perjantai 27. syyskuuta 2013

REVIEW - Grand Theft Auto V | PS3 | 2013

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: September 17, 2013
DEVELOPER(S): Rockstar North, Rockstar NYC, Rockstar San Diego, Rockstar Leeds, Rockstar Toronto, Rockstar New England, Rockstar London, Rockstar Lincoln
PUBLISHER(S): Rockstar Games

Ever since Grand Theft Auto III dropped critics to their knees in late 2001, a new major title in the series has always grabbed the world by absolute storm - but none as strong as Grand Theft Auto V. During the last month, the game is virtually all any gamer has talked about. To call it the most anticipated game of the year is an understatement, since I don't remember any game in history being released to this much hype. The quality of each title released after the universally praised Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has been a subject of debate. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was criticized for its marginal main theme and unnecessary complexity, while Grand Theft Auto IV for its monotony. After unleashing a couple of expansion packs they hoped to break this alleged monotony, Rockstar took a break from Grand Theft Auto. First, they developed a little, humble cowboy story named Red Dead Redemption - which earned the title of Rockstar's finest game to date from a few of those critics who were disappointed with Grand Theft Auto IV. Then, they produced L.A. Noire, a game which they ultimately bought all rights to from the original developers - a compelling detective story which had some traces of the Rockstar signature, sported otherworldly audiovisuals and dramatic presentation, but it was a very linear game. Finally, they took over the development of the Max Payne franchise from Remedy Entertainment and put out Max Payne 3; a somewhat typical shooter, a bit too typical for Rockstar, but it had great gameplay mechanics, and a thick atmosphere. One could assume that Grand Theft Auto V turns out a typical, linear shooter, judged by couple of their previous endeavors and simply, the sign of the times. The thing is that Rockstar North is an extremely intelligent group of developers - they wouldn't do that to themselves, the game, or us. They do the right thing here: they take everything, every criticism they've ever endured in the case of any game, whether they developed it themselves or worked in the capacity of a producer, and work on it to create the perfect game. In this golden age of repetition, Grand Theft Auto V restores the faith in innovation and constant attraction - it's Rockstar's last hoorah of this console generation, and they go all in and beyond. Grand Theft Auto V is not only the greatest game of the year, it's the greatest Grand Theft Auto game ever made, and thus, one of the most beautiful gaming experiences I've ever had in my life. Welcome to the master zone.

This grandeur is no delusion

Ned Luke : Michael De Santa
Steven Ogg : Trevor Philips
Shawn Fonteno : Franklin Clinton
Vicki van Tassel : Amanda De Santa
Danny Tamberelli : Jimmy De Santa
Michal Sinnott : Tracey De Santa
Slink Johnson : Lamar Davis
Jai Kleitz : Lester Crest
Robert Bogue : Steve Haines
Alfredo Huereca : Martin Madrazo

Los Santos, 2013. Superficially, Michael De Santa's got everything the common man could ever wish for; a big fancy house in Vinewood, a beautiful wife, two kids and a swimming pool. However, the truth is something completely different. Michael is a retired bank robber presumed dead, and his high-end life is just a cover for witness protection. His wife's cheating on him, and his two kids are absolutely useless as one spends his time smoking weed and playing video games, and one tries to get famous in absolutely any way she can. Michael's on the edge of a nervous breakdown, until he finds a way to get back in the game when he meets someone who reminds him what it was like - Franklin Clinton. Franklin runs with the Chamberlain Gangsta Families, but is tired of his life as a two-bit thug and the whole gang culture, which he finds old-fashioned; he wants more, and he sees Michael's expertise and sense for big money as the perfect tools for a breakthrough in his criminal career. The two men form a father-son relationship and begin planning epic heists across the city. Lurking in the shadows is Michael's former best friend and partner in crime, the psychotic redneck Trevor Philips, who quickly catches on to Michael's sudden "resurrection", forces his way back into his life and demands to be a part of his big plans, unknowing of the whole variety of secrets Michael's keeping from him regarding their past.

