Leading up to the release, arguably the most notable aspect of Grand Theft Auto 5 was the size and scope. Starting out, GTA 5 is eager to place you back in its sunny and breezy take on Los Angeles in a way that packs a punch, too. The first 10 minutes or so drop players in the thick of a heist in progress in the backwoods throes of some Midwestern town called Ludendorff, North Yankton. The blizzard conditions, the crunchy snow, the dead trees, the coats, the hats, the ice, the tire chains makes the abrupt cut to Los Santos that much more potent.
In the blink of an eye we are transported from the frigid Ludendorff to the sunny Los Santos. More or less substituting the prototypical cinematic opening cutscene Rockstar Games is known (and often much-maligned) for with one much more interactivity.
The map is so enormous that Rockstar found it necessary to break it into three chunks and give each chunk a character that defines it. Franklin Clinton, the up-and-comer, gets the urban sprawl. Michael De Santa, the retired ex-con, gets the grandiose hills and houses of the filthy rich. Trevor Philips, the sweaty maniac, gets the dusty rest – along with some wilderness. These characters, despite being capable of reprehensible crimes of unfathomable magnitudes, are pretty likable. The choice to use three interchangeable characters for one game’s cohesive and singular story, while seemingly radical when first announced, sticks the landing. There’s something for all stripes.
Michael is the foundation of a winning story who is astoundingly relatable and downright cool in a Tony Soprano way. Franklin is an enjoyable complement – and the prime choice for automobile-loving players. With early missions featuring his friend Lamar, Franklin picks up Kenan & Kel vibe – if Kel preferred kidnapping people to drinking orange soda. And Trevor? Trevor is for lunatics. With an unhinged inhibition for unthinkable chaos – merged with his spiky personality and penchant for bizarre clothes and guttural grunts, it was long predicted he’d be a fan favorite. One week after release and Trevor is well on his way to GTA icon status – and possibly the face of this series installment.
However, for all the previously untouched territory Rockstar enjoys exploring, they also visit a bunch of overly familiar tropes from their past games – and hammer them home all over again. We encounter the shady foreign first-missions guy in Simeon Yetarian – who draws more than a few parallels to Grand Theft Auto 4‘s Vlad Glebov. There’s the same insane devil-may-care coke heads and irresponsible friends that put the protagonists in “Aw man, I really don’t want to do this!” situations. The satire is so shamelessly biting this time around that things suddenly get awfully meta when even modern violent video games are a target, too.
The soundtrack is more than passable but, comparatively, GTA 4‘s music provided a distinct personality that GTA 5 lacks. Despite some less memorable music choices, the radio hosts succeed (for the most part). Iggy Pop is gone but Lazlow is back, Bootsy Collins on Space 103.2 is a fun presence, and British supermodel Cara Delevigne makes a surprisingly lovable turn as the host of Non Stop Pop FM.
Beyond the radio, the cars are largely the same in terms of quality and performance as in series past – if not slightly better. The mechanics have improved: vehicles flip around a bit more but the days of having to abandon a car after it was stuck upside down are gone – as the player can now flip the car over and resume fast-paced mayhem.
While you’ll have to wait for our official review, gamers are already busy debating whether or not GTA 5 is a slight improvement over the past installment – or just a great game that doesn’t quite hit the daunting bar set by its predecessor. Improving on a game as nearly flawless as GTA 4 is an ambitious task but GTA 5 isn’t as drastically different from the last entry as some might have hoped. The rusty metal and damp streets of Liberty City have been swapped out with leafy greens and dusty ditches – which is aesthetically beautiful and rich – but gameplay mostly consists tweaks (both major and minor) – not a total overhaul. That said, the game’s multiplayer component is not yet live – so it’s hard to judge the new title’s full potential at this point. Still, for now, the location and choice of protagonists (as opposed to the guts of the game) is the most radical difference.
We’ll have our full Grand Theft Auto 5 review up soon but, in the meantime, stay tuned to Game Rant for further updates!
Grand Theft Auto 5 is available now for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
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