Grand Theft Auto 5 diary: The ending less traveled

We're waiting for the release of Grand Theft Auto Online before doing a formal review of Rockstar's latest game. Until then, our Steve Watts will be offering insights into some memorable moments from the single player adventure.

It's over. I've jumped ramps, done yoga, bought cars, crashed planes, pulled heists, and escaped cops. I've hit the streets at top speed, and been thrown from the vehicle due to an inconveniently placed palm tree on more occasions than I'd like to admit. While GTA Online looms overhead, it's time to take stock of one more important aspect of the main game: the ending.

For obvious reasons, this will be the most spoilerific of the diaries yet.

Like GTA4, the ending presents a choice, but unlike that game, the options and their consequences are mostly clear-cut. Beset by enemies on all sides, Franklin is presented with a choice: kill Michael as penance for a rich producer bent on vengeance, or kill Trevor for the FIB. A third option, in which you reject them both, is simply called "Deathwish."

Now, the first two options don't exactly make sense, at least not presented as an either/or scenario. Since the two groups have entirely different goals and motivations, there's really no reason why choosing one would satisfy the other. If you choose to kill Trevor, the producer will still want Michael dead, and he'll still be backed by a heavily-armed paramilitary group. If you choose to kill Michael, the government contact will still want Trevor dead. Plus, either way you choose, the respective groups would have much easier resources to make it happen themselves than relying on a gangbanger-turned-white-collar criminal.

Despite all that, I was hesitant to choose the "Deathwish" option. A trio of choices for a trio of heroes seemed ominous, and I was sure that picking the third option would result in some unforeseen catastrophe that ended with Franklin's death. This is why I say they are mostly clear-cut. Since Franklin was my personal favorite, and the one I chose to play as most often when roaming the city, I couldn't bring myself to put him in danger. And since I was going through without any assistance from FAQs and had been surprised by the choice without a chance to save first, I had to go in blind.

I chose to kill Trevor, which apparently puts me in the extreme minority. I reasoned that both he and Michael were unbalanced murderers, but Trevor's behavior had been truly psychopathic. He didn't kill because he was angry, he killed because it was fun. All in all, I bought the FIB's reasoning well enough that he was too unpredictable and dangerous.

Having watched the other two endings afterwards, it's clear I made the "wrong" choice. Deathwish apparently doesn't kill Franklin at all, but rather results in a finale mission structure that wraps up the loose ends and has our buddies retaining their uncomfortable alliance. This ending is also the most tonally consistent of the three, since it ends on a more lighthearted note while the other two veer into the extremely dark. GTA5 didn't carry itself with the dour seriousness of GTA4, and I appreciated it finding the right pitch. My tragic ending threw me for a loop, and seemed like it came from a different game.

I'm not bitter about my choice, though. If I decide I want a perfect playthrough, I can always go through again, skipping some of the lengthy cutscenes to shave time. I would make a few other changes, too, like doing all the Strangers and Freaks missions as they come, and saving all of my Assassination missions for the end, so I can invest using my heist money.

I am a little disappointed, though, at how little sense the first two options make, even after carrying out the hit. Apparently realizing this, Rockstar attempted to explain it away with a phone call placed while roaming the city. The rich producer who put a hit on Michael seems appeased, without much reason, and I imagine the other option would have resulted in a similar call from the FIB. It's a fairly lazy solution to a pretty gaping storytelling problem, even if Rockstar rightly assumed that most players would choose the Deathwish option.

To its credit, though, it does have you take the consequences. Trevor's missions are gone, and I've gotten plenty of other phone calls from his friends and associates either lamenting that he's gone, or spewing accusations at me for it. Franklin never acknowledges their accuracy, of course. He just has to live with the guilt.

This diary is based on retail PS3 code provided by the publisher. Grand Theft Auto V is now available at retail for PS3 and Xbox 360. It's also available digitally on PlayStation Network for $59.99. The game is rated M.