Grand Theft Auto V [official site] is our Game of the Month for May. To steal its jewels and show them to you, a crack team of criminals – Adam, Alice, Pip and Graham – gathered inside the RPS safehouse to gaze over the blueprints, outline their crimes, and discuss how much they like driving within the speed limit.
Graham: I am wondering: how do people feel about the game-game part of GTA V? I’m wondering whether our warm feelings towards it have more to do with Los Santos as a place for exploration and japes than it does its cinematic story and crim sim noise.
Or rather, since I enjoy the missions quite a bit, whether I’m the only one.
Adam: I was just about to say, actually – some of the missions are really, really good.
Adam: I was surprised! I’d fallen into a mode of thinking which basically goes: “The city is a wonderful canvas and the story missions are the cack that needs to be washed OFF the canvas before the fun begins.”
But that’s really not true. I nearly gave up on the story early on but I’m glad I didn’t. There are some great, big, daft chases and oddities in there.
Alice: I’m still quite early in the story, yet to even unlock Trevor, but I’ve enjoyed larking about and doing crimes. And smoking a jazz cigarette and fighting aliens in a park. It has good spectacle.
Pip: I did the first bit of single player up until you get Franklin to his house and get informed about how beds and wardrobes work and then I switched to purely Online. So that’s the merest sliver of single player.
Adam: There are some really neat uses of the character switching, which I hadn’t realised was such a big part of the mission structure. It’s introduced in the heist at the beginning in quite a clumsy way, because it’s essentially all tutorial at that point, and then you’re stuck with one character.
But when you have all three and some ludicrous mission to accomplish, it works really well.
Graham: Spectacle is right. My normal problem with GTA is that you start as a rookie criminal doing crummy crimes, and near the end of the game when you’re rich and experienced, you’re still doing crummy crimes because that’s all the game was designed to support. There’s still a fair amount of ‘drive A to B, kill people for man you hate, drive home’ in GTAV, but also dangling from helicopters and chasing boats and other crime-as-caper fun.
And yeah, when you’re dangling from the helicopter, you’re also piloting the helicopter and providing covering fire from nearby with a sniper rifle.
Pip: I’ve decided to play single player because I want to find an octopus in the sea but all of the bits standing between me and the octopus have very little to do with my octopus mission and a lot to do with playing GTA which is something I’m not feeling very excited about at the moment.
I appreciate it isn’t supposed to be a sea life sim, but there aren’t many of them about and, frankly, I want my octopus.
Graham: I like that it doesn’t lock anything away. You do two brief prologue missions and then after 30 minutes you’re able to go looking for that octopus.
Pip: I think deep sea stuff is gated off though, no?
Graham: Hmm. I assumed you could steal a submarine at any point and go diving, but I’m not sure.
Pip: I think there’s a mission you have to do first before you can submarine.
Adam: The Merryweather Heist, I believe.
Graham: Then I have told a lie. But! I have still spent most of my time in the singleplayer – or Online, for that matter – just walking around the city. Taking snaps with my phone. Climbing across rooftops. Pressing the context-sensitive use button to ask questions of the pedestrians and see what they say. The missions feel like a nice scripted break from these activities, rather than the other way around.
Alice: I spent a lot of time looking for a good swimming pond. I was in Paris, away from my beloved waters, and apparently cracked a little. My first few hours were tours of mountain ponds, cemetery reflecting pools, and water traps on golf courses.
Graham: What is GTAV’s best pond?
Alice: WELL! I’ve been avoiding some exciting-looking lakes, searching for the intimacy of a pond, and I suspect they may be cracking. But best pond? Two on the Los Santos golf course are quite good.
Alice: The other isn’t really swimmable, with too many shallow bits, but does have a little fake stream you can go down. That’d be a larking about pond. I’m not one for larking about, me. The third, pssh, whatever. But I’m surprised no golfers ever seem appalled by my dive into their water trap.