Our three "heroes".
The world, 2013. All franchises go to shit - that's a little harsh, 'cause very often the games are great as they are, but don't tell me you weren't disappointed with basically good or even great games like Assassin's Creed III or Mass Effect 3. Above all, NEVER come to me with the proclamation that Final Fantasy XIII might not have been the best Final Fantasy game ever, but it was quite OK. Or that Dead Space has had a good run, when that run actually came to a complete halt halfway through the second main game. Survival horror games no longer have horror in them, role-playing games rarely have actual role-playing in them, and most games that come out could be labelled "third-person shooter/stabber" since you don't do much more than take cover and shoot a lot of assholes, maybe equipped with some special ability that separates the game from the rest of its kind, or usually useless micromanagement options. Earlier this year, Naughty Dog finally unleashed The Last of Us - basically a third-person shooter, yes, but weighed down with intricate storytelling you can't experience anywhere else. I, for one, was pretty sure The Last of Us would effortlessly turn out the greatest game of the year. I did not believe in Grand Theft Auto V all that much - I recently replayed Grand Theft Auto IV for the fourth time, and finally I realized what people hated about it. These were not things I found uncomfortable or boring, I still love that game, but I admit it: it's all about killing, and the game was altogether a very careful step by Rockstar. It didn't include a whole lot of special features that had been one of the calling cards of the series in the previous generation - even the side missions were mostly about killing folks. Red Dead Redemption was different, it was a simulation of life in the post-Wild West. Yeah, you killed a lot of folk, but you herded a lot of horses and cows as well. And, it had a brilliant, carefully written and well-developed story, something Grand Theft Auto never really had. It had always essentially been about the very same thing in a different environment and under different conditions. What I expected from Grand Theft Auto V was a turn into a genuinely typical - not boring, just typical - shooter with linear progression through the same old story, lack of special features, and perhaps I even expected some censorship to the foul sights and sounds we've grown accustomed to in the last nine years, since the game has become so commercial and popular that its spread to younger audiences can't realistically be avoided.

I was dead wrong.

Not only the most vulgar, insane and fatally hilarious game I've ever seen, Grand Theft Auto V is the most diverse sandbox game I've ever seen, and the greatest GTA story Rockstar has told. It's a giant leap forward from anything Rockstar has ever done, and at its very best, it makes both Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption look bad - seriously. It has kind of a slow start, but you'll soon realize that it's so different from all of Rockstar's past titles (yet so familiar), and so big, that you'll need time to get on level with it. You'll know when it hits you, and I could even name the spot when it finally hits you, but I choose not to spoil it for you. It's not a shooter, it's everything but; after 25 main storyline missions, you won't have experienced two identical ones. Each mission is different, they even vary in lengths, as greatly as from 30 seconds to 30 minutes, and even to 60 minutes. At first, it might seem like 69 missions is not that much, but it is - the lengths and the size of San Andreas make that number much bigger than it looks like. And, I might add that after my first five days with the game, I had passed a total of 35 missions - spent most of that time just driving around, looking for things to do. And, you won't have to look far - there's things to do in almost every corner (all of which doesn't even count for 100% completion). If there's not, switch to another character - he might find something to do.

Blastin' fools in the style of San Andreas. Back
in 1992, they didn't have customized weapons
I'm in for a challenge here, as I'm devoted to lay down as much details as I can on a lot of subjects without spoiling anything crucial, 'cause this is one game you'll have to experience for yourselves. Let's start with the three main characters; I think the main point of having three playable characters was to give a favourite character to every preference, so let's base these introductions on that assumption. Michael De Santa represents Vice City; he's a retired, once prolific criminal struggling with a severe midlife crisis and imagining life as an 80's movie star. He drives around listening to classic 80's rock, violently venting his frustrations whenever he gets the slightest excuse to do it. He's not a big fan of killing people - he likes to steal and break private properties, beat wrongdoers up, and generally fuck with the system in any way he can without getting too exposed. And he feels so guilty about everything he does, even his mere desire for chaos, that he pays big bucks to a greedy, hypocritical asshole of a psychiatrist to (try to) sort him out once a week.

Franklin Clinton obviously represents San Andreas, since he's almost like a remake of CJ. He's an active gangbanger from the Chamberlain hood who doesn't honestly believe in anything he does anymore; as much as he enjoys a life of crime, he feels he's stuck in an early 90's time warp, and isn't afraid to criticize his fellow gang members for not having any sense of reality, and lacking the ability to move on to bigger things. Franklin sees the potential in forming an alliance with Michael, as reluctant as the latter initially is to get back in the circuit, and it's a thrill to watch how the relationship between these two characters develops through the story.

