I have been an enormous fan of Rockstar Games since I was a child. I have played every game the company has released – from the original Grand Theft Auto back in 1997 to Max Payne, Bully, and Midnight Club. So, as expected, I was beyond excited for the release of Rockstar’s most recent addition, Grand Theft Auto V. The game was released back on September 17th, having built up so much hype that it brought in over one billion dollars in the first three days – which is phenomenal, considering the game cost $233 million to develop.
That $233 million makes Grand Theft Auto V the most expensive video game to ever be developed, and more expensive than every Hollywood blockbuster, with the exception of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which cost about $300 million.
So, in short, Rockstar made at least $800 million in profits over the first three days of release. That being said, it’s time to actually discuss the game.
Grand Theft Auto V takes place in the state of San Andreas, which is Rockstar’s take on modern California. The state is separated into two primary counties – Los Santos County, which is a recreation of Los Angeles, and Blaine County, which is the outlying area – the countryside.
The game introduces all three protagonists – Michael, Franklin, and Trevor – progressively over the first 10-15% of the game. Rockstar created three incredible characters.
Michael Townley, who uses the moniker Michael de Santa due to his participation in the witness protection program, is a middle-aged millionaire with a wife and two teenage children who lives in upper Los Santos, the equivalent of Beverly Hills. His family is in ruins – his wife has affairs on a daily basis, his son is a loser with no aspirations, and his daughter is slowly becoming involved in the porn industry. All Michael does is drink and see his psychiatrist, who sucks him dry of money for sessions that don’t remotely help.
Franklin Clinton is a young gang-banger working as a repo-man for a crooked Middle-Eastern car dealer. He lives in the inner-city area of Los Santos, a few blocks up from Grove Street, the main focus of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, which is now controlled by the Ballas gang. Franklin lives with his aunt, who seems to disregard his existence. Franklin gets into the high-stakes criminal lifestyle when he bumps into Michael and the two become like father and son.
Trevor Philips is the third protagonist, and perhaps the most difficult to describe. He is a psycho- and sociopath. He lives in a trailer in Blaine County by himself, and runs a meth “corporation” that places him in control, as he believes, of the countryside. Trevor used to run heists with Michael, but the two fell apart when he thought Michael had died. Trevor is beyond explanation, and I do not want to spoil any aspect of the story for potential gamers.
The map is absolutely flawless. It is impossible to see the entirety of the state from one spot, which is one way of displaying the sheer vastness of the island. I can’t think of a single flaw in regards to the environment Rockstar put on the table for players. From the slums to the hills, the boardwalk to the desert, and the city to the countryside, the player is surrounded by pure beauty and unbelievable views. The draw distance is remarkable – standing on top of Mount Chiliad, players are able to see the skyscrapers of Downtown Los Santos on one side, and just vaguely make out the rocky cliffs over the ocean on the northern side of Blaine County.
Gameplay is beyond expectations. Combat has been improved drastically. Gunplay is essentially a clone of Max Payne, which is not a bad thing at all – weapons have new designs, sounds, and handling – they have actual weight, unlike the air-bag guns that plagued Liberty City in GTA IV. Melee combat, as well, was improved significantly. Depending on the player’s timing, angle, and distance, a player could knock an enemy out with a single hit, or start a full-out brawl if not careful enough. The switch between three characters, which everybody was nervous about, turned out to be smooth and quite perfect – very reminiscent of Driver: San Francisco.
Driving mechanics were taken directly from Rockstar’s Midnight Club, and combined realistic vehicles with arcade-style driving physics and handling, which meshed into the perfect race-through-traffic driving experience.
There are certain flaws, however, that I believe get overlooked when it comes to this game. Players are so enthralled by the storyline and the fact that they are playing another GTA game that they disregard some of the flaws.
Some of these flaws are petty and simple. For example, Rockstar still has not added an animation for steering wheels. When a player turns their vehicle, their hands move, but the steering wheel stays centered – which can detach some of the realism. Ragdoll physics also plague the game, as they have for all of the Hi-Def games Rockstar has released over the last few years. While using the term “lazy” is inappropriate, seeing as the amount of risks taken and time spent creating this game, Rockstar seemed to bypass the aspect of physics by letting characters flop around like dolls when hit by cars or tripping over obstacles.
There are some more significant flaws, however. Character development is very light, in regards to other games the company has released. Franklin seems to be the only character that grows visibly – he has his mind set on what he wants, and knows who he is and who he aims to be. This transformation is obvious throughout the entirety of the story.
Michael and Trevor, on the other hand, do not have much development through the story. Upon completion, the player can control their lifestyles, but there is no real closure on who they are and what they’ve become, if anything at all. Michael’s family is altered slightly, but not enough that the player feels much of an emotional change. Trevor, on the other hand, has no changes whatsoever. There is no doubt that he is an intriguing and incredibly unique entity, however there is little to no change in his character – no development – through his story. This lack of development makes it difficult to relate to – or even like – the characters as the story continues.
One of the reasons this is so unfortunate is due to the acting. Grand Theft Auto V has some of the most amazing acting – both physically and verbally – of any video game. I almost cried at several points in the story due to the emotional connection I had with the characters, due to the quality of acting. However, for the unbelievable performances, the characters fell short on a developmental level that is, quite honestly, unforgiveable.
Perhaps my biggest problem with the game is that there is no closure to the story. The reason this is bothersome is because the game continues after the story. I can handle a movie not having closure, because once the credits roll, it is over. You can get up and leave, because it is finished. With a game like Grand Theft Auto V, however, the lack of closure makes the rest of the game awkward. All three characters continue living their lives when the story is over, but there is no real understanding of what has happened to them – there was no clarification.
I put about 20 hours total into the game so far, and I feel confident enough to give it a rating. With my experience playing Rockstar games, and video games in general, I have to give Grand Theft Auto V a 7.5 out of 10. The developers listened to their fans, and added every single thing that players wanted – customization, a beautiful map, environmental involvement, etc. If my review were based solely on that, this game would get a 10 out of 10. However, the flawed execution of the storyline and lack of character development severely hinders the potential of this game.
I expect this game to be nominated, and potentially win, Game of the Year. However, I fear that this game is not deserving of the title. When the gaming community says that Rockstar will not be able to surpass the quality of GTA V, I have to disagree. Perhaps they will not be able to improve the appearance and gameplay, but I trust Rockstar to create better characters with actual development. They did it with John Marston in Red Dead Redemption, and I believe they are capable of doing it again. I just don’t think they pulled it off this time.