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.
Alice: I like doing crimes. Big, exciting crimes. Big, exciting, and v. pretty crimes. It’s pretty good at that. It isn’t half a looker.
I say only partially to be contrary. But the crimes are pretty good. It’s a good place to murder a load of people.
Adam: I’ll do the boring, obvious but true answer. It’s the city – but to be more specific…
It’s that Rockstar have made a place that feels like a city. Even though it’s obviously far from a perfect rendition, Los Santos has the noise, chatter, weirdness, beauty, ugliness and whatever the heck else of a city. That’s really important. I live in a city and I like to walk around the city. GTA V captures some of that. Games often go some way toward recreating places that we’ve imagine or seen in films or other media – Far Cry 3 feels exactly like a ridiculous action movie island, all blissed out, bombed out beauty and gorgeous shorelines. System Shock 2 feels exactly like a scary spaceship should feel. It sounds right and it looks right.
But GTA V manages to be a pretty good representation of something I see every day and that’s really impressive. City itself might be nowt like Manchester but random phone conversations drifting by, cars snarling at traffic lights, crowds fleeing from a single gunshot in the dusk. That’s all in there. Snapshots of a city.
Pip: I do really like the heists – they’ve been great so far, working with a bunch of friends to execute on a multi-stage plan.
But more than that I really enjoy the evenings I spend tooling about, maybe doing some races or ganging up on some other people on the server or trying to work out how to make the rollercoaster seem fun rather than lonely and tragic or parachuting off the Vinewood sign.
Alice: I really liked making a new friend:
Graham: How much freedom do those Online heists give you in your approach?
Pip: Well, you can switch around the basic roles each time you do a heist so you can go to different locations and see different aspects. Within the heists themselves I’m not so sure. I know that when we stole a car from a shipping container some friends preferred to snipe the guards from high up, then parachute to the car. I was more about luring them over one by one using gunfire at ground level and picking them off
Then there was a getaway drive which our friends could try to help with after they finished their own mission
(My friend was the driver in mine and bashed the car up so badly it was on the verge of exploding so I made him swap over so I could carefully drive us home)
Graham: That sounds rad. As does tooling about. I have had fun doing that, and it was the best part of GTAIV’s multiplayer, too. Do you think the Online mode has legs? I wondered whether people would complete the heists and then be out of things to do after just a few weeks.
Alice: I only played Online solo with matchmaking and it was rubbish. But friends change everything. Get some friends and some opportunities for misadventure and you can have yourself months of fun.
Co-op where things can go wrong is an endless silliness simulator.
Graham: This is true!
Pip: And we’ve spent a fair chunk of time picking on each other too – I put it in a supporter post but basically I was waxing lyrical about my favourite car so my friends and boyfriend ran it off the road and then exploded it (and me) with flare gun fire. After realising I hadn’t been able to afford insurance when I – uh – *found* it they then decided to find me a new one.
Cue two hours of “is this your car?” only to be shown a bagel van by a chuckling friend, trying to drive away only to have another friend lift me into the air with a hook dangling off his helicopter and then bowl me into a wall, and finally getting a new car which was then involved in a three car pileup of that exact model.
Alice: I blithely speculate. Pip, why haven’t we done crimes together?
Graham: I think, for me, the main reason GTA5 is game of the month for May, is that the mod scene is just starting to take off. It’s all unofficial, unsupported work, so it’s not rocketing away like Cities: Skylines did, but there’s already cheats and flying and gravity guns and more. It’s following the exact same arc as GTAIV modding did and I think that means it’s going to be a good source of entertainment for me for years.
It’s fun to watch that happen right at the start of a new mod community, even if Rockstar seem to be banning people from Online even for only using mods in singleplayer.
Adam: Speaking of mods – this one does add actual cruise control, along with other things.
Adam: Earlier, when I said pressing Y activates cruise control, it was a ruse! I was trying to make everyone fall out of their cars while they were driving.
Hopefully at least one person will go and try that before reading on
Pip: Damnit! I always forget what Y does in the car – I was trying to give someone the middle finger and ended up rolling down the motorway :(
Adam: And this is basically my idea of co-op fun.
Pip: There are literally four of us. Why did we not heist in preparation for this?
Adam: We can heist this month!
Pip: We should do a heist. We can record it and post it online for the admiration of all.
Adam: I’ve mentioned that I’m very bad at driving already, haven’t I?
Graham: Adam is our getaway driver.
Adam: I’m also quite bad at shooting. But I am, as I’ve made clear, a very patient driver and I know the highway code BACK TO FRONT.
Graham: Any parting words? I like GTA V it is pretty.
Alice: I like the minigun’s noise.
Adam: Dare I say that some of the writing actually got a laugh out of me? The background noise is usually unpleasant or banal, but there’s some good stuff in the missions.
Adam: Franklin and the imaginary (?) dog in Risk Assessment. More of that, please.
[more minutes pass]
Graham: We’re all quietly judging you.
Adam: I AM SHUNNED.
[even more minutes pass]
Adam: ARE WE ENDING WITH QUIET JUDGEMENT
RPS Verdict: Adam