Grand Theft Auto 5 review: great, not grand

Our review of Rockstar's latest big-budget tent pole, Grand Theft Auto 5.

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Like the real world city of Los Angeles that inspired it, Grand Theft Auto 5 can be summed up with one word: sprawling. Three main characters! A massive open world! Underwater missions! In terms of sheer size, Rockstar's latest is certain its greatest. Yet, the core game design has not changed much from the early PS2 days. Despite its rebel persona, Rockstar has produced a sequel that is extremely likable and, for the most part, fairly safe. Grand Theft Auto 5 is easily more likable than its predecessor, striking a better, more consistent tone than GTA4. Whereas Liberty City shifted jarringly from dire seriousness to slapstick, GTA5 is largely a purely fun, interweaving story of reluctant friendship amid shady activities. The three main characters--Franklin, Michael, and Trevor--feel like flesh-and-blood people. I may not want to have a drink with them, but a cooler version of me could. Every character is sympathetic--even Trevor, in his own bizarre way. However, Rockstar isn't quite able to keep the tone consistent throughout the 30 hour adventure, especially when trying too hard to be poignant. The three main characters also occasionally veer out-of-character in service of advancing the plot, and the NPCs remain dull stereotypes. As is typical for any sequel, Rockstar attempts to improve the gameplay systems. In particular, driving has never felt more natural. Each vehicle carries its own sense of weight and momentum. The personalized cars for each character are a nice touch as well, and I got a kick out of customizing their respective rides. Part of the thrill of a GTA game has always been weaving through traffic at high speeds, and Los Santos affords plenty of opportunity.

Driving has never been better in GTA

Shooting plays an equally large role in GTA5. And while the experience is improved, it's nonetheless serviceable at best. Shooting suffers from an overload of options that aren't mapped in any intuitive way, and the aiming shifts wildly in quality depending on your auto-assist setting. That leaves gunplay firmly in no-mans-land: too difficult without the assist but too automated with it. I left it on, and got used to winning confrontations by merely squeezing the left trigger and then the right a split-second later. Aim, pop, repeat. Unfortunately, mission design also leaves wanting, steering players away from the freedom afforded by an open-world sandbox. Outside of heists, most missions don't allow any freedom on how to achieve them. Instead of giving you a general goal and letting you find the right tools to do it somewhere in Los Santos, each of them have you follow a tightly gated series of checks. The checkpoints guide you through Rockstar's carefully-engineered set pieces. While I understand the desire to show them off, too often player agency has been sacrificed. Anytime I veered from the path with a creative solution, I felt like I was getting my hand slapped. "We made this really cool, do it right!" And as beautifully rendered as it may be, the world doesn't offer much substance beyond playing dress-up or engaging in a handful of mini-games. Additions like robbing gas stations or playing with the stock market are interesting, but they're minor diversions. The heists could have been a major differentiation, but they're far too binary, and then guided once you pick a path. I never felt like I was really planning a heist myself, and the choice of hired goons barely seemed to make a difference. Despite its relative infancy, Grand Theft Auto Online shows a glimmer of making good on a true open-world adventure. The addition of other human players to the world makes it a much more dangerous and engaging place to spend time. Los Santos is essentially a gigantic lobby system that houses various instanced matches, and simply roaming the city itself is a fun way to spend some time whilst waiting for friends. Whenever I need to make some cash but don't feel like getting into a match, I'll rob one of the stores that dots the landscape and try to outrun the cops. GTA Online is at its most fun when players take advantage of the flexibility offered by the world. A fight isn't limited to guns after all, and I've had more than one opportunity to surprise opponents by running them over, or just sending a car flying in their direction after bailing out. Last Man Standing--an extremely dangerous single-life twist on traditional deathmatch--is especially compelling due to how varied your tools of death are. Grand Theft Auto Online gives us an idea of where open-world gaming could go next. However, the single player adventure simply aspires to being an excellent Grand Theft Auto game, falling short of genre-defining. I hoped for a bigger shake-up, something that would reclaim GTA's role as the leader in genre innovation. Like the real-world Los Angeles, GTA5 is a massive, beautiful thing--guaranteed to leave an impression, no matter how fleeting. [8]
This review is based on retail PS3 code provided by the publisher. Grand Theft Auto 5 is now available on PS3 and Xbox 360 at retail. It is also now available on PlayStation Network for $59.99. The game is rated M.
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From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 7, 2013 12:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Grand Theft Auto 5 review: great, not grand.

