I have been around the Rockstar maypole many times before, since the first GTA actually. Rockstar has managed to push the envelope of what open-world sandbox games should be like. Back in 2008 Grand Theft Auto IV blew a lot of people away, I was not among them. Don't get me wrong, I love GTA IV, it's subsequent DLC showed what DLC should be, but I really didn't care who the hell Nico Bellic was, or what was going to happen to him. I actually spent most of my time doing other random stuff. Wether I was taking a girl on a date, or just running around causing general chaos, I really didn't progress that far in Nico's story, and maybe it got better further down the line, but it didn't really grab me out of the gate. I also didn't bother playing the multiplayer, mainly because I felt the multiplayer was just an arbitrary mode thrown in to compete with the Modern Warfare's of the world. The first time I delved into Rockstar's brand of multiplayer was in Red Dead Redemption, it wasn't perfect, mainly because those who came in late, and didn't devote hundreds of hours into the multiplayer were punished by those who had. But between Free Roam, Gambling, and the random Deathmatch modes it had enough to keep me pushing towards top rank. Max Payne 3 continued to the tradition of the multiplayer trend, only unlike RDR it is terrible, and it is extremely punishing for those who are just getting into it. But, one thing that Rockstar's subsequent releases got right was that they were incredibly vast, deep, and engrossing. So does GTA V live up to the hype?
GTA V takes place in the familiar Los Santos, which was the setting of San Andreas. The game puts you in the shoes of 3 main characters Franklin, Micheal, and Trevor. This was probably one of the coolest features added to GTA, the fact that you aren't just controlling 1 character manages to keep things fresh through your stay is LS. You start out with Franklin a gang member in the time when gangs are on their way out, Franklin's pursuit of trying to find a way to make his way out of the small time is one that has been explored in other games, but you feel for the guy, and by the end he seems like the sanest one of the group. Eventually you will gain control of Micheal, who has settled into suburban life with a wife who doesn't love him anymore, and kids who hate him. Micheal's story is probably the most engaging, he has the best narrative ark, an old fashioned crook trying to make sense of the modern world. Then there is Trevor, who by all means is the funnest character to play out of the bunch. Trevor is an absolute psychopath, but has a hilarious sense of warped morals and chivalry that are just a joy to play through once you gain access to him.
The way that they pull off having three main characters is simply awesome, you will be slowly introduced to the characters, setting up set pieces that will eventually lead to the introduction of the next. Once you have all 3 available to you, you can simply switch back and forth seamlessly between them to go on their main and side missions. I love the fact that it feels like they have been going on about their life while you were off with someone else, especially Trevor who quite often could be found in his underwear in someone's backyard or around some dead bodies. It really gave the sense that the world was alive. Like usual the main characters are only one part of the amazing GTA story, it's the really well developed secondary NPC's or just random people you meet on the street that flesh out the game. You won't meet everyone there is to meet, or have every conversation without a liberal amount of switching between Franklin, Micheal, and Trevor. As some can only be found by one of them, and ones who can be found by all 3 have completely different dialogue and missions depending on who are.
There is plenty of diversity in the missions and side missions to keep things fresh and interesting. I rarely ever found myself with a shortage of things to do, and if there was GTA's classic go anywhere & do anything way of life gave me plenty of options. You can literally spend days in Los Santos trying to find everything, and you wouldn't even be half-way through. You can play tennis, do yoga, rob stores and armored cars, participate in many races by land, sea, or air, and of course there are enough side missions to fill 5 games. I really can't commend Rockstar enough on the detail they put into all of their releases, if they have a bar they usually fly past it with their next release, and you can't say that about a lot of developers out there.
Like most Rockstar games, there is a hefty amount of aim assist which can make anyone feel like a badass when every shot is target, but you have the option to go to "Free Aim" mode if you don't want your kills handed to you. Cars handle about as well as can be expected in a GTA game, I had to repeat one race 5 times because if I didn't brake early enough I would smash into a wall or other barrier that would send me spinning out like a tornado and effectively losing me the race regardless of how far ahead of the other cars I was. Planes take some getting used to, but once you do it becomes almost second nature, I would actually rather fly a plane than drive a car in this game. Helicopters on the other hand are a death trap. I really don't understand how the cars drive well for most part unless you get up some speed and hit something, and planes are relatively easy to fly, but helicopters are so messed up that literally 2 seconds after taking off I smash into the ground without fail. I can not say enough how terrible helicopters are, I really hate this portion of the game, and it is necessary for certain collectables so be prepared to learn that if you want to get the most out of the game.
Cops, yes they get their own paragraph. The vast majority of the missions you will go on during your time play GTA V have some illegal element to them. Which means you will be dodging Police for a majority of the game. They are incredibly over aggressive, even for a GTA game. I found myself going on 20 minute police chases, and by the time I shook them I wanted nothing to do with them after. They seem to be ever on your ass no matter how suped up your car is, they come flying out of nowhere with reckless abandon and smash into you sending you fishtailing into oblivion. If they by chance destroy your car, which happens a lot, and you step out of your vehicle you will probably be gunned down the moment you do. I wish they would release a patch that would make them a little less aggressive, I understand you shouldn't be able to casually walk away from them, but you should be able to shake them a little bit easier, or at the very least if they disable your vehicle, you should have an opportunity to make off on foot before being gunned down upon opening your door.
Now onto the GTA Online portion of the game. GTA Online is the ambitious multiplayer aspect of GTA V. You will be reintroduced to Los Santos by Lamar, Franklin's friend from the Single Player game. After that you will have access to all of Los Santos. Where you can partake in simply running around shooting your fellow players in what is essentially Free Roam from RDR, to buying properties and vehicles, racing, and doing jobs for random characters, while still incorporating Deathmatch into the gameplay. Your map will be highlighted with many blue points of interest that you can trigger specific job types at. From there you can choose to Host or Join another players lobby. Races work they do in the main game, and are sorted by car type. I played a mode similar to RDR's Goldrush mode where player tried to gather as many bags of gold as possible before the score-limit or time-limit was reached. The game mode in GTA V tasked two teams with gathering Safety Cases and delivering them to the drop zone, the mode was fun if not short. Most modes featured in GTA Online as short and sweet allowing you to hop into as many as possible in one session. When you complete jobs you gain RP which goes towards your level, and also cash, which can be used for various cosmetic upgrades, car mods, properties, and new weapons. It's easy to see why so many have gotten sucked into GTA Online, given the sheer amount there is to do, it's on par with RDR and definitely lightyears better than Max Payne 3.
It's hard to grade GTA V, it makes vast improvements in every aspect of GTA, but at the same time there are some glaring problems. GTA Online still punishes new players, I ended up in a job against someone who was literally had a level of 197. I spent my first day playing GTA Online barely able to move thanks to some guy in a tank who repeatedly blew me up, and when I wasn't getting blown up, I was getting shot down by any random person who passed by, and thanks to my level and money I was only able to to have a pistol, against people who machine guns, and tanks. There is a mode that prevents you from being shot by other players which costs you in game money to do, but they can still run you over. Until you do enough to gain some decent levels unique jobs from NPC's really don't open up either, so you will be spending a lot of time doing races, and deathmatch style play before you can do anything truly interesting. There is a healthy dose of Rockstar Social Club tossed in with tons of stat tracking and Crew management options which does add a nice level of detail to the online. The online problems mixed with the overly aggressive cops make for a 9.25 out of 10. This is the definitive GTA experience, the online could use a little work in the beginner friendly section or at least opening up things for someone new to the online. But the fact that all DLC online updates (that add more cars, weapons, and jobs) are free makes it all very worthwhile.