Towing the line.

gta v 4

Even after completing Red Dead Redemption, as much as I came out of it with some respect, I still couldn’t really love it as much as everyone else does as a Game of the Generation Contender. One of the things I did come to love about Red Dead Redemption, besides how massive it was, is how random its world can be. NPCs running to you asking for favours, being challenged to showdowns or have rogue outlaws come through Armadillo and shooting it up. You as John Marston had the choice of either stopping the outlaws by killing them or let them run riot.

The same is that of Grand Theft Auto V. These kind of random flashpoints will come up at any time, be it when someone is being mugged or, in one such example you’ll likely encounter at the beginning of the game, coming across a set of robbers in need of a getaway driver. Timing of that could be considered lucky considering the special skill of Franklin, one of the three main characters you’ll play in GTA V, is being able to weave through traffic with precision in slow motion. Handy when in a getaway.

GTA V’s driving feels more grounded this time: it doesn’t feel as heavy as GTA IV’s driving mechanics was. Which is good news considering you practically have everything under the sun that can turn left, right, forwards or backwards in the game, including submarines, quad bikes and more.

But as well as Franklin, you’ll also be playing as Michael and Trevor throughout your stay in a completely reimagined Los Santos from the one we played in 2004. Michael and Trevor have history. Ten years from where the game takes place, something happens which sees Michael go into witness protection after a sweetheart deal from the FIB (GTA’s own FBI), whilst Trevor is living out in the desert.

This isn’t some rags to riches story as is the cliche with most GTA games, neither: though Franklin is living off a couple thousand of dollars living with his aunt, Michael is making his way through the world living in a mansion up on Rockford Hills, the game’s telling of Beverly Hills, with a decent chunk of money.

But for someone who looks bone broke, is one of the dirtiest looking characters you’ll see in a game and lives in a trailer park, Trevor is super rich compared to Franklin and Michael combined when we first meet him along with some familiar faces.

The game’s three playable character system, the first time the series has done this (not including the trio of characters playable in GTA IV and its DLC), is an interesting concept that actually does work and extends the amount of time you’ll be playing the game for (In fact, small disclosure to make here: I’ve only hit halfway of the story here). As you hold the down button and select which character to play as next, you’ll possibly see all sorts of scenarios appearing on screen when you next see then.

For example, switching to Michael, you could be seeing him coming out a movie (he’s a movie buff, after all), or maybe when switching to Franklin, he could be defusing a situation between two LCPD cops and his friend Lamar. Or maybe as Trevor, you could be controlling him whilst in the midst of a police chase for some unknown reason.

Despite the huge world (more on that in a second), it also can be a small world on occasion, as the game can have one character run into another in LS. One such example (the only example I’ve seen since I started playing on Saturday) was Michael being in a clothes store in Rockford Hills. Just as I’m coming out, Trevor spots me (it probably helped I took him to the same store before taking Michael there) and asks me if we should hang out – I declined his invitation.

But there’s also plenty within the world to see and do – Los Santos is huge in scope and very vast. Even within the first few hours of the game, you won’t feel like you’ve made a dent into what is possible with the game – there’s yoga, tennis, golf, triathlons, all sorts of stuff that even I’m struggling to keep up with in naming them all.

There a lot to do in GTA V. The argument could be made that there might be *too much* to do in GTA V, but you’ve got to respect the scope Rockstar North has put into the game. The mantra go big or go home certainly applies here for the ‘The House The Housers Built’.

Yet, these are all extra-curricular activities all the same. These men’s day job is to do heists and score huge paydays, and it’s where the character selection comes into view here as a useful tool. There’s a mission where the trio have to sack a security van to get hold of some money: Michael is driving a garbage truck that’ll block the security van, before the player switches to Franklin in a tow truck to take down the security van.

The LCPD then come in force: time to take them on – Michael and Franklin are on the frontlines while Trevor is on a nearby rooftop providing sniper support. You’ll tactically be swapping between characters to help decide the outcome. And if one of your buddies is in danger, the character wheel will flash red for that corresponding person, meaning the player would have to switch to it immediately to get it out of the jam its found itself in.

It’s worth noting here that GTA V’s combat is hugely refined over its predecessors, taking its roots from Max Payne 3. Rather selecting using the d-pad like in IV, GTA V features a weapon wheel that’s brought up using the RB and selecting the weapon of choice. And aiming is more streamlined this time: you’re still able to flick between targets using the right stick, but feels less flimsy than it did with GTA IV.

Credit should also go to Rockstar North for making such a fantastic looking game at the tail end of a console cycle. Considering the game is on an aging relic like the Xbox 360, which will turn eight years old the day Xbox One launches, it’s an absolutely stunning title to behold. The lighting in the game is marvelous and seeing something like overseeing the city of Los Santos from the Vinewood Hills at night is just a fantastic sight.

From what I have played so far of Grand Theft Auto V since Saturday, it’s just fantastic. There are at times where it feels like the amount of activities you have the option of doing is overwhelming at times and it does feel like it takes a while for you to even make some sort of dent into the game. But otherwise, and putting aside little trivial things in comparison like framerate dips (nothing game breaking) whilst in the submarine or radio stations abruptly changing songs whilst in the middle of the previous song before it, Grand Theft Auto V feels like an refinement of Rockstar’s best bits this generation, all rolled into one game:

+ The open, thriving world and its population of Red Dead Redemption
+ A refined combat system based off Max Payne 3
+ An intertwined story akin to Grand Theft Auto IV

Not to mention, a fantastic looking title that would even rival some of the first-generation PS4/Xbox One titles set to launch this November.

Book a ticket to Los Santos. You’re going to have a lot of things to do during your stay.

Disclosure: This opinion is based on a final Xbox 360 retail copy of Grand Theft Auto V, *NOT PROVIDED* by Rockstar Games (rather an early dispatched package from Amazon (there is a God) bought by myself). Grand Theft Auto V releases worldwide tonight on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Hit this for details on a special mammoth Cullen Plays LIVE stream later tonight on PlayStation 3.

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