|A Crazy and Unapologetic Ride|
|Let me state right off the bat that I'm primarily a PC gamer. You might not know it if you set foot in my living room, where you'll find an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii all jockeying for attention in my home theater rack, but outside of sports titles and the occasional party-type game played through the Kinect, I play games on a PC. I bring this up because Grand Theft Auto V isn't yet available for the PC, marking one of the title's few shortcomings in what's otherwise an engaging, open world with a connected storyline that's masterfully woven through the perspective of three playable characters, each with different skill sets and personalities. It's also relevant to understand my gaming background because it has a direct influence on my analysis of the controls. Savvy? Let's get to it.
You're undoubtedly familiar with the GTA franchise, if not from having hands-on experience with previous titles, then by the frequent media outcries about in-game violence. Developer Rockstar Games is often the recipient of criticism and moral outrage whenever a politician or media figure covers a real-world tragedy and tries to connect the event to violent video games. The most current GTA title at any given point in time is always an easy target, and GTA V is no exception.
If you're reading this, then chances are you're okay with that (and if not, I suggest reading what Todd Martens had to say in his short review for the Los Angeles Times), so I'm not going to spend much time focusing on the moral angle of the grossly inappropriate tasks presented in GTA V and what that says about our society. Perhaps we're all a little twisted on the inside, as evidenced by GTA V raking in over $1 billion during its first three days. I'll leave that for the licensed psychologists for figure out.
In any event, GTA V affords plenty of opportunity to engage in tasks that you wouldn't dare attempt to play out in real life. Like previous titles in the series. stealing cars is a basic skill, and also a necessary one in order to navigate the vast landscape in a timely fashion. What isn't necessary is running over pedestrians on sidewalks or crushing motorcyclists that get in your way, though until you get a feel for the unique handling of different types of vehicles, this type of illegal carnage is virtually unavoidable.
|Lost Santos and Its Characters|
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.
|Installation, Game Play, and Graphics|
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.
|By now, gamers should know what to expect from a Grand Theft Auto title. Like its predecessors, Grand Theft Auto V is violent, brass, sexist, offensive, and a delightful good time, provided you're wiling to immerse yourself in a criminal world as one of the bad guys (or in this case, a trio of miscreants).
Unlike previous titles in the franchise, GTA V introduces a brilliant three-character system. Old school adventure gamers may remember switching between protagonists in Maniac Mansion by LucasArts (back then it was LucasFilm), only instead of trying to save a cheerleader from a mad scientist, in GTA V you're juggling the lives of three different characters trying to pave an illicit path to riches. Trevor is arguably the most important character, because no matter how cold blooded the situation might be -- like the torture scene -- you know he's capable of doing whatever is necessary.
Rockstar Games also deserves props for weaving an engaging storyline between three characters. Some of the cut scenes are long, but it always feels like you're part of a movie. It won't take long before you feel the need to complete another mission, not for personal gain, but to see how the story unfolds.
For those who would complain that this game needs a filter for all the outrageous acts you can perform, I would counter that such a title would no longer be Grand Theft Auto, but May I Please Borrow Your Car, Good Sir. Like Popeye, this game is what it is, and if you're not easily offended, you'll find hours of fun times and humor.