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Midlife Gamer Round Table: Grand Theft Auto V

September 25th, 2013 by

CoverArt-GTAVGTA V is one of the most anticipated games of this generation let alone this year.  If GTA IV was Rockstar finding its wings on relatively new systems than GTA V plans to soar to the boundaries of what the current generation can achieve and as such, is too large to really expect one person to review. So rather than give one opinion, we have decided to give many.

Gameplay & Characters written by Derek ‘Digi’ McRoberts

When is GTA not GTA? If you didn’t have your driving, shooting, lots and lots of collectables and a huge open world to explore, you would have your answer. So it is no surprise really that this release is not the innovation laden genre buster. If these sections were dropped, or radically modified, would we be able to justify calling it Grand Theft Auto? In my opinion, no. That is not to say Rockstar have not made some changes to the formula of their 2008 iteration.

In the interim Rockstar have had success with Red Dead Redemption, LA Noire and Max Payne 3, and if you look close enough you can easily see the cross over influences from them all.

Gone is the “friend” system from Niko’s world (thankfully) and a much more streamlined side quest system has been introduced. It is by no means smaller, but it certainly feels less intrusive on your time spent enjoying the main story or enjoying the sights and sounds of San Andreas. The tweaks to the driving from GTA IV appear to have made the transition with little modification, as has the combat mechanics. The cover system has been refined somewhat, making movement from one piece of cover to another much more fluid and responsive, and the response of the shooting has been improved, though Rockstar have stuck to the single dot reticule of previous iterations which can cause some frustration specifically during section where it is a requirement to drive and shoot simultaneously. Frustrating, rather than game-breaking, this would have to be the biggest draw back in the mechanics, and it would have been nice to see some innovation in this environment, given the leaps forward some other Open world titles have made in the same area.

Refinement aside, the inclusion of three primary characters have given Rockstar some license to play around with effects and it is here that we see the influence of Red Dead and Max Payne make their strongest appearance.

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Each of the primaries; Franklin, Michael and Trevor, have their own idiosyncrasies, and this is conveyed not only in their mannerism’s and dialogue but also in their unique special abilities that can be utilised during missions.

Franklin, the consummate getaway driver is gifted with the ability to “focus” while driving. Pressing in both sticks simultaneously speeds up his reactions making the world seem to slow to a crawl, allowing him to pull off manoeuvres that would typically be impossible for a normal driver.

Michael, the pinnacle of thievery has the most recognisable ability, slowing down time to a crawl allowing him to pull off impossible shots with incredible accuracy.

Finally Trevor, our friendly neighbourhood psychopath, has the ability to go into a concentrated Rage to exponentially increase his damage output during combat.

Although these are not in and of themselves original, the ability to Switch between the characters brings these beneficial abilities into sharp focus later in the game. When playing as one of the three during heist missions, knowing when to switch and utilise each of their abilities will make some of the more difficult missions a breeze.

“I play GTA for the characters and how their stories are told in a fairly believable virtual world and, from what I’ve played so far and in my humble opinion, GTA V is up there with the best of Rockstars work. Little things that irked me in GTA IV seemed to have been ironed out and the whole experience seems smoother and definitely more fun. The ability to jump between the main protagonists is definitely a plus for me and keeps things fresh for longer.” – Community member MaGe1974

Story written by Craig ‘craigieh’ Hallam

It’s difficult to focus on story when covering the opening sections of the game only, without full knowledge of what is to come. Needless to say, what Rockstar offer in the opening third of the game (being an crude assumption based on in-game statistics) is some of their strongest writing to date. In terms of structure, each of the three protagonists, whose lives and motivations are made clear in their opening moments, are given their own storyline, each interweaving with the other in effective ways. This three pronged approach also helps keep an otherwise generic crime story feels a little fresh, offering variation so that things don’t get stale. The central idea, of Franklin’s ambition, Michael’s boredom, and Trevor’s rage, allow the player to enjoy a change of pace frequently.

The characters themselves are not necessarily what was expected. Franklin starts strongly, a bull-headed, ambitious young man, who seems a little serious. After meeting Michael however, his attempts to escape his background as a low level thug seem a little neglected. Trevor is as crazy as trailers suggested, but also much more menacing and sociopathic. His motivations are also surprisingly moral. However, it’s Michael who is the most interesting. His tale of a highly proficient thief effectively neutered by being in the witness protection programme and tortured by his ineffectual and ungrateful family is the one that holds most tension, and we see a surprisingly brutal and effective professional criminal regain his purpose as the story progresses. It’s Michael’s fate I’m most interested in right now.

It takes a while before you are in direct control of all three characters, but once you are, it’s still a challenge to see where the story is going. Similar to the structure of previous games, quest givers increase in authority as you ascend through the world; for example, Michael has soon becomes embroiled in doing missions for Los Santos’ FBI equivalent, the FIB, and the game’s central heists get bigger and more daring.

