Review: Grand Theft Auto V

The most highly anticipated release of the year is upon us, and with it comes great expectation. Grand Theft Auto V is a huge title, setting sales records worldwide, and fans will have their own desires and basic requirements for what would be considered a worthwhile investment. Grand Theft Auto IV was considered too dry for many and some thought Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ workout routines felt too much like work. Thankfully Grand Theft Auto V resides somewhere between the two.

Grand Theft Auto V tells the story if three characters who end-up walking a dangerous line together. Michael and Trevor, two lifelong lowlifes thrust back together after ten years estranged, and Franklin, a young protégé who gets tied up with the pair after unintentionally trying to con a conman. Once all three characters have been met the player is able to switch between at will for the most part, regardless of their location on the map, though some missions do automatically switch control when necessary. It’s this seamless transition between characters that makes Grand Theft Auto V such an impressive technical achievement.

The city of Los Santos is rich with content. Much has been made of the opportunity to play tennis or golf, but there is plenty more besides. Players can participate in these alternative entertainment opportunities and often find that they lead somewhere unexpected, and it’s at these points that Grand Theft Auto V proves to be at its finest. When the player is absorbed so deeply into the world that they forget what they were doing in the first place. This is the definition of emergent gameplay: scripted in initiation and ending up entirely under the player’s own gusto.

The story missions are far more structured of course, leading the player through a wide variety of objectives varying drastically in their difficulty, duration and level of aggression. The campaign begins slowly, with many rather uninteresting missions acting as a buffer before things get interesting. It’s a shame as this could become a barrier for many – why spend hours slogging through poorly devised, often boring missions when you can hit up a strip club or steal some cars? – but it is an investment that does pay off eventually.

The characters that feature in Grand Theft Auto V are a key part of its appeal, but sadly there’s been a significant amount of misdirection here. Franklin never develops a personality and Michael is too conflicted to be of any real interest, despite his Tony Soprano cum Mr. Blonde outward appearance. Trevor is the most interesting of the pack, with an artificially medicated personality that at first seems as though it may become tiresome, but in practice is the most appealing part of Grand Theft Auto V’s story.

Despite the expectation placed at its feet Grand Theft Auto V is not a modern revolution. It would be hard for it to be after the leap made between Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto IV, so instead it concentrates on improving the fundamentals. The best world ever seen in a Grand Theft Auto videogame, the longest campaign, the most variety in side missions, the biggest cast of walk-on parts: this is a videogame that proves to have been worth the wait, but for completely different reasons than you may be expecting.

Score: 8