Adam: GTA V seems like the perfect game for larking about, but I find myself taking it all quite seriously. Sometimes I play for a couple of hours, stopping at traffic lights, watching for unscripted incidents – usually traffic accidents – and frowning when some daft NPC runs through the red lights.
Eventually I crack and decide to cause a big pile-up on purpose, usually by shooting somebody’s tires out, but I’m very restrained.
And I’ve probably just described some horrible sociopathic behaviour.
Observation, anticipation, then chaos.
Pip: I like to drive around obeying the traffic laws too. I’d really like it if I could alter my speed more easily to just cap out at the speed limit or the consensus of the rest of the NPC cars. Only sometimes, mind you, but it’s pleasant to just be good at driving round a nice cityscape.
Graham: The original Mafia had a Speed Limiter button you could press that would match your speed to whatever the legal limit was. But then, you’d also get tickets for going over that limit or running red lights.
I’ve played the game for dozens of hours and I think I’ve only gone on one rampage, and it was in Director’s Mode so felt like it didn’t count. Does the world encourage that restraint?
Adam: It probably depends who you ask. I’m sure plenty of people just run around shooting as many pedestrians as possible. Making cars explode and causing all sorts of bother.
Alice: I behave a lot better now I can’t simply dash for a Pay ‘n’ Spray to instantly lose my rating. The novelty of crouching behind crates in alleyways wears off rather quickly.
Adam: Pip! You can set cruise control by holding down Y on a 360 controller or whatever your equivalent might be.
I think it only works when you’re driving fast, to make long drives down a highway a little easier, or to let you Do A Driveby, but it’s something at least
Hiding from the cops tends to be an exercise in no forward planning whatsoever :(. I’m all “hahaha! I’ve evaded you now you fools!” and then realise I’ve jammed the car halfway down a winding staircase and can’t move backwards or forwards
Alice: They’ll never look for you there, though.
Adam: I’m actually surprised by how few concessions there are to the old ways of GTA. The original – and I’m talking top-down actual original – had all of its own little rules that worked wonderfully well. Like the Pay ‘n’ Sprays and what have you. There was a real flow to the actual stealing of cars, the chases and the escapades.
A lot of that has gone and hasn’t really been replaced by anything equivalent, as far as I can work out. I prefer this game in many ways, mostly for the parts of it that aren’t a direct part of the GTA experience, but I sometimes wish I felt like a great getaway driver rather than a cautious sunday driver.
Alice: I think it’s making you play more seriously with some of the basics so the spectacle becomes even grander.
Though if you’re a crack driver like me (or Franklin), you’ll expertly weave through the traffic and never get caught by the fuzz anyway.
Adam: I may be very bad at the fast driving parts of GTA. I get very anxious in heavy traffic.
Pip: I really like squeezing through tiny gaps with only inches between me and the other cars.
Adam: Basically, I improvise farcical catastrophes rather than slick escapades.
While we’re on this – it’s worth saying that the driving feels really good, isn’t it?
I quite liked GTA IV but the cars seemed to weigh about as much as a shed full of cannonballs…or an actual car. And it was all a bit… ururggghhh. This feels much smoother and slicker.
Graham: I think I slightly prefer GTAIV’s handling but recognise that I am the only person in the world to feel that way. GTAV does feel good, and much better than most comparable open world games.
Adam: I’m sure I had to manually wind the propellers on my car whenever I needed to go into fifth gear in GTA IV. I actually liked it for being so chunky (shutupyeshandlingcanbechunky) but I can feel the wind in my hair when I’m driving around in V.
Graham: It does feel like the best balance the game has struck so far between fun, convenience and its commitment to some level of realism. San Andreas felt like a dirge and then suddenly jetpacks turned up. GTAIV felt like a world with a lot of things to do in it but in which a lot of those things, bar the fun you made for yourself, were boring. GTAV is fun and, as you say, chunky. In more than just the driving.
What is everyone’s favourite thing about the game? Or is it ponds and octopuses and careful driving.
On page two, everyone’s favourite things about GTA, more on GTA Online, mods, and heist plans.