It's a whole different thrill to watch Trevor in action. Trevor is, for all intents and purposes, a criminally insane waste of human life, a ticking time bomb. Trevor doesn't have any motives - he's just simply a batshit crazy, seriously perverted and sexually "adventureous", homicidal, alcoholic, drug-dealing kleptomaniac addicted to chaos. He doesn't care if he's opposed by a man or a whole gang, he isn't afraid to take 'em on and he'll do it all by himself if he has to, in the most violent way possible - hard to say what that is, since he's literally coming up with that stuff on the go. He finds death exciting, and amusing. He represents the vintage, casual GTA gamer, who just goes out there and does crazy and violent things just to amuse himself and his friends - no wonder most of my friends who have GTA V have named Trevor their favourite character. Since I'm a sucker for the storytelling, I'll personally have to go with Michael, he's my choice for a "role" in this game - but I won't deny that Trevor offers up some of the best moments in GTA history around every third corner.

In GTA Online, you can choose an NPC from a
whole host of 'em or create your own character.
Customize any of 'em, too. Can't wait.
Before I go any further, let's talk about the graphics and sound. Rockstar have always strived to push the hardware they're working games for to the absolute limits, but with such huge proportions comes necessary evil; to create a completely open world, something has to be compromised right from the start. Here, those compromises are minimal. Grand Theft Auto V is a perfectly animated game. The only compromise here is the level of graphical detail, and that pretty much only surfaces in the backgrounds used in the cutscenes; there are things that just look wrong, but you won't notice them right away. Character animation is simply superb, right up there with Red Dead Redemption (right up there with L.A. Noire would be a little too much to handle in these times), but keep in mind that this game is much bigger than Red Dead, in every way - and it's still capable of running on the Xbox 360. Amazing. Once again, we have a bunch of near-complete unknowns to do the voiceover work, but them being unknown don't mean crap - the voiceover work is incredible, and Rockstar once again delivers a serious dose of authenticity by having some gang members voiced by actual gang members! Lazlow Jones returns - of course he does - as not only a radio personality, but a TV personality and even an NPC in the flesh, and this is by far his most hilarious appearance ever. Look out for it. That Lazlow, what will he do next?!

The radio... well, I'm glad I didn't write this based on first impressions alone. First off, let's get the good news out of the way. This game has an original soundtrack composed by Woody Jackson of Red Dead Redemption fame, together with rap producer The Alchemist, rapper Oh No and the legendary German pioneers of electronic music, Tangerine Dream. During missions, the soundtrack often automatically plays during driving - you can switch to the radio if you want - and always when you reach a breakpoint on foot. And it's awesome - it draws obvious influence from a whole lot of crime and suspense movies. The radio is just something you must learn to accept. I know there are a lot of people out there who expected "the greatest soundtrack in gaming history" to slap Vice City's near-perfect soundtrack off the radar, give something to everyone at an even division, at least be better than Grand Theft Auto IV's get-up. At first, it's the complete opposite of what I just said. There's no metal here - depends on what you categorize The Cult and Def Leppard as, though - but there's shitloads of rap, reggae, pop (both classic and modern), electronica and country music, and BAD hardcore punk here. As surprisingly great as some of the songs on "Classic Rock Radio" are ("The Breakup Song" by Greg Kihn is fatally catchy), at first I was very disappointed with the soundtrack. It's starting to grow on me, though, and not just the rock radio, but the classic rap station and country station as well - I like to listen classic rock with Michael, rap with Franklin and country or even the bad hardcore punk with Trevor, it just feels right even if it might not always please my ears. This is far from the greatest licensed soundtrack ever, but in the end, a bulk of it serves its purpose, I guess, especially since the original soundtrack is out to lend a helping hand. And, you'll always have the commercials. And talk radio. Two things that haven't ceased to entertaining the fuck outta ya. One thing I learned from this game: when you mix sense and nonsense, you get bullshit. Might be a good slogan for this blog.

