The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 10th: Grand Theft Auto V

What is the best city of 2015? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games from throughout the year, and behind today’s door is…

Grand Theft Auto V!

Alice: I assume Adam or Graham will talk about murders and crimes and all that, so I’m going to talk to you about ponds.

I still haven’t ‘finished’ GTA V because I kept being so distracted by things to see. Between murders and crimes, one favourite activity was to search for good swimming spots. At the time I started GTA V I was in staying Saint-Denis, far from my beloved swimming pond and… well, I drove a car half-way up a mountain (then had to run for five minutes after it plummeted down a cliff) to reach this spot:

However, I wouldn’t recommend it due to shallow water and underwater obstructions. It’s a nice spot to splash about with pals then, just around the corner, is a cracking spot for sitting by yourself:

Honestly, I’d be all over the Vinewood Cemetery pool if it were two metres deeper and the place weren’t so weirdly busy:

No, for my money, the place to swim is Los Santos Golf Club. It has beautiful landscaping and several pools, including this lovely swimming spot:

I did do murders and crimes too. They were good fun! From what I’ve seen of the main story, Rockstar did an okay job of finding their fun side again and put together some cracking spectacles and setpieces. I suspect I’d grow tired of the grumbly men if I ploughed straight through the story but, as I say, I was in ponds. It is a very pleasant land to explore.

Graham: I have a thing for cities in general. When I go on holiday, it’s normally not to see specific things within a city, but the city itself. To walk around and look up at its buildings, stumble down its alleyways, to get its concrete underfoot. My Tumblr feed is a scroll of photos of buildings and cityscapes and unknown backstreets. I spent two weeks of autumn with a livestream of a crosswalk from some distant metropolis running on my second monitor.

So, yeah: I have a thing for cities, and Grand Theft Auto V scratches the same itch as the real equivalents. I’ve spent most of my time in Los Santos avoiding the advances of Trevor, the mid-life crisis of Michael, the petulance of Franklin in favour of just walking and occasionally driving around. I like to obey the traffic laws. I like to wander up to people in conversation and listen to what they’re talking about. I like to take pictures with my cameraphone.

This feels very trendy – ‘Oh, you do the missions? How quaint.’ – but to its credit Grand Theft Auto V improves on its predecessor when it comes to its more scripted experiences, too. The city is partly responsible; the heists and chases and robberies and other dirty crimes you undertake wouldn’t be as fun as they were if the world wasn’t simultaneously a playground and a functional, believable world.

Adam: There is so much that I don’t like about GTA V that for it to creep into my game of the year list is testament to how much I love the other things it has to offer.

It all comes back to the city. It’s embarrassing, actually, that I’m another GTA hipster. Like Graham. If we played together we’d go around the place doing photoshoots for imaginary album covers rather than committing crimes. We wouldn’t even use vehicles as props in those photoshoots – they’d just be a way to get from one place to another.

And it is absolutely brilliant that we can do those things within a world that was apparently built to facilitate criminal funtimes. Considering how singleminded the series can be in its pursuit of a certain kind of queasily satirical pop culture ‘n’ crime story, it’s astonishing how few fucks GTA V gives as to how you actually play. It’s a fantastic photographer simulator, if nothing else.

It’s in the places that I can see the edges of a brilliant game about urban life that I really fall in love with the game though. Commuting. Setting up an in-game Instagram. Watching life go by. Playing sports and going to the bar with friends.

What is truly remarkable is that GTA V could only be so malleable within this medium. If it were a television show or a film, it’d be so steeped in the HBO-lite swear and slurs crap that the worst of its incidental writing captures, I’d probably find it unwatchable. But, as an open world (or open city) game, GTA V lets me spend my time with the extras and the supporting cast. It lets me spend my time exploring the sets – and what magnificent sets they are – and seeing the action from whatever angle I choose.

I’d love to see a city of this size, created in this detail, featured in my constant favourite, the Truck Simulator series. I’d love to see it repurposed as a place to drive a taxi or to patrol the streets in a police car. Heck, I’d like to play paramedic or the sort of ambulance chaser that Nightcrawler captured so well (awful admission: I had planned a feature for this site written around a photo diary made in-game and based on Nightcrawler – I was too busy to finish it).

The essential beauty of GTA V is that beneath all of its surface ugliness, there is the city-based game that all of those work simulations promise and fail to deliver. It’s here and it’s capable of quiet drama as well as high speed spectacle.

Go here for more of our picks for the best PC games of 2015.


  1. raiders says:

    I got this 2 days ago but haven’t played it yet. So many people seem to like it. I’ll try it out over the weekend (yes, I know I’m early…).

  2. padger says:

    If you play most of the game as Trevor then the random atrocities almost make sense!

    I love Gee-tav.

    • caff says:

      I think Trevor is the character that makes this game. Playing as such as a psychopath just makes sense for a GTA game.

