5 Hours with GTA 5
After impatiently waiting for weeks, watching gameplay trailer after trailer and staring lovingly at glorious screen shots, it’s finally here, the Magna Carta Holy Grail (except this one is actually good) of video games, Grand Theft Auto V.
The civilian killing, car stealing, stripper slapping, no good doing game your mother absolutely despises is finally here. However, despite all the negative attention the Grand Theft Auto series garners, GTA V is much more than that. It’s more than just a big bundle of controversy that’d make Miley Cyrus look like Hannah Montana again; it’s also a satirical social observation of the American culture. The game is a reflection of the average American citizen struggling through the economic strife of the recession-hit times, juggling sociological observations around a dark and well-written story. It’s an experience unlike anything else and although it gets its reputation on the senseless violence and its perverse nature, it is much more than that and can only be truly understood by playing it. It seems like its all sex, drugs and rock and roll at Rockstar Games, but getting past a superficial observation, they have created a crowning video game achievement.
I picked up GTAV at my local Gamestop first thing Tuesday morning and after ogling at it like a Kate Upton centerfold for the 15-minute ride home, I finally had it all to myself. After tearing at the packaging like a rabid badger, I noticed there were two discs in the case. WARNING: in order to play GTAV, you’ll need to have 8 gigabytes of storage free to install the game. If you don’t than you’ll need to work some magic because you won’t be able to play it and the sheer level of frustration will make you contemplate sticking your head in the oven. I personally used an external hard drive for the game’s memory and after about a 15-minute install, I was ready to begin the video game experience of a lifetime. *I promise to keep any and all major spoilers to a minimum for those who still haven’t played it yet.*
From the very moment I cautiously placed Disc 2 of GTAV into my Xbox 360 I knew I was in for an experience. Instead of allowing you to gently ease into the gameplay you’re dropped right into the action, as the opening scene is you robbing a bank, with a few other characters. Unlike most video game tutorials, this one doesn’t suck. In fact it doesn’t feel like a tutorial at all because you get lost in the gameplay. Rockstar brought out all the big guns on GTAV and it paid off. The cinematics alone are incredible as cut scenes are captivating and well scripted.
The heist sequence teaches you the gameplay basics from participating in firefights to character switching, one of the many additions to the gameplay, and driving. Character movement is smooth and the aiming feels improved. It’s similar to GTAIV with the auto aim feature, but cleaner. You’ll have a few chances to drive early in the tutorial and the vehicle controls feel tight and responsive, unlike GTAIV where it felt like you were driving on ice the entire game. The opening credits eventually came on and I sat in amazement of the experience I just purchased. The early portions of the game have given a few glimpses of the main characters and we get an idea of their general attitudes and nature. The writing was very well done and the dialogue feels human, an aspect many games miss out on. Conversations are great to listen to and the script is full of dark humor and vulgarity.
Hooker Kill Counter: 0. My opportunities have minimal so far.
I’ve come to realize that stopping what I’m doing and writing down my reactions is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done as a writer and I’ve covered court cases and written obituaries before, so that alone speaks to the epic nature of GTAV. I spent a majority of this hour as Franklin, one of the three main playable characters in the game and got to explore his neighborhood. There were some generic missions in the early stages, which included street racing, towing vehicles with a tow truck – which has an impressive physics engine might I add - and kidnapping a rival gangster.
The sheer variety of missions is what keeps the game from becoming monotonous and even the most mundane of tasks feels exciting and new. Each mission also introduced new characters that came with hilarious dialogue and some memorable moments. A majority of the conversations revolve around money and class status, which is a small piece of the satirical nature of GTAV. As you meet new people you get to learn more about the main characters through their dialogue and interactions, which makes you feel like you truly know who Franklin is, despite him being a completely fictional character. The RPG element from Grand Theft Auto San Andreas has made a welcome return into GTAV, allowing you to improve your respective characters’ strength, stamina, stealth, driving and lung capacity amongst a few others skills. The second hour has given me an inkling into the sheer amount of depth GTA V has to offer.
Hooker Kill Counter: Still 0. I have been merciful to the ladies of the night.
In my third hour I abandoned the story mode and spent my time freely roaming the city, arguably one of the most entertaining aspects of the Grand Theft Auto series. As lame as it sounds, one of the first things I did was just climb a building and look around. I was in awe of my surroundings. The fictional city of Los Santos (Los Angeles) is absolutely breathtaking. It’s a graphical masterpiece. It’s almost overwhelming how it feels like a living, breathing city. The attention to detail is spectacular, as no neighborhood looks the same. Minor details like jumping out of the water and noticing that your clothes are soaking wet is as astounding as it is simple. Even just seeing the leftover scratches on your character’s face from that car accident you got into before you popped into the barbershop to get a fresh cut and a shave.
