Video Game Review: ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ is a Devilish Delight

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

CHICAGO – Despite being a massive game, the best parts of “Grand Theft Auto V” are the little details: The way whiskey sloshes around in a glass, how characters show up to cut scenes in their custom saved cars, how surfboards litter the beaches, the numerous dynamic touches like the radio updating you on a given happening you had a hand in, as well as little narrative details that hint at “GTA V” being about something a little bigger than it lets on. Video Game Rating: 5.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 5.0/5.0

“Grand Theft Auto V” absolutely delivers on the grand scale, too — setting the bar way high for open-world games. Throughout the 30+ hour campaign, you’ll find yourself organizing scores, hiring gunmen and hackers, and executing a series of heists with much-improved shooting mechanics. When not heisting or shooting you’ll take on missions that affect the virtual stock market, challenge you to legalize marijuana in Los Santos, run a tow-truck for a cracked-out friend, pop into a Suburban clothing store for new duds, deliver booze, race triathlons, and score celebrity memorabilia for an old British not-quite-couple. This game is miles deep and twice as wide, and while most missions aren’t as cohesive or beneficial to the player as the side-missions in a game like “Far Cry 3” are, they’re still worthy of your time. The best tend to feature you in a vehicle, careening at top speed down a narrow road or path, navigating around or over obstacles as you chase down a target or race against the clock.

Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V
Photo credit: Rockstar Games

When you’re not on that proverbial clock, “GTA V” is beautiful, robust, detailed, and varied, with Rockstar’s euphoria engine proving yet again it’s the best thing to happen to videogaming since the analog stick. Characters move and contort and animate in all manner of realistic ways, with facial animation conveying emotions that range from disappointed, surprised, envious, embarrassed, and even that selfie-smirk we’re all intimately familiar with. NPCs converse, horns beep, wild animals run across the road, taxis let out passengers, all whether or not you’re paying attention. There are girls in bikinis near the beach, heavily muscled guys near the gym, and you bet your butt you’ll see Priuses and environmentally friendly vehicles near tech startups, and trucks, SUVs, and dune buggies out in the desert. “GTA V” oozes care and personality.

Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V
Photo credit: Rockstar Games

Personalities you may, or may not, enjoy. “GTA V” offers up a trio of playable characters, with ex-gangster, bad husband, and existential crisis-ridden Michael, entrepreneurial minded, eager-to-escape-the-ghetto Franklin, and human-tornado-of-destruction Trevor serving as the protagonists of this post-modern anti-fable. Each character has their own personal arcs that fit into a larger narrative, plus special abilities and safe houses. Michael and Franklin are your typical GTA protagonists, bad people who do bad things, but still want and need and hope and dream. Trevor on the other hand is abhorrent. Aggressive, deranged, charismatic in the most terrifying of ways. He’s also the only character in “GTA” history who believably would engage in the kind of mayhem for which the franchise is known.

And boy is it known for it. “GTA” has long served to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable in interactive media, and this iteration is no different. You get such hot ticket items as bare breasts, domestic terrorism, plane hijacking in a post 9/11 world, casual-but-contextual racism, implied sexual assault, and graphic depictions of torture, waterboarding, and dismemberment. There’s a sophomoric aspect to a lot of it - pushing X to make it rain at a strip club, for example, but “GTA V” manages to bring something resembling… a ‘South Park’ style maturity to the overall experience, like how you’re only allowed to touch that stripper when a bouncer isn’t looking, creating a fun filled mini-game. How you view the controversial elements is really up to you, but most of them occur within the context of what the game is trying to accomplish.

Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V
Photo credit: Rockstar Games

What *is* “Grand Theft Auto V” trying to accomplish? I think “Grand Theft Auto V” is actually trying to make a point about the human condition. The funny thing about “GTA” is that it doesn’t really encourage or reward the random acts of violence the franchise is most associated with - and most random encounters have you stopping criminals and returning stolen purses or giving rides to stranded Los Santosians - like a real good samaritan. You don’t get points for mowing down citizens with a rocket launcher, or for stealing cars, and in fact you can get from point A to point B in this game easily via taxi-cab or your own character owned vehicle, obeying traffic laws the whole time.

