Grand Theft Auto V Review: A Triple Dose of Satirical Fun
Installation, Game Play, and Graphics
Grand Theft Auto V ships with two DVDs, including an Install disc and a Play disc. Word to the wise -- don't install the Play disc onto your Xbox 360's hard drive. If you do, you open yourself up to graphical anomalies and performance issues. The reason for this has to do with the way GTA V pulls assets from the HDD and optical disc at the same time. A possible workaround is to install the Play disc to a USB flash drive, though the game runs just fine without doing so.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm a PC gamer and greatly prefer keyboard and mouse controls over a gamepad for titles like this. If you feel the same way, it might be worth waiting several months for the inevitable PC port (which hasn't been announced), though after you spend a few hours playing GTA V, the gamepad is downgraded to an annoyance rather than a detriment.
Shootouts are most affected by the gamepad. If you haven't honed your gamepad skills, you'll have a tough time using free aim. Thankfully, GTA V helps you lock onto targets, and while that feels a bit like cheating, it's better than dying over and over and over again because you suck at wielding thumbsticks.
You hit the Left Bumper (LB) to look through your inventory of weapons. Time slows down as you analyze how much ammunition each gun has and which would be most appropriate for any given situation. Once you have a weapon selected, a key element is ducking behind or scrambling for cover. From there you can shoot blindly at your enemies, or press the Left Trigger (LT) to lock onto an enemy and Right Trigger (RT) to fire away. Continually locking onto the bad(der) guys and resuming cover between each one is the easiest way of surviving a shootout.
If you prefer to duke it out with fists, you can certainly do so in GTA V. Both the RT and B buttons offer melee moves, while the X button dodges attacks. Perhaps to take some of the guilt out of beating up random pedestrians, many of the people you encounter while wondering the streets of GTA V are loud mouthed asshats who initiate brawls, especially if you accidentally bump into one or stand too long in his personal space. It's much more satisfying to beat up a obnoxious jerk than someone who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, though that's dependent on your own moral compass. I found myself picking fights with yuppies, though I had to quit because I grew tried of trying to psychoanalyze myself afterwards.
Driving and Flying
There are a multitude of transportation options in GTA V. It may take some looking around, but you can find some sweet cars early on, which you can save by parking in your garage (there's supposedly a glitch that can cause saved cars to disappear, but I didn't run into that issue myself). You'll also fly aircraft, ride bikes, man jet skis, and more. For the most part, handling is much improved over GTA IV, though the game affords plenty of opportunities for epic wrecks, including ones that have your character crashing through the windshield and to his seeming death as he lands on the pavement (apparently the medical facilities in Los Santos County are adept at resurrecting the dead).
The more you drive or fly, the better you become at such tasks. This is independent of each character, so if you max out Trevor's flying ability, Michael and Franklin won't suddenly become expert pilots by association, they'll need to practice, too. The same goes for each of the other stats, like lung capacity and shooting.
One of the most welcome tweaks to GTA V is the ability to flip a car over after you've overturned it. In the past, you'd have to scurry out of there and run as far as you can before the flipped over car would light on fire and explode. In GTA V, you simply push left or right and the overturned vehicle lands back on its wheels. It's not realistic by any stretch, but immensely appreciated.
Missions and Mayhem
Without a doubt and sans apology from Rockstar Games, GTA V is both misogynistic and extremely violent. One could argue the former is unnecessary, and strictly speaking, perhaps it is. At the same time, it's part of the culture of the seedy criminal underworld, and that wouldn't change had Rockstar Games chose to ignore it. Strippers who are turned on by men who shower them with cash, and prostitutes willing to do anything for a few bucks are part of GTA V's world, but nowhere to be found is a female protagonist. Hiding behind the drape of satire doesn't give Rockstar Games a free pass for its sexist antics, but then again, is a game like GTA V really an appropriate place for political correctness?
I'd argue not, and though women certainly get the short end of the stick (again), they're not the only group portrayed in an unflattering light. Pretty much every group is fair game in GTA V, from yuppies to even computer programmers (yes, Rockstar Games makes fun of themselves). Part of the fun is just eavesdropping on other characters' conversations and listening to the stereotypical banter. It's sometimes offensive and often hilarious, as are the radio talk shows.
The challenge Rockstar Games faces is is a multi-pronged balancing act. Like spinning plates on sticks, what you have going on in GTA V are potentially offensive themes at every turn. From the way woman are treated to the many elements that make up a violent criminal underworld, it's almost impossible to pull it all off without screwing up along the way, and that point comes during a torture scene that you're not allowed to skip over. Before the mission is over, you'll have yanked a tooth with pliers, broke an arm using a pipe wrench, sent jolts of electricity through the victim's nipples using a car battery, and water boarded the poor bastard. Your character -- Trevor, the most violent of the bunch -- ultimately refuses orders to kill the informant after it's all finished and mercifully gives him a ride to the airport, but sparing his life doesn't erase the acts that preceded it. Plain and simple, Rockstar Games screwed up here and should have let users decide whether or not to participate. It's that heinous and will be disturbing for many.
The missions themselves are varied and flexible to break up repetitive game play. Most of the basic elements are repeated -- drive, shoot, evade the cops, return home -- but there are different ways to approach these challenges. For bigger heists, you have to assemble a team. The more skilled your cohorts, the bigger their cut of the loot, so you have to balance how much help you want to receive versus the pay. Early on, you can hire a skilled female programmer (one of the few female characters cast in a positive light, aside from her criminal dealings) to hack the jewelry store's security system, affording you more time to pull off the heist. A less experienced programmer would demand a smaller cut of the pay, but you'll have less time to load up your bags with stolen jewelry before the police arrive.
There are different ways of completing each mission, too. You may opt to rush in guns-a-blazin' or use a more stealthy approach. When taking down a meth lab, I chose to make my way around the facility from a distance and pick off guards using a sniper rifle. I then crept onto the facility and knocked out a couple more guys who were in a barn high on drugs and firing off weapons. A firefight would later ensue, but it was much more manageable since I'd already eliminated several of the targets.
I've been spoiled by ultra-high resolutions (think 2560x1600) and jacked up quality settings on the PC, and by those standards, GTA V on the Xbox 360 leaves a lot to be desired.
On its own two feet as a console title, however, GTA V stands as one of the better looking games available. It's much brighter and visually more vibrant than its predecessor overall. Shadows and character animations are far more polished, and the scenery is gorgeous. It's an impressive feat for the aging console platforms out there currently.