GTA V: The good, the bad and the ugly

Grand Theft Auto V is amazing. Or rather, it’s hideous. But not that bad, after all.

I must admit to myself that I have mixed feelings towards humankind’s best creation since bacon. It took a while, and several sessions with my therapist (aka my best friend Paddy, who happens to have a blog) to finally make up my mind, but in the end, I could not come to a better conclusion. GTA V: yay, but hey, almost nay.

It is a great game, indeed, with a condition: that you have never played GTA before. If you are, like me, in your mid-twenties or over, you probably remember the old instalments: each of them came with something new, exciting and surprising. In GTA III it was the 3D, Vice City was all about the late 80s atmosphere, in San Andreas you could spend hours just customising your character’s likeness and you had not one, not two, but three cities at your disposal. GTA IV was a bit of a disappointment for many, with Rockstar exploring more depth in the characters but doing a great job on graphics and general gameplay.

Therefore, I was expecting all of these features to be put together in one (not last), episode of the saga. To be honest, I was rather disappointed, not to say upset, after just a few hours in the game.

So here we go: the level of detail is stunning, but the graphics, colour depth etc. are just one step below other videogames (I am thinking of Red Dead Redemption as the benchmark). The characters’ moves are clumsy, ridiculous at times; their facial expressions in the cut-scenes are soulless. The gun sight is hard to see, and it does not provide any info on your opponent’s residual health like it did in GTA IV. Non-playable characters die too easily and our three heroes are very vulnerable, but at the same time they introduced some features that make the game easier such as the ability to turn your car back on its wheels when you flip it over, and… superpowers! Wait, superpowers?! Is this the Avengers? Is this Max Payne? What superpowers do you need in a world where you can carry a bazooka out in the open and get away with it?

Plus, the world looks big, too big, excessively big, as if at Rockstar suffered some “male-compensation problems”. Or, as if they followed the “bigger is better” philosophy. However, it just does not feel as big as they advertised it because it lacks diversity. San Andreas had three completely different cities; what you have here is a decently-sized city and at least 75% countryside. This made sense in Red Dead Redemption: I used to spend a lot of time just looking at sunsets, wishing that they had invented smartphones in the early 1900s.

Sure there are many activities you can do in Rockstar’s version of LA, but honestly, how much time will you spend playing tennis, golf or triathlon? It all looks a bit forced, pushed into a game because every new instalment has to be bigger than the previous one. It’s so ridiculously big that they couldn’t even make Chicken, Burger and Pizza shops accessible, like they were in GTA SA. No casinos either. But there’s a totally useless Underground/Overground train line (which, to be fair, has always been present. Have you ever met anyone who has ever used it more than once in every game?).

On the other hand, the city feels more alive than ever, and this is the most positive aspect of the game, what I think they should have put most of their effort into. And they did. At times (especially in the countryside) there is a feeling of peak/off-peak time with changes in traffic, population activities etc. I reckon that we have to wait for the new-gen consoles to have massive improvements on that side.

Also, as I previously said, the level of details is stunning, from the changing weather to the functioning fan in the Lifeinvader office and tire treads. And, after all, it’s still GTA, the best videogame franchise ever made, which is the only game that “makes you mop the floor, and still makes you enjoy it.” Messing around, insulting random people on the street and then killing them, taking a picture of them to show off on the Rockstar Social club is still great. Unfortunately, I am just too old to not be hit by nostalgia.

PS: I haven’t tried GTA Online yet, I am in a new home and only just connected my Xbox to the Internet a few days ago. I am looking forward to trying it as soon as possible, so up to now I cannot say anything. In the meantime, check out what my therapist Paddy has to say about it here.