Whoever said the countryside is boring?
Storywise, Grand Theft Auto V is a sequel to Grand Theft Auto IV, but to commute with all you IV haters out there, I'll put myself in "hate mode" myself and come straight out with it: in every other way, Grand Theft Auto V is the sequel to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that game never had. It pushes these two consoles to their absolute limits whereas Grand Theft Auto IV was a careful, monotonic step towards this console generation (ouch, that really hurt a lot more than I expected...). It includes the best of San Andreas' special features left untouched in IV, and I can't emphasize the word "best" enough - the best parts of the character development system for starters. No gyms, no necessary lunch breaks, nothing like that, but customizing your character, clothing, cars, and even weapons, is a big part of the experience. Skills are brought back, but having a low driving skill, for example, won't prevent you from entering certain races - and there's no individual skill tree for every type of vehicle, one's enough to cover for each. Bicycles, and planes, complete with a flying school, are brought back, and submarines are introduced into the mix. The redesigned San Andreas state is greatly influenced by the original, so greatly that some memorable locations such as Grove Street, Vinewood and Mount Chiliad are relatively the same. The shape of the map is completely different, though, and this version of the San Andreas state is composed of only two parts: Los Santos and Blaine County. They're perfectly enough, though, as you can see for yourself. To put it simply, you don't need Las Venturas to feed your hunger for minigames. If you still claim to not find anything to do in this game, maybe you should take a crack at real life and just stop playing video games - there has never been a game this huge and filled with positive distractions.

What's even more positive about these distractions is that they are not force fed to you EVEN if you're going for 100% completion. First of all, a lot of the stuff simply doesn't matter - you can find out what does at Rockstar's website, spoiler-free. You don't have to win every single race in the game, you just have to make it to the Top 3 in each. You certainly won't have to complete every single tedious Stunt Jump in the game, half of them is enough, although doing them all yields a Trophy/Achievement. Hanging out with one friend once at a certain location on six different occasions does bring you a small step towards the 100% mark, but beyond that, keeping friends is totally up to you. There are no special abilities to be gained through friendships, and people don't get mad at you if you don't hang out with them all the time. To really complete Grand Theft Auto V, you virtually just have to see all it has to offer. You don't have to go to ridiculous lengths to beat the game and yourself to a bloody, potentially repetitive pulp. The only exception to this is the Coyote Cross Country triathlon - imagine playing the 100 Meter Dash in the original Track & Field for a total of 30 MINUTES without breaks. I beat it, though, first place. Even made it to the Top 500 in the world - guess a lot of folks chickened out before the end of the first part. Can't blame 'em.

Meanwhile in the hood.
Again, 69 missions doesn't sound like much, but it certainly is when you consider how lengthy some of them are - you could fit four or five missions of standard length in any previous GTA game into one of these babies. Also, you wouldn't believe how much each mission differs from the last, and how well they keep certain personality traits in check; Michael's missions, for example, rarely involve any senseless killing. That is, until Trevor often comes along to force his hand. Franklin usually isn't afraid to do anything the old men tell him to. If he's gotta blast some fools, he's gotta blast some fools. Now, it's been said you can switch freely between the three men whenever they're on a mission together, and that's an outright lie. Sometimes, it is possible, but only when they're all doing the same thing at the same time; usually it's the game that decides when it's OK for you to switch characters, and sometimes it's all automatic, depending on the needs of the narrative. There were a few moments I would've liked to see things from another character's perspective, and found it disappointing that you can't actually pull a switch-a-roo at will, but in the end I realized that these limitations were necessary, and that they do positive wonders to the narrative. Each character has his own set of missions in addition to their mutual endeavors; Michael has to deal with each member of his disfunctional family from time to time, Franklin reluctantly supports his old gang and tries his best to enlighten his simple-minded best friend of how gangbanging's dead, and Trevor... well, Trevor wages short-sighted, ultraviolent, senseless war on every gang and group he despises. That list is not very narrow and it gets more names on the go - it's not wise to step on this guy's toes. Also, each character meets different strangers and freaks, in the principle style of Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption - but "strangers and freaks" is right. If you thought the guy collecting flowers for his corpse of a wife in Red Dead was strange, check these creeps out. My favourite pair of S & F must be the British celeb stalkers Trevor bumps into a few times. They're the perfect example of how freaky GTA characters can actually be, and they make Trevor look sane.

Switching characters outside missions is nearly always possible - as you can probably see for yourself, it turns out a nifty solution whenever you end up in a situation which is tediously hard to manage, such as getting stuck as far out in the sea as the game allows you to, or in the middle of a mountain path without any sort of vehicle to speed your way out up a little. Certainly happens whenever you go on a hunt for any of the game's seemingly endless batch of hidden packages. Michael and Franklin are usually hanging about at home watching TV, drinking or driving around the city, while Trevor's a constant surprise. We see him waking up utterly shitfaced from the strangest locations wearing nothing but his underwear, speaking of the strangest things, picking fights with the wrong people or running from the cops, usually for some sexual misconduct. Did I already mention this guy's a fucking hoot?