The satire on American and Western culture is still there, but this time feels less subtle, and it’s messages can feel like a tad obvious and delivered with the touch of a sledgehammer. It could be a case of this style of humour feeling a little old, but it does stand out . It doesn’t have much impact overall though, as the tone of the city is more light-hearted than GTA, in a more knowing and self-conscious way.

There have already been nods, mentions and downright head-butts to the events and characters of Liberty City. It’s also alternately laugh out loud funny, genuinely intriguing, and in one particular moment, breathtakingly tense; when playing as Trevor, switch to Michael as soon as you can.

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So far, GTAV is offering a story that is moving along at a fair pace, shifting perspective through both player control and via Rockstar’s guiding hand, offering up something unexpectedly engaging. Possibly the biggest achievement right now is creating a set of character’s that whilst not entirely decent, are hugely likeable. A generic crime story of power, ambition and the corruption of the American Dream it may be, but it shines in character, dialogue and the interaction between it’s assorted motley crew of messed up citizens.

“Story missions are great. Variety, comedy and downright creepiness (Trevor) make each one interesting. I’ve been prone to scene skipping in other games but I’ve listened to every word so far in this. Jumping between characters adds something else too. Side missions, mini-games, random pop up events all mean there is something to do. Then there’s the sheer size and detail of Los Santos. The first thing I did (after visiting a strip club) was call my Airship and cruise around the skies. No matter where you are the world carries on around you. It’s a living breathing city and you never know what’s going to pop up next.” – Community member Carver

Soundtrack written by Si Stevens

Although they have a few head scratching entries now and then I have always been a fan of the audio soundtracks of the GTA series and is something I always look forward to with every iteration of the series.

There is only really one place you can start when talking about the audio content of the GTA series and that’s the main theme. From the opening line “Good shot kid, I think you got ‘em” of GTA’s Joyride by The Shootaz to the Dexter-ish opening notes before the goose bump inducing string section of Soviet Connection by Michael Hunter via the Jan Hammer inspired Theme from Vice City by Lex Horton, the main theme always manages to convey the setting that you are going to experience for the next 15-30 hours (minimum).

So what do we have for this iteration of the series? Well a quick search on the internet shows us the first thing we have is confusion about which song is actually the games main theme. Some people are adamant that the ambient score heard during the install/loading screen is the theme. Personally I don’t agree that with this point of view; although it does convey a sense of something big is about to happen any minute, perfect for building the excitement as you wait for all eight of those gigs to install.

Others are happy to push a track that sounds like a hybrid of 50 Cent’s In Da Club and Mark Mancina’s Bad Boys Theme which although would work exceptionally well and would link into the main three protagonists in their own unique way, it is also a song I have still not heard in the actual game.

So this leaves the only true choice for the main theme and that is the song that plays over the credits as Michael leaves his shrink. Of course the title of this track being GTA V Main Theme helped me come to this conclusion. For me personally, I found this track to be both short and lacking the character that previous themes have. It’s still a funky song but feels more of a transition from one character to another rather than a theme song.

So how about the guts of the soundtrack? With 15 radio stations, 2 talk stations, over 200 licensed songs and a score so large it is akin to 20 movies worth, to say it is the biggest soundtrack of this generation is somewhat of an understatement. The genres of the radio stations are all based on radio stations you could possible hear if you flew to Los Angeles in real life and gives reason to the inclusion, for the first time, of a current pop station as well as a Mexican electronica station (yes that really is a thing).

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As always, the radio stations include the normal fare of hilarious adverts, DJs and news stories as they become a parody of the real-life media outlets that will no doubt be demonising the game for weeks and months after its release (Man stabbed and robbed for GTA V as the headline whilst the story mentions briefly the theft of a £100 watch and £400 mobile phone anyone?).

One expectation in the current day is scene specific songs in order to amplify the emotions of the player at that time, as made famous by a recent saintly game. Although not official, GTA does incorporate this to a point, it’s just you have to fill in the gaps yourself. For example, in the mission where we are introduced officially to Michael, we quite clearly see Michaels wife and tennis coach flirting – hinting at an affair that Michael must know about based on his location when this occurs  – after this mission was complete, I changed over to control Michael to find him driving around the suburbs blaring Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now from his radio.

Overall, the soundtrack is not the very best that has been featured in the franchise but there is still very little to complain about here. Regardless of your taste in music there will be a station that soon becomes your favourite.