The amount of sound in this game is just stupefying. Whether it’s the noise of Los Santos traffic or the random AI interactions, it sounds freakishly real. When I was walking through the park I caught a guy on his cell phone talking to an employee at a pet store and complaining that they sold him a gay dog. And if that’s not enough for you, the soundtrack of GTAV is eclectic and carefully selected. Whether it’s West Coast classics like Snoop Dogg’s Gin And Juice, contemporary hip-hop like Kendrick Lamar’s A.D.H.D. or rock classics like sir Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, the soundtrack has something for everyone and GTAV does an impeccable job of having the music follow you on your journey.
Hooker Kill Counter: 6. In hour three I finally got some guns and money and in classic Grand Theft Auto fashion, let’s just say some shit went down in Franklin’s hood.
After getting some senseless violence out of my system I returned to the story mode, but not before I had my first random encounter. It turns out crime between the AI is a factor in the game and you can choose to intervene or watch it go down. After spotting a woman getting her purse snatched I chose to work as a vigilante. Like the Good Samaritan I am, I stole a nearby mountain bike, pedaled after the lawless individual and proceeded to do a drive by with a pistol on my bike, putting more bullets in him than 50 Cent. After stopping the criminal you get to choose if you want to keep the stolen money or return it to the owner, just one of many moral decisions you’ll make in the game.
Some brief citizen police work made me want to learn more about what I can do in the game so I decided to advance the story. One of the biggest additions to the game is the ability to switch characters. Once you have unlocked the playable characters in the game, you can switch between them at anytime with the press of a button, whether it’s during a mission or in free roam, you’ll be switched over to that character, wherever they are on the map and get dropped right into whatever they’re doing. This element adds an extra level of depth to the gameplay because it allows you to play missions from different perspectives, whether you’re the guy driving, the guy in the passenger’s seat shooting out the window, or the character sniping enemies from a distance. It allows you to play the game however you want and gives you a few options on how you personally want to play a mission. Also another improved mission factor is the checkpoint system, which allows you to pick up right around where you die so that you don’t have to frustratingly drive across the city again and again when you fail the mission.
Hooker Kill Counter: 8. They shouldn’t be working the corners while I’m in a high-speed car chase. I tend to take shortcuts on the sidewalks.
As the documentation of my first few hours of gameplay comes to a close, I’ve realized something fascinating about the sheer magnitude of Grand Theft Auto V. For as much as I think I’ve done in five hours, I haven’t even come close to scratching the surface on this game. I’ve barely explored the massive world and I’m just in the beginning stages of the story. Just as you think you’ve have accomplished something major, GTAV hits you with another reminder that you haven’t seen anything yet. The story is menacingly charming and the ability to control several characters causes their individual stories to intertwine seamlessly. It makes you care about the world you’ve created, more so than any of its predecessors.
When it comes to depth, GTAV is like the Mariana Trench. Customization is everything from the clothes your character wears, to the tricked out additions to your whip to the countless weapon modifications, the combinations are seemingly endless. Not to mention that the variety is also through the roof as you can drive anything from jet planes, to muscle cars, to mountain bikes and even a submarine. As a matter of fact, you can go swimming in the ocean and get eaten by a shark (a quick 5 achievement points for anyone trying to do their best Samuel L. Jackson impersonation). The landscapes vary from the concrete jungle, to the rich suburbs, to large open areas of the surrounding forests and you’ll want to explore every square inch of them all. And if that’s not enough, the game even has its own economy and players can invest in stocks and check their bank accounts at ATM’s.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, this mother-loving game has cross-platform multiplayer too. It just doesn’t get better than this.
As I frantically finish this article, fiending for more GTA like a crack head going through withdrawals, I’ll let it be known that Grand Theft Auto V is hands down one of the greatest achievements in video game history. Rockstar did a phenomenal job creating a game that is nearly flawless in every way imaginable. It is more of an experience than it is a game and should not be missed out on. If the first five hours are this implausibly spectacular, I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for me next. However you rank it, 5/5, two thumbs up, or an A+, GTA V is the game of the year and one of the best times you’ll have playing a video game.
Hooker Kill Count: I lost track after double-digits.
-Written by Carmine Colangelo