Grand Theft Auto V

By James Cook on September 17th, 2013

This is the big one. Grand Theft Auto V developer Rockstar Games knows it, and the legion of fans knows it too. In production since 2008, Grand Theft Auto V is rumoured to be the most expensive video game ever made, costing a purported $265 million to develop.

The Grand Theft Auto series has always featured living, breathing worlds, the likes of which are not often seen elsewhere in video games. Whether it’s the 1980s Miami seen in Vice City or modern-day New York in Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar has delivered a city that genuinely feels alive.

Just one corner of the game's expansive map.

Just one corner of the game’s expansive map.

Grand Theft Auto V takes place in the present day, in the fictional state of San Andreas, a location loosely based on California. Whether you’re riding a jet-ski around near the beach, or driving a pickup truck through the desert, the game’s expansive scale is always felt. In many ways, the city is the main character in GTA V.

That’s particularly surprising given there are three different protagonists, the most obvious departure from previous instalments in the franchise. This character-swapping system is Grand Theft Auto‘s best and worst feature: having the ability to drop in on another character at any time during “free roam” mode keeps things interesting. Likewise, trying story missions from different viewpoints helps make the game more than a set of goals and tasks.

But Grand Theft Auto V lacks the emotional pull of previous games. There is no Eastern European immigrant trying to live the American dream any more: instead, we have three criminals attempting to raise the stakes high enough to quit crime altogether. While it’s a fun plot that provides an exciting series of missions, multiple characters mean that the player never gets to properly connect with any of them.

The most entertaining part of the missions is usually observing the interactions between the three main characters, as the game is beautifully written and genuinely funny.

Grand Theft Auto V charactersMichael (left) is a mid-forties retired career criminal struggling to juggle fathering his spoilt son and his extreme boredom. Franklin (centre) is a world-weary gang banger seeking a way out of the drive-bys and carjacking of the downtown area. And Trevor (right) is a maniacal murderer who lives in the middle of the desert killing rednecks.

As you play Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll see that Rockstar has learnt from all of their previous games. You’ll find nods to Max Payne‘s gunplay and Midnight Club‘s street racing, along with a host of mini-games and extra activities. With such a vast range of things to do in the game, it can be difficult to focus on the story missions, which can seem relatively mundane when compared to fun the player creates for himself.

It’s impossible to review Grand Theft Auto V without mentioning the cultural satire weaved into the game and its characters. Sinister cults, political parodies and real-life celebrities all feature. British supermodel Cara Delevingne narrates the game’s pop radio station, continuing the series’ long tradition of guest hosts for radio stations.

The music, films, television shows, talk radio stations and street performances elevate Grand Theft Auto V to far greater heights than those of a conventional free-roaming action game. Rockstar has created a living world with its own – along with some of our – cultural references. No easy task.

With the game being set in modern-day California, Rockstar has given Grand Theft Auto V‘s characters a smartphone to play with. The in-game internet is particularly funny, dripping with satire and jokes on every web page. Characters can send texts, make calls and even take selfies.

When browsing the in-game internet, it’s common to see an advert for an interesting in-game television show that your character will later watch in their home. A particular stand-out show is a Cops parody that airs on the game’s fictional “CNT” television network.

Unlike previous outings in the series, the entirety of the Grand Theft Auto V map is open to the player from the start. That doesn’t mean that the game has revealed all its secrets.

The main missions in the game are heists. Rockstar knows that the fan-favourite missions from previous games were bank heists: thus they’re here in bulk. As the player progresses through the increasingly difficult story campaign, the heists become more and more entertaining.

Grand Theft Auto V mission

It would have been easy for Rockstar Games to re-skin their previous games, change the scenery, and amass a fortune. Instead, they have built one of the most extraordinary and engaging video games ever. The high development budgets shows in every detail.

Whether it’s golf, a story mission, or simply stealing a giant passenger plane and flying it around, Grand Theft Auto V is a remarkably polished and enjoyable game. While the game’s storyline eschews the serious moral questions tackled by previous games, Grand Theft Auto V still manages to bring the fun back into mindless violence in Rockstar’s own, inimitable way.

Perhaps the only bad thing about Grand Theft Auto V is that you can’t get your money back from prostitutes after you murder them.

DON’T MISS: Am I too old for video games?