s insanely wrong in the society. The way they do it is by parodying the situation for you. Be it with Facebook and Twitter as LifeInvader and Bleater respectively, or as in the case of a mission that has you chasing down a Reality TV Anchor and the barrage of Paparazzi missions. GTA V owns reality with the back of their hands and shows that screaming on top of your lungs while playing Righteous Slaughter (their version of Call Of Duty) sucks. GTA V shows that there is no glory in getting married to a hottie or craving about a big career change. GTA V only believes in paid sex and uncensored torture chambers.
A: Damn that’s deep. But here’s where I cut your arguments down to size.There are massive problems of “doing odd jobs for random people” at many points in the story. Every Rockstar game suffers from this problem and in absence of a major antagonist or without any consistent motivation from character’s, GTAV suffers from this problem even more.There’s a massive problem in pacing too. The story seems to struggle with an attention disorder that can’t focus on a single character’s storyline for long and as a result there are some serious dips in intensity. The game does compensate it with a lot of content and that is a plus but the “push” we had is never there.
R: Parade pisser. On the bright side, the radio ads almost sold me on the idea of coffee enemas, trusting the cloud and waiting in a 30-hour queue for a smartphone that’s barely better than last year’s model. Also, surgery and weird religious cults. Believe!
A: Hell yes! The humor is solid. Deceptively good. A bit more towards a parody than a satire (unlike GTAIV, which remains the writing high-point of the game) but seeing how GTA V is a homage to the series’ roots with lots of nods and returns of series’ favourites (WOO RAMPAGE! ) it can bring a smile to any GTA fan’s face.
T: I think the point where things get messy is that it still feels like a video game ahead of what the developers could envision or have access to the tech to support their ideas. These crop up at some crucial moments. Heck one mission had Trevor was burning up this entire hilly billy caravan settlement with sticky bombs when suddenly frames started developing and redeveloping on its own. Some shooting mechanics needs betterment, and add to it the horribly small crosshair that is so not right in a massively living breathing open world game.
R: Well at least the driving is a lot better. Even if there are some weird physics at play. Like having a car spiral thirty feet in the air and come crashing down without your character getting a scratch. The next order of business was ejecting the disc to see if it was Saint’s Row 4 that I was playing. There are some infuriating technical moments.
A: General physics and vehicular damage here get more laughs than a stand up comedian performing to a punch-drunk audience. As expected the controls are typically clunky(shooting is worse, driving is better than GTAIV).
T: Though the initial loading screen is long, it is forgiveable as you don’t see one while you’re playing. Considering how annoying it was in Skyrim, what with loading screens everywhere, this is pretty sweet.
R: Throw in the fact that the game’s almost been out for two weeks and there hasn’t been a need of a patch is a pleasant surprise. There doesn’t seem to be anything game breaking which is fantastic given how open-world games are prone to bugs even months after release.
A: Graphically it’s beautiful. Lighting is top-notch. Blaine County suffers from lo-res textures and there’s the typical pop-in, poor draw distances and occasional glitches but overall it’s pretty well polished.
R: Texture pop-in? Speak for yourself. Seen two or three cases at best on the PS3. Draw distances are fine and glitches are next to none.
T: Sure but the frame-rate dropping – Surely a messy situation, but it’s been the same in all of Rockstar’s open world games, so this too I won’t complain much, considering the better things I can pull out of the title.
R: Well, at least there’s one thing we can definitely agree on, the music is fantastic. I love Radio Mirror Park. So many good tracks it’s not even funny.
A: Huh? Now look at who is playing hipster. But yes, music choice is A+. Putting a default music track for so many missions makes them even better.
T: The music is not only epic but reminiscent of some of the Hollywood blockbusters on wheels but it goes above and beyond. Plus the song selection has been so much better than the other games in the series, with artists ranging from Britney Spears to Queen.
R: Speaking of Britney Spears, I think I want to “Gimme More” of GTA V. Let’s wrap this up shall we?
T: Sure. I’m suffering Los Santos withdrawal symptoms by now. And that should give you an indication of how good it is. 10/10
R: Word. It’s a beast of a game with a lot to do. I can see myself playing this well into next year. Perhaps the biggest reason for next-gen arriving too early, niggles notwithstanding. 9.0/10
A: GTA V had its’ moments but Rockstar ruined its potential by making the mistakes they always do. It suffers from identity crisis of trying to pay homage to old GTAs and then expecting us to care about characters’ with zero consistent motivations. I felt and still greatly do about GTA IV and RDR when I reached its end. When I finished GTA V, I felt nothing — just like all its three protagonists. Sure, it was a lot of fun at times but it all amounted to a distinct hollowness. Overall underwhelming and a bit disappointing considering the hype and expectations we had for it. That said I’m hoping Rockstar will give the “three character” concept another attempt. 7.5/10