Grand Theft Auto V Review
Posted by Paul Meekin on 10.05.2013
GTA V is great, but its most fascinating part has little to do with gameplay
For all the talk of incredible graphics and diverse gameplay, the most compelling part of “Grand Theft Auto V” is its thoroughly bizarre point of view. Here is a game that gives you an arsenal of six different kinds of explosives, but also includes a 20 minute “French” short film with subtitles about the afterlife. It forces you to murder countless cops, gangsters, private military contractors, bikers, and criminals, but nearly every random encounter requires the return of a stolen car, purse, wallet, or puppy. it allows you to partake in the time-honored, somewhat passe pastimes of Tennis, Darts, and Golf, but offers far more exciting races, challenges, and extreme sports. It skewers “new age” thinking, reality TV, militant feminists, empowerment, liberals, yoga, e-cigarettes, millennials, and crowd-funding via a vulgaris greek chorus of radio news updates, call in shows, advertisements, and interview segments that inform the player about the world of Los Santos, but more importantly comments on our society in biting and blunt terms that hit so close to home that if you deleted a few swear words you may be hard pressed to tell they’re fake.
But first lets get the whole ‘incredible game’ thing out of the way. Grand Theft Auto V is an incredible game, even if you manage to miss every subtextual clue that makes Grand Theft Auto V more than it appears. There’s tons to do from racing to shooting to bounty hunting to legalizing pot in the great city of Los Santos, and that’s just for starters. You can customize clothing, cars, weapons, and bikes, there’s hours of content on the radio, and a good deal of it on the TV, as well. You can spend hours trolling the game’s virtual internet and never get bored, loving every joke, gag, and interactive bit. And once the whole “Grand Theft Auto Online” thing gets cooking, you could be playing this for years.
The gameplay is of the quality you’d expect from a leading game developer, with the shooting, driving, and cover mechanics all feeling crisp, if not spectacular. Cars handle a lot better than they did in GTAIV, and you’ll find yourself pulling off hairpin turns and sharp 180s after about two hours of playtime. It’s nearly impossible to not greatly appreciate Grand Theft Auto V’s craftsmanship. It lives up to the ‘hype’ in every sense of the word.
But beyond the hype, GTA is a franchise most known for its...particularly special relationship with the media. Accusations of sexism, genderism, racism, animal cruelty, and every other possible offense you can think of, was, yet again, slung at this game- which, by the way, happened to be releasing about 12 hours after a particularly brutal mass shooting in the Pacific Northwest.
For the record, Grand Theft Auto never encourages you to mow down citizens or steal their cars during the single player campaign. Every character is provided their own vehicle, and the number of a taxi service at the beginning of the game. Outside of missions, the slaughter is on the gamer, not the game....but, yeah, it is. it is sexist, it is racist and every other ist or ism you can think of. But Grand Theft Auto V is making a deliberate point via these offensive things. GTA exists in an ugly funhouse mirror version of America. It’s the unholy offspring of “South Park” and “Family Guy” with a bit of “Sopranos” existentialism for flavor; challenging good taste in the name of satire, and the more in tune with pop culture you are, the more brilliant the in-bad-taste gags become.
Writers Dan Houser and Rupert Humphries are trying to make a point about the world we live in and that point flows through every single facet of Los Santos, creating a glimmering, vapid, sinister version of Los Angeles that is a marvel visually, auditorily, and atmospherically - and worse, closer to reality than we’d like to admit. The point? That in a world where we’re constantly misled by our media, leaders, and have our thoughts and feelings consistently stifled in the name of political correctness, maybe a little over-the-top virtual brutality is the release valve on the pressure cooker of life.
To emphasize this, “Grand Theft Auto V” is constantly needling the player, challenging them to ask *why* all this carnage and ‘offensive’ material is so much fun. Protagonists Michael and Trevor consistently razz each other over their natures - Michael never outright saying he enjoys the death and destruction as much as Trevor, and Trevor happily admitting he does. There’s something *TO* that. It wouldn’t repeat it over and over and over and over again unless it was deliberately trying to say something to the player. Its telling the player that don’t you dare look down your nose at this game while playing it, because that makes you a snob and a hypocrite.
The fact that gamers have such an inferiority complex about defending their passion, THEN have the gall to say that this magical and wonderful and beautiful and robust and nuanced world is too violent, or too sexist, or too whatever is bullshit because, face it, if you’re buying it, you don’t have a single leg to stand on, and for that matter, you may want to check up on a little thing called creative freedom.