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      phuzz says:

      I do enjoy it when you switch characters from someone else, back to Trevor and find him on top of building, waking up from a bender, with no obvious way of getting down, or in the middle of a police chase.
      Trevor might be a sociopathic arsehole, but he’s the most honest of all the characters.

  3. meepmeep says:

    Similarly, my over-riding feeling when playing GTAV, and experiencing its intricately carved world, was a sense of disappointed wonder at all the games it could have been, but wasn’t.

  4. Creeping Death says:

    My experience with GTA V.

    -Took a month to download through the shitty Rockstar Social Club
    -Hit a bug in the opening tutorial caused by corrupted files. Had to redownload 20GB
    -Cant progress past the opening mission where you steal a car for Simeon because nothing triggers the next mission.
    -Online can be fun with friends when it works and when you finally get into the same instance, but odds are you will spend more time looking at loading screens than anything else.

    I’m sure it’s a great game when it works and it looks fantastic maxed out but it’s just left a string of bad impressions on me. I think it’ll be a long time before I buy another Rockstar game.

  5. Eight Rooks says:

    I get why it won, but I can’t join in praising it. I don’t know: I still admire the level of detail that comes from Rockstar’s bottomless money pit but all that detail just didn’t click for me in the way so many other games did. Not just GTA IV, but I’d rather play Unity, Syndicate, the Yakuza games… GTA V just felt ugly, soulless, dead. I can’t go tracking down swimming ponds or sightseeing when the world map is clumsily divided up into very obvious zones and the characters are horrendously badly-written stereotypes with no redeeming features and the story (and setting) gleefully celebrates the thug lyfe at the expense of everything else. GTA IV I rode taxis for ages staring out of the window. I’d walk everywhere on foot. Syndicate I keep getting sidetracked to stare at things. Unity, too. GTA V I couldn’t wait to finish the story so I could stop playing.

    I don’t know. I don’t want to bitch forever about this – it’s a stunning technical achievement and I keep getting tempted to buy it on PC for the first-person view alone, so I can’t complain too much if RPS explicitly want to praise it for reasons other than the conventional single player/multiplayer slaughterhouse. But a really compelling virtual world has to have more, for me, than reams and reams of granular detail and some pretty postcard-ready views, and I don’t agree that GTA V fits the bill.

    • draglikepull says:

      I’m with you on this. The world itself is a stunning technical achievement, but the game put inside that world is drab and uninspired. It’s great to look at, but boring to play.

  6. Geebs says:

    GTA V is an amazing achievement; not only is it incredible on a technical level, but it manages to completely avoid The Ubisoft Game’s blandness and balance the overarching plot with the dicking about. There’s always something new to do, and somewhere new to do it.

    Also, it beats the crap out of Saint’s Row.

    • Von Uber says:

      Huh. I’ll take SR3/4 over their GTA equivalents any day. Also, after SR4, the thought of merely crossing a city in something as mundane as a car just strikes me as very limiting.

    • kregg says:

      I find GTA V technically impressive, but I find the game world unappealing. For me, GTA V’s world just felt so much more meaner and spiteful than Saints Row’s world that I really couldn’t enjoy it – it was like living in a world populated by people from the comment sections of the internet. Saints Row The Third felt like I was living in a Michael Bay world while the devs were winking along the way, and 4 just felt like it got why people like things and celebrated it, even if it wasn’t conventional or popular (the Matt Miller Nightblade bit comes to mind).

      As for Saints Row, I personally enjoyed the Third and 4 far, far more than I actually enjoyed IV and V. I remember playing GTA V on the console and about halfway into the game I hated it so much that I actually went back to my PC and replayed a new game on Saints Row (can’t remember if it was 3 or 4) just to have a good time. I eventually completed GTA V on both console and PC (and I actually enjoyed myself the second time round, oddly enough)

      • Geebs says:

        SR3 was ok-ish. SR4 totally screwed the pooch with the superhero stuff – the powers rendered about 80% of the game’s content pointless, really hammered home how boring and repetitive the city environment was, and made the process of getting about the game word paradoxically dull. Also, gonzo humour without any actual bite is just tiresome,

        The real issue I have with Saint’s Row is how they handle the characters. Nobody has any motivation beyond self-actualisation – so, tell all the NPCs how great they are, go on a mission which is all about them realising their true potential…..and that’s that for the character, all they do now is repeat the same three lines of dialogue. In GTA5, Trevor begins the game self actualised – he’s already the most Trevor a Trevor could ever be. Having the game be about what he chooses to do next is far more interesting than some trite character “arc” straight out of a comic book,

  7. Flatley says:

    The real stars of this game for me were the helicopters. When I used to play online, I’d go straight to the hospital, grab a helicopter, and just cruise around to pick up either friends or (sometimes) strangers who didn’t shoot on sight. Helicopters are great for so many things:

    – You can chop people up. The best way to kill another random GTA player is via a well-flown helichopping.