All of the three characters have their sets of special skills, which usually determine their roles on their all-star gigs, most notably the heists, which are definitely the cream of the crop when it comes to the already fresh and constantly surprising missions - think the casino robbery in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a series of turbocharged versions of it. During the very first heist, I got goosebumps when I watched the take roll in and then gathered my troops for a swift getaway. It was so real, the thrill of success I mean, and so exciting as I watched one of my guys smash straight into a wall during the escape and realized that he had a cut of few millions lining up his pockets. There was no going back, it was every man for himself; next time, I'll make a better call. The take from the heists is not a pre-determined sum of money; how much you reel in is totally up to your skills, and how well you've planned the heist. In my 25 years of gaming, no chaotic action game has given me these kinds of genuine thrills. Yes, so back to the skills: Michael has the traditional bullet time, inspired by Rockstar's other endeavors such as Max Payne and Red Dead Redemption. Trevor has "rampage time", which he can use to deal more and take less damage. Franklin can slow down traffic to make navigating while driving really fast and/or against traffic much easier. Also, some of the basic skills of the characters are higher than average from the beginning: Trevor's an aircraft enthusiast, so naturally his flying skill is high by default, and Franklin's essentially a car thief for both business and pleasure, so his driving skill's quite formidable from the start.

Planes. They're hard as shit to control, but
damn, I missed 'em.
To me, the biggest problems of the Grand Theft Auto franchise have boiled down to one thing ever since the series' original transition to 3D - controls. Each game has had better general controls than the last, but travel on foot has always remained a huge issue. Well, not anymore. I remember losing control of the character on just a couple of occasions when I tried to climb over a wall and watched him do the classic "head first into the wall, down on the ground, won't get up" trick, otherwise it was smooth, dynamic and above all, smart, all the way. Cars and bikes are easier and more realistic to control, while flying is so realistic and _difficult_ that you really need to go to flight school to get your act together - wind makes a huge difference whenever you're flying a small plane, landing a plane can be frustratingly hard, and flying a chopper's one nasty bitch at first. Trying to keep the new submarine - or rather, submersible - or any underwater antics, at that, in some sort of control and at a level depth is quite annoying, but on the other hand, this is their first punch at something quite like this, and aside from just a couple of missions, you won't need to go deep for anything except a couple of short sets of collectables.

Run-ins with the Los Santos Police Department are a little different from what they were before. Instead of just remaining outside of the borders of a circular threat zone for a few seconds, you need to find a smart hiding place from the police and remain out of the patrols' lines of sight, represented by cones known to anyone who's ever played Metal Gear. Naturally, the more Wanted Stars you have, the more patrols there are, the larger the patrol area, and as always, choppers and armored N.O.O.S.E. or federal vehicles are thrown into the mix if you're being a total bastard. Unlike in the earlier games, two stars is the default setting here - you always get two Wanted Stars right off the bat if a cop sees you commit a crime. One star is extremely easy to get rid of, but you survive with that little only if a citizen reports you to the cops, and you're able to stay out of their sight altogether when they show up. The A.I. of the police force has come a long way in 12 years; I'm still wondering why they punish you whenever _they_ crash into _you_, though.

I'd like to talk a bit more about the heists, 'cause really, they rock. It's really hard to make money in this game, and everything is damn expensive. In the old games, you could - to juice it up a little - help a 100-year old grandma cross the street and she gave you $2,000 for your troubles. That's not happening here - you get absolutely no money for most "favors" you pull for your employers. You'll have to make that money yourself - on the stock market if you're up to the challenge, take up a high-risk hobby, or rob some backwood general store once a day to scoop up some pennies. Or, you could just wait for the next big score to turn pennies into millions - literally. With these millions, you can buy up properties across San Andreas and make an "honest" weekly income (as well as gain access to a couple of simple missions that I think will be what GTA Online's missions are like), or just spend them the way you see fit for yourself and each of the characters; buy expensive toys from the Internet and customize them to the brim at the chop shop, for an obvious and most expensive example besides the properties. There are several ways to pull these gigs off. First, you have to do some scripted initial planning to get what you're going for, but from there on out, it's your show. You nearly always have two options for the climax - either the stealthy option, or the more straightforward option, it depends on your preference of gameplay and that alone; neither option is more dulled down or less effective than the other. Finally, you get to pick your crew, usually from random acquaintances you've met driving around - perhaps even an old friend or two. Better guys with better specializations to suit the job demand a bigger cut, but if you're taking too much risks with "cost-effective" boys and girls, chances are that they will fail the job and you'll end up with one less hand on deck, and a smaller total take. You know the best thing about these crew members? Even though they're highly random to come by, they take part in conversations just like any other character would, and they're mentioned by name every time during those conversations; they're not just some nameless, faceless stand-ins. Rockstar took good care of the smallest details here.