In much the same way we don’t (or shouldn’t) tell Quentin Tarantino, Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, Wes Craven, or Francis Ford Coppola to tone down the controversial elements in their respective crafts, asking Houser and Humphries to change the way they approach the world of Grand Theft Auto because it unsettles you is like asking an artist to put a mustache on the Mona Lisa because you think it’d look better that way.
Sometimes appreciating someone’s art includes the parts you don’t like, whether it be hang-outs and over-long (but entertaining) conversations between NPCs, sophomoric jokes about poop, or dead-on parodies of political figures like Elizabeth Warren and White Water. Thus, when you challenge them to change, you’re in essence saying the creative minds behind GTAV are somehow *below* people who make film or television. We’re not asking James Cameron to direct “Bridesmaids 2”, so why would we ask Dan Houser and Rupert Humphries to write about things they’re not comfortable portraying in an accurate light?
And I say accurate light because it seems that sexism is the main controversial element this time around. The hypocrisy of saying virtual murder is a-okay, but virtual sexism is not, aside, the problem with the ‘sexist’ argument is two fold. Firstly “GTAV” deliberately satirizes everyone, even the player. My point is the old “South Park” defense. For this game to make a conscious decision to ‘take it easy’ on various female-oriented stereotypes, it’s in essence saying that things like murder, and drug use, and racism, and cannibalism, and everything else is a-okay. When it comes to satire you’re either all in, or you don’t belong at the card table.
The other question is why hasn’t “Grand Theft Auto” featured a female protagonist? Well, this is trickier. I’m in favor of a female protagonist, but I don’t think most gamers would appreciate the kind of character they would get. If Houser and Humphries are okay writing a female character and decide to do so, the problem they’d face is how to accurately portray a female character in a world filled with murder, brutality, sexism and various other social and psychological pressures.
You can’t just write a male character, give them boobs and long hair, and call it a day, especially in a game like “Grand Theft Auto” which takes its satiric world very seriously. That would be literally objectifying women. Thus, this girl would likely face threats of sexual violence, have to deal with other women who think she’s betrayed her culture, and to make sure she isn’t a betty sue, she’d need a whole slew of personal issues, problems, foibles, and goals that would need to be inherent to the world as seen through the eyes of female, in much the same way Franklin is trying to get out of the proverbial ghetto. To ignore the issues facing women, while having a female character, would be the most sexist thing of all.
The problem is that this would cause a fucking riot. Remember gamers, we’re the guys who got the ending to Mass Effect 3 changed because we didn’t like it so much, the folks who absolutely refuse to believe media effects kids, despite all of us at one point or another thwapping our baby brother or sister over the head with a wrapping paper tube because it was like a light saber. Thus, I’m not sure how much faith we can put in our collective community to understand the difference between a strong female character, and a female character who does strong things, especially considering how horny we all get when we see a chance to take something, anything, down a peg. I guess my point is this: We need a female character, but as a community don’t deserve one, yet.
So it’s funny then, that Trevor, Michael, and Franklin, the three protagonists, represent the three ways folks typically approach gaming, especially games that indulge our basest instincts like “Grand Theft Auto V”. Michael with his detached interest, lamenting the fact that he must in engage in such horrible acts as a means to an end. Trevor makes no bones about it - he’s in it for the chaos, the explosions, the pew-pew-pew, and is completely comfortable indulging these vile fantasies, for better or worse. And Franklin, well, Franklin doesn’t see the big deal one way or another. The game is the game, money is money, good is good, and “GTAV” is regardless of why you play it, as good as it gets.
Therefore the odds are if you’re reading this, you’ve already bought “Grand Theft Auto V”. If you haven’t, well, you’re nuts, hate fun, or aren’t into open-world shooters/racers/fliers/friendship simulators. “Grand Theft Auto V” is simply masterful from a technical perspective, from every car that whizzes by, to every elongated conversation an NPC will have, regardless of whether or not you’re listening. Of course, you could also have a problem with the content the game presents - a concern I hope I alleviated here. I’m writing this review, here, today, to tell you the gamers, the offended parties, and you, my fellow writers and press mates, that, frankly, in this instance, the ‘game’ part of this incredible game, is the least interesting thing about it.
Insane detail, beautiful visuals, and tons of little things that make Los Santos feel alive
Some mechanics can feel a bit clunky, especially taking cover, but otherwise, simply a masterwork of multiple play styles.
The ambient sound is great, but the cutting-edge satire of the radio is brilliant.
Hours of content and an awesome online component mean you'll be playing this forever. I'd give this an 11 if I could.
Fun but challenging. There is a learning curve that can throw more casual players. Otherwise, simply sublime.