What does a game need to have to be considered one of the greats? Can you assume that a great game will have amazing generation-defying visuals, and Hollywood-quality voice-over work? Does it have to last a certain number of hours, or offer a certain number of things to do? It’s one of those discussions that can go on forever without ever really getting a conclusive answer, but despite that it’s usually very easy to see which games will be looked back on as the highlights of a console generation. We’ve had some incredible games over the past few years, with the likes of Skyrim and The Last Of Us offering very different but equally incredible experiences, but there’s another name on the list now. It might’ve been obvious from day 1, it might have been the most predictable success for years, but Grand Theft Auto V is an utter masterpiece, and will undoubtedly be seen as one of the games of the year, if not the entire generation.
And the reasons? Far too numerous to mention without you sitting here reading for 5 days with the occasional biscuit break. That’s probably just as well too, as half the joy of GTA V is the discovery of new things, almost choking at a shocking twist in the story, holding your breath to see what’s coming next and gasping in amazement as you round a corner away from the city only to be met with a cliff-top view of a sunset out to sea. There are so many memorable moments to be had that everyone’s thoughts throughout will be different, a combination of wonder, amazement and occasional horror or disgust. Missions are varied and enjoyable, and although each one has a similar theme (do something illegal, get paid) you’re living the lives of three criminals, so you should probably banish the thought of earning a few quid by taking your elderly neighbour’s library books back for her.
That said, there are opportunities to be the good guy every now and then. Between robbing jewellery shops, stealing government equipment and hijacking jets you’ll stumble across seemingly random occurrences, someone’s bag getting stolen or a vehicle being hijacked for example. If you fancy getting involved you can chase the offender down and try to retrieve what’s been stolen, ready to return to its rightful owner. That is, if you want to. You might’ve just rescued someone’s high powered sports bike, but there’s nothing stopping you from riding off into the night and hiding it your garage to use it yourself later on.
Your decisions might even be subconsciously affected by the character you’re currently using. There’s been a lot said about the three main guys in the game, but they boil down to three personalities: Michael, a retired criminal who comes out of retirement to carry out a few more jobs, Franklin who’s a younger guy just getting started to earn a few quid, and Trevor. Trevor is probably best classed as “an utter bastard”, and its his introduction into the game that gave me one of my very few uncomfortable moments while playing. It drives home just how violent and unnecessary the world of crime can be, and also gives a very blatant nudge towards that generally-ignore-by-irresponsible-parents 18 certificate on the box. I know there are a lot of kids not even in their teenage years playing this, and between the choice of language used by several characters and the level of violence often seen in cut-scenes it’s obvious how unsuitable it is. I’m not going to get all Daily Mail about it, but I can’t help but wonder if parents would still let 11 year old Johnny Spoilt-Kid play it if they knew what was going to play out in front of them.
But you can’t criticise Rockstar for that – the game has an 18 rating for a reason, and if folk choose to ignore it you can’t blame the game or its creators. Instead, those old enough to appreciate will be too busy spending hour upon hour driving round and doing utterly pointless, but entirely joyful things between missions. Play a round of golf, a few games of tennis or sharpen your shooting skills with some deer hunting. How about some flight-based drug trafficking, or a few assassinations to pass the time? The options are seemingly endless, and being able to switch between the three characters pretty much whenever you want (with a few mission or story-based limitations to keep things smooth) means you don’t even have to do things in a certain order.
There are dozens of great smaller touches too. While you’re carrying out tasks for one character, the others are living their lives, and it’s only when you switch back to them that you get a glimpse into their day to day movements. You might find your character sat on a bench by the beach enjoying a sunset, or they might be dressed in a women’s nightie at the top of a cliff with no idea how they got there. The radio system – now synonymous with GTA titles – is better than ever, giving you loads of possible stations to tune into with some truly brilliant tunes and talk shows to be had. It’s quite fun to just cruise around town listening to the radio sometimes, just to enjoy what’s on offer. And the freedom you’re granted is verging on the spectacular – only yesterday I decided to climb to the top of a high construction crane and leap off with a parachute, just because I could. I followed that up by driving to a nearby shop to buy a new hat, then revving my engine at some lights to start a race with a random chav. I could’ve carried on mucking about by going to the cinema to watch a bizarre foreign film, or headed to a strip club to get a topless lap dance. It’s entirely possible to spend as much time being random in GTA V as it would take to complete some games in total – while some people might ignore this and plough through the story, it’s a rich and vibrant world that’s always breathing, always busy and always great fun.
But even if you do choose to stick to the main missions, you’ve got a great story to follow with some fantastic characters to work with. The challenge seems about right, sitting happily in the union between challenging and enjoyable, and although it’s possible to drop out of a mission if things aren’t going too well it mostly feels like success is close enough to try again. Shooting folk is helped by a generous auto-aim, which can be turned off if you fancy a bigger challenge, and although the hand-to-hand combat doesn’t get anywhere near that of Sleeping Dogs it’s certainly manageable, and you can get away with barely using it so it’s not a huge issue.
I could go on and on about everything there in to do in GTA V, and could tell you stories about some of the things I’ve got up to around the enormous map that makes up your playground. But as much of the magic here is in the discovery I’m going to wind the review down and leave you to explore for yourself. The game won’t be for everyone, and I stand by my opinion that the 18 rating should be very seriously considered by parents eager to stop the nagging from their younger kids, but unless there’s a big reason why you’re staying away from GTA you should be seeking out your local bandwagon and jumping straight on. Want some fun? Go fetch a copy. However you look at it, Grand Theft Auto V is definitely one of the all time greats.
Reviewed on PS3