I'm just going to skip the pointless bit in the review where I summarize the plot and tediously outline the sandbox model. You all know what you're getting yourselves into. GTA V is an unknown quantity to approximately zero humans. On to the specifics...
A trio of playable characters cater for more sophisticated storytelling. Narratives interweave and protagonists clash. In gameplay, instant access to Trevor, Franklin and Michael acts as a fast travel mechanism, as each reside in distinct zones. It also adds a layer of welcome, comical voyeurism. Dropping in unannounced, like a vengeful Google Earth, offers unique insights into the humdrum of each protagonist.
Swapping on the fly also cracks traditional moulds. Players can potentially hop between a claustrophobic shootout, a high speed pursuit, and an aerial missile-spewing dogfight!
In particular, Heists (GTA V's much celebrated new mission type) gift the player with unprecedented choice... for Rockstar. Between them, Michael, Trevor and Franklin can ghost the job or go in guns blazing. They can let their hostages live, or leave no witnesses. They can gas bank clerks, trick security guards or just slip in the back door. Mechanically, it represents GTA V at its most ambitious.
Heartbreakingly, such multi-character missions are not only prescribed, but few and far between. They represent narrative climaxes, GTA V's action set pieces. Single character missions, i.e. the overwhelming majority, suffer as a result. Beyond traversal method and firearm selection, Player Choice is a wispy entity in GTA V. Teased, fostered, implied. But ultimately a chimera.
Regardless, the series' scathing satire is still present and accounted for. It permeates every facet of the title, from TV shows, political broadcasts, civilian discord and even mobile Internet. Sadly it's more at odds with the primary experience than ever. Honest work can and honestly will net you ample financial gain, nullifying the need to knock off banks!
In GTA V, you're a criminal solely to satisfy the characters. And at their most extreme, mandatory instances of torture and racial profiling hideously make light of contemporary evils. Methinks there is a braver, more interesting route not taken here, Rockstar.
The latest in a series of one-upmanship, the map is predictably gargantuan. More enormouser than GTA IV, San Andreas and Red Dead Redemption combined, Los Santos' sprawl is speckled with Yoga, Tennis, Golf, Base Jumping, Stock Markets, Scuba Diving, bars, parlours, landmarks and hookers.
Los Santos is for sightseeing then, and the graphical splendour of GTA V shouldn't be understated. It's worth your admiration. Just not 40 hours of it!
Players can't store a hang glider on their preferred roof, walk around with a parachute strapped to their backs, or even command a minion to land a chopper nearby. And thus traversal, with its myriad avenues (Bikes, Quads, Sports Cars, Jet Skis, Fighter Jets, Submarines) ultimately feels very disconnected from the guts of the gameplay. Which is pretty much just the shooting.
Gunplay is much improved over previous iterations, employing Max Payne's cover system and customizable weaponry. The absence of takedowns, disarms, human shields and bullet time is a noodle scratcher though. Elsewhere relatively simple systems such as gadgetry, melee and stealth are alarmingly neglected, proving Rockstar doesn't always sweat the details.
Like ancillary crimes. You can rob banks and go on killing sprees. You cannot pickpocket, burgle, con, bribe or even hire goons. And with options so limited, once your garage and armoury is stuffed with planes and rocket launchers, what's left to spend money on?
If it sounds like I'm being deliberately critical, I am.
GTA is enormously fun and addictive and funny and generous.
Acclaimed though it is, this bad boy still needs to be taken down a peg or three.
It is not perfect.
This is no crime.
But it also coasts, it rests on its own laurels, it doesn't push itself when it comes to gameplay.
This is a crime.
And for all its scale, its satire, its scope and its silliness, GTA V is a game that has been long overtaken by this generation.