The world above ground not big enough for
Things to do in San Andreas when you're bored - well now, that list ain't short. Some of these pastimes count for the 100%, some of them have a Trophy/Achievement tied to them, some build up for both, and some build up for neither. First, there are street races. Franklin can take part in the traditional sports car and bike races, but only by night. Any of the characters can take part in offroad races, sea races and triathlons (swimming, bicycling, running). Trevor can go on a few Rampages which haven't been seen in the series since Vice City, and there's actually an "explanation" behind those violent outbursts this time around, the explanation being... well, "Trevor". He can also do arms trafficking on both land and air, go hunting, and work as a hillbilly bounty hunter - in the style of Red Dead Redemption rather than any traditional GTA Vigilante. Michael, in one of his worst fits of midlife crisis, gets dragged in a religious cult that gives him exclusive, increasingly crazy, yet non-violent missions in exchange for his own money and time. There are tons of collectables, which any of the characters can do their best to find, but only the guy who owns the establishment in search of certain collectables, or has otherwise been assigned to find them, gets the nominal glory and monetary profit for them. For example, you can buy an ocean clean-up facility that pays thousands of bucks for each piece of nuclear waste any character finds from the ocean floor - but only to the guy who owns the facility. If you're into more recreational stuff, feel free to try out the many options of sports and games available. Scuba diving, parachuting, darts, tennis, golf... and might I add that these aren't just some minigames slapped in for easy leisure, they're full fledged, entertaining pastime modules with mechanics replicated from actual genre games as carefully as possible. I think GTA Online will unlock a few more options, since I spotted two guys playing pool in the trailer, and there's a casino on the northeastern outskirts of the city that has a sign saying "Opening Soon". My thumbs are already tingling.

GTA Online is launched next week, and therefore, naturally, I can't actually review it here, but I know what it's about and if everything works out as promised, it's going to be my personal breakthrough in online gaming - I'm thinking nothing less than the best MMO ever made. Whatever was part of the multiplayer experience in Grand Theft Auto IV is probably there, but the most essential part of this renewed experience is how San Andreas is transformed into a hub world for 16 human players at a time. There are literally hundreds of missions available for you take on alone or with your friends, and you can do just about anything you can do in the single-player game, if not even more. You can buy properties and turn them into homes, you can invite your friends - or even a whole crew - to share some quality time with you, and customize everything including the gameplay experience itself. Don't want it to turn into a bounty hunt or deathmatch, just want to have fun? Tired of childish campers? Worry not! A huge batch of Trophies/Achievements related to GTA Online within the base list for the game shows how much Rockstar invested in this part of the game, and how certain they are to boggle the interest of the most sworn multiplayer naysayers.

Grand Theft Auto V is just as easy to beat as Red Dead Redemption, but at the same time, the most challenging game I've played in a while for many reasons. You can merely survive the missions easily with sheer luck and a good dose of recklessness, and by switching the characters back and forth when you're in trouble and when it's possible, but there's always a price to pay for your unique ways. First, it isn't like any GTA you've played before - it does not hold your hand the whole time. A tutorial or straightforward command does not always appear, instead the game forces you to come up with a solution to a problem by yourself from time to time. Let's take one of the assassination missions (shades of Vice City again) for example. You need to park outside of a hotel where your target is staying. He has a whole convoy of bodyguards standing outside and covering for him each step of the way as he checks out. These guards are very twitchy, and will notice any type of deterrence. Even if you sneak up to the target's car and plant a bomb to the side in perfect silence, they will notice it. You'd think that the game gives you some sort of a clue to a good solution as it always has, but no, it just says "Assassinate the target." That means there's a variety of ways to go at it, and you need to think for yourself for once. It took me a few tries before I had mapped out the situation and came up with the perfect solution. I was feeling pretty damn good...

