Make no mistake, “Grand Theft Auto V” (PS3; $59.99; Rated M) is every bit as vile as its detractors would have you believe.
It’s also every bit as fun as its fans say it is.
There is nothing nice about the story of Michael, Franklin and Trevor – the three characters who happen to be playable for most of “Grand Theft Auto V.” Franklin is a repo man trying to make a buck. Michael’s a reformed bank robber with a ridiculously awful family. And Trevor is, well, Trevor. He came unglued a long time ago, and now he’s just a sociopath who happens to have been an old friend from Michael’s felonious past. Circumstances bring them together, and mayhem predictably ensues.
Yes, there’s a story here, filled with plot twists, conversations, and plenty of action sequences. As far as video game stories go, it’s well written and well acted, and if you can find reasons to care about characters who are, at heart, pretty terrible people, it’s quite enjoyable to play through. There’s plenty of humor, mayhem, and stolen cars – and just the slightest hint of self-examination.
That said, you also have to stomach the presence of torture, wanton violence and the ability to walk into a virtual strip club and participate in a lap dance.
Parents, this is not a game to buy for your kids.
The true joy of “Grand Theft Auto V,” as could probably be said for any of the “Grand Theft Auto” games, is in exploration.
The city of Los Santos and the surrounding countryside are so gorgeously realized that it’s worth just hopping into a car and driving around the streets. You go through rich parts of town and poor parts of town. You pass fast-food joints and fancy restaurants. You drive through tight back roads and expansive country highways. All the while, you can choose to jump into missions involving strangers you run into, or stop a robbery in progress (either keeping or returning the loot). Or you can just look for ramps, with which you can do things with your car that cars really aren’t supposed to do.
Seemingly endless road
You could make the argument that playing through the story itself involves exploration, but it hardly counts. Story missions are driven by the minimap. It’s almost impossible to take in the scenery when you’re concentrating on the tiny little map at the bottom of the screen. You could finish most of the game without really seeing the work that was put into creating this world.
That would be a shame, because the world is a wonder, and it is absolutely huge. You really get a sense of the amount of work that went into this game as you speed down a highway, taking in the sights, seamlessly uncovering more and more of a game environment that just doesn’t ever seem to end.
There are certainly problems with the game, like Rockstar’s apparent assumption that their target audience fantasizes about being as awful as humanly possible. The treatment of women in the game is downright shameful and the language is drenched in terrible words for terrible things. Past these sorts of problems are some persistent freezing issues, a low frame rate at high speeds and the too-slow pace that takes over whenever you’re not driving. Sometimes the world feels too big, because you spend so much of your time just trying to get to the next thing.
Eventually there will be online options, which you won’t read about here, because the servers aren’t opening until October. Even without online competition, though, there is so much to do in “Grand Theft Auto V” that it’s almost impossible to get bored. If you can stomach it, it’s 60 bucks well spent.
New This Week: Fans of the “beautiful game” will be happy to see “FIFA 14” (Xbox 360, PS3, PC), especially given that “FIFA 13” may well have been last year’s best sports game. On Nintendo platforms, the open-ended game/wordplay of “Scribblenauts” heads to the comic world in “Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure” (WiiU, 3DS).