    Our review of Rockstar's latest big-budget tent pole, Grand Theft Auto 5.

    • reply
      October 7, 2013 12:27 PM

      Too difficult without the assist? I turned it off immediately, and never looked back.

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        October 7, 2013 12:37 PM

        I turn it on for the Rampage missions. I couldn't meet the kills with it off. The weapons seem to one shot during rampage regardless where you hit, so it's built around speed & kill count.

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        October 7, 2013 1:06 PM

        So did I, but the acceleration and sensitivity on the free aim is really not that good compared to other 3rd person shooters. I can see some people having trouble with that. Definitely led to my death more than a few times in missions, but the character abilities counter-balance some of those issues. Michael and Trevor on the ground while Frank's is good for driving and shooting.

        Also, free aiming without holding the left trigger down for the zoom works a lot better. Just use and move the camera like normal and when you fire a weapon with RT the crosshair will appear. Then it sort of works like an FPS, you can hip fire with reduced accuracy or aim with LT for finer control. But aiming at targets all over while holding the left trigger with free aim just doesn't feel good, at any sensitivity setting. It's actively bad I'd say.

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          October 7, 2013 1:17 PM

          On this topic, has anyone seen any "hardcore" type versus modes or settings in GTA Online that forces free-aim for everyone yet? The lock-on in a multiplayer deathmatch is really dumb, I don't see the point of it at all.

          I hope it's not tucked away and requires some bullshit like reaching level 50 to unlock

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            October 7, 2013 2:35 PM

            From what i gather if you change to free-aim in multiplayer it will put you in a lobby that forces everyone to have free-aim.

            When i joined a friends free roam game which had free-aim it told me i had to change my aiming system to join the game, so if it works as intended it's pretty cool.

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              October 7, 2013 6:48 PM

              Interesting. I guess the shackers who invite me to their games don't use free-aim, because so far it's been lock-on city.

              Just tried it though and got in a locked free aim session with randoms, and the deathmatch was actually okay since everyone wasn't an aimbot.

        • reply
          October 7, 2013 10:30 PM

          I found the acceleration and sensitivity way to difficult to use, so left auto aim on. I didn't find it took away from the game that much, but the gun fights were my least favourite parts of the missions.

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            October 7, 2013 11:02 PM

            I'm not sure how many tries the Option C shootout would have taken me to finish without autoaim. That shit was crazy time!

      • reply
        October 7, 2013 3:29 PM

        Yes you get uses to it.

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      October 7, 2013 12:34 PM

      Dude I bought this game, played for 10 minutes then I realized. I just don't like GTA anymore. This will be my last GTA ill pick up until they make the new "leap" whatever that is and its not the online component.
      I don't need GTA to live my "gansta" fantasies so more than two thirds of the games allure is lost on me.

      I find Saints Row to be more fun. I never want to put it down and I've been able to finish ever single one since the beginning. Not the case with GTA. Even Sleeping Dogs was finished and was more fun than this title. As for Max Payne and Red Dead. I was able to play and enjoy those games, but sadly Rockstars brand of Sand-box game as it relates to their crime "drams" are just not for me.

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        October 7, 2013 12:42 PM

        10 minutes would have barely got you through the intro mission. For a game that has upwards of 60+ hours of entertainment, writing it off after 10 min seems pretty silly.

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          October 7, 2013 12:48 PM

          I agree. I've been pretty critical of the game, but writing it off after ten minutes is nuts. I'd say play through the story at least until you've done a couple missions with Franklin and Michael.

      • rms legacy 10 years mercury mega
        reply
        October 7, 2013 2:38 PM

        "I don't need GTA to live my "gansta" fantasies "

        I've never played a single moment of any GTA game, and the above statement is exactly why I've stayed away: Violence is fine, but some sort of hook like zombies/sci-fi/mystery that isn't too close to what's right outside the window, please!

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          October 11, 2013 9:46 AM

          Man, you should play Michael's yoga mission, which winds up with Michael being drugged, being abducted by aliens, undergoing some kind of examination, then being released thousands of feet above the city where he flies around in a psychedelic trance, while some electronica remix integrating voice samples detailing all of the failures in his life thumps through the speakers. It's fucking awesome.