...However, the game punished me for my decision, and prompted me to go for a different solution next time. You see, the optional objectives from The Ballad of Gay Tony are brought back. However, these objectives are much more diverse, and above all, more forgiving. The criteria for each objective is revealed after the mission on the first playthrough, just so that it wouldn't fuck up the smooth flow of your game and force you to try stuff that is unreasonably hard to pull, or alternatively, stuff that won't even cross your mind during the mission - Ubisoft should take some last minute notes here for next month's Assassin's Creed IV. There's a time limit to almost every mission, and that's the only truly unforgiving and sometimes utterly unreasonable part. The rest of it comprises of stuff such as killing a certain major enemy with a certain type of weapon to perhaps even get a look at a special kill animation, use as much or as little character switching as possible, remain undetected, waste as few bullets as possible, garner in a bulk of headshots, destroy as many vehicles as you can etc. etc. It's quite damn cool, but I wouldn't recommend replaying missions on the go. There's plenty of time for that after you've done everything - don't fuck up the good flow.

Finally, a weapon wheel.
A Platinum run doesn't seem completely impossible to pull off if you're a hardcore GTA player, and willing to commit yourself to GTA Online once it comes out. A bulk of it is simply about playing the hell out of the game, there's not too many Trophies/Achievements related to some superficially useless stunt or some online activity you wouldn't be able to control - both of which IV was full of. Beating the story takes about 30-40 hours, I lost a realistic count 'cause I did so much extra stuff in between - I'm an easily distracted sandbox gamer, and 86% in the completion stats after the final mission stands as solid proof of that. Some side missions remain locked until you've finished the story, so even if you manage to do everything before the (gigantic) final mission, there's still a LOT to do in San Andreas. Of course there is - you can't even afford everything before finishing the game.

I've beaten around the bush with it for almost two weeks, reflecting on a certain retrospective I did a while back, and how much I put weight on Final Fantasy VII being the best video game in history, and pretty much unbeatable in that context. Since 1997, I haven't even considered placing a game on par or above it - and I never thought to do that with a brand new game in 2013. Oh yes - believe the hype, believe the sales figures. Grand Theft Auto V is nearly flawless. It had a slow start, but it was a very brief one. Its collection of licensed songs struck a bad nerve. Yeah, there's a lot of total garbage on the radio - but the radio isn't nearly the important part of GTA as it was ten years ago, and there's really atmospheric stuff regardless of the genre or how it would sound like if you listened to it at home, outside of the game's confines. There's just a kind of magic in the air when you use Franklin for a frantic race or chase around the city while Dr. Dre is playing, and police sirens screaming in the background. Sounds really uncomfortable on paper, but it's a whole different thing in motion.

So, I hope I'm not going to regret this statement next week when GTA Online comes out, but Grand Theft Auto V is the best in a lot of ways. It's the best Grand Theft Auto game ever made, it's Rockstar's finest hour in a whole series of fine hours, easily the best video game of this generation and finally, at a very high probability, the best and most fulfilling video game I'm ever going to play in my life.

+ An amazing story with amazing characters, and the best, most diverse and daring humour in the series
+ A huge world to explore - can't wait for its transformation into an online hub
+ Perfect judgement for what to bring back from earlier games and what not; I'm not really missing anything here, nor do I think there's too much of something
+ Stunning graphics previously unseen in open-world games
+ Great controls and gameplay mechanics in every aspect, from straightforward action, to driving, to minigames
+ Each mission is different, and can be dealt with in numerous different ways
+ The perfect checkpoint system is just one of the factors that always guarantee a smooth flow
+ The heist missions are some of the most epic levels in video game history, and so immersive that they actually inflict goosebumps and a genuine thrill of success often described by real-life thieves
+ The 100% checklist doesn't require you to reach impossible heights in every single feature of the game, or go on a collectable hunt nearly as tedious as 200 pigeons or something
+ Reasonable optional objectives and different mission outcomes guarantee replay value
+ I could literally come up with these ups for the whole day

- The licensed soundtrack's got no thought for metal fans, while fans of rap and pop rejoice
- A bit of a slow start - just a damn tiny bit
- Switching characters is not as much up to the player as it was made up to be
- Underwater controls are a bit on the sloppy side
- Some side missions required for the 100% are intentional jokes by the developers, and not very good ones - the Epsilon story arc and the cross country triathlon are the first to come to mind
- I'm kidding myself here trying to come up with these downs

< 9.8 >

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