Saturday, November 28, 2015

[REVIEW] Grand Theft Auto V (PS4)

Grand Theft Auto V
Played on: Playstation 4
Genre: Open-world action-adventure
Developer / Publisher: Rockstar

My favorite metaphor for the GTA franchise is this: imagine you have a friend who you often meet at parties. Whenever you do, you tend to have an awesome night of silly conversation and drink-fueled, reckless fun. But every now and then you meet them in a more sober environment during the day, and when you try to strike a conversation... it's just kinda awkward and not the same. Likewise, in Grand Theft Auto V you'll often find yourself immersed in the most crazy, action-filled, over-the-top criminal adventures. But every now and then, an extremely mundane section comes along and ends up feeling like the sober day job part of the characters' lives. Oh well, a night-only friend can still be a great friend if you just focus on what makes the friendship tick, and the same happens with Rockstar's latest.

GTA V has you playing as three main characters: rookie hustler Franklin, retired thief Michael, and complete-freaking-nutjob druglord Trevor. Their stories start intertwining as you make your way through the game's campaign, and the writing is decent enough that the many cutscenes are actually very enjoyable to watch. The gameplay is your typical GTA fare: a very competent action-adventure romp that throws you into an open-world city (or, in this game's case, an entire small state) and tasks you to survive by making it big as a criminal. You'll steal vehicles, drive around town, enter gunfights with rival gangsters, run from the police, and ocasionally pick up a hooker. Controls are mostly intuitive and the action is responsive.

Like in pretty much every GTA game since the first one, the real star of the show is the seamless open-world exploration. GTA V's state of San Andreas features a whole bunch of different environments, from the bustling metropolis of Los Santos to small villages up north to vast patches of mountain wilderness. There are a lot of cool details waiting around for your attention, such as the entire episodes of fictional TV shows you can watch. Just wandering around can be pretty great; at one point, I stole a jet-ski and went around the state, just looking for stuff. I found a deserted beachside camp with more jet skis, then tried to find my way back to civilization while terrorizing wild animals and unsuspecting citizens unlucky enough to be driving nearby. It's this sort of mindless fun that's arguable the game's greatest strenght.

But of course, there are also more structured missions. This is where the game (the franchise, really) fluctuates wildly in quality for me. I mean, stealing a top-secret army weapon or torching a competitor's meth lab can be fun enough. But then you end up doing stuff such as operate a crane, tow a car, or going drinking with a friend for no discernable in-game benefit... and frankly, those can get so dull that it beats me why they're even in the game (and worse, some as mandatory campaign missions).

Some other missions have different problems: the worst offender in my eyes makes a minigame out of a brutal torture section. I fully believe that game violence can be done in a mostly harmless way, especially when it's as wonderfully overblown (and tongue-in-cheek) as it generally is in GTA. This sort of thing, however, feels like taking a turn for the disturbing just for the hell of it, especially because the actual gameplay in the aforementioned mission is completely dull and uninteresting.

Controversies aside, it's hard not to admire GTA V for what it does well. It's a game that is fun a lot of the time, especially because it eschews any sort of faux-serious vibe, opting instead for the serie's trademark penchant for the zany. It may be overrated in my eyes, but it's still worth your time.

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