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Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360) artwork

Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360) review


"Gorgeous mayhem that's utterly engrossing. "


If nothing else, Grand Theft Auto V was a great release from reality for the 80 or so hours I spent advancing through its plot, assorted side quests and simply driving in and around the sprawling metropolis of Los Santos.

As to be expected in a GTA game, I was able to take part in a wide range range of activities, both legal and illegal, while both steadily progressing through the story and engaging in various optional missions and time-wasting activities. I could send my three protagonists outside their houses in order to cause carnage; or simply to buy some clothes, watch a movie and get a lap dance at the strip club. Hell, if I desired, they could spend a glorious day being lazy, sitting on their couch watching TV for hours before wandering out to the kitchen to get drop-dead drunk, knowing everything would still be waiting for them after they regained consciousness.

GTA is one of those series that I haven't been a diehard fan of, but find myself grabbing a new installment every few years. By some bizarre occurrence of fate, both of my forays have taken place in Rockstar's take on the southern California region known as Los Santos. San Andreas was a sprawling game, with action taking place in fictional versions of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, as well as the countryside between those cities. GTA V made its locale much smaller in scope, but expanded upon so much that the world still is larger.

The city of Los Santos and a few suburbs takes up the lower third or so of the map. While much of the remainder is rural and mountainous enough to not be easily traversed, there are a few towns scattered along highways, ranging from the somewhat upscale Paleto Bay to the extremely rural Sandy Shores.

Exploring some of these locations provided me about as much fun as actually playing through its missions. A ton of attention was provided to detail when it came to designing Los Santos and the other towns, making it enjoyable to simply walk down streets and occasionally chuckle at the plays on words that went into naming the businesses lining them. This might be the most beautiful game I've seen on the 360, which somewhat excuses the large (8 GB or so) mandatory download necessary to start playing. The city is bustling and vibrant, rural roads are winding and scenic and simply hopping in a vehicle and driving somewhere can lead to all sorts of wacky shenanigans.

Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360) image


Yeah, it was good to be back in Los Santos. At least I enjoyed things more than at least two of my three protagonists.

Michael is a disgruntled middle-aged man. A former criminal, he used a particular bank robbery showcased in the game's prologue to fake his death, enter witness protection and live with his family in a high-class neighborhood. The American Dream…except for how his family hates him and he's become resigned to live a stagnant existence of lounging next to his pool drinking himself into oblivion.

Franklin is a young street hood who spends much of his time bantering with pal Lamar with dialogue seemingly written by white suburban kids who gleaned all their knowledge of urban youth from music and movies. It'd make you cringe if, like most of this game's humor, it wasn't so over-the-top that it goes full circle and winds up comedic. While he wants to be more than a street statistic, he has no idea how to accomplish that. To his credit, he's at least aware that working as a repo man at a car dealership for a stingy boss isn't going to move him up in the world.

Trevor was one of the two others running with Michael back in the day and, since he escaped the ill-fated bust set up to spring Michael into his tedious existence as a civilian, he could be considered a loose end. He also has aspirations of taking over the entire drug industry around that rural Sandy Shores area and is completely insane in a "friendly one minute, gouging your eyes out the next" way.

After that prologue, it'll take a few hours to get all three characters together. Franklin meets Michael one fine day when he's sent to repossess a vehicle the latter's obnoxious son purchased despite having no legitimate way to make payments. While things are a bit tense at first, the two men part on pleasant terms after Michael delivers a savage beating to Franklin's boss. As a young man looking to move up in the world, Franklin sees Michael as someone to follow, despite the latter's existence that his life as a criminal is over.

Guess what? It isn't. Michael's hair-trigger temper puts him on the wrong side of a local crime lord and he has to come up with a lot of cash in a short amount of time. Next thing you know, he's catching up with the guy who set up his and Trevor's old heists, looking for work with his new sidekick. He and Franklin, along with some help, knock over a jewelry store, pay off the crime boss and everyone lives happily ever after.

