The latest game in Rockstar Games’ “Grand Theft Auto” series was released Tuesday.
It’s been more than five years since the last game, “Grand Theft Auto IV,” came out in April 2008 to critical acclaim.
Expectations have been incredibly high for “GTA V.”
Besides Rockstar’s reputation, the game also had significant investment behind it: a recent report noted that the game cost $US266 million to make, an amount larger than the budgets of most big-budget films.
Critics have been universally positive about the game with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game receiving a 97 and 98 out of 100 rating on review aggregation site Metacritic respectively.
We received a review copy of the game Monday. After two days of playtime, and there are eight big takeaways from early reviews of the game that ring true:
1. The story starts out strong but breaks down near the end due to a lack of character development for two of the three protagonists.
Xav de Matos for Joystiq:
As the three characters grow closer, the narrative goes from an interesting story of past mistakes, redemption and revenge to the story of three men screaming at each other in a seemingly endless cycle. This centres mostly on Michael and Trevor’s shared history. After a lengthy time apart, emotions between the former colleagues come to a head, and GTA5 pounds at this conflict for far too long. At every turn, the pair are at each other’s throats. Character development is difficult to parse as each refuses to move on from the past, reluctant to show any significant growth, and it became less and less entertaining to watch them interact with one another.
2. The ability to switch between protagonists has made the game far more immersive. As Edge’s review of the game puts it:
Rockstar uses it to gracefully nudge you towards this vast world’s many activities, too — Michael, for instance, might be parked up outside a tennis court, or stuck in traffic near his shrink’s office. You’ll find yourself naturally switching every few missions, and playing the game in character, choosing vehicles, activities and radio stations based on who’s under your control. You soon realise that, rather than the gangster flicks of GTAs past, you’re now playing an episodic TV show.
3. The new heist-style missions are fantastic. Polygon’s Chris Plante likes the way they tie in the game’s character-switching mechanic, which lets players switch between the three main characters at almost any time:
In one minute of a heist, I swapped between Franklin commandeering a tractor, Michael dispatching snipers and Trevor unloading a rocket launcher into a pickup truck. Swapping so drastically improves the pace of Grand Theft Auto 5 that I can’t imagine the series moving forward without it.
Swapping even aids in basic character development, always plopping you into some mundane but suggestive moment in the leads’ day-to-day lives. When I plopped into Michael’s world to find him sipping on whiskey and watching a classic movie, I felt like this person existed even when I wasn’t playing as him.
4. Half of the fun is ignoring the story and exploring the city of Los Santos, an alternate-reality take on Los Angeles.
I live with a number of people from the Los Angeles area who couldn’t get over how much the game gets right in its representation of the different areas in the cities and the transitions between them. Most said it was “surreal.” The mini-games and activities available throughout the game world are not only fun, they reinforce the feeling that you’re in a real city – whether you’re going for a bike ride along the game’s equivalent of Venice Beach or doing yoga with the wealthy residents of ‘Vinewood.’
5. While the “Grand Theft Auto” games are known for their occasional bugs and graphical issues, “GTA V” performs admirably on the older hardware in the Xbox 360 and PS3.
IGN’s Keza MacDonald:
It pushes the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 further than it has any right to, and it looks incredible. The biggest jump in quality since Grand Theft Auto IV is the character animation, but the world is also much more expansive, detailed, and populous. The price we pay for that is occasional framerate dips and texture pop-in, which I found became more prominent the longer I played, but never significantly detracted from my experience. For such a gigantic and flexible world it’s also remarkably bug-free — I encountered just three minor issues in the 35 hours I spent on my first playthrough, none of which caused me to fail a mission.
6. If you have the option, get the PS3 version of the game.
As Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton reports, Xbox 360 users who have installed the game improperly have had performance issues.
7. Bottom line: If you’re a fan of of the series or the action genre in general, you should buy “GTA V.” The game’s simplified checkpoint system makes it far more accessible for casual players while the improvements to driving and combat will satisfy hardcore action gamers.
8. Parents: There is graphic violence and sex in “Grand Theft Auto V.” If you wouldn’t want your child to watch a show like “Game of Thrones,” you wouldn’t want your child play “GTA V.”
Here’s a trailer that shows off many aspects of the game without spoiling the story:
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