“Radio station always crack me up and the story seems solid so far.” – Community member Dekados

“GTA 4.5; More of the same with a few new features and the ability to switch between characters. Its a good game, like all GTA games are, but its not the world changing, mega game that everyone is making it out to be. Having recently completed a similar title, coming back to GTA feels awkward and outdated. Same with the fighting and traversing the landscape on foot. It all just feels very clumsy and not very fun when compared to its peers. It’s good but not great.” – Community member Duggy Darko

Scale written by ‘Munki’ Matt Jones

Your first clue to the scale of GTA V will come when curiosity gets the better of you. You’ll move the pointer to the outer reaches of the map screen and it’ll start scrolling and keeps going…and going.

Moments that’ll take your breath away come thick and fast, whether it’s the first time you dive into the sea and see the beautiful underwater world, or when you’re high above Los Santos in a helicopter and can see the landscape sprawl, a vast desert that turns into a city that stretches out in front of you, street lights sparkling as far as the eye can see.

It’s not only a giant world; it’s also one bursting with life everywhere you look. Previous GTA games were plagued with dead space, but in GTA V the less habitable parts of the world are filled with wildlife and the cities feel more alive than in any game previously.

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“GTA V is an amazing technical achievement. Stand on a viewpoint and watch the sunset as city life takes place. Incredible.” – Community member Ancient Gamer

“I have always loved the worlds created in the GTA games, more so than any other open world type of game, there is such a feeling of ‘place’; the fine balance between making things accessible and fun but also being able to look to the horizon and think; I can go there. No other game would I pilot a blimp around just to look at stuff for half an hour and find it just as pleasurable, if not in some ways more so, than all of the running and gunning.” – Community member Ilander66

“The size of the open world map is incredible.  Some other large open world titles become a glitch frenzy for me, whereas this seems as smooth as my white chocolate custard buttercream. About 6-7 hours in and loving it so far, and I can certainly live with some clumsy controls every now and again.  You can’t be this ambitious and get it all perfect. ” – Community member Guernica

“At first when I started playing I didn’t like the controls but that’s something I can get used to, I’m loving the graphics, the water and the story. Fave character so far is Micheal and I reckon Trevor will be bat shit crazy too. Loving the huge world and there’s some excellent vehicles even if some of the handling is tricky.” – Community member Classic Gamer

Graphics written by Derek ‘Digi’ McRoberts

Aesthetically, Rockstar have once again set the bar for what can be achieved on current gen hardware and brought us a title that can stand as a good comparison to see how far the graphics of this generation has come. Character models look more realistic than they did in GTA IV and improvements in the Lighting and environment truly bring Los Santos to life.

Watching the sun set behind Mt Chiliad or watching the sun rise from Vespucci Beach has an impact behind it that is hard to ignore. The vehicles of the wealthy denizens of upper Los Santos are a spectacle to behold when the sun reflects off perfectly polished and gleaming bonnets across the city. This team truly know how to create a spectacle. Weather effects and improved mechanics meld with the improved visual acuity of the game, with lightning streaking the sky during particularly violent storms, and your visibility on the always lit streets of Los Santos are quickly reduced to a few feet when the torrent descends.

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The ocean seems to take a life of its own, with squalls rising up to bash the docks, the white foam of the sea bashing against the wooden balustrade ringing the seafront properties. Dive in or jump on a jet ski and the peaks and troughs created by other vessels or the weather itself will rock or create a convenient jump to utilise.

This is a truly beautiful title, and although nothing truly ground-breaking in the terms of how graphics have progressed in this generation, it is without a doubt one of the front runners for most technically accomplished.

“First GTA since Vice City and I’m loving everything about this…the control system is a bit pants though!” – Community member Black73Cat

“After playing two of the franchises peers since GTA4, it took me a while to get used to the driving again – I know some people don’t like how twitchy it can be – but its taught me to drive with a little more care and not just gun it constantly. Frame rate may not be the best, but when you appreciate how much is going on (last night I noticed even my rear lights were reflecting the street lights).” – Midlife Gamer Podcast Host Mantis Matt

“Better than the sum of its parts defines it for me. OK, the shooting isn’t the best, the driving can be a bit fiddly, the sheer scale can be overwhelming at times.  But as a complete package, it is by some distance the best video game ever made.  I don’t know how R* do it, but I have never been in a virtual world created by anyone else where I’m quite happy to play for a couple of hours just messing about, watching what’s going on and maybe doing one or two missions.  An immense achievement.” – Community member Hairy Buddha

Format: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3    Release Date: 17/09/2013

Disclosure: The title was played over the course of 7 days on both systems by both members of Midlife Gamer staff and the Midlife Gamer Community.  For more information on details of our reviews policy, click here.

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One Response to “Midlife Gamer Round Table: Grand Theft Auto V”
  1. avatar MaGe1974 says:

    This concept works really well. Great to read detailed analysis from the team of regular website contributors with wraparound from the community. Should do this more often! :)

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