Grand Theft Auto V
Welcome back to Los Santos. It has been a long time since we visited these crazy streets and boy has it changed.
In revisiting Los Santos Rockstar has taken the opportunity to open up the GTA series like never before with a map that dwarfs the combined play areas of GTA: San Andreas, GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption. This play area is huge and it all sits in the shadow of the towering Mount Chiliad making even the towering sky scrapers of downtown Los Santos look small.
A lot of the fun stuff from San Andreas has made a comeback too with the ability to fly planes and helicopters as well as doing a bit of parachuting all making a welcome return. There are more activities too like golf, tennis, yoga and even the opportunity to compete in a triathlon to keep players at their digital fittest.
All of it is beautifully and sharply rendered in HD too making the old motion blur of the tail lights a thing of the past. Even the ocean looks realistic with the kind of waves that wouldn't look out of place in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag on next gen machines. To be fair there's a little bit of visual slow down on the Xbox 360 but this game is pushing current-gen hardware about as far as it can go an then some and for the most part it looks fantastic.
But GTA V isn't all about pushing the boundaries of size, although it does it very well in a way that satirises that American ideal that bigger is better. It isn't all about pushing the boundaries of good taste either and there are moments that will make more squeamish gamers feel uncomfortable (more on that in a minute) and again it does this in a way that neatly point sout and lampoons the more ridiculous aspects of modern Western culture.
Where GTA V really flexes its muscles is in finding new ways to tell stories in an open world setting. In this element we find Dan Houser harking back to early Tarantino films and the way he found to tell the story from different perspectives, a trick that Reservoir Dogs does so well.
GTA V follows the lives of not one but three main protagonists as their stories get inextricably intertwined. Michael is the retired armed robbery expert who is trapped in suburban hell in Los Santos and misses the thrill of the work from the old days.
Franklin is a young man from Los Santos who is tired of gang-banging and is desperately searching for something, anything, that will take him out of the ghettos of Los Santos.
Finally there's Trevor, who is the devil of his own particular white trash hell. He cooks up crystal meth, battles with biker gangs and has sampled so much of his own product he has all but lost his grip on reality. He's also Michael's former best friend and believes that Michael is dead.
As the usual missions drive the story on but you're no longer shackled to one character. You can easily jump between Franklin, Michael and Trevor outside of the missions to see what they're doing. This in itself can prove quite interesting as you'll doubtless end up interrupting some bizarre activity especially when jumping into Trevor.
All of the characters have their own special attributes and charm and the details really come out when you take them out ot experience some of the extra-curricular activities that Los Santos has to offer. From golfing and spending time with friends and family to vistiing strip bars and hookers or smoking weed, each activity reveals a little detail about each of the characters that fleshes them out well beyond most two dimensional game characters.
As the story winds on as well players will have to jump between the characters in missions as well as planning heists and these add extra depth to what could have easily been a very banal sequel had there been just one character instead of three.
Franklin, Michael and even Trevor are actually much more enjoyable characters to get to know than the dull Eastern European stereotype that was Niko Bellic and this makes GTA V infinitely more joyous to play.
It would be very easy to spend hours talking about what makes GTA V such a good game but in the end you need to experience it for yourself to find the best of it. It seems appropriate that GTA V arrives now just before the dawn of a new console generation. It shows that there's plenty of like left in the old dogs yet.
GTA V is out now on PS3 and Xbox 360. It was reviewed on Xbox 360.