GTA 5 Review: Damn it Feels Good (& Bad) to Be a Gangsta
When you finally reach the end of Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll find yourself doing something you almost never do after beating a game: sitting back and just letting the credits roll, without skipping them or getting up to do something else.
That feeling of “holy f*cking sh*t” at the end of an awesome movie, or at the finale of a great TV series, you get it fully with GTA V. When it’s over, you just want to sit back and think. And probably call up a friend and swear – a lot – about how much you liked it. And then play it again.
Grand Theft Auto V has aspirations of being taken seriously as a work of fiction, and it mostly succeeds. Behind the scores of dead bodies, the wreckage of exploded automobiles and the drug-fueled mayhem is a surprising maturity. Not just the rated-M kind, but of the actual “growth and life experience” variety. All at once, it’s an engrossing crime thriller, a somewhat nuanced exploration of the mid life crisis, a dense and scathing attack on the way masculine angst is stoked for political gain in modern America, and an unrelentingly cruel subversion of the gleeful sociopathy inherent in the wish fulfillment fantasies provided by open world crime games.
At the same time, it’s also an incredibly fun game. Problems that plagued Grand Theft Auto IV, both narrative and gameplay, have been corrected. The enormous parody of Southern California in which the game takes place is breathtakingly beautiful and eerily accurate (in broad strokes, naturally). Elements from previous Rockstar games that appear here have been perfected. Even mundane diversions like tennis and golf serve mainly to flesh things out, and never feel like tedious padding that masks a lack of content. And nearly every significant development of the seventh generation is combined here to mostly excellent effect. The result is something that feels like a living, breathing world on par with an MMO. A living, breathing world, of course, that you can terrorize to your heart’s content.
That it pulls all of that off is a testament not only to the ability of video games to tell complex stories, but to the fact that those stories are increasingly informed by how the people who make them have grown and changed as they approach middle age. But – and it’s a bigger ‘but’ than it should be – it is also somewhat kneecapped by the annoying ways in which its creators have refused to grow and change.
Much like an intense movie you only later realize has a flimsy plot that barely ties the first and third acts together1, or a great TV show you only notice during a Netflix binge has abandoned an entire story arc in the second season, GTA V’s many strengths are punctuated by needless problems. Those problems may seem minor in relation to the size of this game and the sheer volume of its successes, but they’re impossible to disregard unless you ignore them, especially if you’re willing to think for more than three seconds about the media you consume.
But make no mistake. Grand Theft Auto V is a spectacular, if somewhat flawed achievement that we will be debating and, of course, playing for years to come.
Grand Theft Auto V
Platforms: Xbox Live, Playstation 3 (reviewed), PC (expected, unannounced)
Developer: Rockstar Games
Released: September 17, 2013
1) I’m looking at you, The Dark Knight. Also, The Avengers.