I am about a quarter of the way through Grand Theft Auto V so far. In all honesty, the only Grand Theft auto game that I have ever played the main storyline through completion was Vice City. I will usually play the storyline most of the way through, at least up until the point at which all areas and weapons are unlocked, and then screw around until I burnout on the game. I thoroughly enjoyed San Andreas, but it too a large extent felt like one giant mini-game. GTA IV was more focused on the main storyline, which was part of the problem: Once the novelty wears off, the core missions for the most part are repetitive (Drive to point A, shoot someone/pick something up, go to point B) in addition to Liberty City lacking interesting things to do that aren’t bowling with Niko’s cousin.
The core missions in GTA V are structured quite different because of the new featured gameplay element: Character switching. Each character has a distinct personality and social situation (to say the least) and each character also has his own strengths and weaknesses thanks to the new stat system. Michael for example, is a skilled marksman, Franklin is a superb driver, and Trevor, an expert pilot, is pretty decent all around. Each character also has a special ability that can be activated while in combat (Franklin for example, can slow down time bullet-time style while driving). Stats can also be improved by engaging in relevant activities: Driving more will increase your driving skill, running will increase your stamina and so forth. I have a feeling that the stats were designed to be leveled up naturally as you play through the missions given that it is fairly trivial to max out most of them by spending a minimal amount of time at the gun range, flight school, etcetera. In all honestly, I don’t think I’ve really noticed that much of a difference in gameplay in regards to each character’s skill. So whatever effect skills have seems to be minimal at best.
Back to character switching: Dividing the storyline 3-ways mitigates some of the repetition. Tired of Franklin’s storyline? Switch over to Michael or Trevor. I do worry that having 3 main characters will make it easy to dilute the storyline or make it easy to lose track of characters by favoriting another. But so far, that hasn’t really been an issue in fact, I’d say that being able to switch characters does make the game more engaging, so in that sense, it is a success. If I do have any criticism though, it would be that so far, being able to switch characters within the same mission has been grossly underutilized and I do worry that this gameplay element will not live up to its full potential. But as mentioned before, I’m only about 25% into the game. I do wish that the game made it more clear as to who can do what missions. I know the game color codes them, but it’s a little hard to see without zooming in. It would also be nice to know exactly where each character is at any point by looking at the map, but I suppose part of the joy in switching characters is not knowing exactly where they are and what they will be in the middle of (such as spooning another man in pink pajamas…) when you switch over.
Also new to the game are heist missions (I love a good old fashioned heist). So far these missions seem to be broken up into 4 stages: Observation (stakeouts, recon), planning (choosing what approach and who to bring), preparation (gathering necessary supplies), and execution (heisting). You can choose what type of approach and who you want to bring. Team members vary in skill level; highly skilled members will obviously ask for quite a bit bigger cut than low skilled members, so that’s the trade-off. For example in my case, I chose a stealthier approach to breaking into a jewelry store. I had a fair number of hackers that I could choose from, but I took a risk on a guy that I had met earlier in the game during a mission. He wasn’t as skilled as the other guys, but Michael had a good feeling about him and he was only asking for 4%. Ultimately, that decision may have been a poor one but hey. We got away with the cash, everyone learned something. All around successful heist.
I am very impressed with GTA V’s graphics quality and level of detail, especially considering the PS3’s age and especially especially in comparison to its predecessor GTA IV. It’s clearly pushing the upper limits of what the system can do. Anti-aliasing is pretty lacking to say the least, but I haven’t really had any issues with pop-in (I have the physical copy, heard that there are quite a few technical problems with the digital copies) or framerate drops, with an exception for situations where say, about 20 cars are exploding within 10 meters of each other. What an astounding level of detail. It really does feel like LA down to the specific neighborhoods and minor landmarks, food chains, buildings, etc.
Overall: Looks good, fun missions, controls feel tight, love the customization and the weird social media aspects when Rockstar’s servers aren’t on their knees. Oh and no more bowling.