    – You can chase people. There’s no more exciting chase than a helicopter chasing a car, preferably with a passenger in the side door raining down fire. I always thought to myself, flying my helicopter, “what a great time that other player must be having right now.” Imagine, you’re just minding your own business, when all of a sudden two loons in a news chopper are atop you, and you’re driving for your life!

    Pick up the cargo chopper and things get even better!

    – Pick up trucks and drop them on people. It never works, but boy if it ever did…

    – Steal people’s personal vehicles while they’re shopping and hide them on towers.

    – If you’re Alice, pick up a boat and bring it to your favorite pond! We brought jetskis to the golf course once and it was great fun until they inevitably were lofted out of the pond and into the fairway.

    – Rescue friends in tight spots! There’s no better escape than having a helicopter ready to swoop in and take you and your car from danger.

    And then, once you finally get access to the Little Bird-type chopper:

    – Fly around while your friend shoots missiles at people! Ha! This adds another “interesting” layer to the aforementioned car chases.

    Unfortunately, Rockstar ruined much of the fun by giving everyone immediate access to absurdly accurate AA homing missiles. Oh well. Still a great game.

  8. Laurentius says:

    GTA5 is amizng game. Sure I didn’t enjoy SP campagin as muchas in GTAIV but there still was good number of fun missions ie. heists, Trevor hijackinga plane etc. Drving physics is again not as good in GTAIV. But Los Santos ? Man, this game world is incredible, to this day I’m still spending hours walking around, driving around, flying around taking selfies and screenshots. The only game that can rival this is actually GTAIV. Any other game feels artificial to me, which bores me super quickly, GTA never, every canyon, every shack, every farm so meticulously placed to give right sense of place. Amazing.

    PS. Also I can understand and nod (while not agreeing) to every criticism directed at GTA5 bar one. Music. Both score and radio stations are just phenomenal. I have well over 100 hours played in SP and MP and I can’t get enough of GTA5 music.

  9. caff says:

    GTA V surprised me most by it’s solid performance, even at 4K res. Shame about the console-ish UI, but graphically a great port in my opinion.

  10. LegendaryTeeth says:

    I think it’s telling that no one in this article actually praised the main game/story. Building this world is an achievement to be sure. It’s a shame the actual game attached to it is kinda meh. Again.

    • Laurentius says:

      It is not “meh” by any stretch, if GTA5 “actual game” is meh that I don’t know how can you describe games like Assassin’s Creed, or Watch_Dogs or even Fallout4.

      • cqdemal says:

        I would say the actual game is just competent, and the experience is elevated by the fantastic world design as well as extreme production value. It’s executed well and suitably upgraded to match the technology available, but completely unremarkable solely from a gameplay perspective since the main elements have not changed in more than a decade.

        This is for the single player by the way. If you can stand the terrible menus and networking oddities, I believe GTA Online is one of the best – if not *the* best – co-op games ever made.

      • KenTWOu says:

        I remember, one of the first missions of GTAV – you and your friend are trying to find and steal a bike. So we got over a fence, there was an old man, I tried to beat him -> restart from checkpoint. Later a truck passed by, I jumped in -> restart from checkpoint… The rest of the mission was exactly like that: you’re doing something wrong and the game stops working.
        It’s a good open world game if you want to be entertained by heavily scripted and varied experience. But it’s ‘meh’ if you want something player driven and more systemic like Watch Dogs, Far Cry 4 and especially MGSV.

        • Laurentius says:

          I don’t know about MGSV or FarCry4 but I did play Watch_Docs and FarCry3 and they felt scripted and dull to me beyond redemption at least in story missions.

    • caff says:

      I rather enjoyed the story, but felt it ended far too suddenly and without any great sense of ending on a high, like at the end of Vice City.

      • cqdemal says:

        The pacing is very off. The game starts out strong with a relatable protagonist in Franklin and his struggles with (relative) poverty. The Michael-Trevor conflict is compelling. However, once Trevor actually enters the picture, Franklin’s arc simply stops. The game then goes on to spend way too much time on the utterly hateful antagonists and all the momentum built up before was just thrown out the window.

        The conclusion was too quick and too neat, and the Michael-Trevor plot strand was brought back at a point in time when I had already stopped caring for the story.

  11. quietone says:

    One of those games I bought because “how could I not?”, partly expecting it to be too “gamey” and impossible to optimize. I usually abandon the main story at the first impossible race to win with M+K, this time it didn’t happen, and the first day I decided to play it with all settings maxed just to know what would I miss once I started playing regularly. They are still at max and no problems so far. The most fun I had with any GTA except SA.

  12. Blastaz says:

    Goodness there are a lot of gta hipsters…

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      phuzz says:

      Is a gta hipster someone who doesn’t like GTA because everyone else does, or is it someone who does like GTA because everyone else doesn’t?
      Or is it people like me who played it on console before it came out on PC?

  13. Josh W says:

    Graham, you’re wasted in this job, why on earth don’t you work in municipal surveillance? (Or you know, combine the two jobs part time)