Or not. Trevor happened to be in his run-down trailer when the news reported on that robbery and heard an eyewitness account of one of the robbers using a catch-phrase Michael often used during heists. In the short term, this causes his temper to erupt, resulting in him brutally waging war on every other producer and supplier in the area in order to gain a monopoly on the drug trade. More importantly to Michael, it also causes him to send feelers into the big city, where he finds that his old running buddy has been alive all these years.

From there, an uncomfortable alliance is made, with Franklin regularly acting as mediator to keep Trevor and Michael away from each others' throats because they have a constantly-growing list of problems that they really need to focus attention upon. Corrupt government agents, a billionaire with his own personal army and a number of small-time hoods and drug lords all have one or more of the trio in their respective crosshairs. It's bad enough that nearly the entire Los Santos region wants our protagonists dead; they don't need to do the job themselves!

Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360) image


Getting through the main quest involves completing roughly 70 missions, a misleading number as several are very simple, with you just needing to "acquire" certain equipment for one of the game's major heists. You'll grow to love those heists. Not only are they large and involving, often taking many smaller missions to accomplish, but they're the only reliable way of making notable sums of cash without mastering the in-game stock market. Without those, you'd really feel Franklin's frustration for his current lot in life, as you'll do a fair bit of work, winding up in multiple gunfights…only to find your "reward" is a pat on the back and the knowledge you'll get a phone call to do more work in the future.

Get tired of being jerked around and you can try earning money by other means. All three protagonists have their own set of eccentric characters willing to offer work, leading to Franklin helping a sleazy paparazzi get photographs of celebrities in compromising positions, Michael winding up a member of a Scientology-inspired cult and Trevor carting hitchhikers to a remote cannibalistic cult. Or you can wind up sucked into mini-events simply by driving around. One minute, you're enjoying a pleasant drive down a scenic road; the next, you're trying to outrun a hoard of armed rednecks convinced your character isn't a legal resident.

There's a lot to do in GTA V's world. I could be critical of how I wasn't a fan of a few of the larger "scavenger hunts" that have you scouring the map to find large numbers of various items, but with so much stuff I liked, that seems a bit churlish. When you have a game with such a wide breadth of activities, it's logical that any given player would find a few pastimes that fall a bit flat. I might not have loved playing darts or performing yoga poses, but the simple fact I had the option to do so between my flight school lessons and off-road races was nice.

If I'm going to be critical of this game, it's because one of Rockstar's more ambitious ideas was unevenly implemented. You'll often be able to switch control from one character to another in missions -- something you'll be regularly directed to do. At its best, this adds to the excitement, as you'll gun down a bunch of people with one guy and then switch to another to snipe foes about to get the drop on the first character. But there are occasions when the character-swapping does little besides break the immersion and remind me that I'm merely playing a game.

Such as one mission where Franklin and Michael help Trevor by eliminating the remnants of one of his early-game drug dealing rivals. Once, when I switched control to Franklin, I found him driving behind their vehicle and phoning Trevor to let him know he'd found them. From there, I chased after them until a scripted event made them wreck. I then switched to: Trevor to pilot a helicopter to their location; Michael to snipe two of the three from the helicopter; Franklin to hunt down the third and back to Trevor to pick up Franklin and ferry everyone back to his landing strip. That sort of thing is fun when you're fighting an entire army of mercenaries, as it gives the impression your guys are all watching each others' backs. When it's all to take out three hillbillies who were next to no real threat, it just feels like a time-consuming and tedious way to reach a foregone conclusion.

Still, when I'm stretching that far to describe negatives about a game, it must be doing a lot right. And in this one's case, what it does right is simply be GTA but larger and more bombastic than ever. The missions and storyline were fun, but simply existing in GTA V's world was the sort of awesome that sticks with me long after watching the credits roll. In a couple years, I might not remember too many details about this heist or that assassination, but I won't forget that feeling I had driving around, listening to one in-game radio station or another and wondering what neat little thing I'd notice this time. And I know I'll remember that slightly depressing, "hollow" feeling I had when it was time to take this one out of my system in order to play something else.

4.5/5

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (November 30, 2018)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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