Amongst all this free roaming paradise of activity and immersion, there's a layer of pure genius atop this gameplay. The missions themselves, gone are the yawn-days of GTA IV and its back to the over the top crazy stunt-filled missions drawn from all walks of media.
Sure you can watch TV in your house and explore Los Santos etc, but you're missing out if you don't dive right into the story and side missions. Many of these are setups for the bigger heists and side stories that flesh out the main characters a little more. They're setup on the map with markers in the same colour of the character which initiates the mission usually. Some can only be started by the character; others can be kicked off by the other characters.
Some can actually start when you switch to the character involved via the phone.
All of them flow in and out of gameplay smoothly. One moment you're in a cut-scene and the next you're ready to play. Just like Max Payne 3.
I'm going to touch on my experience with a later mission, try and steer clear of story related spoilers and explain it from my point of view. Blitz Play is the name of the game and it's a minor heist in a game that's full of complex mission setup heists where you hire crew, make a plan and have to case the joint beforehand.
Those are truly superb by the way, but I'd rather you played those for yourselves and experience the moment-to-moment gameplay.
Blitz Play required me to source a garbage truck, a tow truck, a get-away vehicle and a set of three rubber masks amongst other things. These are minor gameplay elements that kick off before the main heist fires up. Once you have the (Hs) icons on your map it is then up to you to work out how you're going to acquire the needed equipment.
I went for the masks first, then the two trucks and finally after more play I was ready to roll on this one.
It's here that the character switching took over and let me setup for the big job, smoothly switching itself between the three principle anti-heroes at the right time. The garbage truck blocked the road, the tow truck smashed the armoured car into the wall and the sticky-bombs blew the bloody doors off! (Michael Caine would be proud).
Oops, a silent alarm was triggered and the simple job turned into a sudden fight for survival against an aggressive AI response squad made up of ground units, swat style bad guys and a few choppers. Now the game let me switch between the characters at will, giving me hints when I needed to switch both verbally and visually. I was able to control the situation and use all three characters to effectively fight off a horde situation.
Finally I was able to make my escape as Franklin and the garbage truck was the perfect shield from the remaining cop bullets.
The truck was left parked and destroyed where the getaway car was, and Franklin drove off in an unmarked car...nothing went wrong really.
The narrative had been transformed at the same time as the gameplay and it was pure poetry in motion, with gorgeously paced action, intelligent friendly AI (Michael and Trevor did their best to keep the cops down) and character switching. Quick-switching can be accomplished by tapping down on the d-pad and the game selects the most appropriate character...or the one which needs help.
When not controlling the other characters they did their job, the action unfolded flawlessly and everything was superbly handled.
The enemy AI was a massive challenge since it knew all the tricks of the trade, cover, concealment, flanking and teamwork. It didn't make a dumb call and it pushed me hard to succeed, careful management of character switching and Trevor's AI using the RPG at the right times meant the situation was in control at all times.
This is just a tiny sample of the gameplay AI, since all AI isn't created equally the various factions in the game have their own way of approaching situations. Untrained gangers will act like it, hardened military men will act like it and citizen heroes will basically try their luck if they think they can get away with a bit of vigilante action.
It's superb AI.
It reacts to everything around it, every situation and every stimulus will provoke a reaction even down to the people commenting on your clothing, car and if it's clean/dirty.
It's amazing stuff to see in action and the videos don't do it justice.
There's a deep car customisation, letting you mod your vehicle and change a lot of the gameplay aspects. There are attachments to buy for each weapon, including a flashlight which can be toggled on/off via the d-pad right.Hey good looking!
GTA V is a good looking game and it's really detailed, from the textures to the art style – the graphics are truly superb and the various layers of graphical detail are carefully built atop each other like a delicious cake. A thunderstorm in Los Santos or Blaine County is an amazing thing with a combination of audio and visual effects that are truly breath-taking. I love storms so watching the sky light up was extremely atmospheric and really accurate.
The graphics are married to the various animation systems, with Euphoria taking pride of place to bring to life character movement in very realistic ways. Every gunfight, every motion and every person in the game is extremely well animated.
The tiny animation details when a NPC flips you off in their car, (you can do this too, if you're unarmed whilst driving – press X to change weapon state in a vehicle – then press the left bumper) or reacts to you in some way further drive the immersion.
Convertibles can raise/lower their roof, planes with landing gear can toggle gear state and it just adds layer upon layer of realism and detail to the game.
Facial and character animations are top notch and whilst the facial tech from L.A. Noire isn't in use, this is a lot more detailed than RDR and GTA IV – there's emotion, expression and more on every character.
Then there's the audio layer of the game, and the level of detail here trickles down to the sound of a cooling car engine on a sports car as it tick-tick-ticks quietly.
Underwater sounds and looks amazing, Rockstar has fully mapped the sea bed and surrounding areas all react and appear as they should. Water churns near the docks and is murky, get out into the deep ocean though and you can see all kinds of ambient life.
The ambient score is fantastic and the radio stations have 240 songs spread between 16 music stations. There are also 2 talk shows.
The car stereo can be controlled like the weapon wheel, hold the d-pad left whilst in a car and it's easy to see the station, song and even share it to Facebook.
Every mechanic, every layer and every aspect of the core gameplay in GTA V has been really worked on and the result is a game which is greater than the sum of its parts, yet works beautifully when all those parts are combined. It's possible to soak hours just doing nothing much in GTA V but exploring and checking into the lives of your characters as you earn money to spend. It can be spent on dozens and dozens of things, property, investments, fancy clothes and cars and more.
The draw distance is pretty damn good for a game like this (it had to be, jets are back) and it's got a few pop up issues still. Installing the game (mandatory) disc 1 on the HDD, or a USB stick is needed and you should run the game disc (Play disc 2) from the DVD drive for the best performance.
Unless you have a USB stick with a read speed of 15 meg per second. I'd recommend a faster stick though, if you have one. It needs at least 8gb of space free.
Otherwise you'll probably get some texture load in issues and some low-to-high detail pop-in as the objects render with more detail the closer you are.
The thing is this is minor stuff when you put it together with the whole experience and it all adds up to a phenomenal game. There are things I haven't even spoken about for this review; there are events I haven't mentioned and activities that I haven't even hinted at.
Rockstar are hard at work fixing game issues with both the game and the companion app/services (Social Club issues) – it's a bit of an annoyance that you can't customise your car plate properly without an iOS device, or train Chop the dog...but these can be fixed with a PC app or adding more platforms and phone types.
Don't let it spoil your enjoyment of a ground-breaking game in a controversial franchise. It really is THAT good.
Check back after Oct 1st when we do our follow-up review: GTA Online, or: my life is officially over when that unlocks! (for no fee, there's no online code required).