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Developers: Rockstar North
Publishers: Rockstar Games
Plot: An ex-bank robber tries to settle into family life, but he becomes a hollow shell of the man he used to be. Then, his ex-partner tracks him down…

The best way I can describe Grand Theft Auto V is, if someone took the brainpower, creativity and patience of the Skyrim team, and channelled it into making dick jokes. Every inch of Grand Theft Auto V boasts an in-joke, social satire or movie reference. In many ways, it is just as impressive as Skyrim, this massive world crafted by game developers, every detail being preciously rendered, only Rockstar are less concerned about immersion and more concerned with leaving the gamer in fits of giggles. Entire radio programs have been recorded, filled with great music (it’s Britney, bitch!) and laugh out loud commentary, to keep the player entertained during long stretches of driving. It even as a news segment written in that updates as you progress through the story. You can access the Grand Theft Auto version of the internet that riffs on every Facebook, Instagram and Google joke it can think of. If a topical joke can be added to the environment, you can guarantee it has been added. This is the main reason Grand Theft Auto V won so many awards in 2013. We waited a long time for the new GTA and it delivered.

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It even has an impressive story to go with it. There isn’t just one lead hero, but three, the narrative jumping between Michael’s tired family guy, Franklin’s up and coming street hustler and the psychotic Trevor. Each one is fun to get to grips with, so you don’t mind taking your head out of Franklin’s underdog story to go into the country and shoot up some redneck stoners with Trevor. Time had been taken to make you care for the main characters here. Trevor might be crazy and unpredictable, but he is motivated by being betrayed, which is easy to get behind. Michael seems to want to do the right thing, but like most heroes in gangster stories, has no idea how to go about doing that. Even Franklin, who at first comes across as a CJ carbon copy from San Andreas, is honest and genuine, which is refreshing when it comes to the deceitful other two. At times, the story strays from the straight and narrow, largely due to the supporting cast. Every character is less a person, and more another joke. You are meant to share Michael’s love for his family, but when his wife, son and daughter are stereotypes of the Los Angeles lifestyle, it becomes difficult to share his emotion for them. The one case of the jokes getting a little too much. However, as the missions follow each other, you cannot help but wonder how these three heroes are going to end up, their objectives often tripping over each other.

Grand Theft Auto V could have called it a day and left it at that. The gamers knew what they wanted and the developers delivered. A bigger map than ever before, jokes crammed in every place and a story that takes the player deeper into the world than ever before. Sounds like a success to me. But there are new features that take the gameplay to new places. While the characters need to remain relatively fixed, so we never get the San Andreas muscle-building dynamic, there are new features to play with. My personal favourite is the Stock Exchange side of things, really hammering home the Wall Street lifestyle the upper class get caught up in. There are several companies in the game, often parodies of their source material, and each one has their own financial arc in the game. The memory required to realise that is impressive in itself, yet it gets better. The player can put money on the companies and buy shares, profiting behind the scenes, depending on how well their company does. However, you can actively alter their economic trajectory. Crash into a Coca Cola truck on the motorway and their stocks start going downhill. If a manufacturing plant gets shot up, their shares are going to suffer. It gets to the point where you can even start hunting down their CEOs, assassinating them and effectively reducing their stock to pennies. There are several game quirks that not only entertain you, but amaze you at the same time. I haven’t even got time to discuss the heist planning missions, which essentially puts you into your own Ocean’s Eleven movie.

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Sadly, Grand Theft Auto V can’t escape the truth that most of the series suffers with. It might have dressed itself up over the years, but at the end of the day, it is, first and foremost, a driving game. It might boast a diverse map and a brand new storyline, but as soon as you start each mission, it quickly evolves into a case of ‘drive from here to here’. There are a few gun fights to liven proceedings up at points and sometimes the vehicle in question changes to something more interesting, but it is impossible to escape the routine that the franchise is trapped in. It is also insanely guilty of time-wasting, unable to cut to the interesting parts of the mission, but forcing you to drive to every little segment of the story. Did we really need to play the ‘finding a getaway car and placing it?’ mission of the game, rather than cutting to the fun part of the level? There are also that tired trademark of the series, where you are forced to do side-missions for an irritating character that you care very little about. You want to find out where Michael’s character arc is going, but before you can progress, you need to go back and do the smaller side quests to unlock the bigger levels. Grand Theft Auto is a massive game, packed with mini-games. It really doesn’t need to use cheap tricks like that.

Final Verdict: Usual problems aside, GTA V is a terrific piece of entertainment, providing a great story and an immersive environment for the fans to have the time of their lives in.

Four Stars

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