GTAV is set in the fictional state of San Andreas which contains the city of Los Santos (which is based on Los Angeles) and the open countryside of Blaine County, the game sees you following the events of three characters - Michael, Trevor and Franklin - as they try to make their way in life.
Franklin is a former street gangster, now looking for real opportunities and serious money; Michael is a professional ex-con whose retirement is a lot less rosy than he hoped it would be; and Trevor is a violent maniac driven by the chance of a cheap high and the next big score.
While customisation of your characters in GTAIV was somewhat limited this game gives you full customisation with hundreds of items of clothing available as well as dozens of haircuts and tattoos. Of course everything comes at a price but fortunately cash is generally readily available in the game world. Money can be earned either by taking it by force (that being a robbery) or by taking over businesses to earn income, or investing in the stock market where stocks can actually be affected by your actions in the game - take out the CEO in a major organization and their stocks will tumble for instance.
If there is one slight downfall of the combat system it's still the rather limited hand-to-hand combat. More variety in this combat would have been welcomed and while we're not expecting a detailed brawler like Virtual Fighter it would be great for some more depth here.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review there are three main characters and it's possible to switch between them simply by pressing down on the D-Pad and then highlighting the desired character. The game zooms out from your current location to a satellite image of the city before honing in on the newly selected playable character at which time you take over and can complete their mission - quite often these three characters cross paths and will be in the same mission where you can also switch between them.
It's not just about the main storyline and gameplay however with plenty of other activities set to chew up more than a few hours of your life. Other activities in the game include golf, tennis, yoga, cycling, triathlon, fairground rides including a great rollercoaster which looks fabulous at night, lap dances in a strip club, and car and water craft racing among many other things. Funnily enough one of the staple features of earlier titles in the franchise, that being the numerous prostitutes, seems to have been dramatically reduced to almost non-existence.
Perhaps we haven't found them yet, or perhaps they're not included but we would have loved to see a few more activities including horse racing (even if only betting on them - there is a race track within the city though), pinball and a video game arcade, or how about a zoo to explore. We certainly don't understand why there isn't a working casino as many gambling games appeared in Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption. Don't get me wrong there's a massive amount of stuff to do, but this would just add a little more.
PS3 owners may also want to note that the game requires an install of 8486MB, that’s about 8.5GB and we're sure there will be some more patches and downloads required when GTA Online launches in a couple of weeks. Those with a smaller 12GB PS3 console may want to consider space requirements - although, of course, replacing the PS3's Hard Drive is simple, and relatively cheap.
Another issue we have is to do with the iFruit application. This is split up into two sections - Los Santos Customs where you can create custom cars and license plates and Chop the Dog where you can tend to the dog, Chop, and increase his in-game abilities. The problem is that, when the game launched, and even as I write this 2 weeks later, the application is only available for Apple iOS devices - there's nothing for Android, Windows Mobile or PSVita and Rockstar haven't given them a date (just FYI there is an iFruit in the Google Play store, but it's not official and possibly even malware). Not only is that bad enough but the iOS version has bugs which has seen people saved vehicles disappear and more. Given that it is so integrated in the game - it's mentioned about every 10 minutes that you can "improve your stats" or "customise your car" Rockstar should have had this sorted from launch day.
Planned for launch on October 1st Grand Theft Auto Online is the online component of the game - and one which is included free with every copy of Grand Theft Auto V. This online world is a dynamic and persistent online environment for up to 16-players where you can complete missions or play any of the activities or sports together - think tennis, golf, racing etc. As the official site states "players have the freedom to explore alone or with friends, work cooperatively to complete missions, band together to participate in activities and ambient events, or compete in traditional game modes with the entire community".
Rockstar have warned gamers to expect launch issues due to the massive demand for online gameplay, so bear that in mind if you can't get in for a couple of days. The developers are planning a large number of expansion packs and updates in the weeks and months after launch and it has also been confirmed that you can speed up your progress in the game by buying virtual cash with real money via micro transactions - this virtual money can be used to purchase vehicles, clothing, weapons etc. Perhaps the most exciting aspect is a promised content creation tool to build your own missions which can then be shared and played with friends.
Cut-scenes deserve a special mention too as they have been given every attention to detail one would expect. Great dialogue is a highlight but these cut-scenes have been edited with as much flare and style as one would expect from a Hollywood feature film. It's a joy to watch them, and they certainly provide much of the detail in the story.
As most gamers would be aware this game is only being released on two platforms (at this stage) - the PS3 and XBox 360. Normally we wouldn't compare the two consoles, but we're making an exception here as we've played both versions. Needless to say both console handles the game admirably and with near-exact results. PS3 owners will be pleased to hear that the game now runs at the full 720p resolution rather than 640p that GTAIV ran at. Frame rates are near identical at 30fps with occasional dips however we did notice some of the XBox 360 textures seemed a little blurrier. As a result the edge has to be given to the Sony PS3 version of the game, but only by a nose as both will impress.
Buyers should be aware that the digital only version of this game has some minor technical issues with texture pop-up especially when driving fast through the city streets. While the Blu-Ray retail disc allows the game to stream textures from Blu-Ray and HDD simultaneously, having the game installed entirely on your HDD seems to limit the bandwidth and cause minor, non-gameplay affecting, issues. Similarly XBox 360 owners have noticed similar issues when installing both DVD's to the HDD - Rockstar have advised not to install both discs on Microsoft's platform. Will this be resolved, time will tell, but perhaps the physical disc version is the way to go.
Of course another key component to the GTA franchise since GTAIII are the radio stations and GTAV has 17 radio stations on offer which cover a wide range of genres including Soul, Country, Techno, Modern Rap, Rock, Electronic and more. There are, quite literally, hundreds of songs on offer with many well-known artists including N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Queen, Steve Miller Band, Elton John Phill Collins, Def Leppard, Stevie Nicks, Kenny Loggins, Britney Spears, Rihanna, All Saints, Fergie, Smokey Robinson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tiga, Zombie Nation, Stevie Wonder, Outkast and Aphex Twin. This is literally a sample of the more well known artists in the game, but there are dozens more the will hold different levels of familiarity with different readers.
The only way the audio in Grand Theft Auto V could have conceivably been improved would be by allowing you to play your own music through the XMB. In real life I usually throw a USB drive with my music collection into my stereo, so why not make that an option in this game too?
With a reported development and marketing budget of around £170 million (about $AU290 million - as reported here) there was little chance that Grand Theft Auto V wouldn't make an impact and with $US800 million of sales on launch day it has smashed all records. Fortunately the game, even with a few "morally questionable" aspects, lack of online multiplayer (for the next few days) and iFruit issues still remains an absolutely essential purchase. The single player alone pushes this to being quite possibly the best video game of this generation.
Review By: Dave Warner