“Grand Theft Auto” Renews Grandeur

Hang onto your Playstations and X-boxes because Rockstar Games has one last game for you to play before you trade them in for the new consoles. Despite working with decade old hardware, Rockstar has managed to make its latest installment one of the most beautiful, detailed, and spacious games this console generation has ever seen. Set in the fictional city of Los Santos (think Los Angeles), “Grand Theft Auto V” (released September 17) is literally Rockstar’s biggest game yet.

How big? According to Game Informer, “Los Santos is bigger than the worlds of ‘Red Dead Redemption,’ ‘San Andreas,’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto 4’ combined.” But bigger doesn’t always equate to better. Does “GTAV” live up to the hype of being hailed as the last great game of this generation, or does it buckle from the weight of its own ambition?

It is safe to say that Rockstar delivered on exactly what they set out to do. The over world of Los Santos is a technical masterpiece. The city is bustling, with noisy pedestrians on their cellphones and traffic whizzing by. The countryside is barren, brown and dusty, and the mountains on the outskirts of the city give you a bird’s eye view of it all. The graphical fidelity is astounding, and when coupled with the superb sound effects, the world is given a life of its own.

As you interact with different objects in the environment, each sounds as if it is right there in front of you. When you climb a chain fence you hear the clang of metal jingle. When you jetski, you feel the “vroom” of the motor every time you go airborne, and the splash of water when you land. Even the simplest of actions have been given the utmost care, making Los Santos the centerpiece of the “Grand Theft Auto V” experience.

Scattered throughout this world is a plethora of activities to partake in. There are darts, drag racing, scuba diving, stockbroking, and more. There are also random encounters that will occur organically as you navigate through Los Santos. People shout through the streets yelling that their car has been stolen or a drunken couple may wander up to you and ask for a ride. It is entirely up for you to decide if you help these people or not (as long as you weren’t the one who stole that nice old lady’s car).

Want to just kick back and relax after a rampage through the streets? There are numerous original television programs to watch and talk radio shows to listen to, most of which poke fun at American culture. Even though the city of Los Santos is huge, there are still plenty of activities scattered throughout that make exploring it worth your while.

The biggest change in the franchise is the introduction of multiple playable characters. There are three in total, each with their own story that directly ties into the others. Each character has unique stats and special abilities that need to be taken advantage of to succeed. Franklin, for example, is an excellent get-away man, Michael is the best with a gun, and Trevor has a knack for flying planes and helicopters.

As you take on heists throughout the main campaign, each character can be used to fill their selective role. This gives the game a much different feel than previous ones in the series, giving the franchise a fresh new direction.

The new tone suits the game well. Whereas “Grand Theft Auto IV” was dark, gritty, and serious, “GTAV” is bright, outrageous, and fun. Most importantly, the characters fit into the world around them. Michael is the kind of person who needs action in his life to feel normal. He gets involved in crime out of sheer boredom. He loves the rush of being in danger. His running buddy, Trevor, is no different. His main goal in life is to become an international drug and weapons dealer. His reckless and unpredictable behavior makes him the most enjoyable out of the three characters.

Franklin, on the other hand, seems out of place. While the other characters relish the thrill of the heists, Franklin is only interested in getting paid. When the game is “Grand Theft Auto” you want to play as a character who is having as much fun hijacking cars and beating up innocent civilians as you are. Franklin is the man wearing a suit at a frat party full of drunken college students.

The story itself is best summarized as a trip to an amusement park. It starts off slow, but after you do your first heist, you get off the rollercoaster and ready to go again. When “Grand Theft Auto V” is at its best, it is just as enjoyable as any other game on the market.

The problem is dealing with all the subpar missions in between. Rockstar has stretched the length of the main campaign to match the size of the over world. It is estimated that the game takes forty hours to complete, not taking into consideration side quests, activities, or general goofing around.

There are a lot of fluff missions in the story. One of them literally includes clicking away pop-up ads on a laptop which was used to download too much porn. This is a far cry away from robbing a bank.

Almost every quest begins with getting into a car and driving to the start of the mission, and with a map so large, this begins to eat up a lot of time. Rockstar does make down time as interesting as possible, giving players over 18 radio stations to listen to. “GTAV” does many things right, but it doesn’t value time. It seems like making a tight, fun experience was second on Rockstar’s list of priorities.

But the fact that you want to put the controller down at all is a problem. Video games are at their best when gameplay and narrative are seamlessly interwoven. There are a number of side quests, activities, and story missions that are all unique but aren’t always fun to play.

The other problem is the ease of which you can fail some of these missions, forcing you to start at the beginning. There is nothing inherently wrong with being able to lose a videogame, but if the gameplay’s only purpose is to move the story forward, then failing becomes frustrating and tedious.

Despite these shortcomings, “Grand Theft Auto V” is a videogame that deserves your time. Even though the strength of the narrative puts gameplay in the backseat, it in no way diminishes the other strong qualities. Rockstar has cemented the fact that they are the masters of the cinematic when it comes to the videogame industry. When it comes to writing great dialogue with well-realized characters, they are second to none. One can only imagine what they will be capable of when they get their hands on the Playstation 4 and the X-Box One.