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        October 7, 2013 3:36 PM

        I think gta4 filled that square for me. First one I didn't bother finishing. After that it will take some convincing to start the next one

        • reply
          October 11, 2013 9:47 AM

          I also didn't finish GTA IV, and didn't really like it all that much. GTA V, however, I am enjoying immensely.

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        October 7, 2013 4:57 PM

        Pretty much this. I beat the piss out of SR4, and went straight into playing SR3 (hadn't played it before). GTAV is just "too much" and it takes itself a bit too seriously.

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          October 11, 2013 10:14 AM

          I don't know, there's just something missing from the SR games that the GTA games have always had, I'm just not sure what it is. I played most of the way through SR3 and just lost interest because the story completely failed to engage me. Yes, the gameplay is fairly fun and "wacky," but the plot is so loose and incidental that I just have a hard time caring.

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        October 8, 2013 2:13 AM

        You're right on all accounts, but I might still get it once it's on PC, just out of curiosity.

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        October 8, 2013 2:35 AM

        I think i'm kinda burned out on open-world stuff after SR4. Also after being able to fly around and run up buildings, I couldn't be arsed to break into a car and drive somewhere.

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        October 10, 2013 9:44 PM

        I agree with you, Saints Row is more fun, hands down. (though I think 4 was a step backwards from 3)

        Rock* keeps trying to make interactive cinema (and maybe they've succeeded) but Volition basically looked at GTA, and said let's take out every single element that doesn't directly contribute to a player's enjoyment.

        So far I've had to make myself continue playing GTA V a few times, just to see if it picks up the pace... So far I would have to say I prefer IV over V.

        Also pretty disappointed in the choice of radio stations, Saints Row 4's music was also a disappointment.

      • reply
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    • reply
      October 7, 2013 12:34 PM

      >And as beautifully rendered as it may be, the world doesn't offer much substance beyond playing dress-up or engaging in a handful of mini-games.<

      - Have to disagree. While in between heists, laying low or waiting for that call, I found GTA V to be at its most immersive. This was when I bonded with my family as Michael, collected celebrity artifacts as Trevor, driving jobs for Franklin, not to mention racing, and the spontaneous wanted levels that inevitably turn into a non-scripted hilarious car chase movie, and feast for this gamers eyes. For me, this was where the game shone - as I really felt like I had meaningful "stuff" to do in between the pivotal missions. I actually enjoyed robbing security vans, mountain biking, ollying on BMX's, playing golf, flying under bridges, exploring off-shore wrecks, to name but a few. The game, in between the narrowly scripted but all together great heists and story movers, was precisely what I caused it to be... over and over again. And as a result, some of GTA V's finest moments. For me.

    • reply
      October 7, 2013 12:36 PM

      This has EASILY been my favorite GTA. Ive put so much time into it because there is so much to do. I quit pretty much all the other GTA games because I got bored 20-25 hours in. This one i have played so much.

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      October 7, 2013 12:50 PM

      It's really hard to get into such a rigidly structured GTA Game after playing something much less so like a Saints Row, or more especially Just Cause 2. I've been playing through it a second time recently and am amazed at how much more flexible and fun it is than GTA. I was playing a mission recently where I had to hijack a car on the move and then drive the passenger to a part of the map. Instead of just getting in the vehicle and driving it to the destination, I acquired a helicopter and used it to block the car's path. I then attached my hook-line to the top of the car and the bottom of my helicopter and flew the passenger to the destination instead.

      Let me know when GTA allows you to go off script like that.

      • reply
        October 7, 2013 7:58 PM

        Sup JC2 lovin buddy. It's definitely in my top 5 for this past generation.

    • reply
      October 7, 2013 5:58 PM

      I am not that good at vidya games and turned off the aim assist right away. I have had a few tough spots but that's the point. Nothing unmanageable so far.

      Does the reviewer not normally play console shooters or something? Controls seem fine to me.

      • reply
        October 7, 2013 6:04 PM

        For the most part the controls were just fine for me too.

        • reply
          October 7, 2013 7:15 PM

          I'm guessing he doesn't play any shooters on console. Or not very much. If you can play bf3 decently online this is a breeze. Most enemies are practically stationary.

    • reply
      October 7, 2013 6:29 PM

      This is just my opinion (I'm not rage-responding)... It's just an observation.

