Grand Theft Auto V has renewed my interest in a series that I figured I’d left behind. It’s also very pretty, although first person mode isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I’ve got a long history with the Grand Theft Auto series, dating all the way back to the very first game. That copy — which, for the record, was rated MA for “Medium Level Animated Violence”, and required a 486 DX4/100 and a whopping 16MB of RAM — sits about a metre away from me as I’m writing this.
From there, I’ve laid waste to thousands of cars, run over countless pedestrians and engaged in all kinds of criminal mayhem in the name of digital fun. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City still sits in my personal top three games of all time, although depending on the day you ask me, its position within those three titles varies a little. Grand Theft Auto games quickly became day one purchases for me, right up until Grand Theft Auto IV.
For whatever reason — call it the bleak setting, call it the endless phone calls to go bowling mid-mission — Grand Theft Auto IV never struck a chord with me. I’d try and try again to get into its narrative action, but it always failed to engage me within just a few hours of gameplay. I can still go back to earlier GTA games, even the 2D games, but GTA IV just left me cold. I still own a copy, but I’ve never finished it.
For that reason, when GTA V was announced, I did my journalistic duty and wrote about it as was needed for work, but I didn’t purchase a copy when it hit the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. I played other games, I realised that its focus wasn’t entirely something that I could put in front of my kids, either.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I can’t really say that much about how Grand Theft Auto V compares to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions that came about a year ago, because my experience with them, outside a few screenshots and pre-rendered videos was essentially nil. I’ve still got the same issues with not playing Grand Theft Auto V in front of my kids, as this rather resolutely remains an adult-focused game with the same deep satirical sense that’s washed over the entire series.
Grand Theft Auto V’s biggest narrative gamble was in introducing not one but three protagonists to play as, each with interlocking and interchangeable storylines. If you’ve played the original versions, then the stories are well known to you, but coming to them fresh showed that Rockstar’s still very good at creating human stories.
Yes, Grand Theft Auto as a series draws a lot of attention due to its over the top violence and gang themes, but the thing that’s always held it over and above every other sandbox crime game — and there are a lot of those — has been its ability to present characters who were realistically human. Not always admirable human beings, to be sure. I wouldn’t exactly call any of Grand Theft Auto V’s characters the “hero” of the piece, but they’re well laid out such that you understand their motivations and quickly get drawn into the story that unfolds.
I’ve been playing through the Playstation 4 version, and it’s easily the best looking GTA game I’ve ever played. I’m not going to go into a heavy “is it visually better” comparison because as noted I don’t have the experience to make that kind of call, although only a small amount of online research can cover that question off for you anyway.
The big headline feature of the “next-gen” versions of Grand Theft Auto V is the inclusion of a first person mode that draws your vision in close for the entire game. It’s a very good tool for showing off some of the visual detail in the game that might otherwise escape you as you zip by on a stolen motorbike, although that’s not quite the same thing as being actually vital or better in gameplay terms.
It does work, and there are some instances where it might be preferable for gameplay , especially if you’re a heavy console FPS player, but after using it for some time, I’ve got to say that I’m not a big fan. Again, this comes down to narrative cohesion, because removing that third person view removes your focus on the character you’re playing as. You’re no longer Franklin, Michael or Trevor in quite the same way, and I found that essentially disconnecting. Your experience may of course vary.
What really surprised me with Grand Theft Auto V was that while it’s just as rich in detail, side missions and a whole heaping load of things to do aside from the storyline, it’s much better balanced when it comes to how it presents those activities compared to Grand Theft Auto IV, where they quickly either became nuisances, or involved a lot of tedious back and forth fetch quest work. The end result of that balancing act is a game that’s significantly more engrossing that Grand Theft Auto IV ever was, and that’s a very good thing.
It’s not a new thing, however, because even from the perspective of somebody coming to Grand Theft Auto V entirely fresh, I can see where it was designed around previous generation hardware and game concepts. The practical upshot of that is that I can’t really see a huge argument for picking it up if you do already own the Xbox 360 or PS3 versions of the game, because visual frills and that first person mode aside, it is still the same game.
If, like me, you took your leave of Grand Theft Auto games some time back, however, it’s well worth your time — but not in front of the younger audience, which means if I do want to explore every nook and cranny for hidden gags, bonuses and near-endless Blues Brothers style cop car chases, I’m going to have to do so while my kids are asleep, to say nothing of the online multiplayer modes. Or I could wait until Rockstar releases Grand Theft Auto VI. Given the lengthy gaps between games, they’ll probably be old enough to legally appreciate it by then with me.