Game Reviews

Grand Theft Auo V (Rockstar Games, PC/PS4/Xbox 360)


Attributing the title of “Greatest Videogame Of All Time” is, of course, a purely subjective pursuit. Does the addendum “of all time” include all the games that shall ever be released in the future? Is it etched in stone, never to be challenged or usurped? Choosing which release deserves this award is entirely fruitless because such hyperbole is most often greeted with at best scepticism and at worst scorn. It is, however, an accolade that has been buzzing around GTA V since its initial release late last year, and while its levels of violence, bad language and generally salacious tone will certainly not suit all tastes, there is no denying that it is a marvel to behold. That sense of technical achievement is enhanced no end with its debut on next gen consoles. Far from being a lazy port, the re-release incorporates a wealth of new features that makes the upgrade essential for fans of the series. Most acclaimed is the inclusion of a First Person mode. It is not only an optional extra. It changes the playing experience entirely. What is most interesting is just how natural this switch in perspective feels, and no expense or effort has been spared in making it as immersive as possible. The devil, as always, is in the details: the animation of your hands when you reload or the natural way that they grip a steering wheel. In fact, while you’re driving you might notice the functional speedometers or the digital radio that displays the name of the track currently playing. Look at the cuticles on your fingernails… the buttons on your mobile phone… the creases on the back of your finger as you flip some poor schmuck the bird… there is certainly an argument for videogames as art right here.

Others will no doubt baulk at its ferocity. As anyone who has spent any time with the likes of Fallout or Skyrimknows, scenes of violence from this viewpoint are much more impactful. Note how your gun judders and spits out spent bullet casings, for example, or how you blood oozes from your wounds. No doubt this new way of looking at the game world will reignite the furore over not only the amount of brutality in GTA V but also its wincingly visceral quality. The game permits you to do whatever you want, however you want, whether that is playing the fully included versions of golf and tennis, entering a triathlon, searching for aliens, getting high on peyote, going hunting or, yes, beaning people with a golf club. There is no moral yardstick included but let us not forget that this is a title made by adults and intended to be enjoyed by adults. It doesn’t offer you freedom and then wrap you on the knuckles for what you do with that freedom. There is, however, a numbing quality from the constant f-bombs, and the wilful profanity comes close to ruining what is otherwise a smart script with a great ear for dialogue.

Whereas other so-called open worlds are in actual fact empty ones with very little to do, the fictional San Andreas and Los Santos are living, breathing locales that thrum with energy. In fact, they are living, breathing, talking, walking, swearing, eating, joyriding, gun-slinging, gum-shoeing, womanising, social networking… at times the level of incidental detail crammed into every possible nook and digital cranny is overwhelming. Gone are the days when backdrops were rendered but not accessible. In GTA V, if you can see it, you can go there. If you see a NPC, you can interact with them in some way but be warned: the temptation to run them over is as strong as it was in the original top down game. Meanwhile, the graphics, fully upscaled for new consoles, are nothing short of incredible. At times it is tempting to stop and take in the scenery: cars milling across a bridge in the distance; golfers living the dream on newly mowed greens; funfair rides whirligigging; boats idling in the bay; and the sun rising and setting over the mountains. Each view is complemented by an inexhaustible range of sound effects – the slapping of flip-flops, the pinging of bullets, the thunk of car doors – and a spot-on choice of music that ramps up the tension at key moments.

GTA V can also be read as a scathing satire on contemporary culture where everyone and everything are caricatured mercilessly. The game has been the target of accusations of racism and misogyny but in truth it is an equal opportunities offender that takes pot-shots at all social groups, and has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. Its intertwining stories, told with cinematic relish, also function as an assault on capitalism, corrupt politics and crime. This hyper-realised vision of America might be gleefully amoral, but it is no more so than the dozens of shooters that have been released during the past decade, and at least it has something to say about the state of things. Perhaps it could have said it with less cussing but in fairness most players will be too distracted by the countless missions, side quests and activities to notice. Ross Thompson