      I liked Shack reviews FAR more before a scoring system was introduced. It felt more sincere and far less impartial. It left the reader to draw their own conclusions and determine whether or not the game seemed "up their alley." It felt like less of an attempt to get hits. This was tremendously admirable considering most reviewers today give off the vibe they've either been bribed, or they're complaining for the sake of complaining to acquire hits.

      I am aware of the reasons behind the decision to implement a scoring system. The intent was openly shared with the Shack community, to the extent of admitting it was to garner more traffic. This was also admirable, but let's not pretend this scoring system is any better than that of others because it took longer to conceive.

      With so many years spent on the development of GTA V, and with the time it took to write this review since the release date, I simply would have expected more. Especially considering GTA Online is addressed.

      I don't entirely disagree with the reviewer. The score of 8 doesn't even bother me. It's the complete lack of substantial information in this somewhat hollow shell of review that really caught me off guard. I expected so much more from Shacknews. And the notion that an editor let this pass.. "and the aiming is shifts wildly in quality". Really?

      Not only do I not claim to be "kinda smart"... I am convinced I am dumber than 99% of the posters on Shack forums (and that's giving myself credit that I likely do not deserve). It took how many days to publish this review? I know with full certainty I could do better in 3 days, if not tonight. However, I am only 40% done with GTA V, and I would much rather do that, since it's incredibly fun, and this is not.

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        October 7, 2013 6:31 PM

        Far more impartial... see? I'm dumb.

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      October 7, 2013 6:55 PM

      Anyone here going for / have 100%?

      I just learned that you don't have to gold the missions to get it, which makes it seem much more attainable.

      I got 100 in San Andreas, but got bored with IV.

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      October 7, 2013 7:10 PM

      I am regretting buying this for the PS3. I just find the controller too difficult to use in this game. I can't drive straight and using free shoot is weird feeling too. I did NOT have this problem on either the XBox or the PC (using an XBox controller). I don't have large hands, but I find my hands cramping up for some reason. It's odd because I've played other games with no problems, but I guess I'm just gripping the damn thing too tightly.

      Loving the game. They did dial down the sophomoric shit quite a bit and made it less jarring when it does appear. It was weird how in GTA IV in an intense encounter trying to assassinate an aging Italian mobster, you'd see purple dildos lying around the whole area. It pulls you right out of the narrative. In GTA V, the crazy shit is still there, but it's just not as likely to take you out of the story.

      • reply
        October 7, 2013 7:28 PM

        The only thing I had issues with was shooting while driving. Other than that everything was fine for me with the PS3 controller, and I HATE the PS3 controller. :(

        • reply
          October 7, 2013 11:00 PM

          Shooting while driving is terrible. I really thought they'd implement Red Dead's aiming method (aiming detaches from the following camera), but sadly it's no different than GTA IV.

          I play GTA IV PC with an xbox controller, but whenever I'd need to shoot out of a car, I'd drive with the controller and aim with the mouse.

        • reply
          October 11, 2013 10:19 AM

          I agree. The fact that you can't really aim before you start popping off shots really bothers me. That's why I pretty much switched to sticky bombs as my primary vehicular weapon as soon as I could - hold down the LB, aim, release and throw. Much nicer than just BANG BANG BANG BANG "oh shit I'm like 15 feet off" (continues firing wildly while still adjusting aim, wasting dozens of rounds)

    • reply
      October 7, 2013 7:17 PM

      I don't know if it gets better as the game goes on or not, but the filler is killing me. Some of the early missions are so tedious I don't even want to continue.

      I love the city and all the small details, but the story isn't interesting enough to make me want to keep playing.

      • reply
        October 7, 2013 7:29 PM

        It gets better once you've got everyone unlocked. Much much better.

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      October 7, 2013 11:50 PM

      "That leaves gunplay firmly in no-mans-land: too difficult without the assist but too automated with it. "

      Therefore, bring on the PC version please.

      Mouse and Keyboard all the way. Bye bye gay controllers

      • reply
        October 8, 2013 12:04 AM

        why did you use the word 'gay'

      • reply
        October 8, 2013 3:48 AM

        mouse and keyboard doesn't fix the reticle issues.

        • reply
          October 8, 2013 12:55 PM

          Max Payne 3 was perfectly fine for PC. They are using the same engine for GTA5, so I assume that GTA 5 on PC will also be fine

    • reply
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      • reply
        October 12, 2013 10:27 AM

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