After writing my initial impressions of GTAV on release day, there’s been plenty more hours spent robbing banks, swearing at people, visiting shrinks and driving off bridges, so it’s time for a full review. Strap yourself in, this could be a long one.
What’s widely reported as the most expensive game to create is also the fastest selling game in history, making more than $1 Billion in the opening weekend. So there’s absolutely no doubt the game is a huge success. After the press around reaching that figure, developers Rockstar are no doubt closing in on the second Billion in revenue, most of which is pure, buy and island profit. If you’re after another 100/100, perfect game review, you should look elsewhere, this game has flaws and we’re going to talk about them, as well as what the game gets very very right.
The open world, mission based exploration of the city Los Santos shows off just how much detail the development team put into its creation. The reason this game took so long and cost so much is its ability to recreate the real world. What most open world games do is clone entities like houses, people and AI character animations. This game doesn’t. It really is stunning how much detail there is things like the gardens of houses, the surface differences and also weather. Naturally you’d find repeats of the same vehicles, but that’s just a reflection of reality. When other titles and lets be honest, previous GTAs repeated the other elements we mentioned, it takes you out of the experience and smashes you in the face with the bottle labeled ‘this is a game and we ran out of time, money or horsepower’.
With that said things are far from perfect. Attempts to jump over walls or on top of objects often leaves you clumsily jumping into the object, hurting yourself and falling over. In real life, it’s technically possible that your two left feet result in this level of incoordination, but pretty unlikely. While the AI is pretty fantastic in this game, reacting dynamically to your movements throughout the world, there’s some serious flaws at times. I came across an AI car down an alley that had had an accident and crashed into a wall. Fair enough, but what was bad is seeing it reverse and re-crash into the wall repeatedly. There’s some very popular videos on YouTube of the glitches in GTAV, if you have some time, they’re pretty funny and very weird. It’s often hard to imagine what programming could have led to bugs like a man exiting a vehicle and being projected thousands of meters into the air.
There are moments of brilliance in this game as the developers wrestle with aging console, like when you exit the water with wet clothes. And when the sun radiates through the sky to meet the camera in a glorious lens flare over the beach. Again, it’s the attention to detail that really sets GTAV above any other game in the genre.
Every other game since Gears of War has had to live up to that standard of combat system. Everything from auto aim, to the cover system and switching weapons, needs to happen seamlessly and naturally to be effective in the heat of the battle. Thankfully GTAV has just that. It’s a great system that works incredibly well after you spend the 2 seconds to learn it.
It is immediately clear when playing GTAV that this game begs for the next generation of console hardware. While some cut scenes are beautifully rendered, the general gameplay suffers from severe anti-aliasing issues. Sure the developers are extracting as much as they can from the aging Xbox 360, but this world does seem to stretch them. I will be upgrading GTAV to the Xbox One version when it’s released in November. It’s a real shame the timelines didn’t match up, because we’ve now seen the not so great visual side of GTAV. The good news is that we’ll have a direct comparison
The vehicle handling and damage systems have all been updated. After destroying a car through the train tunnels, I was impressed at just how much you can break in cars. The front suspension completely failed with the camber on the wheel resembling the leaning tower. Scratches, paint marks, loss of doors and general carnage is all possible and the vehicle handling works great. I haven’t however been able to get to first person camera in any of the vehicles I’ve driven. This list is growing quickly, but now include, many cars, trucks, cement mixer, bus and motorbike. I’m looking forward to flying some planes later in GTAV.
Well overdue, GTA finally has a decent vehicle customisation system. Pull into a garage and you’re damage vehicle can be repaired by the masterful mechanic for a few hundred dollars. New parts like spoilers, wheels, roll cages and a new coat of paint can all be optioned for the right price. There’s suspension upgrades, brake improvements and turbo upgrades to push performance of your stolen vehicle further. When you get out of the garage with the vehicle mods, you’ll notice them in immediately, particularly in the case of cornering, acceleration and braking.
One of my favourite options is for tyres that create coloured smoke during burn outs. If you haven’t been to a motorsport event for a while, this is possible and done in real life. Although a far more useful upgrade is the purchase of bullet proof tyres, it’s surprisingly easy to damage them in GTAV and this keeps them pristine.
I have found that parking your expensively customised vehicle in the garage next to your property, doesn’t always save your vehicle like it should. So far I’ve lost 2 cars, this gets old fast and seriously not cool, this is a bug that needs to be fixed or gamers will save their cash and run with stock cars.
While we’re on the topic of vehicles, we have to talk about the music in the game. GTAV introduces a new and improved radial menu to select music stations and there’s a decent selection to choose from. While almost everything in GTAV is a fake version of reality, the one thing that is real is the music. You’ll often come across some A-list music artists on the radio. The one annoyingly accurate thing is that as you move between vehicles, the radio station has to be set back to your favourite channel. This is a reflection of real life as vehicles all play different stations, so it’d be weird if all vehicles were playing the same music. If you hear some Britney Spears coming from your TV, it’s not broken, you just need to change the radio.
Whether you’re exploring the city or on a mission you’ll get very familiar with the day/night cycle in GTAV. There’s also rain to content with, which reduces the surface tension between your car and the tarmac making driving more difficult, just like real like. While testing the tyre smoke mentioned above, I was impressed that the physics engine was smart enough to realise that smoke is derived from rubber being overheated as it spins across the road surface. With a layer of rain between the tire and tarmac, the resulting spray of water was exactly as it should be.
There is a standout visual upgrade in GTAV and that is in water. Not only does the transparency and reflections look great as the water meets the sandy beaches, there’s waves in the water. There’s even surfers on the waves. Swimming under water works well, I found that out after crashing my car into the water hazard of a golf course.
Mission successes have ranged between 50-80% success rate. If you have time and can be bothered you can attempt them again to try for a higher success rate with things like head shots making the difference. What won’t changed is your moral decisions that There’s plenty of places to spend your money, (clothing, haircuts, weapons, vehicle upgrades and property) so money can be an issue in the game. You’re best bet is robbing a jewelers or bank to land some cash.
Planes, trains, automobiles and parachutes
By adding new vehicles like planes, bikes and parachuting from planes adds new and exciting challenges to GTA, these are very, very welcome. While we’ve driven cars, motorbikes and boats before, the introduction of busses, semi trailers, planes, bicycles, jet ski’s are fun challenges and introduces nicely during the single player storyline. I did experience a number of them from exploring first, which made learning to fly kind of silly after I’d already done it. GTAV really should have been smart enough to know I had done some flying before and dynamically adjusted the story requirements to compensate, aka skip this.
There’s no doubt, GTAV is entertainingly addictive and as you move across 3 characters and missions, the game is a great one. It does have it’s flaws, but the unapologetically adult sex, drugs and language all contribute to a look into the darker side of life. Thankfully we can experience and enjoy this in a game, then return to the real life when we put down the controller.
The scale of this open world game is going to be hard for anyone to challenge, likely only to be surpassed by Rockstar themselves in GTA 6. It’s enjoyable, improved, addictive and especially deserved the R18+ rating. That’s all before the online component unlocks early October.