Grand Theft Auto V Review: A Triple Dose of Satirical Fun
Lost Santos and Its Characters
Grand Theft Auto V takes place in San Andreas, a fictional representation of southern California, with much of the action focused on Los Santos County, a satirical representation of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, such as Hollywood (Vinewood) and Venice Beach (Vespucci Beach).
There are miles of terrain to explore and several different ways of travel. The game encourages you to at least spend some time trying out each mode of transportation. Not only might you be required to fly an airplane in one mission and outrun the police in a getaway car in another, you're also rewarded through a basic leveling up system. The more you put the pedal to the metal and race along the highways, for example, the better your character's driving skill. Should you decide to go for a jog or play some tennis, you'll increase your character's stamina, which in turn allows him to run longer without losing breath (and health). Trust me that having high stamina will come in handy at some point, usually when the police pin your car against an obstacle forcing you to abandon the vehicle and run like you stole something (which you probably did). The list of skills you can level up include Special, Stamina, Shooting, Strength, Stealth, Flying, Driving, and Lung Capacity.
Even with the provided paper map that comes with the game, memorizing the entire landscape would be a daunting task, so there's a mini-map in the lower left corner. As with previous titles, without it the game would be hopelessly overwhelming in scope. It won't take too long before you start to recognize frequent areas and routes of travel, but when you're off the beaten path or playing out a mission that takes you to a new area, the mini-map is a critical component, especially since you can lose a mission by letting your target speed too far ahead and out of sight.
You can zoom out of the mini-map for a larger view of the local area by pressing down on the D-pad. Also of interest on the mini-map are random events that happen around you. As you're traveling around Los Santos County, you're apt to stumble upon an event that you can choose to ignore or intervene, such as running down a purse snatcher or recovering a stolen bicycle. Didn't sign up for that? Don't worry, not all random events cast you as a knight in shining armor. Armored trucks are fair game, and if you manage to hijack one without getting yourself killed, you'll be rewarded with lots of loot. Alternately, it's up to you whether to return a stolen purse to its owner or keep it for yourself.
The mini-map also provides information about your vitals. There are three colored bars that run across the bottom representing your health (green bar), armor (blue bar), and special ability (yellow bar). Each of the three playable characters has a unique skill. Franklin, the first character you control in GTA V, is skilled behind the wheel. Initiating his special ability slows down time when he's driving any vehicle, allowing you to pull off razor sharp turns that would otherwise have you careening into telephone poles and buildings. Michael, the second character you control, can slow down time during gunfights, making it easier to mow down multiple targets and rack up head shots, which in turn increases your shooting skill further. Trevor, the last character you get introduced to, goes into a rage that allows him to deal double the damage to enemies while taking half as much damage when getting hit.
For a larger view of the world, the main map can be found in the Start menu. It's somewhat interactive, in that you're allowed to pin markers at desired locations and then be guided how to get to them on the mini map.
As mentioned, GTA V features three protagonist and eventually you'll be able to switch between the three of them at any given point in time (except when a character might be laying low, such as after a major robbery). You start off by controlling Franklin, a hood rat who aspires for bigger scores than the ones you can get as a two-bit gangster. He begins as a repo man for a luxury car dealership, and though he's capable of doing some awful things -- as all the characters are -- there's a softer side to him that would be content to go legit, if he could carve out a comfortable living doing so. At the same time, he holds a romanticized view of criminal world, hence why he's so easily drawn into Michael's world.
Michael is the second character you control. He's struggling to enjoy a miserable life as a retired bank robber in his forties, and he would be except that everyone around him resents him for one reason or another. On the outside, he has a mansion, plenty of money, and more time than he knows what to do with with. However, he's also living with an unfaithful wife, a disrespectful son who spends most of his time playing video games, and a teenage daughter who seeks out attention from those who are only interested in exploiting her sexuality. He's also in a witness protection program of sorts, having faked his death and left behind his old friends.
After you've spent some completing missions, you'll eventually unlock Trevor, a character from Michael's past who for the past several years thought his best friend was dead. Trevor is your typical white-trash character with a temper the size of Texas, though like the other two protagonists, he's a complicated being. He lives in a dingy trailer in the desert and runs a methamphetamine business. Out of the three characters, his has the lowest moral standard and is the most cruel to those around him, but after a couple of missions, you'll find that he starts to grow on you, kind of like a wart.
The three-character system is a brilliant way of identifying with gamers of different ages and personalities. Younger gamers in their teens and twenties will probably find more in common with Franklin than either of the other two, while being in my mid-thirties, I found elements of Michael's situation somewhat easier to sympathize with.
Rockstar Games also gives itself a way of presenting different styles of game play while maintaining a sense of believability. By introducing Trevor, the developer is able to make missions featuring extreme mayham and cold-blooded antics without interrupting the suspension of disbelief, which is strong throughout the game. The alternative is to feature a single protagonist, but as with previous titles in the franchise, there would be certain scenarios that seem too far fetched, given what you know about the character's personality. That isn't a problem in GTA V.