But you won’t. And “GTA V” knows partaking in these illicit activities is a blast, and a big part of its appeal, so it continuously pokes the player in the ribs about it. This concept is posed to the player in a couple of different ways. During Michael’s therapy he’ll admit to ‘killing a guy on the way over’ to the office and simply not caring - but he only says it if you did really kill someone on the way. Franklin will constantly agree to doing dastardly deeds, then bemoan the fact he can’t ever say no - because if he said no, there would be no game. Then there’s the fact that Trevor is the only character of the three who enjoys the slaughter, and approaches the world he lives in exactly how a ‘typical’ player approaches “Grand Theft Auto” - like a toy box of destruction.

Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V
Photo credit: Rockstar Games

With that ‘toybox of destruction’ mentality in mind, we start to understand “GTA V” is saying something to gamers a little deeper than its plot suggests. There’s a mid-game mission where you’re required to torture someone. In a game where players happily engage in massive, rampages, killing dozens, when one of these nameless citizens suddenly has a face, a job, a personality, and fear in his eyes, the script gets flipped. Being forced to select a torture implement, and watch this detainee squirm and scream and cry and beg for his life is unbearable, and turns a mirror on the player. This whole murderous rampage thing isn’t so fun when you’re up close and personal with it, now, is it?

So it seems “Grand Theft Auto V” is telling folks you don’t ask Hooters for the wings, you don’t watch “Dexter” for romantic subplots, and within the proper context you shouldn’t be ashamed of enjoying a graphically violent and ‘offensive’ game like this one because Rockstar knows what they’re doing, folks. I like “Grand Theft Auto V” a lot for its massive amount of content, but I love it for the hundreds of little meta-nuances that never do come together. Writers Dan Houser and Rupert Humphries, are definitely trying to make a specific point about…I’m not sure.

Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V
Photo credit: Rockstar Games

But from the way radio advertising directly assaults personal insecurities and every sacred cow you can think of, to the way Los Santos is attempting to legalize medical cocaine via the same exact methods that have made marijuana far less taboo today than it was a decade ago, “GTA” turns our world, our media, our beliefs, and hopes, and our dreams against us in the *very* same way our politicians, our news, and our social media does to rile us up against whatever the controversy *this* week happens to be. BUT because the messages in “GTA V” are blunt and obvious and devoid all political correctness - it’s sort of profound, hilarious, and kind of makes you feel uncomfortable like a good George Carlin bit.

Political correctness exists to protect our feelings, to prevent us from feeling bad, or challenged, unhappy, or unfairly maligned, but it’s also stifling to things like honesty - which is no longer the best policy in far too many instances. No one is going on TV to say NSA doesn’t care about the porn Americans are watching. And no one is going on TV this month to say that “Grand Theft Auto V” is great because it’s unabashedly violent, viscerally funny, and that it’s really fun to be a real bastard.

Much like the aforementioned ‘South Park’ “Grand Theft Auto V” rips away that political correctness like a band-aid we’ve been wearing too long. Assaulting everything it can think of in the process, all the while goading players into to waking up and smelling the delicious irony of having a game called “Grand Theft Auto”, with content far worse than its title suggests, being the undisputed king of all things interactive media in a world where we can’t even stuff cheerios in our mouths without upsetting someone. “Grand Theft Auto V” aims to satirize everyone it possibly can in the cheapest, gut-punching way possible, which in a world of numbing faux outrage, feels like 40 hours of a metal baseball bat of fresh air to the face.

“Grand Theft Auto V” is now available for the Xbox 360 and PS3. The version reviewed was played on the former. It is rated M (Mature). video game critic Paul Meekin

Video Game Critic

John Mavrick's picture

I loved the game

I loved playing the Grand Theft Auto V. It has a perfect blend of the adventurous and moreover realistic background. I find it an incredible experience to play.

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