A full review of Grand Theft Auto V will be coming once GTA Online is launched and we can factor that in. For now we’ve completed the main story and side missions (sitting at 70%) and have played the game for just over thirty hours, so here’s our impressions of the single player side of the game. There will be heavy spoilers from the main storyline in this post so if you haven’t completed it yet, please stop reading for your own sake.
Firstly, Grand Theft Auto V is not a perfect game. If anything it highlights how difficult being perfect for a game is. By broadening its scope and including so much, the things that are missing become glaringly obvious. By having such a high degree of polish in certain areas, any little mistakes or inadequacies become seemingly bigger deals. It’s certainly an excellent game, and easily in the top ten of the current generation, but is it really everything we expected?
Starting with the story, that was what underwhelmed us the most. The characters are fantastic. Trevor, Michael and Franklin all have their own motives, backstories and quirks with just enough development to make you care about them before the pace picks up. Franklin is the least developed of the three, with a fairly two-dimensional story and only a couple of other people in the game who seem to know who he is or care. Whereas Mike has his family, Lester and the FIB, Trevor has his staff, Wade and various desert locals that know him, Franklin has Lamar and his ex-girlfriend who only appears when she’s needed to further the plot. While his section of the game opens so strongly, it feels as though he’s forgotten about by the second act, simply showing up to fill out the ranks and bounce off the other character’s quips. It’s a shame because he is an interesting character and his background provides such a strong contrast to the others, but perhaps Rockstar were afraid of retreading old ground after San Andreas so decided to keep the gang-based storyline to an absolute minimum.
Trevor’s insanity is well established repeatedly, but his crazy sense of morality is almost endearing in parts. He’s not quite as cartoonish as we’d expected from the trailers before launch, he has real depth and some parts of his psyche are even understandable. Of course occasionally he doesn’t something incredibly horrific with seemingly no thought behind it (poor Floyd) but then he is established as some kind of psychopath. His storyline ramps up to what seems to be an unavoidable complex and then falls flat on its face completely. Why does he forgive Michael exactly? Why does he take orders so quickly from Franklin? Why does he forget about salvaging that plane from the bottom of the lake? What happens to his meth business? There was a chance to riff heavily off Breaking Bad but it seemed wasted as his entire story becomes focused on Michael’s betrayal, and then it gets stuck there, with every meeting between them devolving into the same argument. He doesn’t grow or develop as a character, he simply repeats himself. He’s entertaining, for sure, but his story gets boring far too quickly.
Michael is apparently the main character of the game. Everything in the plot seems to come back to him in some way and his dealings with the FIB. His family are amazing characters and provide some of the funniest cut-scenes and dialogue in the entire game. His house is fun to explore and his conflict between wanting to be normal but also be somebody is genuinely interesting. Sadly the family never really get their chance to shine and again and forgotten about towards the end, the FIB storyline takes center stage and this continues until right up to the end. His movie-producing career could easily have filled an entire campaign but the few missions set there only serve to whet your appetite and then it’s left on the cutting room floor.
Coming in at around 25-30 hours, it’s by no means a short campaign, but it definitely feels as though much has been cut out, leaving glimpses of fascinating campaigns and then constantly bringing you back to deal with unlikeable government agencies and the private militia that have seemingly unlimited resources and little clear motivation. There’s no single villain to focus on and while the assassination mission at the end is satisfying in a Godfather-esque way, it’s hard to care that much about the people you are silencing, they’re just not established or deep enough. The gameplay in each and every mission is fun, there was none of the tedium associated with GTAIV, but there was none of the emotional depth or progression that Red Dead Redemption got so right. The ending was weak, you each got a bunch of money (but not enough to let you do everything in the game), you had a real choice (although I imagine over 90% of players will pick option C) and you had a few little epilogue scenes that were funny, but didn’t add anything to the character’s arcs.
This all seems very negative but the story is the only real issue we’ve had with the game at all, the game is so good that we’re now actually looking forward to playing through on the inevitable PC version. Yes there are technical problems but considering what Rockstar have achieved on such old technology, it’s amazing that there aren’t more. Hopefully the plot will be fleshed out or expanded on, or even simply bettered with the DLC (Lost and the Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony were much better than GTA IV) but it’s a real shame the story ended up being disappointing.
If we’ve missed something in the plot or made a mistake, please leave a comment and we’ll fix it as soon as possible!